Friday, October 26, 2012

The Bong Blast

India is a land of festivals. The various religions that blend into the fabric of the Indian society give innumerable occasions to celebrate with tremendous amount of fanfare and frenzy. Dusshera is one such festival that celebrates victory of the good over the evil and also salutes the power of women.  Of all the places it is celebrated in, I would have to say, with certain authority that, no place could compare with the festivities in West Bengal during this occasion and specifically Kolkata than anywhere else. 

Dusshera is celebrated by Bengalis world over as Durga Puja. Durga is a Goddess that represents women power and created to take on and defeat the evil in the world. The clay idols of Durga are created each year she and her entourage are kept in a bamboo and cloth based structure created and decorated specifically for this occasion called Pandals. All of this is done in localities around Kolkata with contribution from inhabitants of that locality. The scale of the Pujas in Kolkata has grown over period of time and from community contribution based Pujas, it has gone on to attract corporate sponsorship.  As time passed and traditions became flexible there were greater experiments brought into the style of conducting Pujas, this gave way to many competitions. Now panel of judges visit all the Pandals and judge which one had a better pandal or a better idol or the general theme and award those localities accordingly. Today Durga Puja is conducted all across the world, especially USA/UK/Germany/Singapore/Malaysia/Melbourne, it also does the work of fostering community feeling as everybody contributes to conduct these Pujas

I won’t be wrong if I were to say that, the life of a Bengali pretty much revolves around the Durga Puja.  It is a festival that the young and the old of the family equally look forward to with equal enthusiasm. What does it mean to be in Kolkata during this time? I don’t know how much could be explained or expressed in words, I guess it is more about a sight to behold and a thing to be experienced. The frenzy or fervor of the occasion is tough to capture in words or even a picture, it is about thousands of localities conducting Durga Pujas, it is about extravagant lighting literally in every nook and corner of the city, it is about oceans and oceans of people till wherever eye could see, it is about one locality trying to outdo the other in its Pandal decoration and theme, it is about street food, it is about long hours of walking going from one locality to the other, it is about time ceasing to exist or have any meaning as night blends into day and day blends into night, it’s about passion. This is a time when everything else takes backseat, anything celebrated at such a large scale and with such fervor would obviously have withdrawal syndrome when it all comes to an end as everything does.  I present to you some of the choicest pictures from the 2012 Kolkata Durga Puja.

Beautiful clay idols of Goddess Durga:

Believe it or not these are all structures made of Bamboo/Cloth/and other recyclable items only for the 4-5 days of the festival:


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Classically Yours

Classical music generally has reduced takers now a days. There are institutions and schools that are fighting hards to keep the Classical music alive inspite of the onslaught from Pop music. While no form of music is entirely decoupled from classical music however, music in the pure classical form has lost much of the patronage seen uptill early 20th century.

  An art form that has hundred's of years of experience cannot be wiped out easily, so is the case with classical music that still continues to survive in pockets and with some dedicated patrons. As with any dying art, it's revival and resurrection largely depends upon infusion of the young to carry the tradition forward and keep it alive. Indian classical music, whether Hindustani or Carnatic is no different, both are fighting their respective battles for the same cause. The survival of an art form also, to some extent, depends on how relevant the current generation finds it to be. A stubborn art form that refuses to change with changing times almost surely set's itself up for extinction.

Indian classical music has also survived quite well so far, due to more and more youngsters willing to take the mantle from aging practitioners of the art form and also because it is open to experimentation to make it as much palatable to the younger audiences as possible. My interest in Indian Classical music (Hindustani) was inspired by a song that was an fusion of pure classical music and western beats. I also would have to credit for this interest, a friend who had learnt Hindustani Classical on violin and helped me get introduced to newer ragas and it's nuances.  Nonetheless, I wanted to present a chance for all to listen to this beautiful composition set in Raag Durga (Late Evening Raga). The interesting part of this song is that it introduces us to the enchanting sound of Sarangi (stringed musical instrument) another instrument that is fast losing it's presence. After I heard this song I heard many compositions in the same Raaga and also started exploring many other Raagas. I can only hope you love it just as much as I did when I heard it the first time. Hope classical music continues to reinvent itself and survives and gives us many such tunes to enjoy.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Looking East and Seeing West

We all know that corruption is not a new phenomenon. documented evidences of corruption have been found in the mythological epics of most of the parts of the world. Corruption continues to be in limelight, probably more in the developing economies of the East than the developed ones of the West. Infact the picture often painted with respect to corruption is, that of a Clean West and a chaotic, murky and Corrupt East.

Corruption, like many other things, is tough to define in definite terms. For the sake of simplicity we would limit the scope here to, offerings of cash and kind in order to gain personal benefits. This is the most widely recognised and experienced form of corruption. I want to point out here that, while the developing countries of the east are seeing rapid increase of corrupt practices, the west cannot claim any moral superiority over the matter. On the contrary West has long been known for finding innovative ways to continue corrupt practices yet make it look clean and transparent on the outside. Also, the results of such corrupt practices are far reaching and affect millions way beyond the boundaries of country where they are perpetrated.It is a known fact now that, the West at large had almost legalised methods of corruption and  conveniently gave it the name of Lobbying. Lobbying as a concept had existed from early 19th century and became more prevalent and popular post The Great Depression of 1938. The so called Cartels [Oil, Weapon, Pharmaceuticals etc.] appointed lobbyists to influence Senators/Congressmen/Parliamentarians and get favorable legislations passed in the Congress/Parliament. Benefits were mutual, the Cartels got benefits like

  •  Lower taxes
  • Ability to  bribe officials to gain contracts in other countries and claim tax benefit on it in their country of origin
  • Gain Overseas and Domestic Government Contracts
  • Lower interest rates for Loans
  • Prevent unfavorable laws from being legislated

 Every favor done to the respective Cartels, the legislators got either

  • Election Funds
  • Party Funds
  • An Influential position in Private Sector

One would argue that in the East corruption impacts ordinary people and in the West it is restricted to the upper echelons of the power equation. One could also argue that in the East we have to bribe even if we have to obtain a birth certificate, whereas in the West such hassles don't exist. Here I would like to present some facts that would indicate how debilitating the corrupt practices of west could be, way beyond the affect of corruption that the East sees from day to day.

  • The strong lobbying of the rich and influential in the USA has ensured very low taxes for them compared to the middle class, often referred by Warren Buffet as key point to look into. Thus increasing the tax burden on ordinary people to meet the deficit and fund Government expenditure
  • Strong lobbying by the Banks ensured near 0% interest rates and almost free supply of money across the world leading to an indiscreet granting of loans starting early 2000. It also ensured removal of regulations on banking and mortgages which led to the bloodbath of 2008, the ripple effects of which are still being felt.
  •  Strong lobbying by Banks ensured huge bailout packages at the expense of tax payers money leading to huge fiscal deficit, meaning reduced spending by Government on essential health care and other social benefits leading to job losses, reduced family income and expensive health care.
  • Strong lobbying by Oil companies allowed BP to construct a reservoir with substandard material that eventually led to the oil spill and vast damage to the ecosystem.

All of the above have had far reaching affect on not only the common man in the country where it originated but have spread to shores far beyond as a domino effect. The damage done is much more severe than what paying for a birth certificate could be.  Doesn't this smell like the same rotten stuff that one often associates with the East? Why then, do we perceive the West as more cleaner than the East? Aren't they in the same rut as us? Aren't we in a way suffering for corrupt practices committed way beyond our own shores?

Ofcourse I am not justifying the corrupt practices of the east or indicating that it is better than that of the west. Both are equally condemnable and possibly tough to get rid off. There might be some merit in the thought of legalising corruption and make it as transparent as possible. This is what the West has done and hence continue to be ranked high up in the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. Ofcourse the East has to deal with other factors, like literacy levels, before it could make any change in how the world perceives it.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Crisis Zone

The Euro Zone, is probably fighting the gravest battle since the time it was conceived by members of the European Union (EU). Euro was introduced around 1999 as a currency that could be used across all the EU member countries. Soon it was proposed to replace the local currency of each of the member country. Over a span of 10 years,  17 of the 27 EU countries changed their local currency to the Euro. The rationale behind such a dramatic move was to

  • Increase trade collaboration within the EU member countries
  • Reduce dependency on US $ to influence the exchange rate fluctuation
  • Increased cross border employment opportunity
  • Better cost parity across countries
  • Opportunity for, the developing economies in the EU to restructure their economic fundamentals and pave way for growth

Euro today is only second to the US $ in terms of net worth and the currency in which global trade is being carried out. Also to a large extent it has managed to make itself immune from the number of $ in circulation, ofcourse a 100% immunity is neither possible nor desired. So all the 17 countries that agreed to convert to Euro soon came to be known as The Euro-Zone. Interestingly though, UK is not among the 17 countries, though Euro is accepted as a currency for trade but the Pound still remains their local currency.

Whatever limited success that Euro has enjoyed till date, it is quite interesting to note that there was one key inherent flaw. The flaw was that, there was a common monetary policy across the Euro-zone countries but there was no common fiscal policy across them. This meant that while it was understood by the Governments what currency they are dealing with and how much of it, there was no understanding about how each Government was spending them. It isn't like the United States or India where, while each state makes their own independent decision on State Government expenditure but it is still within the framework of the Central Government. With the lack of such over-viewing body, each country had it's own fiscal policy and went ahead and did whatever they thought was best for their people without realising that how it would affect other countries.

Governments in most countries, tend to spend on infrastructure to generate jobs in public sector, provide unemployment benefits and some of them offer pensions and other social benefits. These expenditures are to be funded.  
A. You could print money to fund them (at the risk of inflation) 
B. You could increase taxes (income/sales/service/excise/customs) and increase revenue (to the dissatisfaction of people) 
C. You could borrow money against Government bonds (with risk of higher fiscal deficit).

All said and done the option that least impacted people immediately was borrowing money, hence lot of countries like Greece were known to have large fiscal deficit and used to borrow heavily to fund their social benefits programs. Individual countries making their own decision to provide benefit to their own people in the Euro Zone was interestingly coming at the expense of every other country also part of the same Euro Zone. Amidst this came the economic slow down of 2008 and what was worse was that banks were failing and falling like dry leaves. Even central banks of some countries lost their stability. There was only two option - allow the banks to fail or recapitalise the banks by injecting genuine (and not speculative) funds into them. The vote was in favor of injecting funds and billions of Euro's were offered as bail out packages to these banks as they were seen as a the back bone of the economy and their failing or falling could lead to horrible bloodbath.This sort of paved way for more such stimulus funds or packages which has only made the matter worse.

With a linked currency, what it meant now was a country's exports or imports could become expensive or cheap depending upon the exchange rate of the Euro. Greece suffered the consequences of this and suddenly found themselves in a position where their exports became expensive to buy and imports became expensive to sustain, thus further fueling their debt levels. Most countries like Greece or Spain, in order to raise money sold Government bonds to other countries and borrowed heavily, which meant that all the countries that bought these bonds became dependent directly on the well being of these countries. It is a catch 22 situation all the way. Let me explain.

  • Countries like Greece or Spain have borrowed so heavily that they can continue to sustain only if they can still borrow; even if it means that their bonds are of no value. Which means the other countries have to suffer losses to sustain Greece
  • There is a need to politically influence countries like Greece or Spain to reduce their respective public spending
  • Reduced public spending would mean loss of jobs and incomes for households which would mean either higher unemployment benefit cost again leading to debt or reduced collection of tax and a shrinking GDP
  • One could ask why not let Greece drop out of the Euro Zone and revert back to it's old currency, well what about the bonds they sold to other countries? What worth would they be? What value will they get, indirectly it influences the financial stability of countries who bought these bonds

Not an easy decision to make, however what the Euro-zone Political leaders have agreed upon is inline with the problem we highlighted above
  • Write off some part of Debts (non-repayment of loans), especially Greece
  • Offer bailout package to sustain the countries
  • Resort to AUSTERITY - a move popularised and strongly voiced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel - basically means reduced Government spending on social benefits and other activities to ensure the debts don't increase dramatically.

It looks to be a fair decision provided, saving the Euro-Zone is a predetermined objective. Hence I said at the beginning it is the gravest battle that Euro-zone is fighting for it's own survival. The  country that could probably be smiling with a ' I told you So' smile is UK, who have remained relatively immune to this turmoil and ofcouse so have been the 9 other EU members who decided to stay out of the Euro-Zone. The Political and Economic big-wigs of Europe are definitely making an all out effort to keep alive their baby (the Euro Zone) however, it is coming at an expense of competitiveness of individual countries to sustain and earn their way out of crisis.

If Greece is allowed to fall out of the Euro Zone they could devalue their currency which would make their exports cheaper and imports sustainable. This would aid them to earn greater returns from exports helping to minimise fiscal deficit. It would give them the opportunity to revive their economic health and rejoin Euro-Zone when in a better shape. Holding other countries contingent to Greece is like telling me that, how much I can spend today is dependent on how much my neighbor  already spent yesterday. Because of Greece all other countries which are part of Euro Zone are now in the AUSTERITY mode which means reduced public spending. This has led to public outcry, loss of jobs, emotional turmoil, depression, suicides and many other repercussions of it. If Euro Zone has to be sustained the turmoil and disturbance is inevitable, infact leaders would like us to believe that the turmoil is only a trade-off for a long term benefit. However there are other options that could be explored if so desired.

This is the thing about Globalization, today nobody is entirely immune from what goes on in the other parts of the world. So if global economy has to recover, EU and Euro Zone play a crucial role in it. Hence their well being is as important as any.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Lance Around

'What a fall was there, my countrymen' said Mark Antony about the death of Julius Caesar. The expression of the world towards Lance Armstrong is no different today. 

Lance Armstrong was among those sporting icons who had managed to get fame beyond the boundaries of his own country and well beyond the followers of the sport that he patronized. He gave hope to people suffering from cancer as he fought against the disease and came back successfully to win series of Tour De France crown. Some of us might remember the yellow Livestrong bracelets that, both in it's original and counterfeit form, had become widely popular across the world and were symbols of wide spread support for people fighting against cancer. Yet here is the man facing the most severest charges that would make people who trusted in him feel ashamed of. US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) indicates it has more than a strong case against Armstrong. With each passing day more and more of his former team mates are coming out with their own accounts of how they were bullied and coerced to fall in line with the doping practices prescribed by Lance Armstrong.

Whether he would come out of these allegations that are yet to be proved, remains to be seen. However there is no denying his skills as a cyclist that he demonstrated very early in his life though the doping charges threaten to completely obliterate his skills as a cyclist. It is essential to note that the charges against him start from year 1999, by then he was already an established professional cyclist winning many competitions and races in the US and Europe. He won two Tour De Force titles in 1993 (Stage 8) and 1995 (Stage 18). It was in 1996 that he was diagnosed with Testicular cancer. The big blotch though is that his famous wins at Tour De France, post his recovery from cancer, came within the years where he is alleged to have been deep into taking performance enhancement drugs, thus raising credibility about how much of his success could be attributed to his spirit and how much to the performance enhancement drugs. Can personal greed push one to such extreme acts?

Sporting standards have undoubtedly gone many notches higher. While the human body hasn't evolved in any visible sense yet year over year athletes have improved dramatically and give performances that almost seem nonhuman-like.  Most of the athletes and sportsmen (Cricket or Football) seem to play almost all through out the year defying the wear and tear of the body, swimmers and sprinters continue to better the event records. This doping allegation against Lance Armstrong raises fingers against all sporting icons in all fields! It leaves one with a sense of fear who the next sporting great could be, ready to fall from grace? How many of the performances that we have admired in various sports are the result of performance enhancement drugs? Are all the sportsmen adept in knowing how to take drugs and not get caught (less adept do get caught)? How much of a success in an event can be attributed to the athletes skills and how much to the enhancement from drugs?

It is scary to imagine if sports has become like a Daily Soap, playing to the needs of the viewers. What if sports was to be played out with predetermined scripts that get tweaked depending on what viewers want (betting scandal is already known)? Does the sport influence the viewer-ship or is the viewer-ship influencing the sport? Fate of Lance Armstrong would soon be decided, however I hope that it acts as a wake up call for many others in case if any have resorted to similar means. Criminal act of any nature and type never pays; it does come back to haunt the perpetrator one way or the other


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jokers Apart

Over the past few years the movie that I found to be top drawer was The Dark Knight. Batman series is unlike any of the other superhero series, it isn't just about right or wrong. I don't think Batman comics or the movies are even meant for kids. In the Superman/Spiderman series it is easy to pick the good from the bad but, Batman series might make it tough to tell the good from the bad. What makes the story even more interesting is the presence of the Joker. This character epitomizes anarchy, lawlessness yet there is something lovable and mysterious about him. I guess the genius of the author comes out in how interestingly he presents a seemingly negative character and makes him more real and almost the unlikely protagonist. He is supremely confident, knows himself, fearless, lives on his own terms, has a sense of humor and is not greedy. What more do we want to love a character.

The Dark Knight was one such movie which had the brilliance of two people written all over it. Christopher Nolan (Director) and Heath Ledger (The Joker). Christoper, conceptualized the character very well and gave it dialogs that bring alive the Joker in more ways than one and Heath brought mannerisms on screen that makes the Joker believable and leaves a lasting impression on the audience. No matter how dark the role might be, his sense of humor, philosophy and a method to madness make him a stronger  and deeper personality than the Batman.

Here I present few of the Quotes from the same movie that impressed me very much and I love to keep going back to these quotes (I won't tell - for inspiration or for solace or for amusement):

  • “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
  • “Do you want to know why I use a knife? You see, guns are too quick. You can’t savor all of the little…emotions. In their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way…I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?”
  • “I believe… whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.”
  • If you are good at something, never do it for free
  • “Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos, I’m an agent of chaos , and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”
  •  “I took gotham’s white knight and I brought ‘im down to our level. Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity, all it takes is a little push. “
  • “Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak–like me. They need you right now. When they don’t…they’ll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their code: it’s a bad joke. They’re dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see, when the chips are down these civilized people will eat each other. Ya see I’m not a monster, I was just ahead of the curve.”
  • “You… you just couldn’t let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptable aren’t you. You won’t kill me because of some misplaced sense of self-rightousness. And I won’t kill you because…you’re just too much fun. I get the feeling that you and I are destined to do this forever.”


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Quantum of Mystery

Speaking from the scientific perspective, 20th Century was the century of Quantum Physics and Theory of Relativity. The world of Physics was totally revolutionised by scientists from Germany and Austria, in the early part of the 20th Century, and it also had serious Philosophical implication about our understanding of the World we live in which we are still to come to terms with.

The latter half of 20th Century was an era of applied sciences with Quantum Physics/Mechanics (QM) emerging at the helm of all technological advancement. Though there was also a need to demystify QM for general consumption outside the scientific world and many attempts were made to do so. The problem though was that, scientists themselves could not come to a common understanding on the matter. The standoff between Einstein and Neils Bohr is now legendary:

Einstein: God doesn't play dice with the Universe

Bohr: Don't tell God what to do

Several attempts have been made to present the facts to public outside the scientific/Physics community to explain what Quantum Physics was all about. The following video is one such attempt to simplify the understanding as far as possible and introduce audience to the "Quantum World"


Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Facebook Celebrity

I guess, most of us have tried to imagine how the life of a celebrity would be. The stardom, the recognition, people jostling with each other to catch a glimpse, rushing to get an autograph and the various other things that come with being a celebrity. It is ofcourse restricted to a fortunate (for lack of a better word) few.

For the rest of the unfortunate (again for the lack of a better word) many, having vicarious experiences while day dreaming or reading magazines and newspapers is the only last resort. It looks like, if there is a God somewhere or of some type he did listen to the voices of the unfortunate many. Out of no where comes a Harvard Uni student and builds an App that would change the lives of most of the unfortunate many and challenge the status of the fortunate few. Yes I am talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I don't find it surprising at all that Mark was majoring in Computer Science and Psychology when attending the University. He definitely understood the psyche of his target audience and developed something that catered to the inadequacy of the unfortunate many,

Facebook is going great guns, for most of us, the day is not complete without paying few visits to the site. For some, Facebook is THE work for which they come to office for and they do the other job just to sustain their THE work. Some we notice suffering from an Obsessive Compulsive Behavior (OCB) of sharing photographs  no matter what they do. I will bet half my salary (peanuts as it may be) on saying that sales of SLR cameras and the associated lenses have never been as good as it is now after the advent of Facebook. In a way it seems to have made people realise their dormant talent and also this incessant desire to share it with people. Silently all this has created something that definitely hasn't gone unnoticed but most of the time goes unmentioned. It has created something called a Facebook Celebrity.

The Facebook Celebrity (FBC) is not as much of a person as it is a feeling. It is attached to the number of LIKES or COMMENTS received on a post or an album or a photograph or a status change. Ofcourse there is a gender bias. Posts or Photographs of Ladies tend to see a stampede of people rushing to hit the Like button or comment, Posts or Photographs of Gents sometimes don't tend to find much of an audience (not even a fly). Ofcourse there is a status bias, Posts or Photographs of Sr Managers in any organization witnesses another stampede of subordinates and colleagues trying to outdo each other in innovative comments apart from hitting the Like button. I am still not sure if this has started influencing the annual performance review nonetheless it is a phenomenon to be observed. So what this has created is that feeling of being a celebrity or knowing what does it feel like to be a celebrity; where every move and every act is watched by many. The beautify of FBC is that it could be anyone of us, I am sure many of us have sensed this feeling and know that it is very democratic and allows anyone to be have that feeling.

As with many other things, this FBC  thing is not without it's own pitfalls or repercussions. It is nothing different than the highs and lows stars see linked with their performances in their respective profession. People have reported psychological disorders linked to responses on their Facebook posts, some have reported severe depression when their postings don't get any likes or not as many likes as they expected there to be, some have reported sleepless nights when a profile picture change didn't evoke any response and were tempted to take botox. It has blurred the lines of private and public. Private boozing sessions at a friends place is now meant to be public knowledge and photographs published all over the place with elan are a norm, or a silent dinner with family is meant to be public knowledge and probably the food doesn't digest well unless some pics landup on the Facebook site. Such is the entrapment of a FBC.

Nonetheless it has definitely done one thing it has, in a way, brought the unfortunate many at par with the fortunate few and has made it a 'passing the ball' game as far as the FBC feeling is concerned. Yes the fortunate few still continue to get millions of views but the unfortunate many with hundreds or thousands of views don't feel any less important. It is definitely also removing the way society views certain professions and bringing them at par with the respected others, though the paychecks are not in a hurry to level themselves out, nonetheless the bias to some extent is going away. So I think the FBC phenomenon is here to say inspite of the many pitfalls it has and make a STAR out of all of us.

Three Cheers to FBC


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Consciousness - My Journey II

What is Consciousness?

As discussed in the last post on the same topic, a definite answer to the question is tough to reach. Most scientists today agree that CS has two essential dimensions to it:
  • Arousal [Level of Consciousness]
General belief is that we are Conscious when we are awake and lose Consciousness when we fall asleep. Through the facts I present here, I would like to argue by presenting various facts that Sleep is a form of Consciousness. Every other form of unconscious existence, we know off is also a subset of consciousness. Let me present the facts and try and explain myself. 
  • Awareness [Content of Consciousness]
We have intentional awareness of what we decide to pay attention to as well as have unintentional awareness. The bodily operation play a key role in deciding on this content with inputs from sense organs, though here I would like to argue that experiences or perception of what we sense largely depends on the memories we form.

Let me present the facts and my arguments for perusal.

It has been observed that for AROUSAL two aspects of the brain are essential, ‘Ascending Reticular Activating System’ (ARAS) and the ‘Cerebral Cortex’. These are the parts of the brain that are essential for us to wake up every morning and are shutdown when we fall asleep. There is tremendous amount of research that has been done to understand ARAS and CC, so that cures to various sleep disorders may be found. Damage to ARAS or Cerebral cortex or the areas around it, could lead one into a state of partial wakefulness but complete unawareness either of oneself or the environment (Persistent Vegetative State or PVS). It could also lead to a state of being unawake and unaware (Coma). Sleep/Coma is popularly believed to be loss of CS brought about by the shutdown of ARAS and Cerebral Cortex (CC). However our personal experience would indicate that even when we are asleep, an alarm or someone calling our name could arouse us (factors that can arouse us vary from person to person). Also there are many instances where people have woken up from Coma (albeit with some mental disorders) indicating that the Consciousness is still present, awaiting the right trigger to wake up. 

This means that sleep or Coma is not a complete loss of Consciousness; a form of CS does exist, and ARAS and CC are not shutdown but remain in standby or hibernation awaiting a stimulus to wake them up. With progress in resolution of pictures developed using fMRI, EEG or PET, one can study the brain signals under various conditions and situations. Research done to monitor the brain signals during sleep using these techniques, indicate that during sleep the inputs from Sense organs are active but are attenuated, allowing ARAS and CC to go to standby and not stay in a constant state of arousal. Also ARAS tends to prioritize the attenuated signals from each sense organ to decide the 'urgency of the need' to come out of standby and arouse the person from sleep. (This could indicate an important postulate that Consciousness is omniscient). Thus sleep could be seen as a state of partial wakefulness, partial awareness, or a form of unconscious awareness. Similar research is being carried out to understand Coma and the possibilities of reversing it, and also to deal with mental disorders of the person who wakes up from Coma.

While we may not understand  unconsciousness awareness, or what is sometimes called subconscious awareness, it hasn't stopped people from claiming that things said, done or thought during unconscious awareness can strongly influence the behavior of a person when fully conscious and fully aware. A separate field has developed to work on unconscious learning vs. conscious learning and has fueled the whole Self Help Group/Books industry to thrive on whatever minimal understanding we have of this state. However what seems to be coming through is that Unconscious is a subset of CS and not mutually exclusive as was believed it to be earlier. Here it is interesting to note that General Anesthesia (though not much is known about how it works) is a way of temporarily shutting down the ARAS and CC so that person stays in a state of "un-awakened unawareness" and hence feels neither the pain nor has any memory of the performed operation, and wakes up when the effect of anesthesia wears off. This area needs to be researched more to understand the level of Consciousness and the related brain activity. It could also help find ways of reviving a person from Coma or PVS.

The second dimension to Consciousness is AWARENESS or the content of Consciousness. What is it that we are aware of? Surroundings? Thoughts? Memories? Sensory inputs? Probably a picture could help us better understand what the bodily functions are and how that leads to the content of Awareness.

Fig 1
The stimuli mentioned in Fig 1 indicates that it should be "Changing Stimuli"; we slowly lose awareness of any stimuli that don’t change. For example if we continue to stare at one point continuously it vanishes, or if we put our feet in hot water after the initial reaction we are unaware of the feel of water on our feet unless the temperature of the water changes.
Very strong philosophical and epistemological question come up. In the above mechanical operation of the body,
-where is the sense of " I " or "EGO" coming from?
-where is the experience coming from?
-where are the thoughts emerging from?

 The bodily operation are definitely leading to formation of memory which I feel plays an active role in the content of consciousness and what we actually are aware of. However apart from the memories the body function generates there are other aspects of consciousness which need to be studied in detail.  Details of this was nicely put forward by David Chalmers. In a paper released in 1995, he divided the whole problem of the content of CS into two problems one of which he chose to call Easy Problem and the other (obviously) a Hard Problem. Easy problem is related to the Neural Co-relate of Consciousness (NCC popularised by Christoph Koch) and the Hard Problem is what is of the experience and is called Qualia. For example when I see the color red, the frequency of light wave is converted to signals inside my neural system and the brain helps me to recognize it as a Red color (fMRI/CT Scan could help to observe the neural processing); yet how does it feel for me to see the red color, and what that experience is like is the Qualia. As per Chalmers, Qualia is tough to understand, and it is also difficult to figure out where it is coming from? Here I would like to highlight the role played by memory

Memory possibly plays a key role in the experience that we have in a particular situation. I think it is essential that we understand what memory is and what type of memory gets formed under various conditions as (Ref Fig 2), that in a way influences the real content of Consciousness and hence our perception of what we view, and is probably also responsible for Qualia. The following diagram indicates the formation of memories in a wakeful state

Fig 2
Another area that we don't know much about is about Consciousness and Intention and it leads to unresolved philosophical and epistemological questions: .
Where does the Intention come from?
What dictates what a person's intention would be?

Similarly as seen in Fig 2, we have an unawake but aware state where there are possibilities of formation of memories which strongly influence our perception when awake and aware. At the moment it is not clear if there is any function of Intention in such a state. 

Most of what I have said above, has been subject of scientific research and philosophical deliberation and it applies to both Humans and Animals alike. Also there is a high possibility that we cannot rule out that plants also demonstrate similar elements however they are not scientifically proved to an extent where it could be mentioned. I would leave you with an interesting thought and Consciousness among the non-living - 'Anybody with minimal knowledge of Chemistry knows that when we mix two elements there is a predictable and repeatable outcome or reaction. This indicates that at an atomic level each atom knows what it has to do when it comes in contact with atom of another element. This indicates presence of Memory; a memory which we cannot classify as aware, unaware, awake, unawake, intentional or unintentional, but a form of memory nonetheless. So does the atom have an experience or a Qualia and hence does it have Consciousness?


Random: October 2012