Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Raman Effect - Nobel Prize in 1930

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1930 was awarded to Sir Venkata Raman. The citation read "for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him". Here is a link where you can find the presentation speech delivered by Professor H. Pleijel, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, on December 10, 1930 before felicitating Sir Raman.

Also, a brief history around Sir Raman's discovery clarifies many questions and doubts. So, here is an article which briefly describes the scientific research activities which was going on around that period, across the globe and corresponding events that could probably have lead to what we call "Raman Effect".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What's wrong with Indian Science?

A very valid question - answer to which is hard to fathom or get from someone as easily and with clarity that one would like to. We all agree to the general mote learning methodology that the very strict examination system encourages as being one of the culprits. I just read an interview of Richard Jefferson in which he comments on Indian science. I share here a slice of that interview.
And what of Indian science in particular? The biggest problem, he says surprisingly, “is its absolutism, its dogmatism, its tribalism and its inability to engage in the truly empowering part of science: to be wrong. Science does not proceed by proving things right. Science proceeds by allowing things to be proved wrong.”

This is a rare candid view and I ask Jefferson to explain what he means. “Very little of the Indian science I wrestled with over the last two decades would allow itself to be wrong, and would more rarely celebrate it! It’s about dogmatism, turf wars, guild membership and hierarchies. Much of the early work in rice transgenesis was by labs that insisted they were right. And of course that pretty much guaranteed that they wouldn’t be,” he says.
 That is a problem that exists and I have to agree to it completely. Maybe it has something to do with our upbringing as a child, as well as, as a student. We are always advised to play safe and were sure to  be punished for any mistake we committed. During an exam or during a discussion with the teachers you dare not make a mistake. An atmosphere that I completely loathed all my student life. I hope with more appreciation for mistakes the new generation do not have to undergo the major pains of my student life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Karl Popper and the Black Swan

I was reading the novel 'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb during the winter of '08-'09. Since the internet has become just a click away, as a habit I read reviews and make general google research on the book and the author that I am reading. It was during one of these research readings that I came across Karl Popper - who is generally regarded as one of greatest philosophers of science. Being a student of science for most of my life it was surprising, and ignorant of me, to not have heard of the man and his contributions. Nevertheless, I tried to make amends and read a sufficient amount of material on the man. To write a post on a personality, let alone a philosopher is a herculean task and beyond the scope of the post. More importantly I cannot safely say I have read enough of his work to really build an article on the subject. Instead what I will do is introduce Karl Popper, if you are not already introduced to him, with slices of material I read with regard to Black Swan, Nicholas Taleb and Karl Popper.

Writing for the New York Times, Taleb starts his article/book with this paragraph.
Before the discovery of Australia, people in the old world were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird. 
He goes on to elaborate on the subject and give a three characteristic of a Black Swan event and more. Also, the following set of paragraphs would allow you to see the link between Taleb and Popper.

Every genuine scientific theory then, in Karl Popper's view, is prohibitive, in the sense that it forbids, by implication, particular events or occurrences. As such it can be tested and falsified, but never logically verified. Thus Popper stresses that it should not be inferred from the fact that a theory has withstood the most rigorous testing, for however long a period of time, that it has been verified; rather we should recognize that such a theory has received a high measure of corroboration. and may be provisionally retained as the best available theory until it is finally falsified (if indeed it is ever falsified), and/or is superseded by a better theory.

Popper has always drawn a clear distinction between the logic of falsifiability and its applied methodology. The logic of his theory is utterly simple: if a single ferrous metal is unaffected by a magnetic field it cannot be the case that all ferrous metals are affected by magnetic fields. Logically speaking, a scientific law is conclusively falsifiable although it is not conclusively verifiable. Methodologically, however, the situation is much more complex: no observation is free from the possibility of error—consequently we may question whether our experimental result was what it appeared to be.

Thus, while advocating falsifiability as the criterion of demarcation for science, Popper explicitly allows for the fact that in practice a single conflicting or counter-instance is never sufficient methodologically to falsify a theory, and that scientific theories are often retained even though much of the available evidence conflicts with them, or is anomalous with respect to them. Scientific theories may, and do, arise genetically in many different ways, and the manner in which a particular scientist comes to formulate a particular theory may be of biographical interest, but it is of no consequence as far as the philosophy of science is concerned. Popper stresses in particular that there is no unique way, no single method such as induction, which functions as the route to scientific theory, a view which Einstein personally endorsed with his affirmation that ‘There is no logical path leading to [the highly universal laws of science]. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience’. Science, in Popper's view, starts with problems rather than with observations—it is, indeed, precisely in the context of grappling with a problem that the scientist makes observations in the first instance: his observations are selectively designed to test the extent to which a given theory functions as a satisfactory solution to a given problem.
My personal favorite is this paragraph.
In the view of many social scientists, the more probable a theory is, the better it is, and if we have to choose between two theories which are equally strong in terms of their explanatory power, and differ only in that one is probable and the other is improbable, then we should choose the former. Popper rejects this. Science, or to be precise, the working scientist, is interested, in Popper's view, in theories with a high informative content, because such theories possess a high predictive power and are consequently highly testable. But if this is true, Popper argues, then, paradoxical as it may sound, the more improbable a theory is the better it is scientifically, because the probability and informative content of a theory vary inversely—the higher the informative content of a theory the lower will be its probability, for the more information a statement contains, the greater will be the number of ways in which it may turn out to be false. Thus the statements which are of special interest to the scientist are those with a high informative content and (consequentially) a low probability, which nevertheless come close to the truth. Informative content, which is in inverse proportion to probability, is in direct proportion to testability. Consequently the severity of the test to which a theory can be subjected, and by means of which it is falsified or corroborated, is all-important. 
Even after reading some of the articles on Popper, I am yet to completely understand and make my personal comment on his work. Nevertheless, I think he makes sense to me almost always and that encourages me to read more of him. Need to get hold of some of his written works. Suggestion in that regard would be most helpful.

To conclude here is what William W. Bartley has to say about Popper:
Sir Karl Popper is not really a participant in the contemporary professional philosophical dialogue; quite the contrary, he has ruined that dialogue. If he is on the right track, then the majority of professional philosophers the world over has wasted or is wasting their intellectual careers. The gulf between Popper's way of doing philosophy and that of the bulk of professional philosophers is as great as that between astronomy and astrology.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One puzzle that starts a story

One fine day I happened to mistakenly enter my father's boss's office room. Once I introduced myself and apologized he welcomed me but after knowing I had just written my standard X board exams, he started to bombard me  with a series of puzzles and mathematical questions that afternoon as if it was punishment I had to endure for being in the wrong room at the wrong time. Also I sensed he was using me as a guinea pig  to test the  current schooling standards. I managed to tackle, all his question, but for one. I eventually cracked it that evening and the complete process made me move a notch up in my understanding of mathematics and made me realize how a puzzle can be one of the best teaching methodology. Since then I have asked many this puzzle and have in most cases got the answer in quick time. Much quicker than I managed.

What I will do now is state the puzzle here without further delay and wait for some weeks to get answers from whoever cares to read this post. Most likely some of you have come across it and and I am expecting some participation. In the process of solving the question, each of you, I am sure, will understand the wider implication of this puzzle and would agree to me when I say it could be a good starting point when one introduces a particular of branch of mathematics to students.

The question:
I have been asked to weight all weights up to 100. That is I might be asked to weight, lets say 49 kg or any integer weight under 100 (including). What would be the least number of weights I should have and which ones.
It's possible I was not able to frame the question in best possible way. Let me know if you have any queries.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Effects of Internet on the brain

Recently went through an interesting article on the effects of internet and multi-tasking on our brain. Just take a look.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Human affected by Computer virus!

Its really hard to believe that human beings or for that matter, any living being could be affected by computer virus! Though, this appears to be an exciting component of a Science fiction, here is an article I found with "discovery news" claiming the infection of a senior research fellow by a "computer virus"!