Thursday, September 27, 2012

Too Much of Government is bad for Economic Health

Governments, world over, are accepted and respected.  Today we don't spare time to think how Governments came into existence and who gave them the right to make rules and tax people. Infact today we accept the legitimacy of  Government, so much so that we entrust it with lot of responsibilities and believe that it acts in the best interest of the people. After the 2008 economic depression, Governments have become stronger than ever. Governments now control finances and operations of many financial institutions. With the severe repercussion that people had to face in some of the liberalised economies, people are ready to willingly accept the domination and increased interference from Governments in exchange for stability.

While the knee jerk reaction of people who, suffered or are still suffer the fall out of the economic crisis is understandable, yet it is essential for all of us to understand that over sized Government, interfering in daily economic activities reduces our income level and leads to financial instability than the other way round. Lot of Keynesian economist would like to believe that the Government should spend their way out of any economic crisis, this sentiment also gets echoed in some of the Asian countries where there is a large reliance on Government for jobs and infrastructural development. However research conducted by economist in leading universities of the world and independent bodies don't agree with this view point.

Let us examine. The sources of Government revenue are one of the following:

·         Direct and Indirect Taxes [Custom duty | Excise Duty | Sales Tax | Service Tax| Income Tax etc,]
·         Profits from Public Sector Units [PSU]
·         Influencing Central Banks [ex: Federal Reserve in US] to print money
·         Borrowings from International markets against Government Bonds

If the Government has to increase spending it has to fund that spending through revenue from one or a mix of the above available sources. Let us see the repercussion of using any of these instruments:

Taxes: If the Government funds it's spending through increasing taxes, everyone earns lesser and have lower disposable income to spend. Private Sector companies might be encouraged to increase prices to meet their earning targets thus affected sales. The people are encouraged to report their income falsely so they could pay lesser tax and this leads to creation of black money.

Profits from PSU: There are very few PSU in the world that are making profit, the one that are making profit are not at par with the private sector with respect to infrastructure or technology. Tremendous investment is required to bring them up to the level where they could continue to compete with private players and remain profitable for long time. This is not possible if the Government eats into their profits to fund some project that doesn't have direct influence on the PSU's own business.

Printing Money: It is well established now that printing excess money than what an economy can handle leads to inflation as there is suddenly more money chasing same amount of Products and Services. Inflation reduces value or the net worth of our savings and strongly effects consumer sentiments and Institutional investors alike

Borrowings against Government Bonds: Borrowings for a short durations seem to be a good option, though excess borrowing increases the fiscal deficit (public debt). Higher public debt is sign of an unstable economy and is unsustainable for a long run. Research shows that increase in public debt has a negative influence on the GDP.

Though as a practice a combination of the above sources has often been used by majority of the Governments across the world to fund their expenditure. It has had limited success and created more problems than it managed to solve. The European crisis (Euro zone Crisis) is one such example where excess spending by Governments of member countries of the EU that, had the same currency, has led to severe instability. So the larger a role we want Government to play, the larger their employee base and larger the need to fund their human resources and functions, larger would be their reliance on using or misusing one or multiple of the above sources available at their disposal.

I would like to argue that, lesser the Government more would be the benefit to the ordinary man. Having said that, I am still am in favor of a minimal Government as a vigilante that keeps an eye on economic activity and the economic institutions to ensure stability to prevent unhealthy and speculative investment decisions. It should play a constructive role in making it attractive for private local and international players to invest in countries infrastructure. Governments could continue to play role in ensuring Literacy, minimum education level, minimum nutrition levels and facilitate it as much as possible thus playing a constructive role in ensuring roadblocks to do business are removed. Create level playing field to ensure fair competition, be the implementor of law. People have to feel empowered and given empowerment to use their entrepreneurial spirit to start businesses and be nurtured by favorable conditions to expand.


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Retell Story - FDI

Economics, like many other field, is a subjective science. It is open to speculations and interpretation based on a particular view point held by an economist. Two contrasting view points could co-exist, with sufficient evidences and research works to support both the view points. The recent debate on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Retail Sector in India is another case in point. There are economist and politician alike who hold contrasting view points about the subject both giving arguments backed with research data that proves their respective views.

I wanted to take this opportunity to try and put forward my view point about the subject as per my understanding and interpretation of the matter. I have no political leanings towards any parties and nor am I a capitalist or a communist or a Keynesian economist to be influenced by any one particular form of thought. I just present some plain calculation as per my understanding of the subject and whatever little I managed to gather through my limited reading.

Before we come to the point of whether FDI is beneficial or harmful, we need to understand few factors and involve few variables to understand the effect. First is the Exchange Rate [value of local currency against $], second is inflation [purchasing power of money], third is trade deficit [Exports minus the imports] and fourth is liquidity [amount of money in circulation]. All of these factors are tightly tied together in a cause-effect or effect-cause relationship. It is a general practice that international trade is measured against the $ and so is the exchange rate of a local currency.

Let us observe the macroeconomic condition of the Indian Economy against the above factors.

Exchange Rate: The Rupee has significantly depreciated against the Dollar over the past year and is at the moment the worst performing Asian currency vis-a-vis $. This situation, does benefit the exporters as they earn more for the same quantity of goods exported but, it hurts the importers, as the commodities in the international market become dearer. The reason for the Rupee nosedive is because of reverse flow of $ out of the country. Lack of $ supply and increasing demand for $ has made it dearer resulting in a depreciating rupee. Some of the reason for the reverse flow of $ are:

- FII (Foreign Institutional Investors) pulling back $ from the Indian market due to macroeconomic conditions in their country of origin [European or US crisis]
- Increasing cost of Crude Oil
- High demand for Gold in India - means purchasing gold from international market at the expense of spending $

Each of the above has led to reverse flow of $ thus making Rupee nosedive to it's lowest value ever. Though this has a silver lining but I would come to that towards the end of the post.

Inflation: For the last year or so the inflation levels have been uncomfortably high and the rupee nose dive has definitely contributed to the higher commodity prices in the local market. India also has had a chronic problem of negative Trade Deficit , which means it Imports more than Exports which would always effect the ForEx Reserves of the country as we would spend more $ than what we earn. It also means that, with a depreciated Rupee every import is expensive and the product continues to be in the local market. If the price of the import goes up in international market  (like crude oil) then those imports become even more dearer in the local market. Pushing inflation higher. This has led to lesser confidence of FII or FDIs thus prompting them to pull back the $ from Indian Market

Liquidity: Liquidity indicates, the amount of money in circulation in the market available for commercial transaction. Central Bank [Reserve Bank of India] is the sole controller of this Monetary Policy. It is common sense that higher liquidity equates to higher commercial transaction, however a stubborn inflation level with the existing circulating money has tied down the hands of the central bank from increasing any more amount of money in circulation through the instruments available with them. With less money in the market, banks charge a higher interest rate on loans, which has repercussion on every other aspect of the economy as people borrow less and invest less. The reduced economic activity due to the this and the other aforesaid factors makes the growth rate of India slow down significantly.

Food shortage and higher crude oil prices in the world has had a strong impact on all the developing economies, it has made it difficult to rein in the inflation and keep it under acceptable levels. As the central bank (RBI) cannot come up with a more lenient monetary policy, there is a need to find fresh sources of investment and attract the FIIs and FDIs back into the country.The Retail sector has done decently well in the recent past with investment from the private sector. It has generated significant jobs as well as contributed towards GDP. Indian consumers have shown that they can spend and are even ready to spend a bit higher than usual for the convenience these retail outlets provide them. Importantly the Indian middle class is ready to pay for the experience and convenience along with the price of the commodity thus making the retail sector a lucrative business to be in. The Middle class is also expanding and the penetration levels of retail outlets is way below the expected levels even in the major cities, which means there is sufficient scope for new players and further expansion. When Private players were allowed to invest in retail outlets fear was expressed that the roadside Stores would be history or the vegetable markets which my generation has grown up seeing would vanish. After some 5 years of Private players in retail sector, neither have the road side stores died out nor have the vegetable markets vanished, both have carved a niche for themselves and a method to co-exist.

With investment from FDIs within the boundaries specified by the government will help to further extend the good work that local private players have done. It would provide benefits to the consumers and also pave way for innovative products from the local entrepreneurs. Like any other sector, FDI in retail has it's own positives and negatives. Studies done in developed countries indicate no significant effect on employment or better returns to farmers, it also indicates that inspite of better technology and supply chain practices there is a food shortage in the world. Yet China's success in allowing FDI in retail and helping large number of people to move out of poverty is for all of us to see and learn from. Also the technological know how that foreign players could bring in could help in improving infrastructure related to cold storage and supply chain to reduce waste and prevent food shortages within the country. India often sees significant food crops getting destroyed or wasted due to lack of proper storage or logistics.

The benefits of FDI in Retail would be

- Stem the reverse flow of $
- Stem the depreciation of Rupee [More supply of $]
- Positive effect on Food Shortage [cold storage, supply chain practices, infrastructural improvement]
- Positive effect on Inflation [strong Rupee and better food supply will bring down cost]
- Lower inflation gives leeway to RBI to ease their Monetary Policy
- Boosts Economic Environment
- Boost Sentiments of the Corporates
- Generate new Jobs
- Option for innovative products developed locally - encourage entrepreneurs

Inspite of all the listed positives, we must understand that FDI in retail is not a Panacea. Other policy measures would still be required to sustain growth and alleviate poverty. Measures need to be taken to prevent factors that depreciates India's value as an Investment Destination. Corruption is one big factor that needs to be dealt with. It's impact on the Telecom sector is quite well known. Telecom Industry was a booming industry in India and had tremendous pace of growth, it also attracted large international players from across the world to invest and set shop. It was one industry that was growing and yet the cost per call was decreasing constantly. This was due to the increasing subscriber base and the tremendous potential that an ever expanding middle class and rapid urbanisation held . Yet the 2G Scam and the follow up taxation policies in the sector has slowed down the growth of the industry. These all incidents hurt the investors sentiments and they feel less confident in dealing with the government and agreeing to any clauses. Coalgate scandal is just another case in the point. We need to learn from those mistakes and deal with the FDI in Retail or Aviation or any other industry with newer wisdom.

Nonetheless, at the moment FDI in Retail is a much needed shot in the arm for the Indian Economy. India has always provided a dichotomy of view points on various matters. As a market it has also defied some of the predictions and speculations of economists and political analysts alike. I would hence request people to do their own critical analysis and thinking on any matter and not trust or believe the view points that are put up in public by various parties, whether the ruling party or the opposition, as they have their respective vested interests and political skulduggery to deal with.

Anyone interested to know more about what other countries are doing to ensure level playing ground between Foreign players and local players in retail must read:


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Curious case of a Rapist

Rape is undoubtedly one of the most heinous crimes against woman in any country. Strict laws exist in all countries to act as a deterrent for any perpetrator, though there are incidents of rape that keep getting reported quite regularly. I would like to argue that the convicted rapist is only a scapegoat in such incidents, the real culprit is the society. The society in order to prove itself innocent ensures that either the charges are convicted or are proved baseless. All this is done with due diligence to prove how just and prompt the society is, yet it can't get rid itself of the guilt each time such an act happens.

The male of any species is entrusted with a basic instinct to mate and pro-create, the female of any species possess methods of attracting the right male for the purpose of mating so that the species could survive and sustain. In animals the act is rather mechanical and also indiscrete and promiscuous, some of the tribals around the world are also known for that. The so called civilised society, in a way, has been about, effort to curb and rein in the promiscuity involved in the act of pro-creation and give it a more decent form. While one must say that the promiscuity has been curbed or camouflaged to a large extent, however not much has been done to modify the basic instincts. What also doesn't help is the civilised society's obsession with the female form.

It is rather surprising element of a civilised society, while acts of sexual crime are condemned yet the obsession with the female form goes on unabated. One look at our literature, print media, audio-visual media, entertainment industry will show how strongly are we obsessed with it. Both classical and contemporary literature have played a strong role in fueling and sustaining this obsession, interesting description and newer ways of describing the female form has been appreciated. While the artistic expression, undoubtedly, has to be appreciated yet their indirect contribution to sustaining the obsession with female form of the society as a whole cannot be ignored. Same could be said about the other forms of media who have constantly fueled it and do so even to the current day.

The obsession of the male towards the subject could be said to be conscious lecherousness and unconscious attempt to find appropriate partner, the female obsession towards the matter is out of insecurity, inadequacy or opportunity. The extent to which the female form is used repeatedly and with uncurbed exaggeration that it has a constant presence in the unconscious of everyone of the members of the civilised society. So, on one hand the male basic instinct has not changed and on the other hand the obsession with the female form continues unabated, both of this put together form a potent combination and a festering ground for heinous crime and oppression. No wonder from time to time we see the unwanted "Dress Codes" being specified for female students, professionals or citizens and that is considered as one of the reasons for the crime.

I feel instigated to say that civilised society in the attempt to curb promiscuity has let loose a demon that it didn't know existed. So much so that I would not hesitate to state that all of the males of a civilised society is a potential rapist, though the one that actually trips the rope is the convict and if the charges are proved the whole society doesn't spare in making the person feel unwanted and a bane to the human life. Yet the trap was already set and the act played out intelligently to hide the real motive.

Unless society collectively learns to get rid of this obsession of the female form and the male basic instinct to pro-create could be transformed, I would say that we haven't yet seen the end of the heinous crimes against woman no matter how much modern and technologically advanced world we might consider ourselves to be. I understand that Individuals make the society but after the society is formed the society now starts defining the individual. So change has to come from individuals and slowly propagate to cover the whole society.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Canned Music

Coke Studio India, is in it's second season. The popularity of Coke Studio Pakistan made MTV think about starting the series in India. While Pakistan is itself rich in it's folk music but still can't match the variety that India has to offer. It needed a visionary like Rohail Hyatt to make use of the wide variations in folk music available in India, though I might want to add that it wouldn't have been an easy task.

Coke Studio India season 1 had Leslie Lewis as it's producer. Leslie Lewis gained popularity at a national level through albums with Asha Bhonsle (Rahul and I) and Hariharan (Colonial Cousin) and has been releasing albums by adding western beats to old film songs. His orientation is more pop and western style and I think his exposure to other forms of Indian music is limited. This showed up glaringly in the music produced by CS India in season 1. Lot of people found it way below the levels reached by CS Pakistan and some songs fell flat on their face. Yet to be fair, songs produced with Shankar Mahadevan last season were the face saver for CS India, though I think that the Music arrangement skills of Shankar himself helped there. I give, what was as per me, one the best songs of Season 1.

Coke Studio in Pakistan, has became synonymous with their culture, while it is well appreciated by a wide audience in India (primarily north), it is also hoped that Coke Studio India could stand-up and reach the levels that we believe CS Pakistan has reached. Understanding the short comings of Season 1looks like CS India decided to make changes in the production team. This time they the music is being produced by young Amit Trivedi. Though I haven't followed every episode of CS India or heard much about the music produced by Amit previously, yet I have had the couple of songs I had a chance to view, I must say, indicate a marked improvement over what we had last year. Here I give you two of the songs that I thought did justice to the folk music that it was trying to enhance. Folk music itself is quite complete and mesmerizing in itself, so it is the prerogative of the western or pop beats being introduced to ensure that it enhances the feel of the original music and not subdue or overshadow it. I present to you two songs that I think did just that and leave a wonderful feeling and a hope that it will get better than this


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bandh (Strike Action) - and it's implication in India

The Industrial Revolution in Europe contributed to the world in more ways than one. Apart from economics, it also contributed in providing methods of protest to the working/labor class which has had a deep impact on the Trade Unions across the world and also gave a weapon of protest for the political class which could be used against the ruling government.

While India was slow to catch up with the process of Industrialisation, however it was not slow in adopting Bandh (Strike Action) as a useful protest mechanism. Bandh became a strong weapon of Political protest during the struggle for Independence, and Mahatma Gandhi used it to the fullest extent during the Non-Co-operation movement. The objective of bandh those days was to stifle economic activity and also to indicate that one can't oppress people of a country to do what it doesn't want to. It had it's effect and definitely made the then British Government take notice of such protests. Though the point to remember is, even those days response to Bandh was never 100%. India those days was divided between 'British Controlled Presidencies' and 'Princely states' and Princely states had their own method of functioning quite different than rest of the country.

Post Independence one would have thought that, the need for such weapons of protest like bandh wouldn't have a place (except for the Labor/Working class) against a Government that was supposed to be By the, Of the and For the People of India. Yet, Bandhs continue to dominate the political landscape even till date and remains one of the key weapons of protest for the opposition parties against the existing Government and their policies, whether in the state or at the Centre. Some political parties are notorious for indiscretely call of bandhs without even considering the effectiveness, political mileage or effect on common man.

I think that Bandh as a form of protest or as a form of civil disobedience has outlived it's expiry date. It's another example of how the Indian political class is losing touch with the common man they claim to represent. Also Bandhs are no longer democratic in nature. Today when parties call for a bandh they also ensure that it is a success by various means, as it effects their political reputation. So it is not a question of ideology or allowing scope for ideological disagreement. This Intolerance towards the alternate voice is dangerously for a democracy. Today when bandhs are called by any party this is what transpires among the ordinary common man

  • Firstly people check which parties are calling the bandh
  • Next they check whether they are in a state where any of the parties calling the bandh is the ruling party or has significant clout
    • If the party is ruling party or has clout in the state then the response is to stay indoors to avoid trouble
    • Organisations indicate or instruct their people to stay away from office or work from home or reach office before the bandh starts and leave after it is over
So Bandhs might appear to be successful at the outset, but in the truest of sense neither does it help increasing the reputation of the Parties calling it, nor does it reflect the support of the people for the cause. On the contrary it affects the daily wage workers, it affects economic transactions causing losses to the Government exchequer and any attempts to make up for the losses would mean either higher prices or higher taxes which in a way hurts the common man back again.

It is interesting to note here that, The Constitution of India makes no mention of Bandh/Strike and the Supreme Court of India had banned Bandhs as a form of political protests in the late 90s. Yet our political class with least regards to the Constitution or the rule of the Land continue to call bandhs indiscreetly. Yes under trade union laws the Working class is allowed to call for a Strike against oppression of the Proprietors of an company, however we have seen it also often gets misused as, trade unions also have political backing.

Critical study of the Indian political system carried out by people outside of India has led it to be called a Dysfunctional Democracy for various reasons, this even while we continue to be proud of being the largest democracy of the world. I am not surprised with the findings of such critical studies; Where there is paranoia about the alternate voice or intolerance towards any hint of disagreement, there democracy is murdered. While a lot of thinking is required to get the democratic structure back on track, at the minimal, we should look at immediately stopping archaic and self defeatist methods of Political Protest


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Circus of Indian Marriage

Marriage in anybody's life is quite a landmark and once in a lifetime event. It is something that all look forward to albeit, some with fear and anxiety, some with hope and excitement. In India, some might observe, the life revolves around marriages. Either people are busy searching for a bride/groom or people are busy attending marriages or busy arranging marriages or busy pestering an unmarried guy or a girl to submission and agree for marriage. If you are on the wrong side of 30 and unmarried then, no matter where you go, whether official or personal discussions eventually the topic changes to 'when are you getting married', add to it a questioning look of 'is there something wrong with you'?

While this is an unaccepted and unacknowledged fact that life for a lot of people in India revolves around marriages, what is also true is that Marriages in India are complicated and the complexity of marriages has only increased over time. The complexity is not as much in the marriage itself (though that exists too), it is more in the build-up to the marriage. India, to a large extent, has come out of the parochial view point of casteism and religious divide. Atleast in the urban landscape and corporate world the Indian Middle Class has learnt to look at a unified merit based society, rather than viewing it with caste based hierarchy. Yet, one situation which brings out this divide more strongly than anything else is while deciding on a partner for marriage. Here, all Indians go back to their own caste based and religion based cocoons, almost like a sheepish sudden realisation!

Indian marriages could be classified under two large categories, Arranged Marriages and Love Marriages. Arranged is where parents find a bride or groom for their wards and solemnise the marriage and they live happily ever after. Love is where the girl and guy mutually agree that they are right for each other and decide to marry sometimes solemnised by parents sometimes not.

With whatever minimal savings I have, I would still like to risk betting that finding a life partner in India is the toughest task than anywhere else in the world. This, even without having to touch upon 'matching wavelength', 'similar likes or dislikes' and all the jazz involved in choosing a life partner.
There are some essential filters that a person has to cross before he or she could be considered as a possible partner. First is Religion, you have to be of the same religion; Second is Caste, you have to be of the same caste, some might feel that this is too less a complication for a simple life and might want to go to the micro level of particular sub-caste; Third is Language, you need to speak the same language. Yes you could be of the same religion and caste however, what fun is it if you abuse in a language that your partner and family won't understand at all. Fourth is food habits, veg or non-veg? Fifth is Astrology, most families with varying degree, on what Astrology says. Sometimes even more than their own common sense or rational decision making. Sixth is Education/Salary- should earn sufficient for maintaining a family. Seventh - Job type, and Eighth - Looks, well atleast they should be bearable to look at, ain't it?

Knowing the type of marriages in India and the requirements, am sure one would like to think that Arranged marriages should be easy. Parents just follow the filtering process and present the final result to the marriage ready ward and finalise. Well it is definitely not as easy as it sounds to be, firstly post Independence, India did notice some migration within the country. So there are many instances where a family settles for decades together in a Province which they don't belong to. There are not many of their own type in the Province where they are settled and might have lost touch with people of their own Province and find it tough to find someone who could qualify all the filters or majority of the filters. Another big factor that has added to the complication is Women's Liberation. No I am not a misogynist. Women's Liberation meant that Indian women were getting educated and as in most occasions devoid of pressure of maintaining a household (exceptions do exist), getting very highly educated. So even if all the filters mentioned above match, now comes additional complications , Salary - should earn more than her, Job type - should be mentionable, Education - should be more educated than her, Life Style - few overseas trips and holiday in Thailand, English - should be fluent and so on and so forth.

If Arranged could get complicated like what I mention above, you could very well imagine how severely complicated could Love Marriages get. There are various permutation and combination among the basic requirements which would not pass the filter test. I will give just one example. Yes you are from same religion, yes you are from same caste but, you don't speak the same language. How would you communicate with respective families, what language would you speak with each other all your life? What language would your kid speak?. I guess by now you are well equipped to think of much more complicated situations and could spend hours at it as well. The more India develops the more people migrate to other states in search of better job opportunities and meet people from various backgrounds, it is only more likely that now we see such complicated relations emerging more often than not.

Having said what I have said so far, Marriages do happen in India both love marriages and arranged marriages and happen in large numbers. Marriage as an institution has not lost it's hold on the society and continues to be an essential aspect of Indian life. At this point we are not even questioning which form of marriages lead to more happier marriages, nor am I any authority to be able to comment on it. I only wanted to bring out the complications involved in deciding on a life partner in the Indian context. There are more aspects which I haven't touched upon for simplicity sake, however might come back to at a later stage.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Beauty in Composition

Coke Studio Pakistan,  since it's inception, has been coming out with some stupendous music. It is in it's 5th Season and each season has come up with some amazing numbers that reflect the depth of  and the richness of Pakistani folk music. Though it is not much different than Indian music or folk music, yet one can't help but complement the producer of Coke Studio Pakistan. Rohail Hyatt the producer since the beginning of Season1, has this wonderful knack of picking up folk and pop singers who blend wonderfully and bring alive a song. Much like a beautiful painting on a canvas with master strokes using, nothing but, unique and raw voices with earthy feel, instrumental arrangements and a perfect concoction of Western and Eastern music.

Personally, Music has tremendous influence on me. It can give me goosebumps and move me to tears by sheer beauty of the composition or the lyrical depth. There are many compositions in Coke Studio Pakistan that have had that effect on me and when any one of them hits me I am lost in that song for day's together and need to listen to the song again and again and again before I could emerge.

Right now the song that I would like to introduce to all of you is a wonderful Sufi composition in Punjabi again composed with a blend of the same elements that is so typical of CS Pakistan. I hope you all enjoy it just as much as I am or will over the next few days:


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Consciousness - My Journey I

No topic evokes greater passion or draws out greater debate than a discussion on Consciousness. It is something that we all possess and we think we know what it could possibly be. While for any other matter related to the body people are ready to talk to a specialist and one might even not hesitate visiting a Psychologist or a Psycho-therapist yet, about Consciousness we think we know it, we don't need to consult any specialist on it. Even if a specialist is to be consulted it would be someone in the realm of spiritual or religious domain. I think, lot of people might say that, consult, is a heavy word for such a meeting; 'seeking guidance' is where one would like to put it. This is the thing about Consciousness, everybody knows something but may be, nobody knows everything about it.

This subject of consciousness has moved out of the realm of Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy and also entered an Objective field like Science, lot of scientific experiments, especially after the advent of Quantum Mechanics/Physics, have become difficult to comprehend without factoring Consciousness into it. This as a subject can engulf all other subjects.Some may point out that, if we don't understand this then we might not understand anything else and yet there may be some who would say this is tough to understand let us leave this aside and understand other things independent of it.

In usual parlance we associate a lot of mysticism with Consciousness, the modern day effort however is to associate lot of realism to it and reduce the element of mysticism. So, when we talk of consciousness one would always be keen to know what form of Consciousness are we talking about? Restricting ourselves to Human Consciousness, might be a good way to start an scientific experiment, however if the idea is to understand Consciousness then we have to understand all other types along with Human Consciousness. The following are the types of Consciousness that I realise we might need to focus on
  • Human Consciousness
    • Sub-Conscious
    • Unconscious
    •  Meta Conscious
    • Sleep
    • Coma
    • Death
    • Anesthesia
    • Local
    • Non-Local
    • Sensual
    • Non-sensual
  • Animal Consciousness [Most of the above sub-factors apply]
  • Plant Consciousness [Most of the above sub-factors apply]
  • Consciousness of Non-Living matter
  • Consciousness in Nature
  • Consciousness of an atomic/sub-atomic particle
  • Consciousness in the Universe
There could be many many more forms that we could think of and could add to this list. Each of these topics have now become areas of big scientific experiments and also equally occupy hallowed place in the field of Philosophy. As history would suggest, Philosophical understanding has always fueled Scientific development and discoveries. So we can only hope that both these fields feed of each other and give us a greater understanding of this subject than what exists today and make it available for public consumption.

Let me start my journey into this by asking some basic questions
  • Does Consciousness Exist?
  • Where does it reside?
  • What is Consciousness?
    • Nature of Consciousness
    • Is it Matter of Energy
  • Can Consciousness be studied
    • Will understanding Consciousness solve some of the long standing problems of science?
Does Consciousness Exist?
A Human being, as I see it, is a combination of an Objective aspect and an Subjective aspect. Objective are the ones that all of us can see and qualify ex: the body, hair, eyes etc. subjective is the unique point of view, internal interpretation to events, personal experience (Qualia) that the person brings with him which is not tangible but nonetheless observable.
This subjective aspect is what people commonly call as Consciousness (CS) in one of it's form, so I could say yes it does exist, however we don't know where is it emerging or originating from. Yet there are other important questions that come up, like
  • What happens to my consciousness when I fall asleep?
  • When I dream in my sleep is that another type of consciousness?
 There is a strong nature of subjectivity associated with it that makes coming at any mutually agreed consensual understanding, extremely tough. The moment I think I have a grasp of it, it suddenly opens up into plethora of options leaving me exactly where I started.Today Neuroscience has made significant progress in mapping the brain and also understanding the functioning of each aspect, and the areas of the brain responsible for feelings like anger, happiness, anxiety have been determined. So much so that as far as human consciousness is concerned we have something called Neural Co-relate of Consciousness (NCR) which attempts to explain everything about Consciousness by understanding the neural functions. Yet one can't be certain that after all the functioning of a brain in a certain individuals body is completely understood and if it was to be transplanted into another individual's body whether it would still have similar functionality. I am guessing that study of mono-zygotic or identical twins could possibly make an interesting read.

How about CS in animals? Knowing that animals also possess feelings like humans and interpret and act to situations it would be safe to assume that they do possess some form of CS even if not entirely similar to Human CS.

While above aspect needs further arbitration, what is even more interesting to find out is do Plants possess CS or does non-living matter possess CS? Jagadish Chandra Bose had demonstrated that Plants also react to stimuli, similar to humans, and if spoken to Plants are capable of reacting. It is also well known that they sure possess intelligence to make the roots grow in the direction of water and the shoots in the direction of sunlight. Also it's proven that a tree can be drugged or put under influence of anesthesia before being transplanted at a different location. So all indications that even if not exactly similar to Human or Animal CS Plants also possess some form of CS.

Even more interesting aspect to dwell on is, does non-living matter possess CS? I was, at the very outset, instinctively, wanted to dismiss this notion all together. However the more I thought the more it became blurry and I could not distinguish Non-Living / Living and definitely about CS.
It is well known that Life took form in the aquatic world and from non-living elements that under some special condition and situation gave rise to a living form. If a living form has an origin in non-living then, non-living matter should also possess some elements of CS. Most Spiritual practices suggest knowing and becoming one with CS is the ultimate aim of human life. Yet as per widely accepted theory everything started from the Big Bang. If knowing CS is the ultimate aim then CS should have existed even before Big Bang and been the cause for the big bang. In that case living or non-living become just different manifestation of CS. There are many more thoughts like these that can blur the lines between living/non-living and what can or cannot possess CS.

A subject like Consciousness is not something that I could have thought of covering in a single publication on this blog. I shared an aspect of the journey taken by me to understand CS and see what different approaches people have adopted and if we could come to a universal agreement by approaching the same subject from various fields. I will continue sharing my journey as we go along.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Corruptible Ideals

Circa 2011 - 2012 will probably go down in History as the era of Protests and Changes. The 12-18 months time frame we talk about has been a witness to some ocean of changes inspired by public outcry and protests. One such protest, among many, has been the Anti-Corruption/LokPal Bill movement in India. Initiated and inspired by the unflinching energy of Anna Hazare, it went on to gain public attention and also led to the formation of, what we now know as, Team Anna.

Inspite of all the public support, countrywide protests and oceans of people gathering at various places in the country not much has been achieved not much has been changed. This is contrary to what we saw in the Arab Spring uprisings.Why has this movement only become a Team Anna movement? Why was it not a Indian Mass Movement? Why did it fail to meet it's desired goal? Why did it have limited success leading to reduced response and lesser crowds as the protest progressed?

There are few basic facts that I think contributed to this:
- Discounting the fact that a majority of the politicians had won their elections fair and square
- Assuming that if they name their organization - India Against Corruption, that would automatically mean the whole country is with them
- Failing to understand that no single Org can ever claim to be the true representative of the entire Nation-state of India, if anybody does so it would remain just that, Claim and far from reality
- Not Defining Corruption - Corruption is a vague term, there are various types of corruption which includes Moral as well. So the scope of the protest was never announced
- Last but not the least is the utter dis-respect to the Constitution of Indian Union

Compare this with the Arab Spring, large scale success as the objective of the movement were very clear to the protestors and their supporters and the results for all of us to see.

If we treat IAC as a party then I could say that the people did accept Anna Hazare as the PM candidate from IAC but the same people could not give them the mandate as the party's agenda wasn't clear. I have never seen a leader who is as confused as Arvind Kejriwal. Most of the protests in India tend to be Socialist in their nature. This inspite of the fact that Nehru's socialist dream failed to give the country what it was promised. Mr Kejriwal's resignation from Civil Service, simple attire, sleeping on the floor all give an impression of a socialist movement, which is scary. Every statement that Mr Kerjiwal comes out with gives an impression that he would like to re-write the constitution of the country and start everything from scratch. Lot of people would like that, but the reality is that we need to start from wherever we are, whatever we are and move. While his intent may not be wrong but I am sorry to say the approach and the execution are rather childish.

It looks like finally Mr Kejriwal has understood that the battle has to be fought within the framework of the constitution. He announced formation of a political party on the 2nd October 2012 under his leadership (minus Anna) and indicates their prime aim would be to give the power back to the people. There is, as per me, lot of rhetoric but very less practical sense in the vision statement he put forward and the methodologies that he propose have tinge of extremism and importantly socialism written all over it. No matter what Mr Kejriwal want's to call it, from economic point of view it looks like an attempt to go the Marxist way and politically it looks to be rather naive. Nonetheless only time will tell if he gains the trust and support of the people he believes he represents and can his party remain clean inspite of being inside the system


Random: September 2012