Thursday, 30 August 2012

Drunk on the Universe

Usually, all my blogposts are well thought out and proofread once or twice. Today I decided I would do something different. I am going to write down my train of thought exactly as it happened. That means there will be a lot of wrong conclusions and going revision of opinions going on. A lot of jumping about.

Richard Feynman was right. You really can get a kick out of thinking about things.

Today I chanced upon someone wearing a T-Shirt with this interesting design:

Life's priorities ... money, food and sleep..... It started me off on a very interesting train of thought. These are necessities in everyone's life. A complete absence of any of these three in a person's life will most definitely kill him/her sooner or later. Then I realized, we don't choose our necessities. We have absolutely no control over what our necessities are just like a little frog has no control over its diet. Just as the frog is destined to spend the rest of its mundane life hunting for flies, humans are destined spend most if not all of their lives hunting for basic necessities. Or are they? It's interesting how those  things that are the most important to us turn out to be our greatest weaknesses. In fact, this is inevitable for all living things. Evolution changes any organism so that it adapts to thrive on whatever is most abundant in it's environment which means that most living things are completely useless outside their natural habitat.

But can we make an exception for humans? Yes we can, in a way. We're clever enough to take our environment with us wherever we go. We were clever enough to walk on the moon! (a moment of silence for Neil Armstrong is appropriate I think).

So can those three things up there really be considered life's priorities? Yes, they are but they re not priorities I would choose. Sure, there are plenty of people who are completely satisfied if they have plenty of those stuff. Suddenly Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind.

I'm wondering now, how true this is. I'm wondering how many people actually get past the third level. How many people break out of the monotonous work-eat-solve life's problems-sleep cycle and actually think about the more interesting stuff like how the universe began or what are the laws behind the beautiful complicated dance all the atoms in the universe perform so tirelessly. I wonder out of all the 7 billion people on earth, how many people look up at the stars regularly and take a moment to appreciate how very far away they are from us. Then again there are pragmatists who claim that all that is unnecessary. Why should we do all that when we can be perfectly happy otherwise? Well, I think we should do it just because we can. Out of all the species on earth humans are the only ones that can appreciate the fact that all the atoms in their body was once part of a giant supernova. Only human brains can do that. What a complete waste it is to not grab the opportunity to do something like that! Things like that are my priority. There should be a dichotomy between "priority" and "necessity". Necessities are things that we need in our life that we had no choice over. Those things which you need to seek whether you  like it or not. "Priorities" should be what you really want. I would gladly trade my ability to eat for a chance to view the vast depths of the universe from a transparent bubble floating through space. I would gladly give up my ability to breathe if given a chance to travel at near lightspeed (and maybe beyond) and explore the entire galaxies from my transparent bubble. But then, is giving up eating and breathing really a sacrifice at all? If eating is a necessity that wasn't our choice, then wouldn't giving it up be like getting a superpower? In that case it's not really a sacrifice at all. The only reason I eat is to prevent my body from breaking down. The only reason I breathe is to supply my brain (and its mode of transport, my body) with oxygen for normal functioning. If I could maintain life without these functions, if they figure out how to upload my consciousness into a robot, I would be one of the first in line. It would eliminate the need spend so much time maintaining my hardware.

It's getting dark now. I can see the first stars winking at me. The stars are so tiny. They really are very far away. And here I am on this tiny corner of the universe, a bunch of atoms that have come together for a negligible fraction of the lifetime of the universe. A small subset of these atoms in my head are doing a complicated dance with other atoms, changing electric potentials inside and outside my neurons using energy from ATP molecules. These waves of polarization and depolarization are travelling back and forth through this immensely complicated biological neural network, a process that is right now allowing me comprehend the fact that the universe exists, the fact that I exist.

And with a jolt I realize that I am a part of the universe that has become self aware!! Here's a little part of the universe that is thinking about itself! Here's a bunch of atoms that are billions of years old and still following the laws of physics just as they were billions of years ago. And these bunch of atoms are thinking about themselves!? The thought sends a shiver down my spine, a sudden passing sensation of excitement, a shudder of emotion from the epicness of it all.

The twilight deepens, and the mosquitoes start their relentless attack on my legs. I walk back to my room slowly, drunk on the beauty of the universe. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Phil Plait Is Truly a Poet

Engineering Graphics

So today I had my first proper engineering graphics class. It is quite easily my least favourite part of an engineering course. It's boring, tedious, repetitive, menial work, the kind of work that should be done by a computer. Not humans. Worst of all the class was conducted in this lonely classroom in a long forsaken corner of the Institute that looked like it had been abandoned for years. The classroom looked so depressing.

Perhaps the reason I hate it is that is basically a polar opposite of physics, which is my favourite subject. Since engineering graphics is focused on creating technical drawings which are supposed to convey all the necessary information needed for a particular object to be made, it is full of arcane arbitrary rules which are in place just for standardization. It's in place for the sole reason that following even slightly different rules could carry over to expensive mistakes during production. So all the rules were arbitrarily chosen (or so it seems to me) and need to be memorized with absolutely no explanation at all.

This is the exact opposite of how physics works. A lot of Physics is about finding the rules which nature follows but that is where the similarity ends. The interesting part about physics is that it tries come up with new ways of thinking that makes the rules self evident. It tries to explain as much as possible with as few assumptions as possible. Relativity is a great example of this. Special and General Relativity can be learnt as a set of arcane and insanely complicated set of tensor equations but the genius of Einstein gave us a physical picture of the universe which makes these equations self evident. With just the assumption that the speed of light is the same in all reference frames a huge amount of physical phenomena were explained with amazing clarity.

I am so used to this way of thinking, this idea that every rule has this fun, interesting interpretation, a physical picture that explains it with clarity. This subject seems so alien.

Well, at least the instruments I use look kind of "interesting". And by "interesting" I mean "weapons of mass destruction".

The mini-drafter which I use looks like some kind of weird laser gun.

I half expected the thing to start glowing and beeping when I picked it up.

And most of the instruments in the instrument box look sharp, pointy and dangerous.

The instruments are really the only interesting part of the class. What comforts me is that I only have to learn the subject for the first semester. Maybe it'll get more interesting in the future but I doubt it.

Sunday, 5 August 2012


I was scouting around for other interesting programming languages to learn along with C when I stumbled upon this awesome programming language based on the famous LOLCATS internet meme. Perfect for someone who loves internet memes.

So I've written my first ever official program in LOLCODE!!


LOL... Sometimes I do the weirdest things to have fun....