Two thought-provoking posts on academia

I am not an academician, nor do I ever intend to be one. But it interests me. Most people who knew me thought I would/should enter academia. I thought so myself for a while. Anyway, here are links to two thought-provoking posts by Vivek Haldar with some excerpts

Reproducing Papers

It turns out that a good fraction of results documented in peer-reviewed scientific papers cannot be reproduced. …

This is not failure of ethics. … It is a failure of process and documentation.

Like I’ve argued before, the paper as a unit of dessimination of modern scientific results is outmoded.

…Instead, what if the paper was replaced by a publicly-visible activity log?

The Components of a University

In about five years, if not sooner, the entire education complex is going to face the same existential crisis that journalism and newspapers are going through right now.

on the demand side, employers (at least in software) have almost completely soured on degrees.

colleges are stuck in a death spiral of costs increasing, and increasing costs turning off applicants.

Likely, universities will go back to their smaller, simpler roots,  concentrating more on unstructured knowledge creation.

What does one owe one’s parents?

Context: A delightful discussion on email, delightful because this is the first time I am engaging in serious personal discussion in a written medium.

Intuitively, one owes quite a lot to one’s parents. But in a matter as important as morality, one cannot rely on intuition alone. These matters must be examined rationally, ground up.

Choice is a crucial aspect of morality. The unchosen is not subject to a moral analysis. Being born was not a choice I made. I do not owe anything to my parents merely because they gave me birth. Asserting so would be subscribing to the duty view of morality. On the other hand, giving me birth was a choice they made. And this choice does impose moral responsibilities on them. This is a special asymmetry in a parent-child relationship as opposed to other relationships.

If one’s parents have fulfilled their responsibilities – and most parents at least try to do so – then one owes them respect for being moral people. The better they fulfill their responsibilities, the greater this respect should be. The same kind of respect is due to any person who acts morally. The respect due to one’s parents is just a specific application of the principle of justice. However, by virtue of living together, one has far better knowledge of the actions of one’s parents. And so, one has better grounds for respecting one’s parents than people about whom you do not know as much.

When a child is still a baby incapable of doing anything on his own, the flow of values is completely one-sided. The parent gives, the child receives. The responsibility too is entirely on one side. It is the parent’s responsibility to give and the child’s right to receive. The parent deserves nothing more than respect for fulfilling his responsibilities. The child does not owe anything specific to his parents up to this point in the relationship.

As the relationship develops, as the child grows and becomes capable of exercising choice, the initial asymmetry reduces and eventually disappears. The relationship becomes a normal relationship based on an exchange of value. The exchange of value in any relationship between adults is conditional. Both parties must provide value, else the relationship cannot last. Moral responsibilities are the terms on which values are exchanged. Sometimes these terms are explicit, most often they are not. Particularly in a parent-child relationship which only develops into a normal relationship over a long time, the terms are overwhelmingly implicit. But it would be a mistake to believe that the terms do not exist, or that different principles apply to a parent-child relationship than to one between adults. A child begins life with no moral responsibility towards his parents (or for that matter towards anyone else). As the child becomes an adult, he acquires moral responsibilities towards his parents over a period of time by participating in the implicit terms on which values are exchanged between him and his parents.

Because the terms on which a parent-child relationship is built are overwhelmingly (and inevitably) implicit, one experiences the moral responsibility towards one’s parents emotionally rather than rationally. Yet – borrowing Rand’s words – emotions are not tools of cognition. When one is faced with a dilemma, emotions are not enough to enable one to resolve it. One needs a full, explicit understanding of all relevant facts and principles. And that is the greatest responsibility any person has – to try to attain such an understanding. The specific application of this to the parent-child relationship implies that the child, once he grows up, should evaluate his childhood, evaluate his parents and then decide what he owes them.

Sad songs

I was listening to the song “Lagi aaj sawan ki…” and wondered why I like sad songs inspite of the fact that I get over things quickly and so, sadness for me is hardly a persistent emotion. Thinking about it I realized that to get over sadness one needs to accept the fact that one is sad, face the reality, experience the emotion in its full intensity and only then can one move on. One can’t move on by denying either the facts or one’s own emotional state. A sad song is an exercise of experiencing sadness in its full intensity. It is therapeutic.

For completeness, here are the lyrics of the song with an attempt at translation. Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
wahi aag seene mein phir jal padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

That same incessant monsoon rain has started again (2) [saawan is the season of love]
That same fire in my chest has flared up again
That same…

kuchh aise hi din the wo jab ham mile the
chaman mein nahin phool dil mein khile the
wahin to hai mausam magar rut nahin wo
mere saath barsaat bhi ro padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

Those days too were the same, the days when we had met
Then, flowers had blossomed not in gardens but in our hearts
The weather is the same, but the season [of love] isn’t
Along with me, the rain is crying too
That same…

koyi kaash dil pe bas haath rakh de
mere dil ke tukdon ko ik saath rakh de
magar ye hain khwaabon khayaalon ki baaten
kabhi toot kar cheez koyi judi hai

If only someone would lay a hand on my heart
And hold together its broken pieces
But these are vain dreams and thoughts
Has anything once broken ever been mended?

lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
wahi aag seene mein phir jal padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

That same…

And finally, because I can’t resist it, the line “Has anything once broken ever been mended?” brought the second law of thermodynamics to mind! With a mind like that I can’t remain sad for long, can I?

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