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Swimming on the Waters of Achievement


She was an extraordinary sportsperson. She was a
 National Swimming Champion. She was a triathlete. And she was being judged a failure! Not quite! At least not at all in the field in which she was a born winner. That is, not in sports but...nevertheless...in academics...well...at least that was what she was being judged to be, an academic failure.

But by whom? And by what standards? The answer was, everybody and by everybody's standards, which meant, by the mass and consequently, by average standards. For, isn't that what hapens when even the best of individuals mass together and grossly diminish their uniquely individual qualities? Isn't that what one sees and knows as the mob-mentality? An intelligence at once unenlightened and impatient though, through it all, the real person in the individual feels the pang of conscience and allows it to be stifled, letting the still small voice within that speaks of authentic care and fellow-feeling. 


So, it was not that she was being judged by any particular group or community as such but by everyone and everything that conspired to be labelled as the educational system. 

Yes, she was being judged an academic failure. Of course, this in itself is a gross misuse of terminology. It would rather be more appropriate to say that she was failing in her academics. And even more precisely, that at that time she was failing in her academics. Or in the most sensible manner possible, that she at that time, in her exams was not scoring as she was expected to. This takes the element of the deadly triple, permanent, pervasive and personal out of the trenchant pronouncement.

Nevertheless, she was a champion and something of that spirit pervaded all her being, no less in academics. And hence, she was the last person to be perturbed by her scores. It was rather those around her that had cause for concern. For, they were not champions and could not of course, share her spirit. So out of their concern and apprehension, they finally nudged her to seek help which meant that she had to go for some kind of counseling or additional support for her academics. And that was the problem. No counsellor could understand or appreciate the mindset of a champion that she was. All had just one counsel for her: "You are no doubt intelligent. There is no question about that. But that is not enough to do well in academics. The problem is purely practical. You have failed in your 11th grade because you have been involved too much in your swimming. For this year, the 12th grade at least you have got to give up on your swimming. There is no other way."

This was the real problem. Swimming was not a game or pastime for her. It was her life, the meaning of her existence. And to give that up  would mean to give up the meaning of life. And then she had a breakthrough. She came across CFRCE during one of Dr. B S Ramachandra's invited career talks at her school. 

Soon she visited CFRCE ands rather surprised at the different attitude all had there about academics and learning. She was given exactly the opposite advice that most counsellors had given. That if she ever wanted to excel in academics she should never ever give up swimming. Rather, she had to do it even more intensely than before. 

To the champion in her this was the most joyful news she had ever heard. She soon joined the Science Achiever's Program, a specialised program of the CFRCE Academic Achiever's Program and plunged into her swimming with greater vigour. But this time she was swimming not only on the waters but also on the waters of achievement. 

The swim was as rough and turbulent as the actual one she began to take on for the olympics to come perhaps a year or two later. Meanwhile she had her ups and downs in the academic waters and many a discouraging voice outside that tried their best to put a stop to her champion spirit.

She began to take a keen interest in the Biological sciences and soon rose above the formal academics into modern topics of current research. Month after month she strove. And then, at last, instead of the disaster others foretold for her, she made her breakthrough. She secured 86% in her Board exams and a merit seat in the Govt. Medical College, Davanagere where she is currently pursuing her MBBS. Minal B Shivaprakash had rose high above swimming on the waters of achievement!

 

 

 

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The Olympic Torch of a Living Culture


The tradition of the Olympic games carries with it a deeply symbolic ritual, that of 
the Olympic torch. The Olympic torch is never allowed to be extinguished. Myth has it that Prometheus stole the Olympic flame from the gods. Extinction of the flame was considered a great tragedy for it was not in the power of humans to rekindle it.

According to Carl Jung, myths arise from the archetypes of the collective unconscious and signify truths meaningful in the alpha, theta and delta brain states. In these lower frequency brain states, rational language gives way to a symbolic, intuitive, mythical one that is, nevertheless, completely meaningful to the human psyche. Each brain state has also a kind of lock-in mechanism so that when one is in a particular state, that state seems to be the only real one and others as derivative of that. In the beta 
state that is the normal conscious state, for instance, the dream state appears unreal. However, when one has moved to the alpha state whether by a creative immersion or by a hypnotic trance or by other means, the beta state may appear unreal likewise.

Culture is an immixture of experience in several such states. To illustrate, the motives that lead one to
 the pursuit of a scientific domain are often non-rational, emotional and intuitive. They may arise due to the sense of curiosity, surprise, wonder, awe, mystery and magic of Nature and her workings. Or they may be due to the feeling of order, harmony, majesty, the perception of mathematical beauty or a sudden sense of the hidden unity behind all appearances.

These rationally and perhaps, non-justifiable feelings have passionately driven many a great inquirer into scientific inquiry. Johannes Kepler. In his "Mysterium Cosmographicum", is indignant at the need to justify the scientific pursuit,

"We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment."

In "Brighter than a Thousand Suns," Robert Jungk writes how the physicist James Frank, "would tell his pupils that only one who was entirely absorbed by physics and actually dreamed about it could hope for enlightenment. He spoke of his own inspirations in the language of a medieval mystic.


"The only way I can tell that a new idea is really important is the feeling of terror that seizes me.""

The great mathematician Henri Poincare speaks of how "A scientist worthy of his name, about all a mathematician, experiences in his work the same impression as an artist; his pleasure is as great and of the same nature." and that, "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful. He studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing then life would not be worth living. Of course, I do not here speak of that beauty that strikes the senses, the beauty of qualities and appearances. Not that I undervalue such beauty, far from it, but it has nothing to do with 
science. I mean that profounder beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp."

A perfect illustration of Poincare's words is captured by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar as he writes about the discovery of the rotating solution of the Einstein field equations by the New Zealand mathematician, Roy Kerr,

"This shuddering before the beautiful, this incredible fact that a discovery motivated by a search after the beautiful in mathematics should find its exact replica in Nature, persuades me to say that beauty is that to which the human mind responds at its deepest and most profound."

In the above stirrings of deep emotion are to be found all that one speaks of as the culture of a domain. This culture provides the indomitable energy, enthusiasm and drive to pursue first the domain then enter the field and contribute creatively to inquiry and research. When the culture is living, it sparks the tinder minds and hearts into a flaming aspiration to discover and explore, inquiry and engage in research, to learn, to teach, to share the joys of learning, to bring the fruits of inquiry to enrich and ennoble humanity, to look upon the whole 
of existence with that deep and exalted feeling. When the culture is absent, learning becomes rote, education reduces to training, teaching gets relegated to mere lecturing irrespective of meaningful communication between the teacher and the taught. Wonder and beauty disappear from life. Day to day existence becomes a chore.

There are times, however, when the culture becomes obscured and retreats into the subterranean tracts. A pall of routine descends on the domains. The flame almost dies down and yet, here and there, some embers continue to smolder. It is then that all efforts to fan and rekindle the flame become significant. This is aided especially by those great visionaries of the past whose works can be most understood and appreciated by posterity. In Theoretical Physics and Mathematics, at least, Paul Dirac, Julian Schwinger, David Bohm and John Bell, and Henri Poincare, David Hilbert, Elie Cartan, Alexander Grothendieck, and Alain Connes to name a very few, are such personalities who impact their posterity more than their present times.

Today, their writings and contributions act like beacons to rekindle the flame. It is as if they envisaged our present need in the 
words of Percy Bysshe Shelley,

"Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter,

as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks,

my words among mankind!"

Fortunately, their thoughtsare alive and already in the throes of quickening a new birth. It is 
for all inquiring individuals to fan the sparks into the blazing flame of a living culture and derive warmth and nourishment from it. The CFRCE Theoretical and Mathematical Forum invites such individuals to come forward to rekindle the flame.

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The CFRCE Theoretical & Mathematical Minimum Forum

Every era of human progress brings forth both opportunities and challenges with it. In a deep sense, these opportunities and challenges may be seen as twin aspects of an underlying complexity. One would perhaps like to interpret the opportunities as an affirmation of some desirable order and the challenges as a negation of that same order. So is it that often, the human mind seems baffled by its own inability to deal with the world order. Essentially, this could be felt as nothing but the mismatch between the complexity of the individual human mind and that resulting from the collective mind of humanity. The issue, therefore, is one of harmonizing the two complexities - the inner, cognitive complexity and the outer, environmental complexity.

 

As is well established in Cognitive Neuroscience, the human brain is a complex adaptive, bio-physiological and bio-psychological, active processing system. Any infiltration of information from the environment immediately stimulates it to learn and soon, match its own complexity with its appraisal of the outer. But there is a catch. It is possible for the environment to so condition the brain that it becomes subject to what the Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls, "severe and systematic errors."

 

In a perfectly rational world, one has the choice to grasp the probability and utility of all possible outcomes and then take our stand. But one rarely has all the facts. One can't possibly know all the outcomes. Even if one did, one has neither the temporal flexibility nor the neurological capacity to analyze all the data. So one ends up making decisions based on limited, often unreliable, information and also limited by the brain's processing power and the environmental time constraints. One usually tries to overcome this barrier by a well-known subconscious strategy: heuristics. As Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler write in their book, Abundance, "Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts: time-saving, energy-saving rules of thumb that allow us to simplify the decision-making process." Severe and Systematic errors compromise the brain's intrinsic processing capability.

 

The task of education is to hone the brain to optimize these errors. But there is here, a challenge. The brain learns spontaneously and naturally, from anything and everything the environment impacts it with. But provided, it does so subconsciously. Because, the subconscious processing speeds are enormous compared to the conscious. Conventional education developed in an era where the environmental complexity increased linearly and locally. In the 20th century all this has changed. The environmental complexity is increasing exponentially and globally. An education adapted to linearity is simply inadequate to deal with exponential growth. Fortunately, the brain also is essentially non-linear, exponential in its learning. It is forced to remain linear and local by educational conditioning. So all one has to do to come to grips with the environmental complexity is to liberate the brain from its linear conditioning. Here's where the cultural appreciation of a domain comes in. Cultural appreciation requires one to embrace the non-linear and global nature of the domain.

 

Consider, for instance, an illustration. In the mathematical domain of Lie Algebras and Lie Groups, there is the concept known as exponential mapping. The key idea of this is to simply connect the linear, local with the exponential, global aspects of a certain manifold (a manifold is something that looks like a space locally). Herein is a profound implication. If the culture of Lie Algebras and Lie Groups had been presented to young minds in the formative stage, they would have been better adapted, subconsciously, to the challenge of the environment. One would argue that "Lie Algebras and Lie Groups" cannot trickle into a culture. They are far too esoteric. But so is the concept of credit and currency, banking and finance and so may things one deals with in everyday life. They are all abstract. Yet, children come to have easy facility with them. So also, exponential mapping is something undergraduates can learn culturally as a more sophisticated version of the series expansion of a function, the relation between first-order linear approximation and the full series. And there are far simpler examples than this. And far simpler ways to convey them as a culture.

 

Therefore, the central message of this forum is that our inner cognitive complexity is more than a match to the outer environmental complexity and learning to appreciate domains as a part of culture facilitates this immensely. Theoretical Physics and Mathematics form twin domains that do this powerfully and evocatively. The Theoretical and Mathematical Minimum Forum espouses the corresponding domains as a part of culture.

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Boundless Creativity

A lot has transpired since April 8 when Dr. Ram found a way to support Madhavan Venkatesh in his creative endeavours. Over the weeks, Madhavan has amply justified the hopes and aspirations of his friends, colleagues and fellow researchers at CFRCE. Vasudev Shyam on the other hand obtained his visa to London and set sail on the voyage to the Timeless. 

 

Put simply, Vasudev is presently in London in the company of some of the very finest minds in the field of Loop Quantum Gravity and Shape Dynamics. He is on a 15-day research retreat at "College Farm," Prof. Julian Barbour's Timeless "Leibniz Institute for Theoretical Physics."  The aim to the group is to  discuss key problems in Shape Dynamics and Bianchi Cosmologies. Younger colleagues at CFRCE await the wealth of riches that Vasudev is bound to bring back after giving abundantly to the group of his own store of learning. 

 


Meanwhile, Madhavan has been having bouts of intense creativity. He has formulated and proved theorems on Loop Groups and Algebras, a special type of Lie Groups and Lie Algebras that have become well know in 2-Dimensional Quantum Field Theory and Mathematical Physics. 

 

Madhavan seems to have got interested in Loop Groups due to two reasons. The first, while he was studying the Cambridge Monograph on Mathematical Physics by Fuchs and Schweigert, "Lie Groups, Lie Algebras and Representations for Physicists," and the second being his interest in the Loop Space formulation of Quantum General Relativity.

 

But no one was prepared for the surprise or perhaps shock that Madhavan sprung on them. He submitted a paper to the arXiv entitled, "An Algebraic Topological Construct of Classical Loop Gravity and the prospect of Higher Dimensions." We have it from Dr. Ram himself that it is a top-notch paper of a very high order and of cutting edge quality. He spoke about it over and over at CFRCE. More remarkable he said was the fact that Madhavan had smashed his way through insurmountable obstacles. He wondered whether a lesser person would have survived what Madhavan has had to. But Madhavan has and has come out of the ordeal stronger and purer, alchemized. And to let the cat fully out of the bag, this paper is the first of 3 new papers he has already written and is finalizing for publication!

 

The reason why Madhavan has perhaps survived is perhaps mostly due to his intense faith in himself apart from the support he found from his family and others who really cared for his creativity. One wonders how many young minds would have the gift of that kind of faith. Surrounded by the default negative environment that has a 99 can'ts as opposed to one "can," it is not hard to see the absence of faith in oneself.

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World Class Distinction for CFRCE Students

April 8 is a very significant day. On the morning of this day Prof. Dr. Ramachandra or simply Dr. Ram as he is better known was deeply concerned. One of his (presently)12th grade students Madhavan Venkatesh was under pressure. For those already familiar with CFRCE, Madhavan's name is synonymous with creativity of the highest order. Together with Vasudev Shyam, also in the 12th grade, Madhavan has been working on the very frontiers of Modern Mathematical Physics. Both Vasudev and Madhavan have written papers of a very high class encompassing the most sophisticated Mathematical methods that go by the name of Differential Geometry, Symplectic Geometry, Presymplectic Geometry, Lie Groups and Lie Algebras, not to speak of Loop Quantum Gravity and Shape Dynamics. 

Perhaps less known is the fact that they have been in correspondence with some of the most renowned Physicists of the present century. Vasudev has been corresponding with Prof. Julian BarbourHenrique GomesSean GrybTim Koslowski and Flavio Mercati. His work has received appreciation from Prof. Lee SmolinProf.Jorge Pullinand Prof. Parampreet Singh.

Madhavan has been corresponding with Prof.Jorge PullinProf. Carlo Rovelli and Prof. Fernando Barbero. His work has received appreciation from Prof. Jorge Pullin and Prof. Parampreet Singh.

 

Vasudev Shyam has been invited by Prof. Julian Barbour to the "Leibnitz Institute for Theoretical Physics," or simply, "College Farm," where he is to be in a select group of six to seven experts on Shape Dynamics. The irony is that he may not be able to make it due to delay in his Visa. Even though Prof. Julian Barbour has personally written to the Consulate, the Visa is still pending. 

 

Now coming to the significance of April 8, on the morning of this day, Dr. Ram received en email from Prof. Abhay Ashtekar. Prof. Ashtekar wrote to him that he had been hearing about Madhavan from Prof. Jorge Pullin and Prof. Parampreet Singh. He had learned that Madhavan had been forced to concentrate on his regular school studies. He certainly did not want to interfere with Madhavan's parents as they would be better acquainted with the practical aspects of undergraduate careers in India than he was. But if it helped strengthen Dr. Ram's case with Madhavan's parents, and or encourage him, he could feel free to quote him (Prof. Ashtekar) as saying that he found it most remarkable that someone in the 11th (as he was just two months ago) standard was doing research at that level.

 

Prof. Ashtekar also mentioned that he wanted to thank Dr. Ram for fostering the growth of bright young minds and that he was following with interest the paper that Vasudev and Madhavan had submitted to the "Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation," that would soon be appearing.

 

Dr. Ram immediately had the solution to his problem, that is, to support Madhavan in his research. But in spite of Prof. Ashtekar's permission to quote him, he felt very hesitant. He had always felt like the German Mathematician Franz Newman that, "The greatest luck is the discovery of a new truth. To that, recognition adds little or nothing." But he also recalled the saying that, "if, for the sake of a higher cause, you have to use something of it's power, it is one's sacred obligation to do so." He also realized that Prof. Ashtekar spoke not only for Madhavan but for all those exceptionally creative young minds who year after year lost their battle to the unenlightened educational system and the social pressures.

 

Therefore, after thinking about the best possible way to go about it, he spoke to Madhavan's father about Prof. Ashtekar's email. Afterwards, he disclosed a little of it to others at the Centre with the hope that it would inspire the younger students who were on similar paths as Vasudev and Madhaven. But he refused to quote the email in full anywhere as it was too personal. However, he agreed to allow part of it to be posted in the CFRCE blog with the intention that it may inspire and send hope into the hearts of aspiring students.

 

So, we don't know and may never know what exactly Prof. Ashtekar wrote to Dr. Ram but from what he mentioned, it is that the Cause for which Vasudev and Madhavan are working is absolutely worth supporting and nurturing. 

In Dr. Ram's experience, there are many students who could hope to be like Vasudev and Madhavan. But they very soon succumb to social pressure that for the most part is unenlightened, it's only justification being that the crowd follows it. The price to pay for that oversight is loss of the geniuses that society laments no longer are coming. For, how could they? They are nipped in the bud, even before they have anything to show!

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Meeting with a Parent

A student along with his parent walks in to the CFRCE premises and as they are about to enter the visitors' chamber, notice a quotation on the wall by Helen Keller, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing". As they look below they are struck by another quotation by Aldous Huxley, "Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you." As they are wondering what the connection is between these two, their eyes fall on yet another by Jadunath Sarkar, "India cannot afford to forever remain an Intellectual parish, a beggar for crumbs from Cambridge and Oxford, Paris and Vienna. She must create within herself a place for highest intellectual research and regain her rightful place as the leader of Asia even as Periclean Athens was, the leader of Hellas".

A few steps more and they enter the Director's chamber. The Director welcomes them with a broad smile and ushers them to take their seats. He asks, "What can we do for you?"

The parent begins immediately, "My son here is in the seventh grade. We know he is bright but he is quite lazy. He is not responsible. He does anything but study."

The Director nods reassuringly and asks the parent, "Does your son play? Does he watch television? Does he like gadgets?" The parent responds, "He is doing that all the time. That is the problem."

The Director smiles once again and says, "That is not a problem, it is the solution." "What do you mean?" The parent asks somewhat bewildered.

"You see," explains the Director, "It is not indispensable to study in order to learn. Indeed, study need not have anything to do with learning though when used intelligently, can play a powerful role. Neither does learning have anything to do with studies though it may often motivate one to study."

"What?" asks the parent, "What do you mean?"

"It is just this," says the Director, "What is important in any activity is the outcome. Once that is clear, there can be several ways to achieve them. Learning means, creating new neural networks in the brain that mirror the processes that go into the actions one needs to take to achieve the outcome. The brain unlike a computer has the ability to cross-train itself. This makes it possible to transfer skills across domains, somewhat like technology transfer. At CFRCE we specialize in redirecting the natural movements of children and indeed, any individual whatsoever, towards desired outcomes. For instance, we motivate a child who excels at games to use the same activity to learn school lessons. Games then do not become a distraction but a powerful mode of learning.”

“But” asks the parent, “is it really possible? Can my son achieve top scores in that manner?”

“Yes,” reassures the Director, “Not only that, he will achieve in the true sense of the term. He will grow into a harmonious personality with qualities of leadership and entrepreneurship and fine social sense with a feeling of contribution to society. These will be the subtle, deeper effect of mentoring at CFRCE. As far as formal academics is concerned, every year, our students go on to achieve academic excellence of the highest order and those who complete their 12th grade go on invariably to top institutions in the world like Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, WPI, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue University, etc to name a few. But we consider this a lesser part of our fulfilment than the former.”

"Do I take it that you can take my son through the mentoring program and make him successful?" Asks the parent.

"Let's go into it a little so that we can know he is ready for it," replies the Director.

"Would you be taking a test? An Interview?" Continues the parent.

"Not exactly," the Director goes on, "However, we communicate with the student and make certain observations. We then deduce certain facts." "How can you do that?" Asks the parent. "Well," goes on the Director, "The essence of all learning stems from the power of communication. There are certain cues that one may pick up. These reveal more than mere tests that are after all, forcing the student to remain self-conscious. To determine whether a student can really adapt to the intense, but natural and spontaneous learning we install rather than just instil, in the student, we need to observe the student when he/she is in a natural state. That, I have already done. Your son seems to be quite bright. As we were discussing, I could see that he had turned his face slightly away. One would think he was bored. His eyes, however, reveal that he was quite alert. It is just that he, if I am not mistaken, learns more by listening. He inclined his right ear to do that, and appeared to be looking away."

"That's right. I was listening," says the student.....

Fifteen minutes later, the student is in a really excited state. He has asked questions on topics he had been thinking all along and found how to answer them.

"Do you think my son can now join the mentoring program?" Asks the parent.

"There still is one more thing that needs to be done. After that we can decide upon that."
"What is that?" Asks the parent.

"He needs to answer this scientific puzzle, here on this paper," says the Director.

The student bends down and reads the puzzle. As he is reading, his features brighten up.

Five minutes later, he is successful in tackling it. He is now ready to become one of the keenest young minds, ready to take on topics years beyond him in a bold, adventurous, impetuous and joyful manner.

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