Pauli Meets God

God is kind to physicists. He grants them an interview after death where they get answers to questions which stumped them. Most ask about Quantum Gravity.

Wolfgang Pauli too, got his chance.

God: “You have any questions for me? ”
Pauli: “Of course not. May be your staff didn’t tell you who I am ?”
God. “Oh yes, they told me some Pauli stories. And I see what you did there with the matrices.”
Pauli: ” So.. do you have any questions for me?”
God:”Sure. Explain turbulence.”

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Mathematical Astronomy in Medieval Kerala

I spoke to Anand, an astronomer at the new ISRO institute in Trivandrum, when I was there in June. He also moonlights as a science journalist and wrote this article about our conversations on mathematics in medieval Kerala.

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Wait A Second..

Siva is the mysterious God of the Hindu Trinity. He is said to meditate for eternity, sitting at the peak of Mount Kailas in Tibet. Even other Gods dare not disturb Him from His trance. Siva is all-powerful, unknowable, scary, shapeless, time-less and irascible. The Universe was created out of Him. When Siva eventually comes out of meditation and performs the fiery Thandava dance, the Universe will dissolve back into Him.

A devotee prayed to Siva for years on end. Finally Siva appeared in front him, visibly annoyed.
“So, what do you want?”
“Oh, Lord, I heard that a second for you is a hundred million years to mere mortals like me.”
“Yeah, so? Just tell me what you want from me.”
“Also, I heard that a penny for you is equivalent to a hundred million gold coins for me.”
“You are annoying me with trivialities. Just ask already.”
“Great Lord, give your humble servant a penny, please.”

“Sure”, said Siva. “Just wait a second…”

Om Nama Sivaya.

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eHow To Watch A Chick Flick

There are three kinds of chick flicks.

Type A often has Meryll Streep and always involves a disease. There is no way to watch this type. Run. Don’t walk. May be there is a hospital fire somewhere that only you can put out? Doubly beware if the name of the movie ends in cutesy symbols such as `XXOO’ or makes inscrutable references to metallic flowers and/or green fruit.

Type B usually has Meg Ryan, Kate Hudson or lately, Ann Hathaway. These are watchable, in small quantities.

Never see a chick flick at a theater. Does the phrase captive audience mean anything to you? Always go for Netflix or a DVD at home. Do not hog the remote control. Just for once.

The first hour of the movie is the hardest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley

I had to write a report this week and was looking through my calendar from last year. Noticed a curious entry, a talk I missed because I was out with a cold. Who exactly is Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, this denier of Global Warming? The magic of Google and Wikipedia allows us to find out easily. The drawback to such convenience is that such information is often superficial.


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Fatwa On Demand

Ever since the Salman Rushdie incident, the word Fatwa has had a negative connotation. Perhaps no word has been as misunderstood, with the exceptions of jihad and madrassa.

It turns out that a fatwa is a kind of judicial opinion from an islamic religious authority. In nations that have adopted the Shariah as part of the legal system, a fatwa could have the force of law. But mostly, it is guidance for the faithful. Because Islam does not have a hierarchy like the Catholic Church, each religious authority has to rely on its own reputation as the force behind its fatewa.

Outside of the Middle East, the most respected school of Islamic studies is Darul Uloom, located at Deoband near Delhi in India. It was founded in 1866 after the defeat of Indian forces by the British. The school played an important role in the Freedom Struggle of India. It opposed the creation of Pakistan, and asks its followers to participate peacefully in Indian democracy. Its influence extends well outside of India. The mainstream of Islam in Pakistan is historically of the Deoband school. After Partition, certain logistical difficulties clearly exist and Saudi Arabia is playing an increasing role in providing support to the madrassas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Complex Time in Quantum Tunneling

Perhaps the most spectacular early prediction of quantum mechanics was tunneling: that particles can do things that are forbidden in Newton’s mechanics, although with a small probability. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Geometry of Thermodynamics


Thermodynamics is the study of heat. Originally developed to understand steam engines and such, it led to a revolution in physics. It showed that time has a preferred direction. Also, that physics is not fully deterministic: the best we can do for large systems is to predict averages of physical quantities and probabilities of events. But with the even greater revolutions of quantum mechanics and relativity that happened soon after , thermodynamics lost some of its original wonder. Nowadays it is thought of a staid old field, barely taught in physics departments anymore ( except as a preparation for a Stat Mech course). This is a pity, because thermodynamics is perhaps the most remarkable of all physical theories. We have none other than Albert Einstein vouching for this1: Read the rest of this entry »

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Reduction or Emergence

Earnest Rutherford used to say that all science is either physics or stamp collecting. This could have been a dig at the biologists of his time, who were still collecting samples and classifying species. He probably would have thought more highly of modern molecular biology, which is a lot like his physics in outlook: everything is determined by the DNA. It is said that Rutherford’s worst insult for a student who had done something stupid was–Chemist. The chemists had the last laugh though: Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize not in Physics but in Chemistry for having achieved the transmutation of elements.

Should we understand the world bottom up or top down? Which is the proper scientific view? Read the rest of this entry »

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Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

Read First: Longitude Zero

Indians call the bay between Africa and India the Arabian Sea. Throughout the medieval times it was controlled by Arab sailors. They established settlements down the East coast of Africa, as far down as Malindi in Kenya. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Almanack

What is the date today? A simple question, but with a complex answer.
Poor Richards Almanack
The story of calendars is the story of human civilization itself. The millenial 1 article by Amartya Sen tries to disentangle fact from fantasy in the history of calendars. Never an easy task in history, especially hard in the keeping of time itself. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Pope and the Patriarch

The Theology

His All-Holiness Bartholomew I is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the city now called Istanbul. He is considered the equivalent of the Pope for the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world. He is the `first among equals’ of the four Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem who are successors to the Apostles. (Several Patriarchates have been added more recently to reflect the growth of the Church in Eastern Europe, such as those Serbia, Moscow and Bulgaria). Read the rest of this entry »

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Grief in The Buddhist Ramayana

The Jaataka tales are a collection of parables about the 500 lives of the Buddha until he achieved Nirvana, salvation. After that there are no more re-incarnations. The stories proceed from simple morality tales in which the Bodhisatva ( the soul of the Budha) was alive in the body of a lower life-form: a rabbit, an elephant and so on. Until he attains human form and the stories get more sophisticated. Various versions of these stories have been told and retold over many generations all over the Eastern World.
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Another Namesake

Mira Nair’s movie `Namesake’ is about a man with an odd name
(Gogol) for an Indian. I have my own situation to deal with.
My name is usually written as Sarada G. Rajeev.
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Practical Vedanta

Vedaanta is the end of all knowledge. End as in goal, or as in the ultimate kind of knowledge. It is a theory of what knowledge itself is. What practical use could it be? Volumes have been written on how to translate the abstract concepts of Vedanta to every day life. The ultimate authority in `modern times’ (only about a few hundred years ago) is Sankara Acharya. His Vivekachoodaamani and Bhajagovindam are attempts to explain this most abstruse of all branches of classical Indian philosophy to the masses; or at least to laymen.
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An Almanack