Friday, December 24, 2010

'You won't understand'

'A genius ...Elusive, delicate but lasting. He created such a credible world that, sadly, I suppose, never really existed but what a delight it always is to enter it and the temptation to linger there is sometimes almost overwhelming'- Alan Ayckbourn about P.G.Wodehouse

Once during physiotherapy, I suddenly started laughing. The physiotherapist thought that it was about something to do with the exercises so she asked me what it was about. I wondered what to say. This was because at the time I had been reading 'The Code of the Woosters' and had suddenly remembered a funny scene in it. Bertie Wooster had gone to Stiffy Byng's room to pinch an incriminating notebook but was set upon by her dog which made him jump quickly onto a chest of drawers. Sitting on this uncomfortable perch and gazing down sourly at the dog who was sitting on the floor and glaring at him, Bertie muses:
I remember Freddie Widgeon, who was once chased onto the top of a wardrobe by an Alsatian during a country house visit, telling me that what he had disliked most about the thing was the indignity of it all - the blow to the proud spirit, if you know what I mean - the feeling, in fine, that he, the Heir of the Ages, as you might say, was camping out on a wardrobe at the whim of a bally dog.

It was the same with me. One doesn't want to make a song and dance about one's ancient lineage, of course, but after all the Woosters did come over with the Conqueror and were extremely pally with him: and a fat lot of good it is coming over with Conquerors, if you're simply going to wind up by being given the elbow by Aberdeen terriers.
Trying to to explain this to someone who is not already familiar with the story and the writing style of Wodehouse would have been an impossible task. Wodehouse fans know that nothing much happens in his novels and the fun lies in the way he plays with words in order to describe the absurd situations that his characters find themselves in. If I had tried explaining it, it would have taken an hour and the effort would have fallen flat. So I chose the easy option and dictated to Jaya,'You won't understand'.

Since then whenever I laughed for no discernible reason, the physiotherapist will look at Jaya, smile knowingly and say,'You won't understand'.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It only adds

Some people think that unweaving the rainbow reduces the charm of the rainbow. I belong to the opposite camp. Before becoming interested in reading about evolution, I would have had only a vague understanding of what Richard Feynman was talking about in the beginning of the video in the previous link. Now I have a better idea of how the co-evolutionary relationship between flowers and their pollinators give rise to complex adaptations. In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins writes:
There is an anaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness, which dulls the senses and hides the wonder of existence. For those of us not gifted in poetry, it is at least worthwhile from time to time making an effort to shake off the anaesthetic. What is the best way of countering the sluggish habituation brought about by our gradual crawl from babyhood? We can't actually fly to another planet. But we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.
In Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins writes:
The genes of an elephant or a human, like the genes of a virus, can be seen as a Duplicate Me computer program. Virus genes are coded instructions that say (if they happen to be parasitizing an elephant): 'Elephant cells, duplicate me.' Elephant genes say: 'Elephant cells, work together to make a new elephant, which must be programmed in its turn to grow and make more elephants, all programmed to duplicate me.' The principle is the same. It is just that some Duplicate Me programs are more indirect and longwinded than others.
To put it another way, as Samuel Butler said, “A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.” I loved this new way of looking at living creatures which I was not familiar with earlier. It was like suddenly being able to see the second view of the Necker Cube. Reading about evolution and astronomy gave me some idea of Blake's words:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
But Blake was a mystic and would have written his lines to mean the opposite of what I thought they meant. It is ironical that when I can't physically move an inch of my own volition, my mind delights in traversing vast expanses of time and space. The late George Carlin seems to have been a man after my own heart. (But my interest doesn't extend to a desire to own celestial bodies.) This is the type of conversation that would have me all ears even though some of it is beyond my level of incompetence because, as Feynman says in the video in the first link of this post, there is a 'difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.' (Note: The discussion has nothing to do with what the good professors at IIMA slogged to drill into my head.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is it like to be 'locked-in'?

There is a well known philosophical paper called What is it like to be a bat? It is not so much about bats as about the impossibility of knowing fully some state unless you are yourself in that state. You may know all about echolocation but you will not be able to experience the world like a bat unless you are yourself a bat. I won't be able to understand exactly the thought processes of writers who are slowly losing their mind. And I won't be able to understand the experience of someone who has had a stroke in a different part of the brain. (For example, see this TED talk.) The same goes for being 'locked-in'. There is something ineffable that you will never be able to get.

Take for instance the first time I sat upright after my stroke. I felt as if all my internal organs were hanging down limply as if they were attached to the body wall by sheets of muscles that were limp like the membrane of a pricked balloon. I don't know how else to explain it. The feeling lasted only for a few seconds and has never happened again. You will not be able to simulate the feeling because I suppose the relevant muscles are involuntary.

In The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker writes:
The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. The mental abilities of a four year-old that we take for granted - recognizing a face, lifting a pencil, walking across a room, answering a question - in fact solve some of the hardest engineering problems ever conceived ... As the new generation of intelligent devices appears, it will be the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members who are in danger of being replaced by machines. The gardeners, receptionists, and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come.
The same is the case with being 'locked-in'. Reading or blogging don't drive me up the wall. That is reserved for the ant in the pant or the mosquito in the middle of the night. You will not be able to understand why time appears to pass slowly when someone removes the railings from my bed and no one stands nearby. (It does not happen every time.) You will have only a vague understanding of my reluctance to travel.

Whenever someone tells me that I should do this instead of that, I am reminded of an incident that I had once heard. The wife was sound asleep when her one year old son gave her a good bite. The wife awoke in a daze and in pain and gave the child a whack. Hearing the commotion, the husband came into the room, heard the whole story and admonished the wife - 'You should know some child psychology. How will a small child know that its actions are causing pain? He was only being playful.' The wife listened quietly. A few days later the boot was on the other foot.The husband was sound asleep when the child gave him a good bite. He awoke in a daze and in pain and gave the child a whack. Hearing the commotion, the wife came into the room, heard the whole story and asked him,'What happened to your child psychology stuff?'

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Miscellaneous incidents

My last post gives me the opportunity to segue into a post about a couple of incidents involving Sujit (and not involving me).

Many words have multiple meanings depending on the context, which confuse kids. When Sujit was in std I, he had a lesson called 'Early Man'. When Jaya asked him what it meant, he replied,'It is about a man who gets up early.'

One of my physiotherapists wanted to learn Hindi so that he could converse more easily with some of his patients who were more comfortable with Hindi. So he joined a class for spoken Hindi. When he came home after attending the first day's class, Jaya asked him what he had learned. He said,'It was about first person, second person, third person'. Sujit did not understand him and asked,'Which person were you?'The joke did not end there. The physiotherapist did not hear it properly and replied,'I was the last person!'

This physiotherapist was very keen on learning new Hindi words and he would keep asking for Hindi translations of various English words. Once during such a conversation, he suddenly said,'Can't see'. Jaya and I looked around wondering what he couldn't see. After some discussion we realised that he meant khaansi - the Hindi word for cough.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I become a card sharp!

When Sujit was in KG or Std. I his teacher asked him,'What does your father do?' Sujit thought that she was enquiring about his grandfather and replied,'He plays cards!' He said this because at that time my father-in-law used to play cards for a few hours every Sunday with some of his retired friends.

The teacher was shocked. Poor child - his father is a wastrel!

In the evening, when Jaya went to the school to pick up Sujit, the teacher asked her,'What does your husband do?' Jaya wondered why she wanted to know about me. The teacher related what Sujit had told her that morning. Jaya assured her that there was no such problem and told her about my stroke.

I don't know what shocked the teacher more - the news that I wasted my time playing cards or the news that I am quadriplegic.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Although I read a lot more about evolution, I also read a bit about astronomy - two huge topics that I only get time to skim. The first popular science book I ever read was A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson about seven years ago and it stoked my interest in astronomy (nay, in science in general) by giving interesting pieces of information that I had not thought about earlier. For example, although I had an idea of the distances of the planets in the solar system, text books show them equidistant from each other. This gives a misleading picture which had stayed with me. The reality is very different. As Bryson writes:
... this is a necessary deceit to get them all on the same piece of paper. Neptune in reality isn't just a little bit beyond Jupiter, it's way beyond Jupiter - five times further from Jupiter than Jupiter is from us, so far out that it receives only 3 per cent as much sunlight as Jupiter.

Such are the distances, in fact, that it isn't possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. Even if you added lots of fold-out pages to your textbooks or used a really long sheet of poster paper, you wouldn't come close. On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over 300 metres away and Pluto would be two and a half kilometers distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway).
I knew something about the solar system but that I was quite ignorant about the things beyond it. I knew the universe is big but didn't have an idea about how BIG it really is. The numbers were mind boggling. Bill Bryson again:
Carl Sagan calculated the number of probable planets in the universe at as many as ten billion trillion - a number vastly beyond imagining. But what is equally beyond imagining is the amount of space through which they are lightly scattered. 'If we were randomly inserted into the universe,'. Sagan wrote, 'the chances that you would be on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion.'
I started reading some blogs on astronomy and loved reading about galaxies, scales in the universe and other cool stuff. Undoubtedly, it helps that I don't have to put out the rubbish. When things get too complicated for my synapses, I can always feast on some great eye candy that illustrate Carl Sagan's words: "We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."

Being a bit better informed about astronomy and evolution also enabled me to be more discerning about science reports. I learned that whenever terms like 'paradigm shift' and 'scientists have to go back to the drawing board' are used, it is usually an exaggeration.

As an example of the kind of things that interest me these days, here is a discussion with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has the knack of talking about abstruse topics in a way that makes me want to hear more.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mukesh Ambani's "peacock's tail"?

Some days ago I saw a news report about Mukesh Ambani's 27 floor house with, among other amenities, a 50 seat theatre where, I suppose he will enjoy watching Slumdog Millionaire. What makes a person build a house so far in excess of his needs?

One of the interesting questions in biology is: Why does a peacock have such a heavy, gaudy tail? It costs energy to make - energy that can be used elsewhere, attracts predators and makes it difficult to escape from them. William Hamilton proposed a theory that is widely accepted: the peacock's tail is a signal of genetic fitness.

So is "Antilla" the name of Mukesh Ambani's version of the peacock's tail, a potlatch-style display of "I can"? Another peacock's tail (this one not belonging to any particular individual but was the brainchild of a group of of movers and shakers) was the recent Commonwealth Games.

In a podcast, P.Sainath, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper, talked about a grand party thrown by Emperor Nero for the creme de la creme of Rome, as narrated by Tacitus. A problem was that the light was not enough. Nero solved it in typical fashion: he had criminals brought from the dungeons and burned at the stake to provide the lighting. What bothered Sainath was not the cruelty involved but the question: who were Nero's guests? What sort of mindset is required to silently eat the best foods and quaff the finest wines in the midst of all that cruelty? I also have a similar thought: what sort of mindset is required in order to build a billion dollar house at spitting distance from some of the largest slums in Asia?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You get used to it

If you are suddenly struck by what finance types call a Black Swan event, you become helpless, confused, angry and begin to lament like the Duke of Gloucester, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / They kill us for their sport."But when Time, The Great Healer, has done enough work you find ways to deal with the new reality and eventually you get used to it.

Sometimes, when I will be sitting on my wheelchair and browsing or reading a book with great interest, I will suddenly feel like passing motion so I will have to be shifted quickly to the bed. Occasionally, by the time the nurse makes the bed ready and Jaya comes to the room to shift me, my metabolic wastes would have made their presence felt.My muscles will stiffen automatically in disgust. (I know it is made of rare stuff but...) This stiffening makes it difficult for the nurse to manoeuvre me around the bed for cleaning the mess thus delaying the whole horrible process.

I found that the quickest way to relax my muscles is to let my mind wander thereby putting me in a state of suspended animation. I will start thinking about some topic that I had read recently for example, the trouble with intuition or inequality aversion or how language shapes thought or how news is made now. While my mind is busy thinking about these issues, I am only dimly aware of my surroundings. My muscles will become relaxed and the nurse will be able to complete her unenviable task quicker. A wandering mind has uses.

Sometimes, when a few visitors will be waiting in the front hall to meet me and I will be about to make my grand entrance, I will feel like passing motion and will quickly have to be shifted to the bed. The protagonist of Five Point Someone, when he finds himself in an embarrassing situation, wishes that dinosaurs were not extinct so that one would come along and gobble him up and put him out of his misery. (Evolutionary biologists will say that dinosaurs are not extinct because birds are dinosaurs but we will let that technical issue pass for the moment.) I also have a similar wish on such occasions especially when the nurse is on leave and Jaya has to perform the duties of a nurse.

Isak Dinesen put things in perspective, “What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?” The roof and crown of things? Tennyson must have been joking.

At times I am so lost in my thoughts that I fail to notice the nurse giving me feeds through the feeding tube. When Jaya asks me about the feeding I stare blankly at her and she has to get the details from the nurse. Even I am surprised that I did not notice something so obvious. I suppose the default network of my brain must be active at these times.

I have realised the wisdom in Duke Ellington's words, "There are two kinds of worries - those you can do something about and those you can't. Don't spend any time on the latter." Most people eventually get adjusted to the whips and scorns of time. Even if it means lying on shit. It is not easy. It doesn't happen overnight . But it happens. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert writes:
For at least a century, psychologists have assumed that terrible events- such as having a loved one die or becoming the victim of a violent crime- must have a powerful, devastating, and enduring impact on those who experience them. This assumption has been so deeply embedded in our conventional wisdom that people who don't have dire reactions to events such as these are sometimes diagnosed as having a pathological condition known as "absent grief". But recent research suggests that the conventional wisdom is wrong, that the absence of grief is quite normal, and that rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma.
Learning from the Heart is a book written by Daniel Gottlieb who suffered a spinal cord injury that left him quadriplegic at the age of thirty-three. He writes:
I got insight into the process of becoming more dependent when I was reading Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Alborn. When Morrie, the author's mentor, was first being affected by ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), he turned to Mitch and said, "Oh my God, one day somebody will have to wipe my ass."

When I read that quote my immediate thought was, "You'll get over it, Morrie. I did." Having a catheter and needing someone else to bathe and dress me used to be a horrible indignity. Now all those things are simply regular parts of my life, just as anyone who needs to wear reading glasses or bifocals makes a habit of putting them on and taking them off. Whatever you need today that you didn't need yesterday simply becomes a part of your life.
Later, he writes:
No wonder there is a little comedian inside of me who finds great humor when people unthinkingly say to me, "Sometimes when I think about my life, I just feel paralyzed." I just look up and say, "Sometimes I feel that way, too!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There is grandeur in this view of life

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. - Theodosius Dobzhansky

One disconcerting feature of studying in IIMA was that (apart from being occasionally sucked into a vicious cycle), everybody seemed to know everything better than me. I then worked in the financial sector which again is full of super brains (at least I thought so till a couple of years ago). So I was always under pressure to keep up with various alphabet soup products so that I don't feel left out of a conversation. This pressure was no longer there after my stroke. My eyes used to glaze over when I used to read some article on finance and I switched to reading something else.

At this time I came across an article on Evolution vs Creationism. I had never heard of creationism and wondered what it was. I found that all it seemed to be saying was 'evolution can't do this or that, hence creationism' which did not make sense. Evidence against one theory is not the same as evidence for another theory. But I couldn't follow their arguments because I didn't know much about evolution so I started reading about it. I soon realised that whatever little I thought I knew about evolution was wrong. As Jacques Monod said, " [A] curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it."

When the penny finally dropped, I could see why T.H.Huxley exclaimed on reading the Origin of Species: "How stupid of me not to have thought of that." After I managed to overcome the semantic gap, I could understand better the various strands of evidence for evolution. Reading about Deep Time, when different creatures were abundant and when they became extinct was cool. Richard Dawkins writes in The Ancestor's Tale:
The human imagination is cowed by antiquity, and the magnitude of geological time is so far beyond the ken of poets and archaeologists it can be frightening. But geological time is large not only in comparison to the to the familiar timescales of human life and human history. It is large on the timescale of evolution itself.
The nature programs on T.V., which were becoming boring, took on a new meaning, When I saw some program about predators and prey, I thought about evolutionary arms races. When I saw a program about bats, I thought about reciprocal altruism. I had not heard of these terms before. Reading about evolution of complex parts or communication in slime moulds was far more interesting than reading about naked shorts or covered puts. As Keats said, "in spite of all,/Some shape of beauty moves away the pall/From our dark spirits" and I looked forward to reading something new about evolution everyday. And I was glad to know that I am not another data point for the Salem Hypothesis.

The Theory of Evolution is beautifully complicated - it is complicated enough to keep me interested but not so complicated that I will give up in a daze. On the other hand if I had started reading about string theory, I wouldn't know what hit me. I remember reading that it dealt with 11 dimensions. I can barely handle three.

I soon stopped reading about creationism because it was so boring. They keep making silly statements like 'nobody saw it' or using weasel tactics. Perhaps they should be answered like this. I loved this email exchange between an evolutionary biologist, Richard Lenski and a creationist. Lenski's second letter was brilliant. Like the author Terry Pratchett, I concluded that 'I would rather be a rising ape than a fallen angel'. There is a (probably apocryphal) exchange between T.H.Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce that took place in 1860. The incident is described in Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea:
When Wilberforece ended his speech, he looked to Huxley. He asked him, half-jokingly, whether it was on his grandfather's or grandmother's side that he descended from an ape.

Later Huxley would tell Darwin and others that at that moment he turned to a friend seated next to him, struck his hand to his knee, and said, "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands." He stood and lashed back at Wilberforce. He declared that nothing that the bishop had said was at all new, except his question about Huxley's ancestry. "If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape."
Apocryphal or not, it is a good story.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The electrician

Once when the fan in my room was giving some problems, an electrician was called to repair it. As is usual for someone who sees me for the first time, he asked a lot of questions which were answered briefly. (I was not present during the remainder of the incident. I am relating what Jaya had told me at the time. She remembers it only vaguely now.)

Before leaving, he told Jaya that he knew a pastor who could do many miracles. He would bring the pastor if Jaya gave the latter a donation. Jaya told him that there was no objection to his praying but she will not give any donation. He left a CD which he wanted me to see. It probably contained material regarding faith healing. Since none of us was interested in it, we did not see it.

The next day he came again and said that his wife had fallen ill and his son had met with an accident. He said that this was because Jaya was not 'allowing' him to 'help' me. Jaya didn't know how to respond. He seemed to be implying that we were somehow responsible for his troubles. She told him that we were sorry that he was having problems but we had nothing to do with it and sent him away.

I have met many such people with creative ideas - one person said that I should sleep in the front hall near the entrance because it was the best place according to 'vaastu', another person said there is a ghost roaming around my room (those who intend visiting me later need not be apprehensive - this was in a previous house), a person who could 'look into the future' tied a couple of ribbons to ward off evil spirits, one person said that I should not use AC because it will affect blood circulation, another person said that I should not sit for long in front of the computer because radiation from the monitor might affect my brain, another said that my room should be painted red because longer wavelengths of light stimulate the neurons of the medulla oblongata...ok, I am making up that last one but you never know what you might get. (All sorts of unlikely objects get lodged in the brain without being deliberately put there.)

Conditioned by such experiences, I look warily at any unknown person who comes into my room. I get the same feeling of unease that Bertie Wooster used to get when some young pest announced hat he was looking to do his good deed for the day. Some people will relax quickly after they see me and start talking about normal, everyday matters. Others will keep looking doubtfully at me and I can see that they are thinking very hard about ways to help me - a 'help' that I will dread.

I can totally identify with the street artist, Banksy's plea: "I need someone to protect me from all the measures they take in order to protect me."That is another skill that Jaya has honed through years of practice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The truth in the lie

We may not doubt that society in heaven consists mainly of undesirable persons.-- Mark Twain

A quadriplegic in the neighbourhood is the cue for various religious cults to crawl out of the woodwork and offer a plethora of miracles. A guy belonging to one such cult wanted Jaya to go to Chennai to meet his leader. Jaya told him that if I agreed to the the trip, she would go. She also told him that in all probability I will bury the idea not praise it. He wanted to meet me but knowing that I would not be interested in listening to the Deepities, Eulerian bluffs and different versions of the Courtier's Reply that these guys are adept in giving, Jaya tried to discourage him from coming home. But he was confident of his persuasive abilities and insisted on meeting me so finally Jaya relented.

He came into my room sporting a big smile - beware of Greeks bearing gifts or in this case, smiles. (Bernard helpfully informs us that the Trojan horse was actually Greek.) He tried to ingratiate himself with me with standard statements - How are you? You look healthy. You will soon be alright... He then told me that god moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Having been given this stunning revelation only about a million times before, I listened to him with great interest.

He assured me that his god was the 'Real God'. (Another guy told me that he will do a 'strong puja' for me. Have you come across this term before?) Apparently he (or she or it) could perform miracles that would leave lesser gods gaping in awe. He told me about the crippled man who could walk, the child who was cured of leukemia and such standard stories. I tried to stare unblinkingly thinking that he might take my blinks to mean that I had agreed to send Jaya to Chennai.

When he showed no signs of leaving, I tried to think of some way to politely show him the door. I looked frequently at the clock hoping that he would realise that I was not interested but he was immune to such hints. He appeared determined to make me see the light and it looked as if he would leave only after achieving his objective. Wodehouse fans will recall that Balaam's Ass had a similar temperament.

I suddenly had an idea. It is said that a tide comes in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. I was confident that this idea was that tide and lost no time in taking it at the flood. I indicated to the nurse that I wanted to pass urine. After she bolted the door, I indicated to her that I was fibbing. If you prefer a bit of syllabic stretching, I indicated to her that I was being economical with the truth. She understood what was on my mind and laughed.

I waited for ten minutes before allowing her to open the door. When people leave my room after they have met me for a while, they usually don't come back. But as Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four:
.... while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.
I knew what the average man will do but what this individual will do was anybody's guess. Like Jeeves, I tried to study the psychology of the individual but this did not ease my trepidation. There was the lurking thought that he might return to impress me with more yarns about the amazing prowess of his 'Real God'. It was too early to crow,'Elementary, dear Watson.'

But after a couple of minutes Jaya came and calmed my fears. Apparently he had left soon after he came out of my room.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I want to sleep
Swat the files
softly, please.
-Haiku by Masaoka Shiki

Many scriptures say (so I am told) that god has made everything on earth for man’s benefit but when a mosquito bites me in the middle of the night the benefit is not immediately apparent. When we shifted to our current house which is on the third floor, I thought I was rid of the scourge of mosquitoes. Surely those tiny wings are not capable of scaling such heights? But I rejoiced too soon. Third floor is not a challenge for mosquitoes.

The tip of my nose is a favourite piece of real estate for many mosquitoes. I will hope that a few shakes of my head would encourage them to leave. But hope is not a plan. Since I could not brush the mosquitoes off of my own volition, I had to think of some other way. At night, I sleep on my left side and a row of pillows is kept against the railing so that my head and legs don't hit it if I cough. I will move my head up and down and strain every sinew to irritate my tracheostomy. This will induce a bout of cough which will make my head hit the pillow and make the mosquitoes fly away. (I never knew that the acceleration and impacts of my head caused by bouts of cough could cause head injuries.)

Some of the mosquitoes that fly away might settle on a part of my body where I cannot disturb them. (There is a word for the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch. Who knew?) By now I will be too exhausted to try and stimulate another bout of cough and see what happens. At such times I will have no option but to be another link in the food chain. Unlike D.H. Lawrence, I am not 'mosquito enough to out-mosquito' them. I will only hope that they will not leave me the baddest of all Apicomplexans as a parting gift. (I came across this expression last month and thought that it would be fun to make you click that link to find out what the hell I mean.)

I can understand Alfred Russel Wallace's feelings about the living conditions in Wanumbai in Indonesia (As quoted in The Song of the Dodo):
"Instead of rats and mice there are curious little marsupial animals about the same size, which run about at night and nibble anything eatable that may be left uncovered. Four or five different kinds of ants attack everything not isolated by water, and one kind even swims across that; great spiders lurk in baskets and boxes, or hide in the folds of my mosquito curtain; centipedes and millipedes are everywhere. I have caught them under my pillow and on my head; while in every box, and under every board which has lain for some days undisturbed, little scorpions are sure to be found snugly ensconced, with their formidable tails quickly turned up ready for attack or defence. Such companions seem very alarming and dangerous, but all combined are not so bad as the irritation of mosquitoes,"
On second thoughts...centipedes, millipedes, spiders, scorpions...h'm. Enduring stings is not a 'happiness skill' that I am eager to cultivate. I wouldn't have liked to be in the room when Bill Gates pulled this stunt during a TED talk.

Mosquito mavens will be chagrined to learn that at one time, I thought that a world without mosquitoes would be close to the best of all possible worlds. But that doesn't seem a good idea.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A typical day

By about six in the morning, most people in the household are up and about and I will also be up by this time. Danny Nevrath said,"The only problem with the speed of light is,it gets here too early in the morning." I don't have this peeve. I am usually up much before the others.After some exercise, feeding, sponging etc., I watch T.V. or lie quietly for a while during which time the nurse finishes her daily activities. By about 11 o'clock, I will be shifted to the wheelchair after which my day really begins.

By this time on most days I would have tried to exceed memory limits (no doubt unsuccessfully) - some word meanings have to be checked, I will get some ideas for future posts, there may be something to show Jaya, etc. I will quickly take the appropriate actions before I forget something. After that I will begin my usual mix of browsing and reading books.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Similarly I also make plans but am alive to the fact that none of them may work out because of some unforeseen developments. For instance, one day I thought that there was plenty of time to publish a post but my plan was scuppered by a telephone call just then informing us that a few relatives were coming for lunch and Jaya had to run to the kitchen to prepare something.

Sometimes when I will be reading something about the economics of climate change or about 'useless inventions' or listening to some political humour, Sujit will ask me some doubt in his homework. I will try to clear his doubt to the best of my ability. I will also try to find some diagram or video on the web which can simplify my task. Often I will first explain to Jaya who will then explain it to Sujit which takes time.

Sometimes the nurse will be busy in some other activity and will not be free to manipulate the mouse for me. If I can predict these times, I will switch to listening to some podcast. Sometimes the interruption happens too quickly for me to react and I will have no option but to sit quietly and admire the monitor. A problem with audio is that I may miss part of it because of the sound of a passing truck or some other disturbance.

I will be shifted back to the bed at around 9 p.m. In the ten hours since I was shifted to the wheelchair, if I get to read for about four hours, I would have had a good day. The remaining time would be spent in physiotherapy, helping Jaya in her work, helping Sujit or sitting idly because the nurse is busy with other work. By about ten thirty the lights are switched off as everyone goes to sleep but don't be surprised if I think about The Cupertino effect or about the impact of Wikileaks for a while before I gradually drift off to sleep.

I once heard a podcast in which the speaker said that life is about finding a balance between chaos and order - if life has only order, it is boring; if it has only chaos, you become neurotic. I had a balance between the two before my stroke. After the stroke, for a time, there was more of chaos. Now there is another equilibrium between order and chaos which has been working well so far.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Knowledge and certainty - II

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.
- John Dryden

Once, when some painting work was going on in our house, a painter stood in my room watching the physiotherapist give me exercises. He asked many questions about my stroke and said that he had heard that if you got a cracking sound when the fingers or toes are pulled, it meant that the limb was normal. The physiotherapist said that it was just the sound of air bubbles popping in a fluid in the joints and was not of great significance. But the painter refused to accept the explanation and started pulling my toes.

I wondered how a person who probably knew nothing about the functioning of the human body could argue so confidently with someone who had studied about it for years. The physiotherapist said that this happened frequently in the hospital. When he would be giving exercise to a person, somebody will come up and say that some other exercise should be given.

Over the years I decided on a rule of thumb for making out whether a person knew what he was talking about. He will use words like 'it depends', talk about side effects, likely complications, failure rates etc. As David Quammen said in The Boilerplate Rhino:
Having had many chances to study scientists as they study nature, I've seen that science itself is a fallible human activity, not a conceptual machine-tool, and that while accuracy and precision can be easily achieved, validity and meaning cannot. The imperfections and constraints vitiating scientific knowledge stand as a warning about the limits of other sorts of knowledge - even shakier sorts - including that based on eyewitness experience. Moral: We live in a tricky universe, and it behooves us to be just a bit provisional about our convictions.
Carl Sagan wrote in The Demon-Haunted World:
Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science - by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans - teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.

We will always be mired in error. The most each generation can hope for is to reduce the error bars a little, and to add to the body of data to which error bars apply. The error bar is a pervasive, visible self-assessment of the reliability of our knowledge.
On the other hand a person with a tenuous grasp of the subject being discussed, being unencumbered by any knowledge of the subtleties involved, will try to sell you lemon juice giving you 'hundred percent guarantee'. As H. L. Mencken said, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Unfortunately it seems that we’re swayed by confidence more than expertise.(I know, I know you are not one of those. It is about others.) Many people also have a poor grasp of probability. (I am not very good at it. I keep getting surprised by the answers to various questions.) Perhaps Arthur Benjamin's suggestion needs to be considered.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Knowledge and certainty - I

The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.- William Shakespeare

Among many cognitive biases (apparently most people - not you of course - have ‘bias blind spot’) is The Dunning-Kruger effect which is the phenomenon whereby people who have little knowledge systematically think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge. One curious aspect you may have noticed is that they tend to become bosses. Charles Darwin knew about this illusion of confidence and said that "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge". In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre said:
Today, scientists and doctors find themselves outnumbered and outgunned by vast armies of individuals who feel entitled to pass judgement on matters of evidence - an admirable aspiration - without troubling themselves to obtain a basic understanding of the issues.
Later he says:
I spend a lot of time talking to people who disagree with me - I would go so far as to say that it's my favourite leisure activity - and repeatedly I meet individuals who are eager to share their views on science despite the fact that they have never done an experiment. They have never tested an idea for themselves, using their own hands; or seen the results of that test, using their own eyes; and they have never thought carefully about what those results mean for the idea they are testing, using their own brain. To these people 'science' is a monolith, a mystery and an authority, rather than a method.
The arrogance of ignorance is often seen when you have a medical problem.(This is exacerbated by distrust of Big Pharma due to Marketing-Based Medicine and other machinations.) If you cut your finger and the doctor prescribes an ointment, the servant will scoff at it and say that the best cure is a paste made by crushing the roots of a particular plant. If the doctor advises 3 weeks' bed rest for a bad back, your cousin's friend (who is a brilliant Chartered Accountant you are told) will tell you with evangelical insistence about a protein drink that can cure all aches and pains within a week. Being a brilliant CA doesn't qualify you to give medical advice.The transfer of expertise from one area to another often has errors.

People who have got their medical knowledge from dumbed down news reports will speak with great confidence about cures for various problems.You will be told,"My father was given a particular piece of advice for some ailment and now I am being told something else for the same ailment. These guys don't know anything." But all errors are not equal.As the physicist Richard Feynman once wrote, science creates an “expanding frontier of ignorance” where a discovery leads to more questions which lead to more discoveries.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Which hospital?

Once Jaya had to stay over-night at a hospital to look after a relative's child because nobody could stay due to various reasons. That evening, when the physiotherapist came, he asked me the name of the hospital to which Jaya had gone. I didn't blink for any name that he mentioned, which puzzled him.

If everyone took his cue from the noted intellectual , George Bush and said "I don’t do nuance", communication with me would have quickly reached a dead-end. But this physiotherapist was made of sterner stuff. Like Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark, the absence of my usual communication meant something and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

He tried to think of hospitals that he had missed. He wondered if some hospital had an unusual name but realised that whatever it was, I should have been able to dictate it. (He had some familiarity with my communication system.) He wondered whether the hospital was outside Coimbatore to which I replied in the negative. He might have found a Watson-like computer useful but not having access to one, he asked Sujit to try his luck. Sujit tried his methods but was unsuccessful and he concluded that I was playing the fool.

Suddenly the physiotherapist had a thought and asked me: Do you know the name of the hospital - yes/no? I blinked for 'no' - I didn't know the name!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "one word at a time." - Stephen King

For a similar question I will have to answer,"one letter at a time." As you can guess, this is not the best method for indulging in repartees. In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote:
But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home. By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it, letter by letter.So the rule is to avoid impulsive sallies. It deprives conversation of its sparkle, all those gems you bat back and forth like a ball - and I count this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of my condition.
In the early years after my stroke, when a splendid retort occurred to me in response to some comment, I used to think that this was an opportunity to get a few claps. I will start dictating my comment to Jaya. After ten minutes, I will wait for the applause. None would be forthcoming. The problem was that no one had the patience to wait reverently for my gem and had been talking about other things with the result that they had forgotten what it was that I was responding to. I will try to remind them of it. Fast forward ten minutes and again the claps will be conspicuous by their absence. The problem this time would be that people would have forgotten a few words from my comment. As everyone knows, a repartee minus key words is as witty and charming as a weather report. Maybe a special computer would have been able to decipher the layers of meanings in my riposte but in the world of real people, it was a miserable failure. By now, knowing that the inordinate delay had killed the punch in my repartee, my initial enthusiasm for displaying my perspicacity would be on the wane and I will wish that I hadn't started the whole thing in the first place. But I will have to plod on because everyone would be curious about what I had thought of. I will accept whatever interpretation anyone puts to my words, my only indention being to complete the damn thing as soon as possible. After the mess gets over, I will wish that I could, like Little Jack Horner, sit in a corner in order to lick my wounds in peace but since this option is not available, I will continue to sit quietly and smile for the sake of the optics.

Steven Pinker said, "In our social relations, the race is not to the quick but to the verbal..." , which is doubly true of repartees. Initially I was eager to show that my mind was functioning as before but now, since most people know that I am a bit better than one of the wax statues at Madame Tussauds, I don't mind keeping quiet. Sometimes, a pithy remark occurs to me in response to some statement but chastised by the memory of the earlier disasters, I resist the temptation to give in to my delusions of wit and wisdom. Heywood C. Broun said, “Repartee is what you wish you'd said”. I am sure he did not say it thinking of a patient with locked-in syndrome.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I once read an article about Christopher Reeve where he said that a tragedy brings out the best or the worst in a family and he was glad that it had brought out the best in his. I will say the same except that along with the word 'family', I will include the word 'framily'.

Anyone who reads this blog will know that Jaya has been like a rock. The task of a caregiver is unenviable. Sujit quickly accepted the idea that a person can be physically decrepit and mentally normal. Family members and relatives have been uniformly supportive. I have often been surprised by how much time they have for me. I sometimes feel like Julius Caesar: "When Caesar says Do this, it is performed."

My friends have always been ready to help me. When I was about to be discharged from the hospital, I heard about some obscene amount in the bill and I wondered how it will be settled. I learned later that a lot of friends had contributed to settling the bill. I keep hearing horror stories of people getting bankrupted because of some medical emergency. I have never had to contemplate such a nightmare. I came across a Greek proverb which said - "It is better in times of need to have a friend rather than money." I got lucky. Money is a double edged sword. Unlike Oliver Twist, I don't get looks of horror at my temerity when I ask for more.

The doctors, physiotherapists and nurses have also been very understanding. They have no problems answering my queries to my satisfaction. In the initial months after my stroke, when I was more cantankerous than I am now, when the nurses used to be bemused by my dumb charades, I used to think darkly, "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."But of course, I was being uncharitable. It is not easy to understand the actions of a guy who couldn't speak and whose facial muscles were not very mobile. It took quite a while for me to realise this. Though wisdom oft has sought me,/I scorned the lore she brought me.

And what do I have to do in return? Sometimes I may have to listen to conversations that I may not be interested in. Sometimes my request may have to take a backseat because something important has cropped up. Sometimes my communication may be misinterpreted and I will have no option but to bear it with a patient shrug. Sometimes I will laugh at jokes that I may not have understood properly - I may be feeling too lazy to ask for clarifications. I will laugh because I see others laughing.

Too little payment for so great a debt.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Early morning wake-up call

Religion has good and bad aspects. The tendency of people to think that anything and everything that is religious should be docilely accepted by everybody whether they like it or not does not sit well with me. You will have loudspeakers blaring religious music in the middle of the night or a place of worship springs up in the middle of a road but no one will protest.

One night, I woke up at around one thirty to pass urine. Producing a few grunts to wake somebody up takes a lot of effort and my sleep goes for a toss. I usually get back to sleep in less than an hour but that night, sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned (figuratively speaking), thinking about this and that. You know my methods. Apply them. It was around five (I could see faint shafts of daylight), when I finally dozed off. Almost immediately (it was still quite dark outside), I was woken up by loud noises. In my hypnopompic state I thought someone was being murdered. When the mist finally cleared, I realised that it was a religious procession, the crowd oblivious to the fact that their raucous behavior was causing a huge disturbance.To say that I was annoyed would be an understatement. It was more like a sneaky hate spiral.

I used to come across such behavior when I used to travel in trains. Some pilgrims will enter the train, make a lot of noise waking up sleeping children, empty the water tank, dirty the compartment, etc. "If you prick us, do we not bleed?", is the thought that occurs to me at these times. Believers by their actions seem to suggest, "We are as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee and to spurn thee too and for thus much mercies we demand your respect."

Being a devotee of Schrödinger's God, I am ok with 'strident' atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris criticising religion at every opportunity. They are not 'just' preaching to the converted. They help to shift the Overton Window.The Internet has helped push the issues they raise from the sphere of deviance to the sphere of legitimate controversy. For people who think that their atheism is like religion, James Randi has a quote: "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby." If some people don't like their combative tones, too bad. As Dan Dennet said:
“I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”
You can see that I am not thrilled about having had to listen silently for over a decade to Miss India beauty pageant type twaddle about how religion is great. I had more exposure to religion after my stroke than I had had before it and I didn't like it at all. Folks at home know that I am not religiously inclined but it was news to many visitors. Religion comforts many people but I find it boring, which used to leave many nonplussed. Some people could be very persistent in pushing their antediluvian ideas. I soon realised that arguing with them would be as frustrating as asking Senthil about the second banana so I generally kept quiet. Of course, the believers I meet are pleasant people who genuinely want to help me and are very far removed from the fundamentalist types one reads about in newspapers. But I often felt that many of their thought processes were circumscribed by impregnable mental walls whose foundations were laid in childhood. The reluctance to let go is difficult to overcome.

Recently I read The Emerging Mind which describes an interesting experiment on a split-brain patient:
We also tried testing the personality and aesthetic preferences of the two hemispheres independently using the same procedure – namely by training the right hemisphere to communicate ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ non-verbally to us by picking one of three abstract shapes with the left hand. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that in patient LB the left hemisphere said it believed in God whereas the right hemisphere signaled that it was an atheist. The inter-trial consistency of this needs to be verified but at the very least it shows that the two hemispheres can simultaneously hold contradictory views on God: an observation that should send shock waves through the theological community. When a patient like this eventually dies, will one hemisphere end up in hell and the other in heaven?

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Imagine a middle aged man reading about carnivorous plants or about the QWERTY keyboard in the middle of the afternoon when everyone else is relaxing in the arms of Morpheus. You will be justified in thinking that he is batty. Jaya sees me reading about some brain research at a time when she can barely keep her eyes open and reaches a similar conclusion. She can't do without an hour's sleep in the afternoon and never tires of telling me that a nap makes you smarter.

The brain stem has something to do with regulating sleep patterns. My stroke seems to have reset my body clock so that I need less than four hours of sleep a day. I suppose anyone living so long without proper sleep will have medical problems but I seem to be fine. I don't sleep a wink during the day. At night, the lights are switched off at ten thirty and in the morning I get up at five thirty. In that period, I am awake half the time. My sleep is not continuous. It is broken into three or four chunks interrupted by long periods of wakefulness.

My habit of reading books and articles, especially on subjects that I knew very little about before my stroke, has proved beneficial during these wakeful periods.(Groucho Marx knew the value of books- 'Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.' But you won’t have the same view if you read a book like Woody Allen read ‘War and Peace' in two hours after attending a speed reading course and said,’It was about some Russians.' Of course, I am assuming that the reader doesn't suffer from alexia.) I may think of something that I had not understood in a book that I had been reading. I may think about brazil nuts, about double standards, about Saturn, about Indohyus...(I am a really weird guy I tell you. You won't find too many respectable MBAs pondering over extinct tetrapods at 2 a.m. It takes all kinds to make the world.)

And when I get tired of the heavy stuff, I transport myself to Lords Cricket Ground where I score a brilliant unbeaten 123 to take India to victory on the final day of a pulsating Test Match. All the thrilling ingredients will be there - Dravid and Tendulkar will be dismissed for ducks, I will have a broken finger, it will be a seaming pitch...(Discerning readers would have noticed that my heroics happen in a Test Match. I am a connoisseur of the five day game so I won't be playing golf shots in T20 matches.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Computer and internet - II

Two years after we purchased the computer, my brother-in-law decided that we should go in for a broadband internet connection. This was an important decision for me. At that time I did not even know that a broadband connection was so easily and cheaply available. It went a long way towards obliterating what Richard Dawkins called ‘the anesthetic of familiarity’ which used to bore me to death. It enabled me to escape to the blogosphere where, to quote Bertrand Russell, 'one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the natural world.' Till then I was the perfect couch potato spending my time watching inane programmes and reading news of the "he said she said" variety or just staring at the walls. And of course, listening to halfalogues.

In an interview, Harsha Bogle said that you should surround yourself with people smarter than you so that you keep learning something. I meet plenty of smart people but the problem is that the conversation will not flow. They will not be sure if I am interested in the topic or about my responses. I will not say much because it takes too much time and because Jaya will be cut-off from the conversation during that time. I found that reading blogs written by very smart people was a good substitute for these conversations that I cannot have. Moreover, I could choose blogs on my current areas of interest which would not interest most of my acquaintances.

So I read quite a few blogs on evolution, some astronomy, some neuroscience, a science magazine etc. (Etc: A sign to make others believe that you know more than you actually do.) When I want something light, I look at a few eggcorns or admire a few kitlers... I am more like the Romans than the Greeks. Blame it on my inner capuchin monkey. (I remember reading that a generalist knows less and less about more and more while a specialist knows more and more about less and less.) Now you know how I get links. The nurse knows where to click the mouse on the screen so I can read without constantly calling Jaya.I just have to shrug at the occasional mouso. Don't think I read all posts in the blogs that I have mentioned. I rapidly skim the headings and read the posts that pique my interest.

I don't frequent social networking sites like Twitter for reasons that another blogger has specified. Another reason is specific to me. I have to get someone else to do my work for me so when Jaya is free I get her to type things that are higher on my list of priorities. Apart from indulging in a bit of "ambient awareness", I don't spend much time in social networks so I don't suffer from social network fatigue.

Aside - Every year, the literary agent John Brockman asks several public intellectuals to answer some question or another, and posts it on the Internet to provoke discussion. This year's question is "How is the Internet changing the way you think?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Computer and internet - I

About a couple of years after my stroke, we bought a computer with a dial-up Internet connection. There is no doubt that my extended mind has helped me in adjusting to life
after the stroke. It has been very useful in the specific task of writing this blog.

Before starting the blog, I had made a list of topics that I could write about. I have kept adding to it since then. Whenever I remember some incident, whenever I get an idea about how to express something, whenever I saw a relevant paragraph in a book or a link, I made a note of it. Over time this initial skeleton of random jottings has fleshed out into a useful aide memoire. Before I start a new post, I look at this file and think about how to convert the inchoate jumble of ideas contained therein into something readable.I take regular back-up of this file and even keep a copy in my gmail account. (Now you know how paranoid I am.)

The cut and paste functions seem to have been made specially for me. I have used it frequently to reduce the time required for dictation. (I remember seeing a quote that if you copy from one, it's plagiarism; if you copy from many, it's research. I assure you that I was only doing research.) I wonder how Wodehouse used to write his novels. A phenomenal memory must have been part of his genius.I need to only remember a few keywords of a quote or a poem and I can find out the exact words in a few seconds of Googling.

You may have noticed that I have more links in my later posts than in my earlier ones. This is because I keep coming across links that I can use. There is also the thought that someone may get interested in a link and discover something that I may not be aware of. I have the time to waste and thereby provide links, a luxury that you may not have.

The Internet obeys Sturgeon's Law leading to fears of agnotological Armageddon. I am fairly confident of being able to separate the wheat from the chaff most of the time and while information overload is a problem, I prefer it to information drought. But I find it a problem reading long tracts online.I am the only person in the house who welcomes a power cut.The resultant discomfort due to sweating is offset by the concomitant benefit of being able to read a book without the distraction of wanting to switch on the computer and click on something.

Aside: You can find some Googlefreude here. New technology is always viewed with suspicion by the older generation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oft repeated sentences

Quacks of different types seemed to sing from the same playbook. Many people also gave me the same arguments. Some of the dialogues that I remember hearing ad infinitum from various quarters are:
  1. "You have tried everything so why don't you try this also?"
  2. It is "scientifically proved"- One person told me that one should not eat anything between 9 o'clock and 11 o' clock (whether morning or evening)." It is proved in biology." "By who? Where? How? Nothing was mentioned which would have helped me to check what it was all about. Once I was told that it was "scientifically proved" that food turns into poison during a solar eclipse. I was shaken but did not stir. (There seem to be alot [sic] of superstitions about solar eclipses, most of which I did not know.)
  3. This is a "natural product" and has "no side effects"- Jaya is very reluctant to add something to my feeds that somebody suggests even though they will say that "it will not cause any harm". You never know what it might contain and how my body would react. I often see on TV people suffering some irreversible neurological problems after eating something that a local godman or his minions had given. But I never saw a follow-up programme about what happened to these criminals. Most probably they got away scot-free.
  4. It is "ancient wisdom"- It would seem as if the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile and people were wasting their time since then. Some ancient cures have been shown to be effective but that doesn't mean that everything that is called ancient is great. There were many great ancients but they were great in their time. As Newton said, "We see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants."
  5. Eating something or the other will "boost your immune system".
I realised early on that my counter-arguments will have precisely zero impact. I was hopelessly out numbered and would have only appeared as a stubborn Rumpelstiltskin. Anyway it would have taken too long to say my piece and I preferred to listen silently.