Sunday, August 12, 2012


Is History a science or an art? I would argue it is much more a science than we realize.

Science functions as follows- inquisitive folk observe a natural phenomena, which they do not initially understand. They set out on a quest to understand that and related phenomenon. To that end, the inquisitor creates plausible hypothesis. And then starts the collection of evidence to support the hypothesis. This is done through experimentation and keeping sense perception heightened to what they are looking for. If the evidence collected allows the inferring of correctness of the hypothesis, it becomes an accepted theory. One more brick in the wall of Science. Another milestone.

Through the history of mankind science and human knowledge has followed this path to growth. Be it Galileo, Copernicus, Edison , Darwin or innumerable others.

There are some experiments where carrying out of the experiment is hard part and inference is self evident. For example when Edison was inventing the bulb, he had to create different prototypes and then switch on the bulb. If the bulb lights up the experiment would be successful and hypothesis would be theorized. However there are some experiments where  inference is not as simple as toggling a switch and watching for light. For example the Large Hadron Collider experiment. Constructing the experiment and carrying it out was no easy task, but neither is the inference. After all you are trying to find the Higgs Boson, which can not be seen. So large amount of data is collected, which are electrical signals generated from collision of particles, and computer programs go through that data looking for a signature. If the data would pass statistical tests - hypothesis would become the theory. With time if more and more data confirms the hypothesis, scientist would be able to assert with more statistical significance, the correctness of their conjecture.

A close examination would reveal parallels between the act of inference in scientific inquiry and the quest to understand human society and its history. We have a huge number of people on this planet, existing co-dependently for very long, where individuals change through time and ideas that bind them also change through time. Society resembles a mutating organism in that way. It can also be seen as a diversified scientific experiment happening as we breathe. The tough part is Inference. Like a biologist a historian tries to understand the organism that is our society. If we can study our own behavior on a giant scale and through time, and take some knowledge from it, we will have much greater control over our destiny.

History, and the act of writing and re writing of it is not just a statement of facts, but our attempt at inference. History is an attempt not just to create a theory which is an end to itself, but an understanding of individual and collective human nature which itself would evolve over time. The distinction between art and science probably comes from the fact that there is no well defined objective in this exercise, but it resembles science in so many other ways.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Marketing@Olympics and other things

Yesterday while I was watching the 200m race, i saw Usain Bolt grab a camera from a Sports journalist and click away. Later it was all over the news. Many thought he was exploring the photo enthusiast part of his persona, but I wondered - How much would he have been paid for this? I mean top sportsmen who have worked hard to be where they are, don't even drink a cola for free on the street (they can actually be sued if they are photographed drinking a rival cola anywhere) why would he grab a new Nikon D4 introduced in January, on one of the biggest nights of his career and do the best kind of advertisement (one that looks natural) in one of the most watched moments around the world.

Marketing runs so deep in the system that you can never be sure if you really want some thing or you have been subconsciously suggested to want it. If you see the expression "The Beast" of Yohan Blake, that he does when he is being introduced at the start or during celebrations, he almost resembles the Puma which is his sponsor. Now that is some clever shit, and I wouldn't be surprised if that celebratory stance is actually paid for( how it works is it draws your attention to the logo he is also wearing on his jersey while he is on the screen and so registers it on your brain).

I see so many amateur photographers, who all incidentally have found out that photography is a good hobby to have and develops you artistically just when the digital camera technology was becoming economically feasible and companies needed a market now that they had the product. That maybe partly true, but I am sure a tabla or painting offers equally satisfying artistic experience, but they have no takers.  World is full of people who have little idea of what they want, they are just being manipulated everyday.

I am skeptical to an extreme (from experiences of course), to be aware of what i really want and what is being pushed by some party. I did not even read the Harry Potter series when it first came out and became a hit (well that was my loss), because even mainstream literature is usually shitty, like Chetan Bhagat or a Fifty shades of Grey. I let it grow stale and if it is any good it will stand the test of time. And then I will read/consume it when I am sure it is not me who is being monetized. Also the body of literature is so vast out there that if you are reading the best sellers, you are probably just lazy not to find out where all the good stuff is.

Monetizing everything runs very deep in capitalist culture. For example in many countries marijuana was not banned until few decades ago. It was a policy pushed by the US because as a vanguard of capitalism it is principally opposed to Marijuana as it is very hard to monetize. Of course Alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana, but that is legal. Because you can grow marijuana at your home and be satisfied, it is illegal. It is not good business and it is also not  good for business.