The root of diverse evil

by Ashutosh Jogalekar It wasn’t very long ago that I was rather enamored with the New Atheist movement, of which the most prominent proponent was Richard Dawkins. I remember having marathon debates with a religious roommate of mine in graduate school about religion as the “root of all evil”, as the producers of a documentary…

As simple as possible, but no simpler

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Physicists writing books for the public have faced a longstanding challenge. Either they can write purely popular accounts that explain physics through metaphors and pop culture analogies but then risk oversimplifying key concepts, or they can get into a great deal of technical detail and risk making the book opaque to most…

Can America give up the gun? The case of Japan

by Ashutosh Jogalekar “Giving up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879”, by Noel Perrin In 1543, a small Chinese pirate sloop with two Portuguese arquebusiers on it sailed into Tanegashima island in Japan. The local feudal lord, Tokitaka, was so impressed when he saw one of the arquebusiers shoot a duck that he…

Should a scientist have faith?

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Scientists like to think that they are objective and unbiased, driven by hard facts and evidence-based inquiry. They are proud of saying that they only go wherever the evidence leads them. So it might come as a surprise to realize that not only are scientists as biased as non-scientists, but that they…

The meandering march of progress

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Like other parents, we were delighted when our daughter started walking a few months ago. But just like other parents, it’s not possible to remember when she went from scooting to crawling to speed-walking for a few steps before becoming unsteady again to steady walking. It’s not possible because no such sudden…

Insectophilia

by Ashutosh Jogalekar From the age of eleven to the age of fifteen or so, my consummate interest in life was collecting insects and studying their behavior. In the single-minded pursuit of this activity I chose to ignore every ignominy, ranging from being chased by stray dogs and irate neighbors to enduring taunts hurled by…

Complementarity and the world: Niels Bohr’s message in a bottle

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Werner Heisenberg was on a boat with Niels Bohr and a few friends, shortly after he discovered his famous uncertainty principle in 1927. A bedrock of quantum theory, the principle states that one cannot determine both the velocity and the position of particles like electrons with arbitrary accuracy. Heisenberg’s discovery foretold of…

How to think like Albert Einstein

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Considered the epitome of genius, Albert Einstein appears like a wellspring of intellect gushing forth fully formed from the ground, without precedents or process. There was little in his lineage to suggest genius; his parents Hermann and Pauline, while having a pronounced aptitude for mathematics and music, gave no inkling of the…

Kurt Gödel’s Open World

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Two men walking in Princeton, New Jersey on a stuffy day. One shaggy-looking with unkempt hair, avuncular, wearing a hat and suspenders, looking like an old farmer. The other an elfin man, trim, owl-like, also wearing a fedora and a slim white suit, looking like a banker. The elfin man and the…

The ethics of regulating AI: When too much may be bad

by Ashutosh Jogalekar ‘Areopagitica‘ was a famous speech delivered by the poet John Milton in the English Parliament in 1644, arguing for the unlicensed printing of books. It is one of the most famous speeches in favor of freedom of expression. Milton was arguing against a parliamentary ordinance requiring authors to get a license for…

Models of the Mind: A Conversation with Grace Lindsay

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Grace Lindsay is a computational neuroscientist at University College London. She has just published a new book titled “Models of the Mind: How Physics, Engineering and Mathematics Have Shaped Our Understanding of the Brain“. Most books about the brain take either a biological or philosophical approach, but Grace’s book is rather unique…

“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”: A fun read about a serious topic

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Bill Gates’s book on climate change issues and solutions is exceptionally clear and simply written. Gates has an easy conversational style that makes the book a fun read, and he is clear-eyed about the problem and the solutions. He also stays away from politics, which makes the book a refreshingly apolitical read,…

Does belief in God make you rich?

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Religion has always had an uneasy relationship with money-making. A lot of religions, at least in principle, are about charity and self-improvement. Money does not directly figure in seeking either of these goals. Yet one has to contend with the stark fact that over the last 500 years or so, Europe and…

What John von Neumann really did at Los Alamos

by Ashutosh Jogalekar During a wartime visit to England in early 1943, John von Neumann wrote a letter to his fellow mathematician Oswald Veblen at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, saying: “I think I have learned a great deal of experimental physics here, particularly of the gas dynamical variety, and that I shall…

Analogia: A Conversation with George Dyson

by Ashutosh Jogalekar George Dyson is a historian of science and technology who has written books about topics ranging from the building of a native kayak (“Baidarka”) to the building of a spaceship powered by nuclear bombs (“Project Orion”). He is the author of the bestselling books “Turing’s Cathedral” and “Darwin Among the Machines” which…