Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition

Gandhi First IgnoreHere’s the last bit from Hayek’s Dec 11 1974 Nobel Prize lecture:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading

Will Durant on Great Minds and Ideas

Durant Great Minds IdeasWill Durant (1885 – 1981) the wiki informs us “was an American writer, historian, and philosopher.” He wrote the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, published between 1935 and 1975,  written in collaboration with his wife, Ariel Durant. His work The Story of Philosophy (1926) helped to popularize philosophy. “He sought to unify and humanize the great body of historical knowledge, which had grown voluminous and become fragmented into esoteric specialties, and to vitalize it for contemporary application,” the wiki notes.

Indians may find his view of India interesting. Once again let’s refer to the wiki:

In 1930, he published The Case for India while he was on a visit to India as part of collecting data for The Story of Civilization. He was so taken aback by the devastating poverty and starvation he saw as result of British imperial policy in India that he took time off from his stated goal and instead concentrated on his polemic fiercely advocating Indian independence. He wrote about medieval India, “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”

Sadly hundreds million Indians continue to suffer “devastating poverty and starvation” nearly a century after Durant made the case for India’s release from British imperialism. Among the many causes for this immense tragedy is an important one missed by most Indians — that while British imperialism ended in 1947, imperialism did not end. The British designed and constructed the machine that imposed grinding poverty on India but Indians not only maintained the machine in good working order but improved its efficiency.

India’s heart-breaking poverty is entirely indigenous, made in India by Indians for Indians. 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

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.

Lee Kuan Yew – The Sage of Singapore

“Try and get a government on the cheap and you end up with a cheap government. … First job of a government is to equalize opportunities, right? You equalize results, you’re done for.”

It’s heartbreaking that hundreds of millions of Indians have to needlessly endure extreme poverty because of the insanely retarded policies of Gandhi, Nehru and the rest of the worthless bunch. If only, lord if only, India had the good fortune to get a leader like Lee Kuan Yew. Continue reading

Elementary, my dear

On top of being one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century CE, Feynman was a brilliant teacher. He presented complex ideas in elementary terms. Of course, one needed bring intelligence to the table. Best if one had an infinite amount of intelligence when it came to understanding the most elementary ideas.

“I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. But elementary does not mean easy to understand. Elementary means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence.”

Dr Jacob Bronowski

There are a great many people I admire immensely. Some for their erudition, some for their immense contribution to the human condition, some for their enormous contribution to our understanding of the human condition, and some for their extraordinary ability to explain the great ideas of this world we live in. Thanks to the wonders of modern technologies, we are fortunate to be able to make their acquaintance even though some of them are no longer with us.

Dr Jacob Bronowski (1908 – 1974) was a great soul, a mahatma in the true meaning of the word. Here’s Michael Parkinson of the BBC interviewing Dr Bronowski in 1972. Watch, or listen, to this and you’ll know why I admire him. Continue reading

Netaji Subhas Bose’s 125th Birth Anniversary

Sri Subhas Chandra Bose, popularly known as “Netaji”, was born 124 years ago in Cuttack, Orrisa on Jan 23rd in 1897[1]. Netaji is considered by a significant portion of Indians to have been instrumental — more than M. K. Gandhi MHRH — in getting the British to give up India. Be that as it may, it is undeniable that he was one of the greatest leaders of India in the last century.

His biography is quite well researched and generally known. There’s also an unfinished autobiography which covers the period from his birth to 1921 which Bose titled “An Indian Pilgrim.”[2]

But his disappearance and death is shrouded in mystery, conspiracy and intrigue. There’s a veritable cottage industry that thrives on the idea that he did not really die in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945 but that he lived in India for decades as a recluse ascetic. Continue reading

Einstein’s Ph.D. Thesis

Einstein submitted his PhD thesis in 1905, the “miracle year” (Annus Mirabilis) in which he also published four papers on various matters:

        • Photoelectric effect
        • Brownian motion
        • Special relativity
        • Mass–energy equivalence

It was for his discovery of the photoelectric effect that Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel prize in physics, and not for his more famous work on special relativity or for the work which has the world’s most popularly celebrated equation E=mc2.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire. His citizenship is interesting. First he was a subject of the Kingdom of Württemberg during the German Empire (1879–1896). After that he was stateless (1896–1901), then a Swiss citizen (1901–1955), Austrian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1911–1912), Subject of the Kingdom of Prussia during the German Empire (1914–1918), German citizen of the Free State of Prussia (Weimar Republic, 1918–1933). He became a naturalized American citizen in 1940. He died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton, NJ (which is about an hour’s drive north of where I am now.)

Thus many countries could claim him — the US, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Einstein himself, though, recognized that he could be rejected by many as well. He wrote, “If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”

Continue reading

Goodbye, Prof Freeman Dyson

I was saddened, though not surprised, to learn that Prof Freeman Dyson passed away on Friday in Princeton NJ at the age of 96. I admired him immensely for his intellectual might, bravery and honesty. Thanks to the internet, I have had the great pleasure of gaining from his intelligence, his humanity, his wide-ranging interests, his unconventional ideas.

I agree with all his viewpoints that I came to know about, particularly about climate change. Like him, I believe that the problem is neither urgent nor the most important. Humanity faces many problems, has the capacity to do something about some of them, and some of them are worth allocating resources to now. But climate change isn’t in that set. Continue reading