Archive for the 'philosophy' Category

On the Artchitecture of Life

December 6, 2014

A conversation on the architecture of life has been recorded and released as an audio podcast at Syntalk.  The speakers are: Dr. Pushpa M. Bhargava (molecular biology, CCMB, Hyderabad), Prof. Nagarjuna G. (philosophy of science, HBCSE, Mumbai).  The following description is the text copied from the Syntalk link.

SynTalk thinks about the key conditions that characterize and create ‘biological’ life while constantly wondering whether life is a random accident, and if we are alone in the universe (because of a singularity?). What is the future of life? How aliens (if any) are also likely to be carbon and water based, but could be completely different morphologically and functionally. How was the first cell formed, and is this one of the biggest open questions today? The continuing journey after the big bang from the physical to astrophysical to chemical to biological to social evolution (across all species via, say, pollination) way into the distant future. The concepts are derived off / from Darwin, Crick, Watson, Hoyle, Prigogine, Manfred Eigen, Delbruck, Maturana, & Stuart Kauffman, among others. Is it possible to create synthetic life in a laboratory, and does the clue to this possibility lie in the (chemical?) nature of a virus? How does speciation happen? The core significance of the cell being a ‘phase separated structure’ with organizational closure. Is the cell the unity of life? How we do ‘not’ really know where biology ends and chemistry begins. Is life a physical state (just as liquid is a state of water)? The definition of life via replication (DNA, tRNA), metabolism (metabolic charts, glucose) and energy transduction. We discuss the role of glucose as a key molecule for all life, and wonder what it is like for glucose (& other bio molecules) to be ‘outside’ life. How does self organization arise in both physical and biological systems, and how (for example) phospholipids (with hydrophobic tails and hydrophilic heads) organize itself in water? How affinities can emerge between two DNA strands. How life is a dialogical state, and neither the physical equilibrium (oxidized state like carbon dioxide) nor the state of chemical death (‘petroleum state’). How virus ‘lives’ on the border of life and non-life. How all living stems can be characterized using unique chemistry, biochemistry, structure, & function. Why life originated from water? What is the role of weak bonds (in, say, the colloidal state of protoplasm)? How does ‘conscious cognition’ arise in living systems, & what are the links with ‘emancipated reflexive motor actions’, microtubules, dance, lizard, play, & consciousness (Mind from Matter). How does a living system talk to itself (why does a child suck its thumb)? How the feeling of ‘free will’ gives an (illusory) advantage. How life has multiple answers, and an inherent capability to change. How life is an expression of abundance. How a bio molecule is not like a sphere. The future with artificial life, cognitive robotics, & ‘languages in nature’ (of animals & languages). Why we can’t wear a full body armour anymore?

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metaStudio and loom

February 19, 2013

This is the third post on metaStudio featuring the special features of gnowsys-studio

This post features a space for creating an online threaded discussion forum.  There are a number of threaded discussion forums, and  this one adds to that family of web apps that facilitate communication among a group of people.  Here is a link to one of the threads Leviathan and the air pump, where we use this feature for running a small graduate course.

The loom of gnowsys-studio is designed to do the following things:

  • Create a thread on a broad topic
  • Under each thread create twists.  A twist is a discussion trigger, it can be question, it can be a sub-topic of the thread.  It can be anything about which you want to seek responses from the community. If you use it to understand a topic, clear doubt, ask for help or offer help etc.
  • Under each twist, members can submit replies. 
  • Each respondent can choose a color of their choice for the text as well as the background. This will help to recognize the person’s messages easily in a long discussion thread.
  • The threads and twists can be classified using tags. Users can also rate them. The responses can be rates as well. The average score will be computed based on the ratings.

Thread’s description can be edited collaboratively.  twist can be edited, but messages once posted cannot be edited.  You can delete a message though. Whereever you can edit, the editor we provide is the same.  See the post on orgmode editor.

We have been using loom for discussions for undergraduate and graduate classes. The picture below gives you a glimpse of how a thread constructed in the loom looks like:

Image

While sending the responses you can add a picture, use hyperlinks, write mathematical equations, embed a video, SVG images, animation etc.  Therefore, it can used for a very rich technical dialogue in a community as well. 

We will be extending the loom architecture for comprehensive continuous assessment

 

 

metaStudio for semantic networks and concept maps

February 18, 2013

Image

This is the second post on metaStudio featuring the special features of gnowsys-studio.

The site allows collaborative construction of semantic networks between the wiki pages.  Users can define and use the relations between pages.  The graph produced is published in SVG which allows navigation of the graph by mouse click.  When Control + Click is used the graph reloads on the same page showing the additional nodes in the neighbourhood of the selected node. This way, a merged graph can be created.   Explore more pages at the site.

 

February 17, 2013

Sameer Verma from SFSU visited Khairat School where we do field work and help the first OLPC project in India. The blog posted by Monsoon Grey.

Monsoon Grey

In January 2013, Sameer Verma from SFSU, during a trip to India, visited Goa – a detour that happened mostly because of Harriet Vidyasagar’s efforts to keep all the working OLPC projects in India visible to the outside world, while simultaneously ensuring that we got the best minds to get a firsthand look at the projects here and to provide us inputs that would enable us to run these projects better. The previous such visit was by Walter Bender himself; this time it was Sameer from San Francisco. I’d been in touch with him over the email requesting very specific help about the School Server setup and administration, and that’s exactly what he and I focused on while he was here in Goa. Of course we had to make time between his various other engagements, but that wasn’t such a problem – it only meant that Sameer’s day didn’t end…

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my work in ten hundred words of science

January 24, 2013

I have recently posted what my job is without using any jargon.

http://tenhundredwordsofscience.tumblr.com/post/41307339297/our-job-is-to-help-make-children-learn-and-to

  • Our job is to help make children learn. And to picture what they learn. We make children learn about the world around us. Explain what happens in the world around us. Find out the reasons for each happening around us.

    Children know something. When they learn new things, the old things they know find a friend with the new things. Old ideas join with new ideas. But, the new thing does change the old thing as well. We want to picture this change when children learn. In other words, the form of what children know changes when new things get into their heads. Making the picture of these changes is our job. We want to show this changing picture to the children, so that they get to know what they have learnt. This will help them know what they know. This will help us to know what they know. This will help parents to know what they know.

    We use computers for this work. We make the computers make the pictures for everyone to see the learning. We tell computers how to make pictures, so that computers will tell us when there is a change in what we know.

    We help children work with other children. We work with them as one of us.

    When this becomes possible we will call a party and tell everyone. We are looking for friends who could work with us. Tell everyone of what we are doing. Join us.

    — Nagarjuna. This is to describe the work of http://lab.gnowledge.org/ and its collaborative platform http://beta.metastudio.org/
© 2013 Ten Hundred Words of Science

Interpreting Aaron Swartz’s actions by the media moghuls!

January 22, 2013

After the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, whom I consider a freedom fighter of the digital society, the media reported stories all around the world. Today’s Indian Express (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/in-swartz-s-wake/1062880/0) carried an editorial piece on the subject. The article ends with the following statements:

“It cannot be given away for free, as Swartz would have wanted, since the development of learning is expensive. But business models could be created to widen access while remaining fiscally prudent. ”

The editor is either utterly ignorant of the open access as a way out, or deliberately does not want to bring to the notice of the readers of the alternatives. The editor says “it cannot be given away for free”, but we ask, why not. They all must be given away for free. Scientific communications are not to be owned by anyone other than the citizens, since they have already paid for the development of learning in the form of tax. Looking for an alternate business model or more liberal business model misses the whole point. The scientist’s have foolishly given away their copyright to the Journal publishers. For this act of passing the copyright, no compensation was given to the author or the institution the author was affiliated to. The work was not commissioned or financially supported by the publishers, but mostly by the tax payers money almost anywhere in the world. Why should the citizens pay again for the work they have funded? This is the question to be answered.

Have faith in your own reason! Be your own god!! Aham Brahmasmi!!!

April 25, 2011

While the nation is in grief about Sathya Sai Baba’s death, I wondered about his prediction that he would live till 96, and he will determine when he will die.  I would consider him a successful mask to see the truth, a curtain that withheld a large followers  to reason and their ability to see the truth.  All his miracles that made him famous were performed repeatedly by several rationalists around the world.

On this occasion  I cannot but use this space to spread the article written by Sanal Edamaruku here, which landed in my mailbox forwarded by a friend.

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba

Sanal Edamaruku
President
Indian Rationalist Association & Rationalist International

When Sathya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of 85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.

De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the dead. But I think Sathya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception. Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over India, Sathya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his empire.

Sathya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers, presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.

Sathya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and the sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and traveled only once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in Uganda.

On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint. But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.

In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam, one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes, this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly, mocking India’s democracy?

Sathya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged by the clout of Sathya sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers imitated him. India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba.

(This or other articles from the  Rationalist International Bulletin may be reproduced by journals, blogs or web sites without change or alteration in its content, and with due acknowledgment.)

Rationalist International: rationalistinternational@gmail.com

A Declaration on sustaining the Free Culture

February 27, 2011

This document is not written by me, but participated in the process along with others.  I am a signatory to the declaration.  I urge you to consider thinking about the issues raised and even if you agree with at least 80%, consider adding your signature.  Please continue to participate in the dialogue to create a sustainable creative commons.

We can no longer put off re-thinking the economic structures that have been producing, financing and funding culture up until now. Many of the old models have become anachronistic and detrimental to civil society. The aim of this document is to promote innovative strategies to defend and extend the sphere in which human creativity and knowledge can prosper freely and sustainably.

This document is addressed to policy reformers, citizens and free/libre culture activists to provide them practical tools to actively operate this change.  Read the full documents from the links given below.

FCForum Declaration: Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age [2 pages]

How To for Sustainable Creativity [30 pages]

1. Who Generates Culture?

In order to develop and grow, the human capacity for creativity requires access to existing culture, knowledge and information. Everyone can contribute to the production of culture, values and wealth on different scales, ranging from very basic to very complex creative contributions. The resources and time required for creative activities also vary in scale. We want to promote ways of liberating this time and these resources so that the distributed potential can be deployed in a sustainable way.

2. Basic Principles for Sustainable Creativity

  1. The restructuration of the cultural industries is not only necessary but inevitable.
  2. More culture is created and circulates in the digital era than ever before: in this context sharing has proved to be essential to the disseminate culture.
  3. The profits that the cultural lobbies are fighting to defend are based on the artificial production of scarcity.
  4. The cultural sphere needs to recognise the skills and contributions of all of its agents, not only producers.
  5. The digital context benefits creators as well as entrepreneurs and civil society. Appropriate models make it easier for users, consumers and producers to gain access to each other. The role of middle-men has to be revised in light of an approach based on collaboration.
  6. The Internet is an essential tool for establishing contact between creators and their audiences. This is one of the reasons why everybody must be guaranteed non-discriminatory access to it.
  7. Governments that don’ t promote the new forms of creation and diffusion of culture are generating lost profits for society and destroying its cultural diversity.
  8. As Free/Libre Software has shown, peer production and distribution are not incompatible with market strategies and commercial distribution.

Economic Models for Sustainable Creativity

The following list starts with the models that are most similar to those traditionally accepted by the cultural industries, and moves towards those that are closer to the idea of sharing that pertains to our age. Many of these models are currently actively implemented and are already working. We need to expand these conditions by removing barriers that limit their growth.

1. Pay for what you get

Or some advice for the restructuring of the cultural industries: the public is prepared to pay for cultural products or goods as long as they deem the price to be reasonable and paying does not restrict their freedom. Make it easy and accessible; make it affordable; don’ t make it compulsory, static and criminalised, make it optional and offer choice. Pay fair wages when you contract professional work.

2. Advertising

Between bombarding users with ads and the total absence of ads, there are intermediate, ethical options: Selective ads (accepting advertisements only from projects with affinities); giving users control over the consumption of ads; allowing users to request ads related to the article they are reading, for instance, …

3. Pay for a Plus

Sharing copies helps creators to build up a reputation, which then becomes the base for charging for services and other things that cannot be copied, such as live performances, works-for-hire, specially designed gadgets, attractive physical copies…

4. Freemium

Freemium is a business model that works by offering basic services, or a basic downloadable digital product, for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features.

5. Contributions

A contribution-based model enables users to donate sums of money in order to help sustain a given project or enterprise. The more involved and respected users feel, the better this system works.

6. Crowdfunding

Enabling individual citizens or entities to contribute to a cultural enterprise by becoming stakeholders. This contribution can take the form of an investment before the work has been created, or via micro or macro credits or donations towards existing works.

7. Commons-based strategies and distributed value creation

The providers of commercial platforms for cooperation share their revenues with the creators who produce the material that makes their services valuable, while commoners are able to freely share and exploit the commons.

8. Collective Financing System

A flat-rate on internet connections can be consider only if it implies an equitable and democratic resource- pooling system and recognizes citizens rights to share and re-use works freely.

9. Basic income

When connecting the issue of free culture to visions of large-scale social transformations in capitalistic economies, the basic income idea propose to sustain the society as a productive body. A guaranteed basic income is a way to avoid precarity and redistribute economic wealth.

10. Public funding/policy making

We believe that in the context of a society of tax payers, culture must receive a share of public investment due to its undeniable social value. Social funding should not be seen as a substitute for public responsibilities in relation to the funding of culture and Free/Libre culture should not constitute an anomaly.

  1. Publicly funded works should be released, after a reasonable commercial life span, for circulation on digital networks so that the public who paid for them can access and re-use them.
  2. Tax deductions should promote micro-funding and the release of works without restrictive licences.
  3. The public should have the option to contribute to deciding how this public investment in culture is shared out.
  4. Alternative distribution channels should be encouraged. Cultural policies must work towards achieving greater cultural diversity and sustainable collaboration platforms.
  5. Networks of independent producers, distributors and authors should be supported, and they should be represented on public broadcasting.
  6. Impact statements should be a prerequisite for the introduction of any new cultural policy. We must analyze the effects that proposed regulations would have on on the cultural and knowledge commons before they are implemented.

Results

The Commons, Public Domain and Business

The new business models that consider collective production as a context that needs to be nurtured and safeguarded, and not simply as a context to exploit, are based on the premise that cooperation is compatible with market dynamics. The most evocative practical examples stem from free software communities. The “output” is shared under non-restrictive licences, allowing third parties to use and modify it as long as the same freedoms are obligatorily applied to derived works. This creates a commons that is constantly improved by successive contributions, while not preventing the commercial exploitation of the knowledge and skills arising from them and of the works themselves.

Users become generators of value, and join a virtuous circle of production and consumption that they benefit from.

Meanwhile, in this new context, it is necessary to defend, promote and implement the conditions that enable online collaboration.

Embroiled in a different logic, the traditional cultural industries want to keep feeding off collective production, without responding to the collaborative logic that is now current thanks to the Internet. These industries try to keep imposing appropriation frameworks onto the commons, becoming entrenched in a predatory idea of culture (the economy of scarcity), which is totally at odds with the philosophy of free culture (the economy of abundance).

A Free Knowledge Verse from Sanskrit

February 18, 2010

Yesterday I went to MET (Maharastra Education Trust) college at Bandra in Mumbai to deliver a key note address on “Introduction to Free Software Movement” for Tech@MET festival.  I looked at a verse written in their handout that fits very well with free software and free knowledge movement.  The verse in Sanskrit is as follows: (Find the English Translation below)

न चौर हार्यम न च राज हार्यम |

न भ्रात्रभाज्यम न च भारकारी ||

व्यये कृते वर्धते नित्यं |

विद्या धनं सर्वे धनं प्रधानम्  ||

Knowledge can neither be stolen by a thief, nor snatched by a king.

It is indivisible unlike ancestral property, it never burdens the bearer,

it multiplies manifold when offered to others.

Knowledge is the supreme form of wealth.

The college does not seem to use free software as of now, but has intentions to use.  The vice chairman of the MET trust Mr. Sunil G. Karve mentioned that free software goes well with their philosophy.  I do hope, it will eventually go well with their practice as well.

If any of you know the exact source of this verse, please let me know.

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