Friday, July 24, 2015

Story of Sugar

A story from about 2,500 years ago captures this foment. Two brothers were leading a merchant caravan of ox-drawn carts out of the town of Bodh Gaya in northeastern India when they noticed a man sitting beside the road. He was dressed in rags. Something about him caught the brothers’ attention. “Stop!” they hollered back to the cart drivers. The brothers sent a boy to run back and dip into their stores.

The boy fished out a container of milk and some road food; accounts vary regarding exactly what it was. In some it’s a knob of peeled sugarcane; in some, honey; in others a more stick-to-the-ribs concoction, rice cakes or sweet rice balls made with milk, honey, and molasses.

“Go ahead, eat!” the brothers yelled as the boy thrust the food at the man. They had a schedule to keep; an act of kindness could not take all day. But the man hesitated. Then he bit into the cake and smiled.

The man was Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. This incident took place a few weeks after his enlightenment. Buddhist scriptures say his insight, gleaned after a long struggle, freed the former prince from his desires: the cravings for food, sex, money, and success that cause the world endless trouble. Buddhism holds that all experience is tainted by cravings. For a while, Siddhartha had starved himself trying to extinguish them, but that had only made him crave food more. Now, thanks to his enlightened state, Siddhartha apparently ate the sweet treat with no trace of these cravings, just simple enjoyment.

This account from ancient times captures a world grappling with this intense new sensation, whose pure taste and granular form made it preferable to honey. The Buddha lived in a sugarcane-growing region, and during his lifetime, India was starting to develop sugar refining into an industrial art, and created the world’s first dessert cuisine. 

References to sugar started to appear in poetry, medicinal advice, and official records around the same time, including the Arthasastra, a governing manual written around 300 BC by a bureaucrat named Kautilya. He noted sugar’s different forms in order of rising quality: guta, sarkara, and khanda (the second two are the roots of “sugar” and “candy”; sarkara is Sanskrit for “gravelly”). Members of the Jain sect, forbidden to kill even the tiniest living creature, could not eat honey because it might contain bee embryos. They turned to matsyandika, or sugar candy. Sugar was thought to keep the forces that ricocheted around the body in balance. Indian doctors believed eating it conferred special healing powers, helped digestion, and made semen more potent. According to an Indian book of cures from the second century BC: “In such a man’s body even poison becomes innocuous; his limbs grow hard and compact like stone; he becomes invulnerable.” One elixir of ginger, licorice, gum, ghee, honey, and sugar, if sipped each day for three years, was thought to guarantee a century of youth.

The two merchant brothers from the above tale, Tapassu and Bhallika, became the Buddha’s first lay disciples: they continued to spread the Buddhist message on their travels. This reflects the later historical reality: to generate income, Buddhist monks tended sugarcane and refined it. Over hundreds of years, both traders and Buddhist monks traveled the Silk Road, spreading sugarcane and the means for refining it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Evolution and the Chinese thought!

In the age of upper antiquity, human beings were few and animals were numerous, so the people could not prevail against the birds, beasts, insects, and serpents. Then there appeared a sage who taught the people how to build nests out of wood so they could escape all harm. The people were pleased by this and made the man king of the entire world, giving him the name “The Nester.” The people ate fruits, melons, mussels, and clams, but they were putrid and foulsmelling and hurt the people’s stomachs so that they often became sick and ill. Then there appeared a sage who taught the people how to start a fire by drilling dry kindling so they could transform their rancid foods. The people were pleased by this and made the man king of the entire world, giving him the name “The Kindler.” In the age of middle antiquity, the world was covered by a great flood, but Gun and Yu of the Xia opened up channels to divert the waters. In the age of lower antiquity, the wicked kings Jie and Zhou governed cruelly and created disorder, but Tang of Yin and Wu of Zhou led punitive campaigns to overthrow them.

Now if someone built nests out of wood or started fires by drilling dry kindling during the age of the Lords of Xia, they would surely be laughed at by Gun and Yu. If someone opened up channels to divert the flood waters during the age of the Yin and Zhou, they would surely be laughed at by Tang and Wu. This being the case, if someone goes around praising the Way of Yao, Shun, Tang, Wu, and Yu in the present age, they will surely be laughed at by the new sages.

For this reason, the sage does not expect to follow the ways of the ancients or model his behavior on an unchanging standard of what is acceptable. He examines the affairs of the age and then makes his preparations accordingly.

This is how things happened according to the last major thinker of the pre-Qin period in China, the social and political theorist Han Feizi

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mathematics Then and Now

When Werner Heisenberg worried that human beings might never truly 
understand atoms, Bohr was a bit more optimistic. He replied, “I think we  
may yet be able to do so, but in the process we may have to learn what the 
word understanding really means.”

Today, we use computers to help us 
reason beyond the limitations of our own intuition. In fact, experiments with computers are leading
mathematicians to discoveries and insights never dreamed of before
the ubiquity of these devices. Computers and computer graphics allow
mathematicians to discover results long before they can prove them formally,
thus opening entirely new fields of mathematics. 

Even simple computer tools, such as spreadsheets, give modern mathematicians power
that Heisenberg, Einstein, and Newton would have lusted after. As just
one example, in the late 1990s, computer programs designed by David
Bailey and Helaman Ferguson helped to produce new formulas that
related pi to log 5 and two other constants. As Erica Klarreich reports in
the April 24, 2004, edition of Science News, once the computer had
produced the formula, proving that it was correct was extremely easy.
Often, simply knowing the answer is the largest hurdle to overcome when
formulating a proof.

While at school I was reasonably good at mathematics.
Somehow, I never liked numerals though.
I remember asking the history teacher, what does it matter whether Buddha was born in a particular year or two years that way or this.
What matters is what he said or did.

When I joined biology stream, our beloved maths teacher came to that class and asked me to shift to Math class. He said all my cousins, his earlier students, were very good at mathematics and I should follow them.
I never went.

I did not even continue in biology. I shifted to Language. Then back to biology.
After a good number of years and a doctorate I left the stream once again.
I drifted and drifted.
Where am I now?
Now I want to read and write about Mathematics.
May be to regain the lost fun!!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What is Sufism?

From Idries Shah.

Four men-a Persian, a Turk, an Arab, and a Greek were standing in a village street . They were traveling com panions, making for some distant place but at this moment they were arguing over the spending of a single piece of money which was all that they had among them.
"I want to buy angur," said the Persian.
"I want uzum," said the Turk.
"I want inab," said the Arab.
"Not" said the Greek, "we should buy staftl."
Another traveler passing, a linguist, said, "Give the coin to me. I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you ."
At first they would not trust him . Ultimately they let him have the coin. He went to the shop of a fruit seller and bought four small bunches of grapes .
"This is my anger," said the Persian.
"But this is what I call uzum," said the Turk .
"You have brought me inab," said the Arab .
"Not" said the Greek, "this in my language is staftl."

The grapes were shared out among them, and each realized that the disharmony had been due to his faulty understanding of the language of the others.

"The travelers," said the Agha, "are the ordinary people of the world . The linguist is the Sufi. People know that they want something, because there is an inner need in them. They may give it different names, but it is the same thing. Those who call it religion have different names for it, and even different ideas as to what it might be. Those who call it ambition try to find its scope in different ways. But it is only when a linguist appears, someone who knows what they really mean, that they can stop the struggling and get on with the eating of the grapes ."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

D. Carleton Gajdusek - A Scientist with difference

I met this great human being when he came to Hyderabad to participate in the seminar to coincide with the inauguration of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
I even had a long chat with him.
A photo taken at that time was printed in one of teh leading newspapers along with an article of mine.
Alas, those people did not give the photo back.

Read what he says and you would understand why I remember him after all these years.

I find fun in science only when I am thought to be a charlatan. You don’t know what
you are doing, you don’t know what questions to ask. You mull it over and you have
foolish ideas for ten or twenty years; you talk to your colleagues, and they don’t get it
and get bored. That is the creative process of science. When you know what questions
to ask and how to approach them and can finally get your colleagues excited, and they
run home to write a grant proposal, you know you’ve done your job, and you move

The biggest damage to diabetics research was Banting and Best’s discovery of insulin.
It caused fifty years in which little work was done on the cause or prevention of
diabetes, only studies on physiology of insulin, production of different insulin pharmaceuticals,
and desensitizing people who are sensitive to insulin. It has nothing to do
with ever preventing or curing diabetes. The same with multiple sclerosis. Today we
know no more about the cause than we did in the early twentieth century. The same is
for schizophrenia. I am waiting for the eighteen-year-old to come into my office, saying,
‘I’m going to give my life to find the cause of schizophrenia.’ 

I remember the first thing I asked him was "how to pronounce his name"
He heartily laughed at that!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

America!!! The Promised Land?

This is what is the thinking about Americaaaaaa!
My son is there.
My daughter-in-law is there!
Am I there in America?
Would I be there in due course?

“In America, the streets are paved with gold. And everything else is stuffed with cheese and bacon.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

Property lead to more Work!!

This is an interesting observation!
We tend to think that more property causes one to become lazy.
During evolution, however, it was the other way round.

Read on.

And once there was property, laziness must have decreased. There were many ways in which hard work could produce enduring assets that could increase an individual’s fitness or that of his children and relatives. Farmers could save to buy more land or livestock. They could build long-lasting improvements like buildings or irrigation works. This was not really possible for hunter-gatherers—there was no way for them to accumulate wealth. If they had full stomachs and their tools and weapons were in good shape, hunter-gatherers didn’t work. They hung out: They talked, gossiped, and sang. They were lazy, and they should have been: Being lazy made biological sense. They could usually obtain enough food fairly easily, since constant local violence kept human numbers below the land’s carrying capacity. When law and order let human density increase, farmers eventually had to work harder and harder just to survive. Here again, selection must have favored those odd people who like to work, even when there was enough to eat.

Ultimately, this meant that both sexes had to work hard. In fact, for most people, that became the only way to produce enough to feed and raise a family. That pattern is not universal. In situations where resources are abundant, men sometimes do little work. Men working hard to feed their families—“high paternal investment,” we call it—is common among contemporary hunter-gatherers and may well have been a standard feature of the ancestors of all modern humans. Women bring in most of the calories in such societies (from plant foods), at least in warm climates, but the meat contributed by male hunters is a vital source of protein and other essential nutrients.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Forgive and move ahead!

I am too sensitive, I know!
In fact I am feeling a little let down these days!
Perhaps I am the reason for the situation!
I am!
Then I found the following few lines.
They made sense!


Most people whom we meet are kind and helpful.
Only a few have been unkind and unhelpful.
Forgive them!
It is over!
Don’t let anger and hurt stay in your system.
Let them go.
Be kind to those who you forgive.
Once you forgive, your health will improve.
Don’t harbour any bad feelings or grudges.
They make you old.
Then, as you move at a slower pace, remember that everyone has much bigger challenges than appear on the surface.
Make allowances. Most people are doing their best.
Like you, they have made many mistakes and have many regrets.
They are human, too.