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SynTalk

Author: SynTalk

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f(q) = Have we over-adapted? (#TOLOA)

SynTalk is a freewheeling interdisciplinary talk show with a philosophical approach to understanding the world from a long term perspective.
171 Episodes
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The Antakshari Scene: The antakshari scene located mid-film is a prime example of the intertextuality found in MPK and the originality that comes in part from the film’s recontextualization of various fragments from pop culture. Even though the song sequence does not contain original music but rather a medley of songs from previous Hindi films, it still functions as an important vehicle for plot development and the articulation of feelings that cannot easily be expressed through dialogue (see Ganti 2004, 178-179). Antakshari, as played in the film, requires two opposing teams that alternate singing popular song lyrics, with the first word of each song starting with the same syllable that ended the previous song. These rules are embedded on the name of the game itself, as antakshari combines ant (end) and akshar (a letter of the Hindi alphabet). The competition continues until one team cannot continue the back-and-forth. Given the centrality of lyrics in Hindi film songs, and the hegemonic popularity of cinema in India, antakshari is a pleasurable mode of “timepass” during long train rides, parties, or wedding celebrations. (An excerpt from ‘Antakshari in Maine Pyar Kiya’ by Peter Kvetko, ch. 2 in ‘Music in Contemporary Hindi Film: Memory, Voice, Identity’, edited by Jayson Beaster-Jones, Natalie Sarrazin). Listen in...
The intensity of celestial sources passing over the fixed field of radio receivers was recorded on strip charts and had to be analyzed by visual inspection. This task fell naturally to the graduate student of the group, Jocelyn Bell. On August 6, 1967, she first noticed a peculiar train of radio signals when the sky at right ascension 19h19min passed through the field of view. What could have caused such a transient periodic signal? The first suspicion was of course interference from some electric equipment, like the ignition of a passing car or a satellite. But to the surprise of Bell the signal appeared again at about the same time of day. After a few months it was obvious that the regular pulses were coming from a celestial source beyond our solar system. Furthermore a recording of the source with sub-second time resolution on November 28, 1967, revealed pulses repeating at a regular period of 1.33 s. At that point - the discovery of the phenomenon was still kept secret - the thought that radio signals from an extraterrestrial civilization had been recorded was seriously considered, under the code "LGM" (little green men). (An excerpt from ‘Gamma-Ray Pulsars’ by Gottfried Kanbach, chapter 6 in ‘The Universe in Gamma Rays’ (2001), edited by Volker Schönfelder)). Listen in...
One of the central theses underlying the phenomenology of body is that of bodily subjectivity. It might appear as though by speaking of “bodily subjectivity” one is in effect assimilating “body” into “consciousness,” so that instead of the real body one is talking about thought or the idea of the body. Nothing could be farther removed from our intentions. Body is neither a modality of consciousness, nor is subjectivity coextensive with consciousness. In fact, one of the implications of the concept of bodily subjectivity is that the concept of subjectivity is wider than the concept of consciousness. It also entails that intentionality is a distinguishing feature, not of the domain of consciousness, but of the larger domain of subjectivity. The concept of subjectivity should also be dissociated from the epistemological concept of “subject.” Nor do the concepts of subjectivity and consciousness necessarily hang together with the concept of “representation” (of reality) and/or the priority of the temporal dimension of presence over the modalities of time as Heidegger would have us believe. (An excerpt from ‘Intentionality and the Mind/Body Problem’, essay 9 in ‘The Possibility of Transcendental Philosophy’ (1985), by J. N. Mohanty). Listen in...
Frankfurt, 1797: at twenty-seven, Hegel plunged into a profound crisis. He no longer knew what he thought; he no longer knew what to think. The republic and the revolution had collapsed under the repeated blows of German history. Several years later, Hegel would speak of this episode as an attack of “hypochondria”. Hypochondria: literally, under the cartilage of the ribs, with one’s heart cramped. When the perception of the world is too closely concerned with chaos, the heart suddenly, without reason, sinks. Without any reason: one might say that reason gets muddled. Look closely at the letter in which Hegel, at forty, describes the crisis that overcame him in Frankfurt: ‘I suffered from this hypochondria for a number of years to the point of total exhaustion; no doubt every man experiences such a turning point in his life, the nocturnal point where his whole being contracts and he must force himself through the narrows until he becomes secure and certain of himself, secure in ordinary daily life, and if he has already made himself incapable of being fulfilled by that, then secure in a more inward, more noble existence. (emphasis added)’ (An excerpt from ‘Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture’ (1994), by Catherine Clément). Listen in...
Defarge closed the door carefully, and spoke in a subdued voice: “Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques Three! This is the witness encountered by appointment, by me, Jacques Four. He will tell you all. Speak, Jacques Five!” The mender of roads, blue cap in hand, wiped his swarthy forehead with it, and said, “Where shall I commence, monsieur?” “Commence,” was Monsieur Defarge's not unreasonable reply, “at the commencement.” “I saw him then, messieurs,” began the mender of roads, “a year ago this running summer, underneath the carriage of the Marquis, hanging by the chain. Behold the manner of it. I leaving my work on the road, the sun going to bed, the carriage of the Marquis slowly ascending the hill, he hanging by the chain—like this.” Again the mender of roads went through the whole performance; in which he ought to have been perfect by that time, seeing that it had been the infallible resource and indispensable entertainment of his village during a whole year. Jacques One struck in, and asked if he had ever seen the man before? “Never,” answered the mender of roads, recovering his perpendicular. (An excerpt from ‘A Tale of Two Cities (1859), by Charles Dickens.). Listen in...
“What do you do at his place? What do you and he talk about?” asked Stolz. “You know, it’s so proper and cozy at his place. The rooms are small and the sofas are so deep, you sink so far down no one can see you. The windows are quite covered with ivy and cactus, and he has more than a dozen canaries and three dogs, such good ones! He always has something to eat on the table. The engravings all depict family scenes. You come and you never want to leave. You sit there without a care or thought in the world, and you know there’s someone nearby. Naturally, he’s not smart, and there’s no exchanging ideas with him or thinking, but on the other hand he’s not crafty but good and kind, and he has no pretensions and won’t stab you in the back!”. “But what do you do?” “Do? Well, I arrive and we sit opposite each other on sofas with our feet up, and he smokes.” “What about you?” ”I smoke, too, and listen to the canary trilling. Then Marfa brings in the samovar.” (An excerpt from 'Oblomov' (1859), by Ivan Goncharov. Translation by Marian Schwartz (2008)). Listen in...
Are you able to realize your potential? Is your country under-developed? Is development a kind of gradual unfurling? Could it then be an infinite, deliberate, process? Is urbanization industrialization? Is industrialization development? Is development, only, economic growth? Does urbanization ‘cause’ development? Did the moral values of ‘improvement’ come from religion? Does Science help make progress material by unlocking the mind of God? How did Development take off post WW2 as a new ontology? Is a society getting richer the same as people becoming less poor? Does development have an urban bias? Does the countryside, also, need urbanization? Do cities & nations compete in the global marketplace? Why did several early theorists of development come from Eastern Europe? Why is some of the most expensive real estate in developing countries? Does development need (say) education, health, environment, and morals, & not just money? Do you expect to eat asparagus in every month of the year? How might the meaning of development change in the years to come? Would it become more cosmological? &, for it, would we have to go back to the future? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from urban studies (Prof. Tridib Banerjee, USC, Los Angeles), development studies (Prof. John Harriss, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver), & science studies (Prof. Kapil Raj, EHESS, Paris). Listen in...
How do you like your Matcha? Why do fine and coarse materials behave very differently? Is surface texture usually a sign of sub-structures? How does rock become clay? Is dry clay enough to understand wet clay? Could tea be smoked? Is it simple to keep every spoonful of your morning cereal mix similar? Do pure dry solids ‘flow’ in layers and parts? Is soil a definitive sign of life? How are dust and coarse-leaf teas different? Does mechanical agitation organize matter differently from Brownian motion? How/why does swelling happen? Can mechanical grinding lead to fine structural (chemistry) changes? Does fineness evolve life ‘around’ it by offering its ample ‘surface area’? What is a tea bag? Would you be able to easily tell (moving) life & non-life apart under a microscope? Could microbes induce life into fine matter? How does refinement happen? Why do water drops jump to contact when brought close together? What flocks? What ‘flocs’? What lies ahead? Would we deploy small active rotors & ‘swimmers’ to change materials? &, will we one day understand the fundamental physics of all open pattern-forming systems? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from active matter physics (Prof. Sriram Ramaswamy, IISc, Bangalore), geotechnical engineering (Prof. D. N. Singh, IIT Bombay, Mumbai), & chemical engineering (Prof. Gurmeet Singh, Trans-Disciplinary University, Bangalore). Listen in...
How old are passports? Are you a resident citizen? Are nations primeval or modern? Were the colonizers, such as England, the first nations? Are all countries multi-ethnic/multi-religious? Are there phases, then, in the process of the abstract negotiating with ground realities? How do nations reproduce, as some are born, some emerge, some mimic, & some are just put together? When are borders drawn? Why did Czechoslovakia split? Must nations be unitary? How central is ethnicity to national identity? What kinds of countries make patriotic films? Is there too much of suffering in Russian war movies? Do you know of French film ‘stars’? Do psychology and pedagogy together create a citizenry? Why do nations sometimes lose out to (say) regions and religions as the object of loyalty? Is your nationality merely an administrative reality? What moves you? What happened to classical ‘Hindustani’ music after Indian partition? What can nations share (& not share)? Is most of politics economics? Will economic globalization redefine the abstract notion of nations (& nationalism)? Or, will nations – with multiple converging rationale – keep going strong…? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from social anthropology (Prof. John Clammer, O. P. Jindal Global University, Delhi NCR), film criticism (M. K. Raghavendra, Bangalore), & history (Prof. Lakshmi Subramanian, BITS Pilani, Goa). Listen in...
Should Aristotle have also cooked? Would you eat dog meat? What does your food say about your conception of Reality? How is our gut first colonized? What are you allergic to? How/why do cultures select what to eat? Where are taboos found? Are you a non-believer? Who does your cooking? What are the techniques? How is identity produced? Does culture uniquely meet nature in food? Can anything be purified via rituals? Why do, both, fasting and feasting exist? Does fasting modify the idea of Self? Do we store fat ‘for’ the brain? Do you follow dietary restrictions? Do you bother about Vitamin B12? How does a newly born baby know what is not-food? How were you born? Are you like your maternal grandmother? Is taste a cultural matter? Are our jaws becoming smaller? Do we need the body (even) to be spiritual? Is Mind also Matter? Is food medicine? Would you rather die than break your fast? Can food regulate certain gene expressions? Are food preferences, therefore, somewhat genetically determined? Will we eat lab-grown food? Where would micro-nutrients come from? &, would there be ‘more’ vegetables in the future…? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from biochemistry & genetics (Dr. Giriraj R. Chandak, CCMB, Hyderabad), religious studies & theology (Swami Narasimhananda, Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati), & food studies (Dr. Krishnendu Ray, NYU, New York). Listen in...
How quiet is the sea? Do you want to mine manganese? What makes certain interactions reactions? Are there reactions happening in your room? How is heat different from light? What does new Law come from? Can oceans ‘retain’ certain information for centuries? When do we say that a bond has broken? Can radio frequencies ionize molecules? Is your water from Greenland? Might an equatorial event in1982 have impacted Japan in ~1992? Can physical pressure (alone) cause reactions? Does the deep seabed interact with the atmosphere? What does law say about ‘what’ the ocean is? Is carving up oceans very different from carving up the lithosphere? Do corals and crustaceans belong to countries? How much of the oceans is ‘deep sea’? What hinders highly site-specific reactions? Is the rate of energy dissipation usually much faster than rate of chemical reactions? Can sea storms be caused? Why are deep sea species likely to be highly tribal? Can we just drill to the centre of the earth? Are most drugs chiral? What lies ahead? Will we be able to make reactions optically pure? &, would/should we mine the deep seas in the future? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from chemistry (Prof. Vaidhyanathan Ramamurthy, University of Miami, Coral Gables), international law (Dr. Surabhi Ranganathan, University of Cambridge, Cambridge), & oceanography (Dr. D. Shankar, NIO, Goa). Listen in...
Have we over-adapted? How fit are you? Are our adaptive responses often too private? Is any fitness measure also always about the environment? How efficiently do you communicate with the changing environment? Are cultures always born on the boundaries? Can the First World, alone, help the world adapt? Are languages naturally selected? Are more frequent words shorter, & why? Similarly, do smaller organisms adapt, or perish, faster? Why are virus harder to control? Are the adaptive constraints eventually genetic? Or, can entire complex systems sometimes adapt while overcoming the constraints of parts? What is grammar constrained by? Is ideal efficiency often not achieved because of constraints? How are SOVs more prevalent if SVO languages are more ‘efficient’? Is adaptation chance-dependent? Was USA ‘not very far’ from India around 1965? Is human cash a kind of energy-unit? How are ecological and economic models dissimilar? Are most mutations neutral or detrimental? Are elephants at the greatest risk of extinction? What does not adapt? Might the future human beings be shorter and smaller? &, will we ‘radiate’ out of Earth? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from linguistics (Dr. Samar Husain, IIT Delhi, New Delhi), political science (Prof. Sankaran Krishna, University of Hawai’i, Honolulu), & theoretical ecology (Dr. Samraat Pawar, Imperial College, London). Listen in...
Do you aspire to write good English? What was Ranjit Singh’s official language? Where do your narratives come from? Is it possible to think rationally while living in a village and practicing caste? Was India (only) a land of static isolated villages? What does colonialism do to social and political formations? Are tribes expected to evolve into castes, & then into class? What has been the epistemic relationship between caste and class? Is caste truly a religious notion? Is colonialism the central fact of ‘your’ history? Did the Church and the Crown think similarly about the colonies? How do Anglicists follow Orientalists? Is the West Europe? How do we forget? Who founded the Mexican Communist Party? What do the middle class think is good? Is it possible to become modern differently? Could Christian values be taught via English literature? Did England have dissenting mini colonies even within her? Did the several nationalist de-colonising movements share common imaginations? Who drew the lines between nations? Would the World remain hierarchical and territorial? Or, would there be newer ways of coming together and making sense…? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from sociology (Prof. Surinder Singh Jodhka, JNU, New Delhi), history (Prof. Dilip Menon, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), & literary studies (Prof. Gauri Viswanathan, Columbia University, New York). Listen in...
Are you a part of the underworld? Would you like the society to applaud you? Do you gamble? Or, consume illicit liquor? Is the disorderly the underbelly? Will you inherit property? How has dowry existed in many societies for centuries? What changes the valuation of grooms? Are the values of criminals and police often very similar? Is there something fundamentally criminal about sex-selective abortion? Why do (some) women prefer to have a son? Are there power hierarchies inside prisons? What is the State really? When is it important? However, are people also always undoing the State? Might ‘planning’ create disorder? How should people move? Don’t you find Paris lovely? Do bus stops increase land value? Does law always interact with norms & technologies? Do we understand how norms change? Are people rational agents? How are their preferences aggregated? Where must beggars live? Do you need the working class? Do slum dwellers prefer free houses? Can the State flout its own laws? Are the illegal/legal interfaces often economic? What is unauthorized about unauthorized colonies? &, what is the future of order, planning, State, and evasion? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from economics (Dr. S. Anukriti, Boston College, Boston), political science (Dr. Sushmita Pati, Azim Premji University, Bangalore), & social work (Prof. Vijay Raghavan, TISS, Mumbai). Listen in...
Are words valuable things? When did you last search for a word? Is the seed of language also the seed of the world? How does art work? Is direct (unmediated) observation possible? Does language have a (biological) organ that works with other cognitive faculties? What is a ‘word’? Does it have an internal structure? Do speakers find various affixes psychologically real? Why is there such a thing as grammar? Are words beginning-less? Does grammar change more slowly than words and phrases? Why? Where do art’s boundaries lie? Does art have a ‘universal grammar’? Does the (real) world determine the grammatical nature of languages? What propels the artistic in us? What does the word Saturn represent? Is the world described by words dissimilar from the world we inhabit? How are ungrammatical sentences sometimes meaningful? What is the link between truth and language? Might truth sometimes be observer dependent? Are there features in natural languages that are tied to our very Being? Is the Tunisian ants’ world discrete? What gives gestures meaning? &, what will Martians understand if/when they land on Earth with their own language? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from Sanskrit studies (Prof. Ashok Aklujkar, The University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver), art (Jeebesh Bagchi, Raqs Media Collective, New Delhi), & linguistics (Prof. Pritha Chandra, IIT Delhi, New Delhi). Listen in...
How difficult is it to pick berries from a tree? Do green flowers exist? Is blue still blue if it is not being known? ‘Where’ are your eyes? ‘Who’ needs colour vision? Is colour an elemental, physical, measure of the world? Is colour also mind- (or, sensor-) dependent? Do name-ability and know-ability go together? Is lustre similar to colour? Why is there a ‘three-ness’ to colours? How is it even possible to mix colours to get new ones? Are certain colours harder to make than others? Does every quality reside in a substratum? Do you confuse intensity and colour? Do you find B&W films compelling? Why do we see colour illusions? Are dreams colourful? What is the role of colour ‘in’ imagination? Where is the Self (& colour perception) located in wakeful, dream, & deep-sleep states? How does one establish this? Are visual imagination and perception different only in degree (& not in kind)? Why are ibogaine induced hallucinations invariably described in colour? Do we ever see true colours? Why do we differentiate red and green so clearly? Do colours cause things (including evolution)? Can we imagine colours we have never seen? &, would there be a perfect black in the future? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from neuroscience (Dr. S. P. Arun, IISc, Bangalore), philosophy (Dr. Mrinal Kaul, Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal), & chemistry (Prof. Nalin Pant, IIT Delhi, New Delhi). Listen in...
Are wars entertaining? Who is responsible for your security? What is the role of military force in life? Is history violent? Do all cultures have a historical consciousness? Are all orders political orders? Are in-group solidarity and out-group hostility built into human civilizations? However, are we neither violent nor non-violent? Are human nature and international order related? Is the propensity to use violence higher in ‘central’ geographies? Are there structured steps between peace and war? Why are slivers of violence embedded in peace? Is a subject in an empire different from a citizen in a democracy? Is the nation state the apex of the international order? Whose interests do supranational institutions serve? Do economic gains transform into military assets? Is it possible to operate without the shadow of violence? Is coercion an escalatory step of deterrence? Have we lost the balance between passions and rationality? Are both Gandhi and Fanon needed as we build newer structures? How will we compete and collaborate for resources in the future? Can war be abolished? Or, will we continue to ‘create’ war? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from journalism & philosophy (Rajni Bakshi, Mumbai), international relations (Prof. Shibashis Chatterjee, Jadavpur University, Kolkata), & military history ((Retd.) Air Vice Marshal (Dr.) Arjun Subramaniam, ex-Indian Air Force, Delhi). Listen in...
Do ‘birds that fly instinctively swim’? Are self-evident truths easy to prove? When is ‘want to’ not ‘wanna’? Is verification easier than proof? Are proofs explanations? Is that why proofs are supposed to be elegant? Is reasoning algorithmic? Is there one Method to all reasoning? Are all ungrammatical sentences also unacceptable? When do sentences have ambiguous meanings? Can statements with long proofs be obvious? Does economy play a significant role in language constructions? Can human beings extract insights from verbose arguments? Are young kids born with some innate inductive principles? Is obviousness purely syntax dependent? Is the measure of (theory) simplicity language-dependent? What constitutes a valid proof system? Are all mathematical proof systems automatable? Why are certain mistakes never made? ‘Can’ we hit upon scientific Truth by chance? Has Language evolved? Can ‘explanation’ be given without ‘understanding’, but not vice versa? Why is proving absence (=falseness) often harder than proving presence (=truth)? &, how might intuition, syntax, and proof systems change in the future? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from linguistics (Dr. Tanmoy Bhattacharya, University of Delhi, New Delhi), theoretical computer science (Prof. Meena Mahajan, IMSc, HBNI, Chennai), & philosophy (Dr. Kit Patrick, Azim Premji University, Bangalore). Listen in...
Do cheaters survive? Do you find joy in competing (& cooperating)? Are teams mechanisms or organisms? How do teams coordinate layers of emotions, energies, and purposes to acquire a coherent ‘personality’? What, then, keeps teams together? Is there scarcity of common purposes in the world? Is teaming essential for bacteria? Might teams, across scales, be both emergent as well as designed systems? How are cost-benefit analyses performed when group and individual goals diverge? Is your life on the spot market? Might individual liberties be compromised when teams form? In what way are all team members equal; & not? Is it better to lose playing beautifully, than to win an ugly game? Why are only certain parts of economic supply chains formalized? Conversely, why are certain ’formal’ rules just ignored? Does unemployment rate fall with increasing education? Are ‘practice’ and ‘rehearsal’ games different? How is ‘arms-race’ style evolution different? Do all teams need models? When is governance necessary? Would problem solving depend more and more upon complex teams in the future? &, how would individuals remain important? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from philosophy (Prof. Daniel G. Campos, Brooklyn College (CUNY), New York), economic sociology (Prof. Bino Paul, TISS, Mumbai), & evolutionary biology (Prof. Milind Watve, Dinanath Mangeshkar Hospital, Pune). Listen in...
Is counting just a special case of measuring? Is any kind of measuring, & scaling, dimension dependent? Do lungs ‘have’ a non-integer dimension between 2 and 3? Can you list all the numbers between 0 and 1? Do both the size and number of cells/organelles change with biological growth? Is Euclidean geometry sufficient to describe things in nature? What does thickness ‘mean’? Is size a good indicator of ‘the outer world’? How many times can one cell become another cell? ‘How’ do cells count? How determinate is that? Are evolved systems always robust? Do all dynamical systems, typically, have finite partitions? Where does end-state variety, then, come from? Why is the presence of mitochondria inside neurons spatially periodic? Are all noses proportionately similar? Must counting be happening at very small scales given the manifest proportions at the macro level? Is the link between cell type and its longevity understood? Do molecular motors walk in three dimensions? Might one, sometimes, see different statistics (say proportion of heads to tails) for different amounts of time? Will mathematics continue to take us beyond our intuitions? &, would we need to change our definition (& conception) of ordinary dimensions in the future? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from cell biology (Dr. Sandhya Koushika, TIFR, Mumbai), & mathematics (Prof. Stefano Luzzatto, ICTP, Trieste). Listen in...
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Comments (5)

GREAT Kishore

good

Dec 13th
Reply

Nikhil Harsh

best ever ❤️

Apr 19th
Reply

Strobe

Another fantastic episode as usual. Please never stop. This is the best podcast ever!!

Mar 23rd
Reply

Ibrahim Shaikh

Great content

Mar 19th
Reply

Hrushi

Good one

Feb 16th
Reply
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