The Genius of Ramanujan: What it takes to live among common mortals

by Rajeev Kurapati

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed in his 1818 masterwork The World as Will and Representation: “Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.”

Ramanujan commemorative postage stamp issued in India in 1962

Ramanujan commemorative postage stamp issued in India in 1962. This was his passport photo taken in 1919 on his way back to India. “He looks rather ill,” G. H. Hardy wrote when he first saw the photo in 1937, “but he looks all over the genius he was” – Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge

These are the individuals who dedicate their lives to passionate journeys doing whatever it is they love to do – treating the universe as an interesting playing field. Nothing more, nothing less. One such individual is little-known, self-taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who in his short lifespan of merely 32 years, made some revolutionary and surprising discoveries.

One day, the math teacher pointed out that any number divided by itself was one: Divide three fruits among three people, he was saying, each would get one…

So Ramanujan piped up: But is zero divided by zero also one? If no fruits are divided among no one, will each still get one?

This was Ramanujan’s question to his teacher when he was merely a the third grader. Robert Kanigel’s 1991 biography of Ramanujan, The Man Who Knew Infinity, from which the movie was later adapted, provides the most authentic account of Ramanujan’s early life.

Ramanujan performed his calculations as authentic as it gets — with chalk on slate, scrap paper, scribble on sand, whatever he could get his hands, or mind, on. His childhood best friend proclaimed him a genius the first time he walked in Ramanujan’s room, seeing all of the notes upon the walls. Unable to afford notebooks, he took to a large slate, using his own elbow as an eraser. “My elbow is making a genius of me,” Ramanujan would joke.

ramanujanbook

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan. By Robert Kanigel

Being a genius of a certain order also comes with some penalties. Ramanujan’s unique obsession with mathematics made it especially difficult to fit in.

As Schopenhauer observed that individuals of extraordinary genius often fall victim to quite lonely course of life:

The common mortal, that manufacture of Nature which she produces by the thousand every day, is, as we have said, not capable, at least not continuously so, of observation that in every sense is wholly disinterested, as sensuous contemplation, strictly so called, is. He can turn his attention to things only so far as they have some relation to his will, however indirect it may be…

The man of genius, on the other hand, whose excessive power of knowledge frees it at times from the service of will, dwells on the consideration of life itself, strives to comprehend the Idea of each thing, not its relations to other things; and in doing this he often forgets to consider his own path in life, and therefore for the most part pursues it awkwardly enough.

By the time Ramanujan got to college, all he wanted to do was mathematics, failing all of his other classes. At one point, so frustrated with the seemingly arbitrary requirements of college, he ran away, causing his mother to send a missing-person letter to the newspaper:

‘A Missing Boy', published on September 6, 1905 in s newspaper. It appeals for the public's help in tracing “a Brahmin boy of the Vaishnava (Thengalai) sect, named Ramanujam, of fair complexion and aged about 18 years” who had “left his [Kumbakonam] home on some misunderstanding.”

‘A Missing Boy’, published in September, 1905 in a newspaper. It appeals for the public’s help in tracing “a Brahmin boy of the Vaishnava (Thengalai) sect, named Ramanujam, of fair complexion and aged about 18 years” who had “left his [Kumbakonam] home on some misunderstanding.”


As a college dropout from a poor family, Ramanujan’s future seemed bleak. He depended on the kindness of his friends and showcased his mathematical discovery-filled notebooks to patrons who just might support his work. When Ramanujan’s friends and acquaintances couldn’t land him a scholarship, Ramanujan started looking for jobs, working as an accounting clerk for the Port of Madras (now Chennai) in 1912.

Eventually, he wrote to mathematicians in Cambridge seeking validation of his work. Twice he wrote with no response; on the third try, he finally got an answer.

In 1913 a mathematician named G. H. Hardy in Cambridge, England received a package of papers with a cover letter that began:

Dear Sir,

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age….

and explained how he had made “startling” progress and solved the age-old problem of the distribution of prime numbers. Ramanujan concluded the letter with a heart-rending request:

Being poor, if you are convinced that there is anything of value I would like to have my theorems published…. Being inexperienced I would very highly value any advice you give me. Requesting to be excused for the trouble I give you.

Yours truly,

S. Ramanujan.

Something about the 11 pages of technical formulas made Hardy take a second look, and show it to his collaborator J. E. Littlewood. Hardy wrote,

Some of the formulae defeated me completely. I have never seen anything in the least like them before. A single look at them is enough to show that they could only be written down by a mathematician of the highest class.

After a few hours, they concluded that the results “must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them.”

Godfrey Harold "G. H." Hardy (7 February 1877 – 1 December 1947). In an interview by Paul Erdős, when Hardy was asked what his greatest contribution to mathematics was, Hardy unhesitatingly replied that it was the discovery of Ramanujan. He called their collaboration "the one romantic incident in my life."

Godfrey Harold “G. H.” Hardy (7 February 1877 – 1 December 1947). In an interview by Paul Erdős, when Hardy was asked what his greatest contribution to mathematics was, Hardy unhesitatingly replied that it was the discovery of Ramanujan. He called their collaboration “the one romantic incident in my life.”

Hardy’s colleague, Bertrand Russell wrote that by the next day he “found Hardy and Littlewood in a state of wild excitement because they believe they have found a second Newton, a Hindu clerk in Madras making 20 pounds a year.”

In another letter to Hardy, Ramanujan confessed that he really just wanted someone to verify his results—so he’d be able to get a scholarship, since “I am already a half starving man. To preserve my brains I want food…

Hardy wanted Ramanujan to come to England, which Ramanujan’s mother resisted as a matter of principle – high-caste Indians were not to travel to foreign lands. Luckily, she eventually agreed to let him go.

Ramanujan prepared for Europe with a new Western-inspired wardrobe, mastery of eating with knives and forks and learning how to tie a tie. He boarded a ship for England, sailing up through the Suez Canal, and arrived to London.

Although he tried his best to conform to the norms of the new society, his struggle to fit within the expectations of established academia seemed impossible. Ramanujan announced that he’d “changed [his] plan of publishing [his] results”. He said that since coming to England he had learned “their methods,” and was “trying to get new results by their methods so that I can easily publish these results without delay.”

The stark contrast between Hardy and Ramanujan is akin to that of many main-stream academicians and the true innovators who developed their own paths.

Hardy was no ordinary mathematician. He was credited with reforming British mathematics by bringing rigor into it. A man with natural affinity for numbers, Hardy’s papers were good examples of state-of-the-art mathematical craftsmanship. By 1910, Hardy had fell into a routine of normalcy as a Cambridge professor. He lived within the typical bounds of society while spending time practicing his mathematics.

Whereas, Ramanujan was a self-taught, poor Brahmin Indian with no formal education, who had a belief that fell far outside the bounds of organized study. He once told Hardy that, “A formula had no meaning unless it expressed a thought of God.”

While mathematicians in general were trained to systematically prove each of their theorems with extensive methodology, Ramanujan was a man of intuition. Once, Kaniglel writes, Ramanujan was asked about a new equation he had derived. His reply was that it was a Hindu goddess who had appeared in his dream and helped him solve that problem.

Hardy wrote:

Here was a man who could work out modular equations, and theorems of complex multiplication, to orders unheard of, whose mastery of continued fractions was, on the formal side at any rate, beyond that of any mathematician in the world … It was impossible to ask such a man to submit to systematic instruction.
[…]
so I had to try to teach him, and in a measure I succeeded, though I obviously learnt from him much more than he learnt from me.

When Hardy saw Ramanujan’s “fast and loose” approach to the infinite limits and the like, his reaction was a need to “tame” Ramanujan and educate him in the structured European methodology.

Rigor in analysis defined Hardy’s work, while Ramanujan’s results were (as Hardy put it) “arrived at by a process of mingled argument, intuition, and induction, of which he was entirely unable to give any coherent account.”

Pages from one of Ramanujan’s last letters.

Pages from one of Ramanujan’s last letters.

As for his place in the world of Mathematics, Professor Bruce C. Berndt of the University of Illinois wrote:

Paul Erdos has passed on to us Hardy’s personal ratings of mathematicians. Suppose that we rate mathematicians on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, Hardy gave himself a score of 25, Littlewood 30, Hilbert 80 and Ramanujan 100.

Ramanujan couldn’t easily fit in the constraints of societal or academic expectations because his ideas were much bigger than the limitations imposed by convention.

Ramanujan (centre) with other graduates at Trinity College in March 1916.

Ramanujan (centre) with other graduates at Trinity College in March 1916.

Hardy-Ramanujan’s collaboration in England was mathematically productive. Cambridge granted Ramanujan a Bachelor of Science degree “by research” in 1916, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (the first Indian to be so honored) in 1918. His accomplishments were followed quickly by a stark decline in his health as a result of the English winter and the difficulties of adhering to strict dietary rules of his caste in the face of wartime shortages. In 1917 he was hospitalized and nearly died. By late 1918 his health had improved; he returned to India in 1919. But his health failed again, and he died the following year year.

letter from Ramanujan to friend. Courtesy: Trinity College Cambridge.

Letter from Ramanujan to friend. Courtesy: Trinity College Cambridge.

In reply to the above letter, his friend wrote:

My dear Ramanujan,

I was exceedingly grieved to have your painful letter. Sorry to hear that the new cook is a failure as far as you are concerned. Now then, I will have to be a bit harsh with you. I am impressed with you being so particular about your palate. But you’ll have to choose between controlling your palate and killing yourself.

Surely some of the greatest minds like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein lived through their 70’s and 80’s, but their best works were actually produced in their 20’s. These were the individuals who didn’t count their life by the number of years lived, but the contribution they made to the advancement of human progress.

DOCUMENTARY ON RAMANUJAN – Mathematical Genius

A formula had no meaning unless it expressed a thought of God

Understanding Teenage Mind: Essential Wisdom For Everyone

by Rajeev Kurapati

Teens go through a period of “invisibility,” naively assuming that they are never vulnerable to harm.

Teenage Love by Xhon Dervishi

Teenage Love by Xhon Dervishi

We have all been there. Some of us are just now adapting to this phase of our children’s life. In many ways, teenage years represent the most transformative and sometimes tumultuous phase of our lives. Teenagers aren’t quite an adult yet, but are no longer children either. Almost as difficult as this time can be for teens, it is as seemingly impossible for the parents to navigate. For some parents, it’s as if their child has been possessed by some overly emotional spirit. Suddenly they feel like they don’t know their own child anymore and the dynamics of the parent-child relationship are thrown completely off kilter.

Teenagers often have ambitions to fly off to a new, larger world. To this effect, Stephen King observed, “If you liked being a teenager, there’s something really wrong with you.” Scientists have discovered that there are abrupt and rapid growth of certain cells within the frontal lobe (the part that sits behind your forehead) of the brain in early teenage years, around the age of 15.

Another complicated characteristic of teens is the tendency to engage in high-risk behaviors. Teens go through a period of “invisibility,” naively assuming that they are never vulnerable to harm. The neuro-hormonal changes can cause drastic behavioral and mood swings at times and throw the parent for a loop.

Approaching Puberty (The Pleiades), 1921by Max Ernst. Virginity and lasciviousness, the celestial and the earthly, floating and falling, grace and destruction—in this intriguing work Max Ernst holds a wealth of opposites in balance.

Approaching Puberty (The Pleiades), 1921 by Max Ernst. Virginity and lasciviousness, the celestial and the earthly, floating and falling, grace and destruction—in this intriguing work Max Ernst holds a wealth of opposites in balance. Click image.

Puberty is meant to be a phase in our lives during which we blossom from small, dependent creatures into prepared, self-sufficient adults capable of propagating life. From a biological standpoint, this is the most important juncture in the life of humans. Any malfunction in this process and we risk losing the ability to pass on our genes.

Because of the evolutionary pressure involved in preparing us for reproduction, puberty is probably the most tumultuous phase of human life.

Our minds, at this time, are constantly obsessed with instant gratification, persistently seeking the promise of immediate pleasure and psychological security. This is our minds’ way of pressuring us to reproduce—by forcing us to make sexual gratification our top priority. For this reason, the desire to breed remains the most powerful impulse in all of nature. Friction ignites between teens and their parents when parents fail to recognize the teenage minds’ pleasure-obsessed makeup, particularly because an adult, who’s already exited puberty, will often have long subdued these seemingly juvenile attachments to transitory and immediate pleasures.

The incapacity to empathize with our pubescent children is an example of the stark evolution of the mind throughout the different phases of life. Our minds’ desires run the gamut at each stage of the aging process. As we grow, our priorities shift from the need for instant gratification (brought on by the necessity to spread our legacy) to the desire to nurture our offspring.

Shifting Priorities

Our cravings are entirely strategic—the mind’s sophisticated way of preserving its form. When we reach the phase of reproductive capacity and essentially copy ourselves into our children, we experience a level of caring for our offspring previously foreign to us. We care for our children even more deeply than we care for ourselves.

This is how our mind functions. All this is part of being human; a human expression. Unless we understand the nature of our mind, why and how it devises various strategies at different phases of our life to thrive, we will overcome by the more difficult stages of life such as puberty.

The question is: Why are these abrupt and complex changes associated with our teenage years? To understand this is to recognize the bigger picture of our mind.

Recognizing Stages

Our life cycle is characterized by seamless stages, each of which allows our minds to develop different strategies with one overarching goal: Keep living.

Butterflies, for instance, experience a larval stage. The caterpillar, after hatching from its egg, doesn’t stop eating for about two to three weeks, during which time it grows tremendously.When physical maturation is achieved, the caterpillar enters adulthood, and numerous hormonal changes lead to a biochemical disassembly of its current form, transforming it into a beautiful butterfly. The creative destruction of one form births another. The young butterfly will now seek out a mate and allow the cycle of life to repeat once again. Bernard Heinrich, an eminent biologist, writes: “The radical change that occurs does indeed arguably involve death followed by reincarnation.”

It appears as though one form (the caterpillar) completely transforms itself into another form (the butterfly) in a blatant example of how the core of life devises many survival strategies in order to actively participate in this web of nature. Nearly identical to the stages of human life, caterpillars possess a strong capacity to thrive, specialized for little else but feeding during the period of preparation before the next phase of life, similar to children. Like adults, butterflies are fine-tuned for flight and reproduction, comparable to an adult leaving the nest and gearing up for procreation.

The human life cycle is less blatant, but we can still see how our survival strategies are typified at each stage. The first is comprised of our feed and grow stage, the second is our procreation stage, and the third is nurturing our offspring. Separating these first two distinct periods is the transient phase of puberty. While this time is considered to be simply transitory, it is actually a prominent point with its own unique physical and mental characteristics.

What the teenager learns and does during this evolution of the brain combined with their own genetic heritage will consolidate the wiring in certain parts of the brain. So, if the teen is learning skills such as music or math, those are the connections that are hardwired and will retain their connections for years down the line, even if they are not actively using them later in life.

Therefore, it’s the duty of the caregivers to be practice extreme patience and continue to nurture those skills that are conducive to the overall development of the teenage mind, not only for the time being, but for many years to come for a fruitful future.

If the teen is learning skills such as music or math, those are the connections that are hardwired and will retain their connections for years down the line, even if they are not actively using them later in life.

Keys to Nurturing the Relationships

Knowing the facts behind teenage angst is key to successful parenting during these years.

The three things that will ease the tension between adults and the adults-in-transitions:

  1. Empathize, as often as possible, remembering how it felt for you to struggle as a teenager.
  2. Encourage your teenager to channel their energy and emotions into creative, productive outlets – help them find hobbies to help occupy and shape their quickly changing minds.
  3. Listen first – talk to your teen, not at them.

This complex period can make or break your bond with your child, so be prepared to weather the storm by arming yourself with the knowledge of why your teen is behaving and reacting certain ways. Allow the teenage years to come and go – fight through them, and then move on!

In a profoundly loving and luminous letter, sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African American person to receive a doctorate from Harvard wrote to his teenage daughter Yolande in 1914,

Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin — the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely.

W. E. B. Du Bois – “Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life… Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself.”

W. E. B.” Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist.

Why Early Rising is Good for Your Health: Lessons from Aristotle to Latest Science

by Rajeev Kurapati
“Early Morning Bengal Village" Watercolor Painting by Samiran Sarkar

“Early Morning Bengal Village” Watercolor Painting by Samiran Sarkar

The philosopher Aristotle asserted, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Many centuries later, Benjamin Franklin (who believed that, “When one has learnt by experience the value of any good habit, it is his duty to recommend it to others to the best of his ability”) in his memorable meditation on Early Rising: Natural, Social and Religious Duty (free download from archive.org) published in 1855 observed,

Besides the promptings of nature and instinct within us, which we should do well to obey, there are strong reasons to be deduced from the physical constitution of the atmosphere and light, and from the chemical influences which these exercise upon the functions of animal life, in support of the assertion that early rising promotes bodily health. Mankind, in general, are little aware of the powerful agencies in nature, whereby the atmosphere is continuously purified and renewed, and the animal and vegetable worlds are sustained in healthy and vigorous existence. Those agencies are for the most part secret and silent in their operations, escaping the observation unless it be particularly directed to them.

sunrise1Today we know this to be true as science has come to a similar recognition. A growing number of studies are proving the health benefits of exposure to early morning sunlight. In one study, researchers discovered that when people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin (a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles) production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night. Melatonin production also shows a seasonal variation relative to the availability of light, with the hormone produced for a longer period in the winter than in the summer. The melatonin rhythm phase advancement caused by exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The melatonin precursor, serotonin, is also affected by exposure to daylight. Normally produced during the day, serotonin is only converted to melatonin in darkness. Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook. Indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day, as well as with a delay in nighttime melatonin production.

When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night.

With our modern-day penchant for indoor activity and staying up well past dusk, nocturnal melatonin production is typically far from robust. “The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.”

For people in jobs in which sunlight exposure is limited, full-spectrum lighting may be helpful. Sunglasses may further limit the eyes’ access to full sunlight, thereby altering melatonin rhythms. Going shades-free in the daylight, even for just 10–15 minutes, could confer significant health benefits.

Those in the ancient East used to get up in the morning and do “Sun-salutations.” There is no denying that there are definite health benefits with such a ritual. In this regard, we learn a great deal from our ancestors, a sentiment observed by William Osler in Aequanimitas, “The foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow.”

sun-salutation-chart

The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors.

For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) defines early rising as before sunrise after six to seven hours of sleep.

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) defines early rising as before sunrise after six to seven hours of sleep.

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Question Everything: How Francis Bacon Changed Our Study of Nature Forever

by Rajeev Kurapati

In the ancient past, material knowledge and spirituality went hand in hand, in fact all knowledge was a synthesis of the two. Medical knowledge was no different.

Art by Freydoon Rassouli. In many ancient traditions, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit.

Art by Freydoon Rassouli. In many ancient traditions, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit.

Matter was studied and understood through this loaded concept called the spirit. But this led to much speculation, numerous doctrines and theories came into being. Lineages were established – in the west, the Aristotle’s theories dominated philosophy. Hippocrates and Galen’s theories dominated medicine. Medical books were frequently written with terms pertaining to the union of the soul and flesh.

But after a while, certain elements of the religious establishment started to control the study of every aspect of matter, every aspect of the study of nature. Doctrines became rigid; study of human biology was stalled and there was no advancement in medicine. Dissections and experiments were prohibited in the name of religion. All knowledge was controlled by the precepts of what religions preached. The spirit side was dominating the study of matter.

Up until the 17th century, all the work done was the work of great masters like Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, and Galen – the knowledge passed down by generations of sincere followers of past wisdom.

But in the 17th century, several individuals found this approach was not working to understand the bodily functions. So, we had to separate spirit from matter. Matter has to be studied using quantifiable evidence – the human body was seen as a collection of mechanisms which could be studied using chemical reactions, physical laws, and mathematical equations.

Spirituality and philosophy are concerned with subjective experience so cannot be quantified, and therefore not a subject of scientific study. Spirit and matter, therefore, cannot go hand in hand in the study of nature. The separation thus happened around 17th century.

Old methods should die, writes Francis Bacon, who many attribute as the founder of the scientific approach. He proposed methods for a new beginning. He listed unsolved problems in every field of human endeavor. He thus became the prophet of this new institution called science.

Francis Bacon actually called this the “new philosophy.” This was different from any other philosophy because it aimed at practice rather than theory, in search of proof, rather than a doctrine, something concrete rather than speculation. Knowledge, according to him is not an opinion, but a work that has to be verified. Knowledge should have utility and power, he declared. Here, for the first time, was the voice and tone of modern science.

Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban by Unknown artist oil on canvas, after 1731 (circa 1618). © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban by Unknown artist oil on canvas, after 1731 (circa 1618). © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Science is aimed at practice rather than theory, in search of proof, rather than a doctrine, something concrete rather than speculation.

The scientific method emerged as the universal equalizer for all those who wanted to study nature. One peculiarly unique attribute about this scientific method is its process of investigation. The celebrated physicist Richard Feynman candidly articulated how the experimental method works:

Suppose if your experiments prove your theory to be true, it doesn’t mean that your guess is absolutely right. It is simply not proved wrong. Because in the future, there may be a wider range of experiments and a wider range of computations that may prove your theory is wrong…. You can never prove a theory to be right.

Feynman’s assessment remains true. Today, a typical scientific discovery relies on three factors: First, a hypothesis (an intelligent guess); second, the ability to test and re-test the hypothesis in a reputable, controlled experiment; and third, publication of the results. Anyone who correctly follows the steps laid out in a particular study design, no matter who they are, must be able to say, “Yes, I got the same result.”

Since then every claim we make had to be put to the test. For instance, if we claim that brushing our teeth twice a day, once in morning and once before bedtime, is better for the health of teeth, this claim should be validated. Only if it passes the grind of scientific study is it deemed appropriate to follow this practice – of brushing twice a day. If it fails, the habit would be simply discarded.

In this world of science, there is no room for existential questions such as – why have we come into this world? What is the nature of self? What is the goal of life? What is the basis of ethics and morality? These existential questions cannot be quantifiable and therefore cannot be tested.

The words spirit, or god were never to be written in any respectable scientific journal.

This was the birth of what we call Classical Mechanics, as founded by Isaac Newton. Nature behaves according to certain predetermined laws and by discovering those laws we can understand nature and its functions. “Spirit” has no place in this study. In other words, there are laws in nature, but a law maker is not necessary for those laws to function.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica - Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy is a work in three books by Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687. The Principia states Newton's laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics, also Newton's law of universal gravitation. The Principia is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy is a work in three books by Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687. The Principia states Newton’s laws of motion and Newton’s law of universal gravitation, forming the foundation of classical mechanics. The Principia is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

"Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth." - Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Cambridge University Library holds the largest and most important collection of the scientific works of Newton.

“Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth.” – Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Cambridge University Library holds the largest and most important collection of the scientific works of Newton. Click image for more.

The founders of scientific method, in the 16th and 17th centuries felt that the universe is similar to a clock-like machine, independent of any law maker. The scientific community loved this idea, not because they truly believed in this assumption, but because only through such assumption, we were able to let go of ourselves of the iron fist of religion that was chocking the study of nature. And so it was reluctantly omitted from all scientific endeavors.

This approach worked. We discovered many mechanisms of nature, and invented many instruments that makes our lives comfortable. For over three centuries, scientists believed that the laws of nature are absolute, and by discovering them, we can understand nature and its functions.

After a while, scientists started to discover that these laws of nature weren’t as absolute as was originally theorized. They discovered that what we can perceive about the universe is grossly limited. The forces of the universe that is not yet reachable to human mind has come to be known as – the dark energy – the unknown force that is not reachable to the scientific study. Instead of calling it the “universal energy,” they called it “the dark energy.”

Many scientifically educated modern day gurus try to rationalize a synthesis of these two approaches – science of matter and the knowledge of spirit into one.

On the other hand, it feels that we may find a medium where we can reconcile the differences. We have surprised ourselves from time to time what the human mind is capable of. May be, we will at some point reconcile the differences between matter and spirit.


In all honesty, I feel that it is impractical to synthesize these two into a unified approach. This is because science, as a branch of studying nature was created to rid of the subjective theories and doctrines from the study of nature. Science and spirituality are two separate approaches to understand our nature and ourselves.

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) relentlessly advocated skeptical inquiry and encouraged applying the scientific way of thinking to everyday life. He believed that scientific thinking refines our intellectual and moral integrity.

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) relentlessly advocated skeptical inquiry and encouraged applying the scientific way of thinking to everyday life. He believed that scientific thinking refines our intellectual and moral integrity.

 

Mastering the Art of Learning

by Rajeev Kurapati

It was the fall of ’95 when I found myself surrounded by 136 other ambitious and nervous new medical students, bracing ourselves for orientation. While my peers and I shared a certain air of confidence, it was hard to miss the palpable anxiety (tinged with self-doubt) that filled the room.

The distinguished professor welcomed us by defining medical professionalism: 

Commitment to patient-centered care, intellectual honesty, social responsibility, and advocacy,

she explained. However true the sentiment, we knew what was really expected of us is that we would amass knowledge with single-minded devotion. Over the years, we all shared one common and constant goal: be a sponge of seemingly infinite knowledge. 

Twenty years later and the process of learning continues. As students (even as early as grade school), we’re governed by standardized testing and validated by our GPAs—all the while rarely, if ever, being tested on our understanding of what it takes to be an open-minded, lifelong learner. Decades of education taught me one thing above all others: the art of learning to learn.

In the era of No Child Left Behind and the questionable efficacy of cumbersome testing, we’re slowly coming to the heavy realization that perhaps we’ve not yet learned how to learn. Armed with the facts and figures, most of us are never taught how to successfully digest not only what we hear in the classroom, but also how to absorb the world around us as engaged learners.

Telecommunications pioneer Richard Hamming, author of The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn, offers suggestions about how to succeed in the lost art of learning. Here are ten rules based off of his advice encouraging anyone to be their best self through the simple act of accumulating knowledge:

1. Concentrate on fundamental principles rather than facts.

Structure your learning so that you’re able to ride the information wave, not drown in it.

As time marches forward, the amount of knowledge in the world grows exponentially—doubling about every 20 years. But our brain can only process information at a rate of around 60 bits per second, and our minds aren’t getting faster even as the information load skyrockets. It’s easy to get lost in details, so focusing on fundamentals is key.

Set aside reading time—indulge in your own fields of interest as well as exploring new developments in areas outside of your immediate preoccupation.

2. Learn from those around you.

As people gravitate away from trade jobs, more individuals are graduating from college than ever before. The number of science doctorates earned each year alone grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008. It’s important to balance competition with the company of people who can motivate and inspire us. Learn from the success of others. Hamming says it best,

Vicarious learning from the experiences of others saves making errors yourself.

Let the achievements of others provide you with a sort of roadmap. Young or old, there are always going to be people who are wiser and more accomplished than you—make these people your allies and learn everything you can from them.

3. Focus on the future. Learn from the past and move on. Live in the present.

The landscape of the world is fast changing, transformed by digital revolution and explosive growth of disruptive ideas in almost all human endeavors. While we can’t predict what will happen next, we can be ready to adapt to change. Learning from the past is important also, of course, to ensure yesterday’s mistakes aren’t repeated. In this race toward the future, we lose the present. As Seneca observed,

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

4. Make it personal.

Always find how your learning impacts you personally. Whether you work a corporate job, run a small business, or maintain an academic career, don’t let your job or degrees box you in. Grow to be a well-rounded, best version of yourself. Structure your learning efforts according to some general direction in which you want to move. Having a vision is what separates leaders from followers. Goals evokes passion, which encourages you to want to learn, not feel like you simply have to.

5. Trial and error is key.

Finding what style of learning best suits you is a process filled with trial and error. How to learn can’t be discovered through words—we have to try different techniques to stumble upon what works best. Rely on your teachers but think for yourself too. Never be afraid to question and challenge the status quo.

6. Make the best of your working space.

The workplace continues to evolve rapidly—with trends like communal workspaces and working from home sweeping the nation. Surprisingly, people tend to do their best work when working conditions aren’t ideal. Don’t let your surroundings distract you from the task at hand. One tip to make the best of your office, if you have one, is to leave your door open often. It may seem counterintuitive, but while you may occasionally be more distracted, you’ll also be able to stay plugged in to what’s most important: ensuring that you’re working on the right matters.

7. Only you can put in the time it takes to learn.

To quote Hamming,

I am… only a coach. I cannot run the mile for you.

Even for those inherently talented, there is no substitute for effort. Don’t wait for or rely upon luck. Remember the old adage: Luck favors the prepared mind.

8. Work on what matters.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, to do great work, you must ask yourself: What is the most important problem in the society that desperately needs resolution? That’s how you make a difference. This focus will motivate you while also ridding the distractions of trivial matters.

9. Strive for excellence.

Sometimes learning is hard—really hard. Don’t let that deter you from what you want to achieve. There is no greater pay-off than living the life you always imagined, and there is no greater joy than discovering things for yourself. Put in the time to learn and always focus on how you learn best.

!915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: "These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it." Source: Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

1915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: “These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.”
Source – Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

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