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…

Brains, computation and thermodynamics: A view from the future?

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Progress in science often happens when two or more fields productively meet. Astrophysics got a huge boost when the tools of radio and radar met the age-old science of astronomy. From this fruitful marriage came things like the discovery of the radiation from the big bang. Another example was the union of…

Von Neumann in 1955 and 2020: Musings of a cheerful pessimist on technological survival

by Ashutosh Jogalekar “All experience shows that even smaller technological changes than those now in the cards profoundly transform political and social relationships. Experience also shows that these transformations are not a priori predictable and that most contemporary “first guesses” concerning them are wrong.” – John von Neumann Is the coronavirus crisis political or technological?…

The greatest artist

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Neil Shubin’s “Some Assembly Required” is a delightful book whose thesis can be summarized in one word – “repurposing”. As Steve Jobs once put it, “Good artists create. Great artists steal”. By that reckoning Nature is undoubtedly the most magnificent thief and the greatest artist of all time. Repurposing in the history…

The case for dumb kindness

by Ashutosh Jogalekar On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in a typhoon of steel and firepower without precedent in history. In spite of telltale signs and repeated warnings, Joseph Stalin who had indulged in wishful thinking was caught completely off guard. He was so stunned that he became almost catatonic, shutting…

The Fermi-Pasta-Ulam-Tsingou problem: A foray into the beautifully simple and the simply beautiful

by Ashutosh Jogalekar In November 1918, a 17-year-student from Rome sat for the entrance examination of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy’s most prestigious science institution. Students applying to the institute had to write an essay on a topic that the examiners picked. The topics were usually quite general, so the students had considerable…

Making far out the norm: Or how to nurture loonshots

by Ashutosh Jogalekar What makes a revolutionary scientific or technological breakthrough by an individual, an organization or even a country possible? In his thought provoking book “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases and Transform Industries”, physicist and biotechnology entrepreneur Safi Bahcall dwells on the ideas, dynamics and human factors…

Spooky factions at a distance

by Ashutosh Jogalekar For me, a highlight of an otherwise ill-spent youth was reading mathematician John Casti’s fantastic book “Paradigms Lost“. The book came out in the late 1980s and was gifted to my father who was a professor of economics by an adoring student. Its sheer range and humor had me gripped from the…

Mathematics, and the excellence of the life it brings

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Mathematics and music have a pristine, otherworldly beauty that is very unlike that found in other human endeavors. Both of them seem to exhibit an internal structure, a unique concatenation of qualities that lives in a world of their own, independent of their creators. But mathematics might be so completely unique in…