Monday, January 16, 2017

Logic in Wonderland

I know what you're thinking: "Logic? In a place filled with food that makes you shrink and bunny rabbits that talk, not to mention power-crazed card-queens and floating, invisible cats? That Wonderland? Pfft. You must be mad."

And to that I say, we're all mad here, sir. But really, hear me out before going off with my head.

I refer specifically to the events at the tea party. I know, I know: "The tea party? The mad tea party with a capital 'M', where time stood still and the maddest of characters sat around having tea forever and asking riddles with no answers and speaking of drawings of muchness. That tea party?"

To which I say, yes indeed, that tea party. And if you were stuck in a crazy world that made no sense, reliving the same hour over and over, having nothing but tea (I hate tea), I dare say you'd go mad too! So let's try not to be quite so judgmental.

But I promised to reveal a lesson in logic, which Lewis Carrol, being a logician, decided to sneak into his fairy story. So here it is.

Here's part of the exchange that took place at the table with unlimited tea:

"Then you should say what you mean" ~ the March Hare.

"... I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’ ~Alice

Let's find out if Alice is right.

Let A represent the statement: "I mean."
And B represent the statement: "I say."

Then, the first quote, which can be re-written as:

"If I mean something, I say it",

becomes: A => B.

Whereas, the second quote, which can be re-written as:

"I say something only if I mean it", 

becomes: B => A, 

which is really the converse of "A=>B" and therefore does not necessarily follow (check the truth tables for yourself).

In fact, as the Hatter said, it would be rather like saying, "“I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!", which is quite absurd (unless you're Jughead maybe) and an apt example showing that the converse of an implication need not hold.

And there you go! A lesson in logic from a beloved children's story that tickles my brain to this day.

Stay curiouser! 

(Tips hat to Lewis Carroll's ghost, saying, "I see what you did there, Mr. Carroll.")

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A dog's life

It is no secret that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Harry Potter was my childhood. I read the first book when I was eleven and the final book when I was seventeen. My Dad bought me that book as a surprise the day it released even though he had to go on a business trip that day. It's my favorite present from him. Those books taught me about friendship, and bravery and right and wrong. They also made me cry, and I am not an emotional person. To this day I await my acceptance letter from Hogwarts.

Before we moved back to India, I had to give away all my old books. But guess what I did with my first salary as an intern? That's right. I bought the entire Harry Potter book set. Again.

Now that my Potter-obsession has been established, I'll get to the point of this post: Sirius Black, Harry's godfather. I was nearly dehydrated when I reached the end of book five (not because it was such a long book, but because of the tears I shed). I still keep a glass of water nearby if I know I'm getting to that part. The part when Sirius dies.

There are many reasons his story and its premature end made me sad. He grew up in a house filled with hate, in a time when the Dark Lord was taking over. He rebelled against his family as a teenager and was disowned and rendered homeless.

As a young man, he saw two of his best friends die, and another stab him in the back. He went to a soul sucking prison for a crime he did not commit and lost his mind.

Until one day he was free and so close to proving his innocence. But he failed and was reduced to living on the run. He could not even participate in the new rebellion because he was a wanted man.

And then he was killed, by his own family. And it was basically all Harry's fault. How could a fifteen year old live with that? But worse, Sirius deserved none of the tragedy that plagued him.

Sirius, as you know, grew up in a family of blood supremacists, most of whom worked for the Dark Lord and whose ranks he was expected to join when he was of age. And he may as well have. But he rebelled instead.

Because Sirius, you see, was truly heroic. And he wasn't just good in the sense that Harry or James were. It's easy to be on the right side of history if you're the one being oppressed. It is easy to stand up for others if your family expects you to. That's why it was easier for Remus and James. They never had to make a choice.

Sirius was truly, actively good because he did have to make that decision to go against the beliefs of his family. He had to choose to give up a life of privilege, wealth and safety to fight evil. Good did not come easy to him. Sirius had to beat both nature and nurture in his quest for doing the right thing. And he died in this quest, heroic to the end.

Rationally speaking, for Sirius, joining the rebellion wasn't expected as with James, and it certainly wasn't necessary as with Remus or muggle-borns. On the contrary, he had only to lose by fighting the Dark Lord. And that makes you wonder why he did it. I think it was because of the one thing that set him apart from the rest of his family: he was sorted into the wrong house!

It was just that simple thing. Had he been a Slytherin, he would have lived among others of his kind: the pure-blood supremacist children of his parents' friends. He would have shared their ideals and grown to be like the rest of his family.

But he was a Gryffindor. And so he spent his formative years sharing dorm rooms and life experiences with muggle-borns and werewolves and children of "blood-traitors". And he learned that they were no different than him. And he could not imagine hurting them or wanting them dead or cast out from the magical society! They were his friends. They were just like him: fun-loving trouble-makers, rebellious teens searching for a place in the world, and scared kids trying to make sense of life. They just came in different shapes and colors. And that made all the difference.

Sirius's story was a heroic tragedy, but it held the essence of what Rowling was trying to teach us all along through her books that shaped a generation: once you get past the fear of the "other", you realize that we are all the same on the inside.

New Beginnings

It is said that well begun is half done. I think that's a good thought. But most of us begin things with bright eyes, brimming with enthusiasm and determination. We are all good at the half-done part. It's the other half that's the problem.

It is so easy to give up. You can spend days, weeks, months trying to get better at something. But it just takes a busy day, a lazy weekend, a vacation, or an "I'm too sick" week to get derailed.

That's why you see people flocking to the gyms on New Year's and quitting their too-optimistic one year memberships by Easter. It's why Coursera's course completion rate is less than ten percent. We are just too darned lazy (although I prefer the euphemism "power efficient").

But the idle shall not inherit the earth! So this year, let's resolve to keep our resolutions :)


Tiny truthful thoughts -
"It has never worked before"
Resolve: Don't give up

Happy New Year!


Fledgling fingers bleed
Sunlight seeps into darkness
The strings sing at last