Magic is Fun

facecardsMagic tricks are fun. It could be because it is fun to be deliberately fooled and there’s the bonus we get when we figure out how and why we get fooled. I have spent long hours watching videos of magic tricks. An outstanding show is Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” series. The format is standardized: magicians do their act, and then Penn & Teller have a shot at figuring out how the trick was done. If they can’t guess — if they get fooled — then the successful magician gets a trophy and gets to appear on P&T’s Las Vegas show.

Some of the acts are truly baffling. I marvel at the range of human creativity, talent and skill. It’s not mere harmless entertainment but it makes you think and learn something about human psychology. The art and science of misdirection is on full display. From it we can learn a lot about how not to get fooled when politicians, faux gurus and other charlatans chuck bullshit at us. Continue reading

Buddha Jayanti

buddha01Siddhartha Gautam, aka Sakyamuni (the sage of the Sakyas), became a buddha around 2,500 years ago. Today, known as Buddha Purnima, the day of the full moon in May, is celebrated as his birthday. Here’s the Chinese singer Imee Ooi singing the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, aka The Heart Sutra. Listen.

The maha-mantra of the Heart Sutra, “om gate, gate, para-gate, parasum-gate, bodhi svaha om”, appears around the 3:50 time stamp. Continue reading

What the Heck is Democracy

liberty bellI am persuaded that the word ‘democracy’ is one of the most abused words in India (another being ‘secular’.) The common people certainly don’t know what it really means or entails, but even the “intellectuals” (second-hand dealers of ideas, as Hayek defined them) and assorted pundits have only a feeble grasp of the concept at best.

Politicians cannot reasonably be expected to understand anything that requires intelligence and knowledge but people who claim to be educated cannot be excused for their ignorance of such a basic concept as democracy. Journalists, especially, ought to know what it means before they pontificate.

As a public service, let me provide a clue for the hundreds of millions of Indians and their sainted journalists what democracy means, and most importantly what it does not mean. Continue reading

Culture Matters

Zulu cultureThe ever wise wiki states that the word culture “is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups” and that “humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, which is shown by the diversity of cultures across societies.”

Human cultural diversity never ceases to amaze me. It’s wonderful that there is so much diversity in the way people live, think, behave, work, relax, worship, and do those things they do. A monocultural world would have been not just boring but it would have been a danger to survival. The logic of life dictates that diversity is essential for survival. That said, I wish there was less diversity in some aspects of human culture — the tolerance of littering. Continue reading

Systems versus Goals

Scott AdamsThe world has an abundance of great intellectual giants in all sorts of domains, some living and some dead. Most of us can gain a lot of knowledge and wisdom from them — if we had the time, the motivation, the inclination and the ability to do so.

Unfortunately as it happens we lack one or more of those, and can’t appreciate their works and don’t directly benefit from their genius. Most likely we’ll never be able to understand the works of the likes of Nietzsche, Ramanujan, Einstein, Hayek, Turing, et al. They are supremely important for humanity as a whole but we ordinary individuals gain very little practical wisdom from them.

Instead we are more likely to gain quite a bit from much lesser people. Why? Because they are not that far removed from us in our mundane lives. I call them “persons with mundane practical wisdom.” Continue reading

Epic vs Apple

costcoIn a comment Sanjay Srivastava asked, “What do you think about the Epic vs Apple legal case? Would you allow Apple to continue their way of managing the App eco-system?”

I confess that I was unaware of the legal battle until Sanjay asked about it. I have subsequently read a bit about the case. The core conflict appears to be that Epic is challenging Apple for the latter’s decision to remove Epic from its app store for violating the Apple app store’s terms of service. Continue reading

The Tragedy of Collectivism

F A Hayek“The tragedy of collectivist thought is that while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends. It may indeed be said that it is the paradox of all collectivist doctrine and its demand for the “conscious” control or “conscious” planning that they necessarily lead to the demand that the mind of some individual should rule supreme — while only the individualist approach to social phenomena makes us recognise the super-individual forces which guide the growth of reason. Individualism is thus an attitude of humility before this social process and of tolerance to other opinions, and is the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.”

The Road to Serfdom. Friedrich August von Hayek. He was born on this day in 1899. Happy birthday, dear Prof Hayek.

Ask me anything – the Aron Ra edition

Greetings from the San Francisco Bay area. It’s great to be back in the old neighborhood visiting friends. I’ve been away for almost 15 months. The weather is as usual wonderful. Traffic on 101 and 880 is lighter than normal because of the pandemic-induced work from home situation. I’ve been driving around a bit. I miss being here.

Here are a couple of videos for your pleasure. I respect Aron Ra. He is a straight shooter, an activist atheist. I like his no-bullshit style. Here are a couple of videos of his I watched today. Continue reading