Some Thought Experiments

Its an utterly beautiful concept. And it provides so much insight into the nature of knowledge.

Suppose you are sitting in a car and the car is accelerating forward. What do you feel ? Well, a push backwards. Suppose the car is accelerating up. Now what do you feel ? A push downward. Now suppose that you cannot look out of the window of the car. Can you tell whether you are accelerating ? Yes, ofcourse by the push. But suppose you are out in the space with no gravity and you are accelerating at precisely 9.8 m/s^2 (the acceleration with which you fall on Earth). Now the big question. Can you differentiate between two possible situations ? Are you in an accelerating spaceship or are you just sitting on the surface of the Earth ? Well, the answer is no ! So how do you really differentiate between gravity and any other acceleration ?

Consider another situation. Suppose you are in a lift in a very tall building and the lift rope snaps. You start falling down. Will you be able to differentiate this situation compared to one where you are out in the gravity free space ? Well the answer is, to a high experimental degree, no. But everything is not lost and it is this small thing which is left, that defines gravity. Consider the lift example again and also consider that as soon as the rope snaps, you let go of two rocks which you were holding in each of your hands. What happens to the rocks as they fall down along with you and the lift. First of all, they will be stationary to your eyes since you are also falling down as fast as them. But wait ! Everything is falling towards a common center i.e. the center of the earth. So the rocks are not exactly following a parallel path but their paths are going to intersect if the lift somehow reaches the center of the Earth. Hence, if you could measure closely enough, you would notice the rocks coming towards each other extremely slowly. And herein lies the clue which gives the secret presence of gravity away ! Its funny in a certain way. To put it down in a fancy way, Gravity does not manifest itself uniquely by the act of the falling down of an object but by the act of apparent mutual attraction between two objects ! Would the situation be any different, if instead of rocks you had used gold blocks or wood or even electrons? Absolutely not. So in essence, everything irrespective of its material will follow the same curved path which is being followed by the rocks. Here is where Einstein took a big leap in imagination. Is the path of the rocks a property of space itself ? Is there no gravity ? Is it just the curved space which decides the path of the rocks and not some mysterious gravitation force ? In essence, is it just GEOMETRY ! And sure it was. The thought experiment which upstaged more than 200 years of the notion of Gravity.

So I am led to ask. All the knowledge is surely out there. Is it just begging a more insightful eye and a more daring imagination ?


A Suspended Animation ?

Now that I think of it, I have spent the last couple of years of my life in a sort of suspended animation, some kind of a make-believe, beautiful, intellectual world.

I have invented excuses for being transported into this other-world. I have more or less shunned the realization that a 'normal' life outside of my ideal world exists.

First it was chess. My obsession with the game although failed to see me grow into a better player, certainly made me scour its history and strategies and tactics and previous matches and players and their playing styles. During the 6 months of my wholehearted devotion towards the game, I read about half a dozen biographies notably those of Kasparov, Morphy (American player in the 1800s and considered to be the best ever), Capablanca (Cuban player famous for his aggresiveness). I read books about the various openings and attack styles employed in the game. I went through and replayed the moves of the famous games of the past. I ventured into an understanding of the way a machine plays the game differently than a human. In short, I must have 'wasted' almost 6 hours from my daily schedule for atleast 6 months straight.

Then it was poetry. As my interest began to grow in this utterly beautiful medium of human expression by my introduction to Ghalib's urdu poetry, I realized the silken genius with which the most eloquent minds spoke. After reading the works of Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib, Afghani etc. I thought of giving Hindi poetry a try. I instantly became a fan of Harivanshrai Bachchan's prose and poetry and then went on to read many more brilliant writers like Dinkar, Neeraj, Mahadevi Verma, Gulzar etc. I started contributing to the hindi parts of wikipedia and also devoted a blog to writings especially in Hindi and Urdu. This passion has withstood the test of time and I am as engrossed in the field now as I ever was.

My latest craze is Audrey Hepburn, the beautiful actress and humanitarian who died in 1993! Without going into the details, I should just suffice to say that I have done little in the last 1 month apart from researching on her and watching her movies.

Is it wrong ? The way I tend ignore the real world ? I guess, to a rational eye, it is, but the fact remains that the real world is a drab place to live in. It lacks the melancholy beauty of poetry, the intellectual stimulation of chess and the intoxicating allure of those eyes. It does not appeal to the heart and for me, happiness does not lie in it. Nature is beautiful, physics is beautiful, artistic expression is beautiful but the daily chores of life are woefully insipid. They are just an inconvenience I have to live through.


The Ferry Rides

While discussing with a friend today about things unimportant and trivial, we happened to come across some old memories. Old college memories. He, of IIT Bombay with its panthers and crocodiles and snakes and crappy food and dingy hostels and fun life in general. I, of IIT Guwahati with its snakes and crocodiles and crappy food and fun life and those ferry rides across the Brahmaputra.

For the uninitiated, Brahmaputra is one of the most important and mighty rivers of the Indian subcontinent. Originating near Mount Kailash in Northern Himalayas, it traverses the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in North East India before joining the Bay of Bengal. Although to the general public, the river is known more for its depth, its flow, its width etc., for the students of IIT Guwahati first year, the river is known more for the notoriety which it showed when it so mercilessly separated the college from human civilization on the North.

The bus, which plied between our college and the city, although the prudent option, nevertheless, lacked the excitement of a ferry ride across the Brahmaputra. So more often than not, we used to cross the river on a boat. My old memories are especially vivid and dear of those days when the weather used to be overcast. I used to cycle my way from the college to the ferry ghat on the mud path which traversed through a thicket of coconut trees and adjoining straw huts like a snake in a forest. Especially during those rainy days, I relished the touch of the cold moisture laden air, the view of the distant cloud covered mountain tops, the smell of the slightly moistened earth indicating an impending downpour and the sound of chirping birds in the adjoining undergrowth.

The ticket for the ride used to cost about 1.5 rupees (about 3 cents!). The boat had wooden benches to sit and those were covered with a thick tin sheet on the top. I always used to sit on the top where it was open to fresh, cold air and vast, uninterrupted sights. It generally took about 20 minutes for the motorboat to cross the width of Brahmaputra. With the distant sights of shops and houses dotting the North Guwahati shore, the ferry ghat and miles and miles of green forests on the other shore, a faraway, lonely, majestic bridge, an isolated, slightly confused island in the middle of the river, birds trying to compete with the speed of the motorboat just above the water surface, the smell of rain hanging in the air, the taste of wet and dripping, subdued and afraid sunlight, the all pervading noise of complete silence, only broken incidently by the soft touch of cold air on my ears, I could not think of anything non-consequential like the struggles, sorrows and rewards life. I just used to curl up my legs and hold on to my jacket a bit more tightly to counter that ever penetrating cold. But my eyes were always looking into the distance, trying to absorb as much as possible.

A photographer's dilemma

Its not the latest news that the world is a cruel and a partial place to live but nowhere does this cruelity and this partiality manifests itself with more force than in the field of photography.

Consider an amateaur photographer, serenely proud of the latest Nikon digital SLR which shot a thousand dollars out of his bank account, a bit overwhelmed by the monstrous contraption that is his new gadget, but nevertheless, deriving hope from the impeccable scenery in front of him and from the confidence which he gained by reading all those reviews which told him that his newly bought camera takes the most amazingest of all photos.

He looks almost patronisingly at the helpless orange sun, the soon to be captured in a 3/2, infinity of the ocean, and those myriad colours which will soon be mercilessly decomposed into RGB. He cannot help but allow himself that smirk of pity which is the natural outcome on the face of a sadist professor when he recieves the answer sheet of the most hopeless student of the class. Confidently, he aims his camera towards the spectacle in the same way as the first German Panzer would have done against the helpless Polish army and prepares to shoot. And then it hits him. Is the focus right? What should I do with the exposure? The Aperture? The filters? The colour balance?

As he is ruminating over these technical sounding words, mother nature, in one of her infinite wisdoms, decides to give the proud snob a piece of her mind and starts pushing the sun down into the ocean at an ever accelerating pace. The photographer, now nervous, discovers the wisdom in the saying that "something is better than nothing" and arrives at the conclusion that "It is now or never". He selects some settings which he thinks will do justice to both the spectacle and his prodigious talent and clicks.

Back in his home, he shows his day's accomplishment to some of his friend's with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old showing off his new toys. He expects some "Ah so beautiful"s, some "How the hell"s and some jealous shuffles. An uneasy silence ensues. Is it approval? I am sure that they cannot find words to describe the beauty that I managed to capture in these photos. Or is it...? And then someone speaks up. "Its fine.".

Now I do not need to explain that "fine" is the cruelest of all human inventions. It never really intends what it means. You use it when you do not want to be rude. It is, on most occasions, the embodiment of total disapproval, just a nice way of saying "you do not have much future here son!". And our amateaur photographer, howsoever hopeless in photography, understands this innuendo perfectly, if not by his ability at detecting hidden meanings but surely by the utter hopeless despair with which the following words were spoken - "Its fine".



And I moved my face closer, the rose petal, shimmering in the redness of health, bent near the edges like a child streching his arms after having woken up from a deep sleep, smelling of diving fragrance, filled most of my view. A lone dew-drop, lying confused on its silky skin, reflected my captivated presence on its silvery, transparent surface. As I moved my head a little sideways, the surface of the drop of liquid shone in the brilliance of a dazzling array of colours as it captured the might and the heat of sun in her humble existence. Queer, isn't it? The fact that something as small and insignificant as a drop of water is sufficient to express the complete beauty of something as harsh as the Sun. You can never realize that beauty by looking directly at it. It does not reflect from the surfaces of rivers and oceans. No amount of power can extract that miniscule colourful beauty from its severe heat and light. And yet. Give it the soft touch of the curves of a dew drop and it melts into a beautiful play of colours. As the wind picked up speed, the rose petal started quivering. The dew drop, now helpless and confused, tried to hold her spot against the inevitable but finally gave up and fell off on the ground below. And all that remained on the surface was a faint and intermittent streak of water.

I waited for some more time and when that streak also vanished into thin air, I decided to move on.

About Me

My photo
Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.