Friday, 26 October 2012

1984: Masterpiece of 20th Century Political Fiction

By Luke Kristopher Davis

Imagine a world where...


War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery. These were the slogans of the 'party' which were installed in the members of the inner and outer parties. Everyone publicly obeyed them... even believed these statements, for there was no real privacy, everywhere was public, everyone was seen. At first glance these statements appear contradictory... they are contradictory... but the state was such that you could not argue otherwise. There was no reference to dictionaries other than the editions of 'newspeak' which was a language made by the party. There was no object which could explicitly bring you to the conclusion that anything the party promoted or said was wrong. They were always right. They were infallible. I say infallible, but as we know no living organism can be perfectly correct about everything in the universe, so to make the party appear infallible they had to re-write history continuously. They changed the past, they eradicated the concept of real empirical truth.

The state, known as Oceania, was in continuous war with Eurasia ... in the end it didn't matter who they were at war with. In the end it only mattered that they were in a state of war. If they could make it appear that the state was in war to the people then that was enough. The party saw war as a political necessity, to keep rations down, to keep blind allegiance to the party, to install in the public a sense of paranoia.

Party members 'or comrades' were drained, labored to exhaustion, tired, under-fed, lonely and squeezed to an ever obeying pulp of human flesh. They were never alone, but they were lonely. They were always watched by the telescreens, even if they were in their own homes they had to be conscious of their facial expressions and their murmuring. Most people trained themselves to appear emotionless, some were actually emotionless. Any twitch of the face, any weird prolonged staring or any sign of intelligence would be a crime. Thinking about Big Brother in a bad way was crime. It was thoughtcrime in newspeak. The party tried to stop rebellion in its infancy, which is to capture the thought... to kill the idea. Once an idea is eradicated from the language of the people then any revolution was impossible they thought.

They were wrong. We are creatures and evolution has formed in us an instinct to desire, to love, to hate, to feel, to indulge, to frolic and to play. You can kill the idea but the idea has an origin, it is within our human make up. Was Big Brother too strong for any revolution to carry momentum ?

Totalitarianism gone mad...

In the real world total control of a state of a fair number of civilians is extremely difficult, there are always gaps and loose ends which evolve into revolts and revolutions. Take a look at China, Libya, Egypt and many  once authoritarian country. North Korea is as close to a '1984' state. It is isolated, it may create the illusion of imminent war, it has a figure everyone must obey and love (King Jon Il and King Il sung etc.) they are constrained to think only within the confines of the party. Any sign of rebellion or upheaval will be stamped on and those involved will be sent to labor camps (See... http://newphysicistphi.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/inside-north-korea.html).

What if a totalitarian state, if it is at all physically possible, would envelope a continent or become a super power? What would such a state look like?  George Orwell excellently answers these questions, not entirely based on data or facts (for it would be a complete extrapolation of data anyways) but it is based on extremely thought through politics, experience (as it was written just after the Second World War) and a great imagination. Orwell paints a bleak, inhuman, laborious, repetitive  authoritarian world through the eyes of Winston. Orwell makes the point that those in charge of a huge totalitarian state may go in so far as committing its people to crimes of thought, merely thinking about rebellion. They may come to a point where they will re-write history, language and hence truth to keep their people blind, so they have no other conception of society to  compare the state too.. hence no discontentment.

Orwell highlights the lunacy of such a state and the inevitability, any rebellion would be near impossible. This is shown at the ending (I won't spoil it here). There are many intelligent themes through the book which one should generally reflect upon: Does truth predicate on language? What is the past? What is history and is it important? Can you kill an idea? The structure of society 'High, Middle and Low' and what does it mean to be human? These are all cleverly weaved into the book. 

I cannot stress how phenomenal the book is in its intellectual and political front and the way it is written as a fictional novel. It was written as a warning and as so it does not shy away from some the gruesome consequences of such a regime. It really does highlight the mindset of dictators or the rationale (the apparent rationale that is) they go through to build and believe in their regimes. 

This book will change your life, it still has the power to do that. After reading it for the first time (I am listening to it as I write now, in audio form) it made me observe the political structure of the country I am in and the elements of humans that would be crushed if any totalitarian state would ensue. Now I am interested in how it would kill science, knowledge and any higher ambition in life then to just persist through time. 

Read it. 

But just remember... Big Brother is not watching you.


Eric Arthur Blair AKA George Orwell...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

An Attempt to Explain Oscillating Flies in Groups (Non-mathematically)


I was walking through Astbury Mere, a lake near my house, on a sunny clear day. There were many flies about, this may be due to the abundance of water, greenery and the general amount of good resources in that environment. I might have also witnessed these flies during their mating season, as many species conduct their mating over water or near water (especially the mayfly).

One particular feature of the flies (I did not know what species they were, but i found out after some time that many flies exhibit this) was that they seemed be arranged in a certain configuration in which each fly would oscillate in a confined region, then sporadically change its region or buzz off. I never really noticed this before. There was a geometrical neatness and efficiency about the group of flies oscillating.

I tried to think of reasons for this. I came up with a number of possibilities:

1) It is only a feature of flies in mating season, where male flies are scanning the group for potential mates or vice versa. The configuration is merely an evolved system which makes mating more efficient.

2) It is a general feature of many fly systems, but its specific configurations and behaviours vary from species to species. It is caused by the evolved need for the flies to communicate, through chemical emissions, either food resources, mating etc. (I do not know the limit of complexity of the communications, I can only hint that this feature could have a social function). This may have evolved as flies that carried genes which encouraged  communication between other flies in flight could help them gain food, more mates or find shelter which could help them survive hence pass on more genes etc..

3) It is only a coincidental phenomenon occuring randomly within that species or only a few species, the phenomenon occurs only due to spatial restrictions etc. (nothing programmed within their genetic code)

Hypothesis 3) can be ruled out quite easily. Why would flies waste energy in flying in oscillation within a group of flies randomly ?  Surely they would have evolved not to waste energy, they would instead spend it on gathering food, mating or finding shelter.

Then we come to another question. What if each fly tried to find food etc. but failed and kept on failing to find food and shelter but one fly found food and shelter. Now let's suppose that the fly who found the food and shelter had genetic relatives close by, it would be in his genes interest to communicate to them his new found prize.

It could be that this phenomenon (oscillating in groups) occurred already in some fly species due to mating (reason (1) ) what happens if some flies over a long period of time tried to continue this social oscillation process not just to mate but to communicate information about food etc. Obviously they would not make conscious decisions, the genes would instruct them. So this means over time a gene (or mutated gene from the same phenomenon for just mating) which encouraged flies to communicate in air in some manner about other resources, not just mating, became successful. Now we can understand, as biologists, why such a gene would spread as it would benefit an individuals genes to preserve his relatives which have some fractional amount of his genes, and it would benefit an outsider fly (of same species) who could listen in and make his own body survive (which in turn means his own genes survival).

Over time the geometry and mathematical efficiency of the phenomenon would become more complex, leading to flies finding the optimal position and group shape to pick up chemical signals from other flies.

The most common group shape I have witnessed is a sphere where flies would oscillate on the surface of the sphere.

From this information one could devise a mathematical algorithm which tells a fly where, how long and how often to oscillate, change position etc. within the group. (Energy expenditure would also play a role as a constraint).

I hope to think more on this problem and construct a sound mathematical algorithm to explain it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Marie Curie: An inspiration to all.

            By Sujata Limbu 
 " Be less curious about  people and more curious about ideas" -Marie Curie                            

                        
Growing up, we all have had inspirational figures and Idols to look up to with admiration, hope and ambition.Though opinions differ between people but Marie Curie, the mother of modern physics is truly an inspiration. She is the first famous scientist in the modern world, first female to be awarded two noble prizes for different sectors (chemistry and physics), first woman to be awarded in research science in Europe, first female professor at Sorbonne, discovered and isolated polonium and radium, establish the nature of radiation and beta rays, a mother of two daughters, of which Irene Curie also won a noble prize for artificial radiation (chemistry). Truly an inspiration and a woman ahead of her time.

                                        

Marie Slodowska-Curie was born on the 7th of November 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. Only 15 years old when she finished her high school studies with first rank in her class, she went into teaching to set aside money for her sister Bronya Slodowska for her Medical school in Paris, along with her living expenses. After Bronya was done, she was to do the very same for her sister. She became a well paid governess for a wealthy agriculturist who ran a beet-sugar factory.She fell in love with their eldest son and her romantic interest with Karmierz Zorawski, the oldest son of the family was not appreciated.

But she stayed, discontinuing her affair and concentrating on self study taking interest sociological studies, physics and chemistry to find where academic interests lay. Her father was a physics teacher and she took advanced maths course with him though mail. She learnt chemistry from a chemist in the beet-sugar factory It soon became clear that she wanted to purse knowledge in  maths and physical sciences.

"During these years of isolated work, trying little by little  to find any real preference, I finally turned towards mathematics and physics, and resolutely undertook a serious preparation for future work " 

In 1891, Marie finally set out for Paris and enrolled at Sorbonne. Her fear of being insufficiently prepared for university was very accurate. Her maths, science and french were not on the same level as her fellow students but she was more than determined to work hard to overcome those shortcomings. Her living arrangements being very basic, she used to wear every clothing she owned to keep herself warm during winter. She was awarded a scholarship to continue with her maths masters. Before completing her masters degree, she was commissioned by the society for the encouragement of National Industry to do a study, relating magnetic properties of different steels to their chemical composition. She had to find a lab space, this is when she meets Pierre Curie, who was a laboratory chief in Municipal school of industrial physics and chemistry in Paris.They married in July 1895.

Six months after their wedding, German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered rays that could travel through solid wood or flesh (now known as X rays). Months after this discovery, French Physicist Henri Becquerel reported to the French Academy of science  that Uranium compounds (when kept in the dark) would emit rays that would fog a photographic plate. Despite this interesting find, Uranium rays were ignored but it appealed to Marie. Allowed to use a crowded, damp storeroom as a lab, she used a clever technique  using an electrometer which  Pierre and his older brother Jaques had invented 15 years earlier. The device measures extremely low electrical currents. Marie used it to measure faint currents that can pass through air that has been bombarded with Uranium rays. Observations such as the electrical effects of Uranium rays are constant, regardless of the shape and form, wet or dry, exposed to light or heat. It showed that minerals with higher concentration of Uranium emitted the most intense rays. These observations led to Marie's simple yet revolutionary hypothesis; the emission of rays by Uranium compounds were an atomic property.

Marie tested all known elements to check if other elements displayed the same properties as observed in Uranium, where many chemists donated variety of samples. It was finally concluded that the emission appeared to be an atomic property. This particular behaviour of Uranium (and thorium) was named "radioactivity". Pierre joined her research as it had revealed that two Uranium ores, pitchblende and chalcolite were much more radioactive than pure Uranium itself. They concluded that this nature was due to one more additional, undiscovered, radioactive elements. It was a very difficult procedure to track down the new radioactive elements (Pitchblende is a compound consisting 30 different elements). By making repeated seperations and various separations of various elements in Pitchblende and using an electrometer to identify the most radioactive fractions, two new elements were discovered, Polonium (in the honour of Marie's country of birth) and Radium.

Not only was she a wonderful woman ahead of her time, but her life story must inspire young scientists (or any one for that  matter) to work hard and be determined for your passion. From a governess in love to the mother of Modern physics.  Her modesty, hardships and her life story must be taken as in inspiration. Be curious, or as Curie said - 'Life is not to be feared, only understood'.
                                       
                                                

                                            

Marie Curie was honored two Nobel prizes, one in 1903 and one in 1911.
Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained. - Marie Curie



Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tunisia: Woman is being made responsible for her own rape by policemen

Crowds gather to support the victim and to stand for women's rights

Rape is an undeniably primitive, immoral and sick act.That is unquestionable (unless you are some 1 brain cell American Republican called Todd Akin http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19319240). The victims of rape have no choice (this seems obvious) yet the Tunisian government are trying to hold the victim of the police raping accountable for her own rape. They are trying to charge her for 'indecency' which is some violation of some Muslim, anti-feminist and ancient law.

The victim of the raping was with her fiance in their car, when 3 policemen stopped them and this somehow led to 2 policemen raping her. The court are accusing her and her fiancee of 'indecency'. The policemen face greater charges if found guilty (which no doubt they are as the court are trying to refrain from charging them, not due to evidence but due to avoiding shame) they face the death penalty or very long term prison sentences. 

If justice be rightfully applied, which I am sorry to say is not so easily done in Eastern countries whose legal systems are still heavily based on religious, authoritarian or tradtional principles, then the policemen should be prosecuted for rape and violation of their duty to protect the citizens. 

This case not only shows the progress needed in Tunisia for women's rights, it highlights a more general and macroscopic error in their justice system. They need to evolve from their authoritarian and religious basis which undermines equality, democracy, pacifism and freedom of speech.