Three stages of scientific discovery


There are three stages of scientific discovery: first, people deny it is true, then they deny it is important. Finally, they credit the wrong person” – Billy Bryson.

This quote is often credited to Alexander von Humboldt as well. That is an irony to the quote itself. If that were accurate, then we have an example right in the quote’s attribution it originally intended to call out.

Anyways. The quote is abundantly clear on the sad truth behind the crediting the discoveries and inventions are concerned. Although somewhat exaggerated, It seems broadly accurate, especially with the innovations that came out of India. Be it number system, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, Food, Yoga, Meditation and even board games, all went through the three stages quoted above. Some of these are presently struggling at the third stage – even after taking great pain of producing the burden of proof.

Stage 1 is being called a conspiracy theorist for having made any claim on the original discovery. I have written about it in a post named Conspiracy Theories, Russell’s teapot, and Breast Tax. Stage 2 is calling the discovery snake oil or placebo. I have briefly touched upon it in my post-Ayurveda, Clinical Trials & Capitalism. Let us talk about stage 3 – the wrong attribution.

There is a formal name for this third stage, it is called Stigler’s law of eponymy. It says that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Although it sounds like a gross exaggeration, you will be surprised to know how many scientific discoveries are wrongly credited to the scientist who discovered it at a later point in time or did not discover it at all. I am picking only Indian ones for now.

One example was Jagadish Chandra Bose, who was not credited for Radio wave communication instead of awarded it to an Italian Marconi. Among many others, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) on his contribution of Black holes! Get this:

At the age of just 20, on his journey to Cambridge, he came with the idea that is now called the Chandrasekhar limit: the concept that above a certain mass, electron degeneracy pressure in the core of a white dwarf star is not enough to counterbalance the gravitational self-attraction of the star. Above the Chandrasekhar limit, stars explode or collapse into a neutron star or black hole.

But when Chandrasekhar presented his findings at the Royal Astronomical Society in London in 1935, he was publicly ridiculed by Sir Arthur Eddington, a world-renowned physicist who had until then acted as a mentor to him. The clash was between an internationally famous physicist and a young Indian student in a hostile environment. It set acceptance of Chandrasekhar’s idea, and by consequence, his career, back by years, and ultimately led Chandrasekhar to leave Cambridge in the hope of finding a better welcome elsewhere. In 1972, the first black hole was discovered, and Chandrasekhar’s theory was finally proven correct.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)

[Two Paragraphs and the image from the oxford-royale article Scientists Who Didn’t Get the Credit They Deserved ]

Traditionally, the Indian formal education system and mainstream media are designed to make us feel an inferior culture and did not contribute anything to the scientific world. Also, apparently, we have the west to thank for anything we have, which they brought to India on their civilization mission. Any attempt to dispute to this will face immediate and overwhelming ridicule in academic circles. This is how I grew up listening to how big losers we are with no hopes.

Things have changed, and truth had to come out eventually anyway. Now, get this, wikipedia a dedicated page for an extensive list of discoveries and inventions which finally attributed to Indians, after awarding it to a bunch of merchants, travelers and colonizers for centuries.

To be continued…

Siddis of Karnataka


How many of you knew of the existence of a significantly sizable African community of India? I am guessing not many. There is extraordinarily little awareness of their presence, their location and culture in media in general. That is probably because it is not a very influential community, and also, they don’t seem to participate in the any of socio-political discussions or noise.

BTW. I am referring to Siddi’s of Karnataka.

Siddi’s find their origin in the Bantu tribe of southeastern Africa, brought to India by Portuguese colonizers as slaves. That is right. It’s similar to but in opposite directions of Indian slaves’ communities built in Fiji, Guyana and West Indies etc. The only difference is Bantus made great soldiers and bodyguards to the royalty, where Indian slaves were taken for farming.

Siddi girl from Yellapur taluk, Uttara Kannada District, KarnatakaIndia. (through Wikipedia)

Once colonies and princely states collapsed, Siddi’s pretty much became redundant. Subsequently, they got assimilated into rural India and ceased being significant. Indian diaspora in Africa, on the other hand, kept appearing on stories. Be it Gandhi’s South African Chronicles or Idi Amin’s economic war on Indians. Even that Divya Bharati’s Saat Samundar had its premise set in Kenya.

Anyways, the first time I heard about Siddi’s was when I was a kid. An African community found their mentions among the Chronicles of Chhatrapati Shivaji when Grandmother narrated them. It goes like this – At some point in history, the Siddi’s gained control over a strategically important Janjira island fort located off Maharashtra’s coast. Shivaji’s Navy laid multiple sieges without any avail and largely remained unsuccessful. The Legend goes that Marathas even used monitor lizards to climb those walls but could not sustain the hot oil poured on them from the top.

Janjira fort , image through wikipedia

It is hard to believe this warrior clan is now reduced mainly as farm labourers or foraging honey from the jungles of Karwar.

I have not personally met one, but based on what I know, they speak Indian languages, worship Indian Gods, dress like Indians. However, they still have retained small little features of African cultures through their collective memory. Have a look:

P.S. There was one attempt by the Government of India to train this community’s youth in Olympics sports. Despite initial success, I believe the program did not take off.

Flesh eating crows and other songs


Nope, this title is not clickbait. I indeed have this weird topic to cover, and you may find it intriguing as well, just like I did. This is mainly to do with Bollywood lyrics related to the title – the crows eating human flesh! Be aware that I am not trying to connect Bollywood to scavenging birds, but I would understand if you wish to refer to them as so.

Okay, let’s start. You would have heard this song titled “nadaan parinde ghar aaja” by A R Rehman, which composed for the movie – Rockstar. If you did, have you happen to focus on the lyric behind it? I did not try to understand until recently. In fact, I was fully concentrating on what this overrated Nepokid Ranbir was trying to bray on the screen.

If you notice, there is a line that reads:

Kaaga re kaaga re mori itni araj tose Chun chun khaaiyo maans. Arajiya re khaaiyo na tu naina more Khaaiyon na tu naina mohe Piya ke milan ki aas

I could not believe my ears when I heard this!. For those who do not read Hindi thoroughly, let me translate it for you. It appeals to stray crows asking them to go ahead and eat his flesh by picking as per preference. That, except not to feast on eyes, which apparently, are required for him to hold a union with his love interest. I am not kidding. This is true.

I had no clue why so much gore in these lyrics. To be absolutely sure about what I heard, I asked Alexa to play it a couple of times more. Amazon’s AI engine picked up my request and queued up a few more songs with the same lyrics on my radio. The next was Sonu Nigam and All Yagnik singing the same in more contemporary dialect Hindi.

कागा सब तन खाइयो चुन चुन खाइयो मांस

दो नैना मत खाइयो मोहे पिया मिला की आस

Then there was another by Kailash Kher, then one by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and I know this now by heart!

Initially, I was so confused about why all these good people singing the recycled verse, appealing to scavenging birds to eat all the flesh but eyes? Is this some kind of sacrificial ritual practiced by a tribe? Or does it have any historical significance?

After a bit of research, I found this blog post that tells me that it was originally written in Punjabi about a millennium ago. It was written by a Sufi mystic in Northwestern India, which is present-day Pakistan. He was Baba Sheikh Farid (1173-1266 ). You can read more details here.

This is what he wrote :

Kaaga karang Dhadoliya saglaa Khaaiyo Mass Aey Do Nainaan Mat Chhuchho pir dekhan ki aas

( O crow! come and peck all this flesh over this skeletal frame of mine, Leave these two eyes untouched for they are in wait of that Grand beloved of mine )

I am not gonna judge the baba or his followers on why this was made famous over centuries because I don’t know how love worked during then. May be birds involved, and maybe not. But our current generations of Bollywood should have known better. This is not the song for the present century, and we should stop using it.

Let me know your thoughts.

The Yazidis And India connection


If you happen to keep track of the seemingly never-ending middle eastern conflicts, you may find this post interesting. Evidently, there are no winners, only losers. However, if you were to assess who lost the most, that would be Yazidis and Kurds’ communities. They are perpetually at receiving end of the wars which has been running for decades now. Their men get killed, and women get sold. Very unfortunate, indeed, and I hope this conflict ends soon, and the desert will settle the score eventually.

The term Kurd was not unfamiliar before this conflict; however, at the time, Yazidis did not ring a bell to many. Only after targeted persecution, the scholars and academics scrambled to research every bit of information that they could find. This also means what the mainstream media and their collective knowledge on this topic are less than a decade old.

I was going through a few of the documentaries on Yezidism and Yazidis in general. The first thing that came to my mind was this community seem to have trapped at that location in a time capsule. If you evaluate their culture and practices, it is evident that they obviously do not belong to that region. Whatever the little assimilation to local culture seems to have achieved with the only purpose of living in harmony. This obviously did never to work and proven from time to time.

Remember the Kalash tribe we spoke about?

The academics’ conclusion is seemed hurried in the available documentaries and were taken based on the surface information available to them. They unimaginatively concluded without attending to outlier or information, which are many. Of course, I did not do as much research as those. But It does not require rocket science to see the pattern amongst linguistic and geological evidence, which near conclusively place them where they are currently present. Even then, a few things are not adding up, and I am shocked to find no mention of these facts in any documentaries.

Okay, this is a list of topics related to Yazidi cultures with the first look at documentaries. I hope some of those academics’ stumble upon my post and consider answering these strange correlations.

Religious Beliefs

  1. It’s an oral, documented and transferred religion. Yazidis pass on their myths through inheritance. There is not centralized text. Just like Vedic texts were propagated through inheritance.
  2. They have angels called Heft Sur. A basic understanding of Persian and Sanskrit can translate what it is – seven gods. Hefte is a Persian word with Sanskrit origin of Sapta for seven. During ancient ages, Indians called their gods Sur and demons Asurs. Exactly then, understandably, Persians called Gods as Asur’s and monsters as Sur. If you asked to put a straightforward logical conclusion, where would you put Yazidis?
  3. They believe in seven angels, the most important being Melek Tawus, a peacock. Here is an interesting trivia for you. Peacock never existed in the Kurdish region. If you need to find one, you need to travel east till you reach… You guessed it right! Indian subcontinent.
  4. Emanations, I.e., God, emanates as 7 transcended angels (haft Sur), sounds very similar to avatars. This is a remarkably similar concept to that of neighboring Zoroastrianism.
  5. Reincarnation based on karma in the current incarnation.

Architecture and artefacts

  1. The template towers mysteriously resemblance with conical shapes.
  2. Snakes guard the temple entrance.
  3. The Peacock lamp looks like Samay used in Indian traditions.

Practices

  1. They do not allow themselves to marry outside the religion or, most importantly, into it. It’s forbidden to convert out or in.
  2. Prayers are directed towards the sun. Sunrise. and sunset aligning the Sandhya Vandana.
  3. Castes. Marriage must be within the same group.
  4. Use of fire in religious practices, including an Aarti.
  5. Practice tilak/bindi between the brow for the forehead.
  6. Salute with folded hands.

The list goes on and on.

Let me know what you think.

Abraham Wald , Survivorship bias and armoring warplanes


You would have heard of “the legend of Abraham Wald”; his name often comes up in many talks and webinars, specifically as an illustration of lateral thinking or outside the box thinking. If you haven’t, let me quickly introduce him to you. He was a Hungarian mathematician who emigrated to the US during WW2 escaping religious persecution by Nazi Germany. As a gifted statistician, he became a part of the war math team of allied forces. Probably that was his way to get back at the repressive regime he ran away from in the first place.

Although formally not named that way, war math is applied mathematics, influencing battle strategies for optimal results. Being part of it is a highly under-celebrated and thankless job. These guys are equally crucial to the outcome of the battle, as much as that of a captain of that platoon, if not less — for example, Debora Morgan vs Dexter Morgan.

Anyways, back to Abraham Wald. He worked on analyzing and optimizing the damages sustained by returning warplanes. His decision would make or break the battles, save lives for the pilots and war machines themselves. In the below scenario, the optimization simply meant armoring the planes like battles tanks do. An extra layer of metal that can simply resist anything and everything thrown at it. But he cannot ignore the economics behind it. Armoring an entire plane is going double its weight and hence impacts its aerodynamics. The plane might not even take off. The decision is to armor a particular area of the aircraft or two without severely compromising the plane’s potency. The question is “Where?.”

With his guidance, the ground crew pulled beautiful statistics on the bullet holes the planes sustain upon returning from the mission. Please refer to the image below. The pattern was clear. Everyone had a straightforward answer. Engineers can clearly observe where the bullets holes were, armor them and problem solved!

The damaged portions of returning planes show locations where they can sustain damage and still return home; those hit in other places do not survive.

Abraham told “Eine Minuten, bitte,” or something like that. I do not know what Jewish Austrio-Hungarian genius mathematics spoke during then, Yiddish is it? Anyway, his argument was the engineers are actually looking at the planes that have returned. That simply indicates that planes can actually sustain the damage at these parts. The rest of the aircraft, which got hit in the area not on the map, did not even survive. Hence those parts should be armored. Basically, armor the regions where there are no bullet holes. This was a radical idea during then. It apparently worked, and it became one of the most celebrated legends on survivorship bias.

As its name unambiguously indicate, survivorship bias is a logical fallacy we tend to commit while recognizing a pattern entirely based on those who have survived. That, too, while discounting the disproportionately large instances indicate otherwise.

These are the few examples I can think of. I am sure you will find more when you give it a thought.

  1. There are colossal fandom on an idea of few Silicon Valley legends who became billionaires after quitting school, such as Bill Gates, Steve jobs, so on and on. It is a highly problematic argument. These folks became great despite leaving school, not because of! It is a classic case of survivorship bias. There are thousands of examples of kids who quit school who could not achieve anything remotely similar. In these cases, because of it.
  2. While celebrating centurions scoring 100 years, the most common topic of discussion is how people born in the first two decades of the last century have the best health. Again, this is a survivorship bias. Ask the centurion how many siblings and cousins they had and how many of them survived beyond the age of 5.
  3. Another example I came across is about Mud huts of Asia and Africa and their counterparts as wooden log houses in the west. When people come across one which is old, it is about 75 years. They immediately jump into the praise of the “engineer” who built it and how it survived despite harsh weather conditions. Also, “how we no longer make such strong ones anymore.!!!”. That mud hut was probably one among the millions which somehow survived.

P.s. Abraham Wald died in a plane crash in India, the kingdom of Travancore!!