Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Do Not Multi-Task!


Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist at Stanford, found that learning information while multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain. If students study and watch TV at the same time, for example, the information from their schoolwork goes into the striatum, a region specialised for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organised and categorised in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Prime Minister Modi's answer to the question - Why do we need the state?

At the star-studded (Krugman, Bhagwati, Taleb included) Economics Time Business Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided an answer to American Libertarians and Republicans.

Why do we need the state? There are five main components:

.. The first is public goods such as defence, police and judiciary.

.. The second is externalities which hurt others, such as pollution. For this, we need a regulatory system.

.. The third is market power, where monopolies need controls.

.. The fourth is information gaps, where you need someone to ensure that medicines are genuine and so on.

.. Last, we need a well-designed welfare and subsidy mechanism to ensure that the bottom of society is protected from deprivation. This especially includes education and health care.

These are five places where we need government.

Read more at:

PS: more excerpts from Modi's speech here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Je Suis Charlie - Sand Artist Sudarshan Patnaik

Sunday, January 04, 2015

On the failure to engage with one's own traditions

Pakistan has a law punishing blasphemy that is quite horrible in practice.  Pakistan's tiny "liberal" elite, which is rather disdainful of their traditional systems (as is the Indian "liberal" elite) finds it impossible to change the operation of the law (e.g., do a full investigation instead of arrest first, investigate later), let alone amend it.  The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down four years ago by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, for committing the blasphemy of criticizing the blasphemy law. Sherry Rehman got into trouble for proposing legislation about the blasphemy law.

It seems that the political configuration in Pakistan doesn't want to hear about freedom of speech, secularism, etc., etc., it prefers its blasphemy law.

But it seems that the blasphemy law, as it stands, is not in accord with Islamic tradition.   This article by Arafat Mazhar goes into it in some detail, but briefly,  Pakistan follows the Hanafi school of Islamic law; and while the Hanafi law makes blasphemy an offense, it makes it a pardonable offense; it certainly does not carry the mandatory death sentence that the Pakistani law has.  Why does the Pakistani law carry a death sentence?  I think it is because few of the people in charge have seriously engaged with their own tradition.

If the Pakistani liberals want a state that has laws that look like a modern secular European state, they are going to fail; if they want a state that has justice, regardless of what the laws look like, and that has the support of the generally Islamized population, they are going to have to engage seriously with their traditions.

PS: Part 2 of Arafat Mazhar's article.

There is a similar problem in India; a lot of the intellectuals at the top do not engage seriously with the Indian traditions.  Most of the Indic traditions are a embarrassment to them; and they basically engage in exercises of trying to wean people off of them.  Michel Danino points out this failure in an article in the Hindu.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Language and Genetics in the British Isles

The British Isles might be a good case to examine for the relationship between population genetics and languages.   In that context, I found this article in the popular press: Myths of British Ancestry, by Stephen Oppenheimer, Prospect Magazine, October 21, 2006.  No doubt science has advanced some more in the past eight years, but this might be a good starting point.

Notice that the Celtic languages are Indo-European and per this author they spread with agriculture, not with the horse. (Supposedly horses were being domesticated in the Eurasian steppes 6000-5500 years ago.)
Given the distribution of Celtic languages in southwest Europe, it is most likely that they were spread by a wave of agriculturalists who dispersed 7,000 years ago from Anatolia.... 
 Moreover, the conventional invasion & genocide theories are deprecated.

The other myth I was taught at school, one which persists to this day, is that the English are almost all descended from 5th-century invaders, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, from the Danish peninsula, who wiped out the indigenous Celtic population of England......

The genocidal view was generated, like the Celtic myth, by historians and archaeologists over the last 200 years. With the swing in academic fashion against “migrationism” (seeing the spread of cultural influence as dependent on significant migrations) over the past couple of decades, archaeologists are now downplaying this story, although it remains a strong underlying perspective in history books.