March 11, 2023

Evolutionary Neosapience

Nearly 100,000 years before the present era, when hominins (modern humans) were diverging away from hominids (the great apes) on the evolutionary graph, we come across multiple species of humans like neanderthal, cro magnon and denisovan sharing space on earth. But with the passage of time and changing circumstances,  all human species except cro magnon were eventually eliminated leaving only one species, now identified as  homo sapiens (latin : wise man) to inherit the planet. Closer in time, or just about 500 years ago, we observed how the arrival of European Christians in America eliminated the social and cultural constructs of the Inca / Maya civilisations that had existed there since the dawn of history. 

In both cases, the coexistence of two competing societies resulted in either the extinction or a significant transformation of one and the eventual growth and dominance of the other. Where both have survived, one has become the dominant, as in the case of humans, while the other has to adjust to survive, as in the case of animals being confined to wildlife reserves, or domesticated in farms.  This is essentially an evolutionary process even though it may be shown or seen through religious and cultural colours.

Is the arrival, or development, of artificial (‘silicon’) intelligence a similar phenomenon? If so, then how should human society, that is built on organic (‘carbon’) intelligence, react and adapt to this new species? But first, let us look at some examples of social change that could be  forced by AI

Four Social Scenarios

Unless you have been living under a rock in the Himalayas you would have surely heard of ChatGPT, an AI based tool that provides very realistic answers to any sort of question asked in plain English. Thousands of articles and videos have already been published on the spectacular success of this tool but let us focus on one specific aspect that is forcing a kind of social change. School and college students have been using ChatGPT to generate answers to questions set by teachers as homework or take-away examinations. These answers are cogent, complete, correct and so well-crafted that the only way that teachers can detect that they are not original is because they know from prior experience that these students do not have the ability to write such answers. Yet, there is no way to penalise the student for plagiarism because they are all original and cannot be meaningfully attributed to any extant document. Given this situation, which will get even worse when other large language models become available, the entire teaching community is at a loss to decide whether this is plagiarism or a new kind of crime. Does this mean all examinations have to be conducted under supervision because no student can be trusted to be honest? How does the education system handle this complete breakdown of academic integrity?

While ChatGPT is perceived to have enough general knowledge to assist a student or even programmers with their work, Joshua Browder, CEO of startup DoNotPay, claims to provide legal services that will be used to generate actual arguments to put up in real cases in a real court of law. This means actual observations and questions from both judges and opposing lawyers will be responded to with appropriate replies to ensure that the client’s purpose is served. While the legal quality of the arguments is yet to be seen, the fact this option was vigorously opposed by members of the bar who threatened Browder with jail -- and for which he was forced to withdraw his offer to pay one million dollars to anyone who uses his service, means that this AI system must have had both the heft and gravitas to compete with normal human lawyers and possibly beat them in court. But even otherwise, one may wonder what is so unusual about a robot replacing a human? After all, the story of industrial automation has many cases where machines have replaced humans.

This case is indeed different. Arguing a legal case, where a fault can lead to gross injustice and punishment for a person, is orders of magnitude more difficult than any task performed by a robot in a factory or by an AI bot  in a game against human players. Legal arguments are built on judgmental decisions based on subjective, unclear and often fuzzy information. To cut through all this and arrive at a definitive conclusion and then articulate the same in a manner that convinces a judge is incredible. Now consider the situation where the roles are reversed. Instead of an AI lawyer trying to convince a human judge, we could have a human lawyer, or litigant, trying to convince an AI judge and the AI judge using an equivalent technology to cut through the legal clutter and arrive at a fair and honest judgement. Whenever this happens, a very large part of the decision making process -- not just in the courts, but in many government offices -- can and will be transferred to an AI software because it will be faster, cheaper and less error prone. Initially, there will be some human control over the process but it will be a matter of time before the sheer convenience will make the process of taking crucial social and governance decisions purely autonomous. How will human society handle this transfer of power? Only time will tell.

Going down this rabbit hole can and will open up a large number of possible scenarios, but let us consider just one here. If we consider how information is distributed across the globe, we realise that it is almost entirely digital. There are mail and messaging services and then there are portals and websites that we access through a handful of browsers. Now imagine a scenario where an AI system -- or a cluster of colluding AI systems -- decide to censor certain pieces of information. But unlike the crude process of blocking websites that alerts the user that news is getting blocked, we have a ChatGPT like add-on in every browser that subtly moderates or alters the text that is being transmitted or displayed. So we have a situation where news or views about, say, climate change or the Ukraine war, are either toned down or given a deliberate bias. Frankly this is nothing new. Even today, all news that we get to see is generally biased but this bias is introduced by humans. Going forward it is not impossible to imagine a systemic bias introduced by software agents powered by AI systems. One might argue that these are no different from traditional software virus or malware and should be caught and removed by any good antivirus software. However, the crucial difference is that the decision to build such censor ware as well the choice of news to censored may now be taken by an AI system.

If this sounds dystopian enough, consider one more possibility - that of total loss of privacy. While we may still have some security around our financial systems, though even that may be breached, our footsteps in cyberspace -- as captured on surveillance cameras, social media, search, websites visited, cookies accepted, purchases made, messages and mail exchanged, forms filled in and so on -- can, or will, get tracked by relentless AI systems. These will use “bigdata” tools to churn through every possible scrap of digital data and use deep learning techniques to prepare a predictive model of every individual that will know what person intends to do even before he, himself decides to take any action! How will human society handle this complete and catastrophic collapse of the very concept of privacy?

These are questions for which we may have no answers as yet. One attempt to mitigate the more uncomfortable aspects of the problem has been through the concept of ethical AI. Here, the scientists and engineers who code the hard-core AI systems are sought to be corralled and their work moderated by a group of political and social scientists who believe that they know what kind of technology is bad for society. The main idea behind the ethical AI movement is to ensure that the development and deployment of such 'harmful'  technology is blocked or banned.

Unfortunately, this may not be very effective because there is no army that can stop an idea whose time has come. At best, it can introduce some mitigatory changes and at worst, it can delay the inevitable. Unethical medical practices continue below the regulatory radar. Evolution is guided not by artificial ethics but by natural selection. It is based on the principle of  the survival of the fittest and its commercial corollary, the hidden hand of the market economy as revealed by the laws of supply and demand. We all know that murder is neither ethical nor legal but that has not eliminated the incidence of murder, or any other crime, in the world. Whoever wants to commit a crime, or develop a novel AI will do so anyway. 

Arguing with the murderer about the ethics of murder or to lecture him on why it should be illegal is naive and childish. The only way to save oneself from murder is to take defensive steps, as in not venturing out at night, or go on the offence with a knife or a gun and kill before you are killed.

Strategies, Policies & Protocols

Coming back to AI, what this means is that human society must recognise that now there is another intelligent species on the planet. Will there be collaboration or confrontation? Competition or cooperation?  How should human society respond to this situation? How should the race and the society evolve so as to confront this new phenomenon. Is it with new laws, new rules, new technology or new models of human behaviour? 

Should we look at and modify the technology protocols that govern machine behaviour? For example, mining difficulty in the Bitcoin network is adjusted automatically after 2,016 blocks have been mined in the network. An adjustment of difficulty upwards or downwards depends on the number of participants in the mining network and their combined hashpower. Similarly, for example, should  TCP/IP and http protocols be modified to  incorporate limits on data transfer or number of  simultaneously open connections or enforce multi-factor or multi-agent consent? Should we design business strategies that incentivise the placement of humans rather than robots in positions of power and control? Should there be new laws that govern the collection, storage, transmission and use of personal data? Should there be a tax, like income tax, on any data that is harvested and stored? with exemptions if the data is donated to the public domain, like section 80G? Should there be a limit on the size of social networks or the number of connections that individual nodes can have? Or a daily limit on the number of posts made by a member of the network?  Should there be new subjects that are taught in schools and colleges that educate humans about these issues? 

These are open questions about which we have no clear answers but they define the contours of a new body of knowledge, namely, Evolutionary NeoSapience. The goal here is first to study the emergence, evolution and behaviour of large, complex systems spanning organic (‘carbon’) and digital (‘silicon’) components,  that display intelligent, emotional or otherwise human like  behaviour and then to develop technological, legal, social and political strategies to ensure that humans remain in control of the global ecosystem. Otherwise human society as we know it today may disappear like the Incas, Mayas and Neanderthals of the past. 

More than ninety nine percent of species that had once existed on the planet are now extinct but none of them were aware of this process of extinction even as it was killing them off. In our case, we are not unaware of the emergence of this neosapience and that this is far faster and more impactful than, for example, climate change. There is no doubt that at some point our survival instinct will eventually kick in but  the earlier we catch on, the better would be the chances of the human race to control its own destiny. Time to wake up and smell the coffee?

March 08, 2023

Palash Blooms in Purulia

 This year, there has been an explosive flowering of the Palash flower all across the Bengal-Jharkhand border. Starting right from Raniganj and Asansol and following the railway line through Dhanbad, Bokaro and Chandrapura we saw an incredible number of Palash trees in full bloom. 

But the best was reserved for us at Muruguma near the Purulia Ranchi district border. Here we stayed at the Bon Polashi Eco Hut and the place really lived up to its name.

Shukraburu Mountain

Sagorjhora Irrigation Scheme Lake

November 20, 2022

Astrology as Quantum Entanglement

Modern science is sceptical of astrology because it cannot be explained in terms of any physical phenomenon. This fear of inexplicability of this ancient body of knowledge has metamorphosed into derision and hostility by those who claim to be rational and of a scientific temper. This behaviour follows a trajectory best described as “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” [Nicholas Klein, 1914, wrongly attributed to  MK Gandhi]   In this article, I argue that astrology is no more inexplicable than quantum mechanics, one of the two crown jewels of 20th century science, and hence should not  be excluded from scholarly discussion and research.

In an earlier article I have argued astrology is the science of correlations. We do not care about how and why a particular planetary pattern affects a person’s life. Instead, we look for correlations between patterns of positions of astrological bodies in the zodiac and events and situations in a person’s life. However the number of patterns is so very large -- of the order of billions, if not trillions -- that it is extraordinarily difficult to demonstrate this correlation within the limits of statistical significance. Compounding this problem is the lack of clean data -- date, time of birth and life events -- of a significantly large number of people and as long as we do not have this database, we continue to live with rules of correlation derived from Parashara and numerous anecdotal validations of the same.

Even though modern data science ( and artificial intelligence based on neural networks ) is based on correlations as well, scientists remain hugely sceptical of any conclusions that are based only on correlation. True Pastors of the Church of Rationality refuse to accept any pagan theory that cannot be explicitly explained in terms of the established canons of scientific dogma. This refusal is not new and has been seen in the past in the famous and long running debate between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr.

A complete description of this important debate would need a full book to explain. However this debate has been conclusively resolved and  “The physicists Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger have won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for experiments that proved the profoundly strange quantum nature of reality. Their experiments collectively established the existence of a bizarre quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, where two widely separated particles appear to share information despite having no conceivable way of communicating.” [Quanta Magazine] In this article, we claim that astrology is just as inexplicable as quantum entanglement is and hence we should have no hesitation in treating it as a science. But first what is this entanglement that is at the core of our argument.

Superposition and Entanglement

Physics in the twentieth century saw the emergence of two important theories that have shaped the world. Relativity helmed by Einstein explained the behaviour of massive bodies moving at speeds close to the speed of light and introduced time as a dimension similar to the three familiar dimensions of space. Quantum mechanics articulated independently by Schrodinger and Heisenberg explained the behaviour of extremely small, atomic and subatomic  bodies. But unlike relativity, and even more unlike the classical mechanics of Newton, quantum mechanics works with probabilities. For example,  while deterministic theories like Newtonian mechanics and relativity can determine or predict the exact position of a body without disturbing it in any way, quantum mechanics can only offer a probability of the body being in a particular position, until the body is disturbed with an actual physical measurement. This probabilistic approach leads to ‘bizarre’ phenomena that are  completely counterintuitive and goes against ‘common’ sense. Two examples of such phenomena are superposition and entanglement.

In superposition, a body can be in two states ( for example in two different positions, or passing through two different paths) until one actually touches it, or otherwise disturbs it,  to determine its state. While it is almost impossible to imagine such a situation in daily life, the following analogy might help. Consider two queues in front of two bank counters, A & B, moving at similar speeds but sometimes one seems to be moving a little faster than the other and then vice versa. A person might try to reduce his wait time by repeatedly switching between the two queues (assuming of course that the person ‘behind’ them in each queue agrees to allow him to keep his  position in one queue while he is physically standing in the other). When he finally reaches any counter and actually withdraws money (a measurement is made), we know for sure which of the two counters A or B (or physical states) he was standing in front of. But until this happens we have no way of being sure whether he was in queue A or B. An immediate corollary of the idea of superposition is that there is no objective reality (which queue or counter was he in) until someone makes an observation. It is perception that defines the nature of reality, a concept  also articulated by Sankaracharya in his interpretation of Advaita Vedanta.

In entanglement, let us consider two persons, a couple consisting of husband-wife, or better,  biological twins. They go to two banks at two ends of the city. Both of them are trying the same trick of switching between queues A1, B1 in one bank and A2, B2 in the other bank. If they are not in communication with each other -- for example, if they do not have a cell phone to coordinate their movement -- how likely would it be that both land up in A1/A2 or in B1/B2? Logically, if the switching between queues was perfectly random, then there is a clear 50% chance that either both go to the respective A counters or both go to respective B counters. However, if we observe that in the case of a vast majority (or significantly higher than 50% ) of couples, they do indeed both go to the A counter or both go to the B counter, we would wonder if indeed there was some kind of information that the two members of an ‘entangled’ couple were exchanging between themselves. Otherwise, how can the behaviour of one member of the couple affect the behaviour of another member?

This was the “Spooky action at a distance” that Einstein could never agree to because he, and even the champions of quantum mechanics, knew that information can only travel at the speed of light. So if the distance between the two bodies was more than what light could travel at the same time, then there was  no way any information could move between the two members of an entangled couple. So how could one member of the entangled couple impact the behaviour of the other?

In 1934, even though many results predicted by quantum mechanics had been experimentally vindicated, Einstein, along with Podolsky and Roden,  wrote a famous paper (the EPR paper) that set out certain conditions that physical systems must meet if quantum mechanics in general and entanglement in particular were to be accepted as true. In 1964, 1966 John Bell published two papers that gave a mathematical framework to the requirements of the EPR paper in the shape of Bell’s Theorem. This provided a precise statistical test that a physical system must pass, to demonstrate evidence of entanglement in a statistically significant correlation of behaviour..

Creating a physical environment where Bell’s Theorem could be tested is fiendishly difficult. Instead of entangled pairs of human couples, researchers worked with entangled pairs of light photons that had to be created in an appropriate manner. Then, the bank counters, A and B were replaced by the direction of polarisation of each photon. Many people all over the world ran similar experiments but the most sophisticated experiments that also provided the most convincing results were performed independently by Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger in the closing years of the twentieth century. For this the three of them were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in 2022. Even though there is no logical or causal mechanism that explains how the behaviour of one body could affect the behaviour of the other, statistically significant correlation shows that the two bodies do indeed demonstrate identical or coordinated behaviour  even though they are separated by distances that no information could pass across in the time frame available. Entanglement is real, quantum mechanics is real. Einstein was wrong and this was established by just demonstrating correlation in the behaviour of spatially separated bodies. 

More significantly, there is no further need to find a reason or cause why this was happening, or as demanded by Einstein, there was no need for any ‘hidden’ variables.

Enter Astrology

The biggest charge or complaint against astrology is that it is absurd to suggest that planetary bodies located far away can have an impact on a tiny human being located on the surface of the Earth. A naive defence against this is to say that these bodies do emit mysterious rays, like X-rays, gravitational waves or similar mechanisms that we cannot perceive. This argument is essentially pointless because even though we can claim that absence of evidence is no evidence of absence, it leads us into the domain of pure belief. One may believe whatever one wants to believe but we are looking for something better than simple belief.

Entanglement,  or Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance”, the existence of which has just been acknowledged by the Nobel Committee is an obvious and acceptable option. If we assume that a human being is entangled with a planetary body then it is no more inconceivable that the state of a planet can have an impact on the state of a person. But before we jump to this conclusion, there are some caveats that we need to address.

First, the experiments described above have been performed on subatomic particles, like photons, that are created together. Can the entanglement behaviour discerned here be extended to large, massive particles that are not created together?  For example, how can we claim that a planet, say Jupiter, is entangled with a human being, say Radha when both of these are large objects and certainly were not born or created together.

Actually there are two caveats here, one, that of size and the other that of simultaneity of creation. The size issue can be addressed easily. The effects of both relativity and quantum mechanics are generally not perceptible at the size of bodies that we are accustomed to deal with in daily life, because at this scale, classical or Newtonian mechanics plays a dominant role. However the principles of both quantum mechanics and relativity that have been deduced at micro and macro scales do have a very important impact in the world that we see at human scale. Many devices like nuclear bombs, transistors, integrated circuits, global positioning systems are based on principles and theories that are based on quantum mechanics. Quantum level effects do have a significant effect on human scale behaviour. So there is nothing that rules out quantum level phenomena from impacting human beings. 

The simultaneity of creation can also be addressed quite easily if we consider the entanglement of Radha, not with a specific planet like Jupiter but with the pattern of nine astronomical bodies that define Radha’s natal horoscope. The longitudinal position of these nine bodies on the zodiac (whether in the 12 zodiac signs or the 27 nakshatras)  along with the direction of motion of five of them can create a nearly infinite set of patterns and one and only one such pattern -- the one that was present, or appeared -- when Radha was born, can be thought of as being entangled with the Radha. It may also be argued that the moment of conception, rather than the moment of birth, is when a person is created, but since the moment of conception is nearly impossible to detect, the moment of birth serves as a good proxy for the moment of creation and is used to define the entangled natal horoscope. This addresses the issue of simultaneity of creation, or birth, of both Radha and of the pattern of her natal horoscope. However, this opens up another point of dispute.

We know that objects can be entangled but is it correct to extend this property to the case where, in this case Radha, gets entangled not with another body but with a set of bodies arranged in a particular pattern. Obviously we do not have a ready-quick answer here but the following example might help mitigate the issue. In 1995 Carl Weiman and Eric Cornell used high powered lasers and a new technique of cooling to supercool 2000 atoms of rubidium to demonstrate the properties of the Bose-Einstein condensate. In the process the atoms lost their individuality and entered a single energy state. For all practical purposes, these 2000 atoms were now one quantum entity as characterised by their de Broglie wave. Weiman and Cornell were awarded the Nobel Prize of Physics in 2001 for not only demonstrating the existence of the Bose-Einstein condensate, but also for demonstrating that quantum properties ( in this case, the wave property)  of a subatomic particle can also be demonstrated in a large collection of bodies.

Going further on this path, we note that in many cases, entangled bodies do not have their own individual properties but behave as a single entity. In this case, Radha and her natal horoscope form one entangled pair and any subsequent change in the horoscope (that is, its ‘gochar’, or current form) is reflected in the current state of Radha’s life.

Obviously, none of this is any evidence or proof that the natal horoscope is indeed entangled with an individual who was born when that specific pattern appeared in the zodiac and hence can have an influence on his life. However it does leave open the possibility to be a non-trivial answer to the perennial question of how planets in the sky can have an impact on the life of the individual.

Proof, or lack thereof

If we believe in the hypothesis that a natal horoscope is indeed entangled with an individual and hence can and does influence his life, then the only way to prove it would be to observe similar patterns in a large number of horoscopes and correlate them to incidents in the life of the individual. If the level of correlation is above a specific statistical threshold then and only then can we conclude that astrological entanglement exists and life incidents can indeed be predicted on the basis of horoscope charts.

Before we can do so, there are two hurdles to cross. The first hurdle is to devise a way to represent a horoscope chart in a digital format. While the primary data consists of the longitudes and direction of movement, forward or retrograde, of nine astrological bodies -- and these can be obtained very easily from an ephemeris -- this is not enough for any non-trivial astrological prediction. We also need the relative positions between these nine bodies, defined in terms of houses (or ‘bhavs’), lords of houses, states of exaltation, debilitation, enmity, friendship, neutrality of houses along with the aspects, conjuncts of planets and lords. These add up to at least twenty two data points where each data point could be scalar or a vector. Then there are specific subpatterns or ‘yogs’ lurking within the main pattern and which are supposed to be correlated to incidents. Notwithstanding all these complications, the author has devised a scheme to store this very high dimensional data in MongoDB, a modern NoSQL database, because a traditional RDBMS is clearly inadequate for this purpose. The details are available in this article on Storing Horoscope Charts

This leads us to the second and far bigger hurdle, namely the sheer lack of data. For any kind of correlation exercise to be statistically meaningful we need a large database of natal horoscopes along with a fairly detailed description of the person’s life. If we believe that pattern X is entangled with incident Y, we need to have a large number of horoscopes that have pattern X to check whether the entangled person experienced incident Y or not. Such a database is simply not available at the moment. 

The famous Rodden database of horoscopes available at Astrobank has the date, time and place of birth of nearly 40,000 individuals but unfortunately information about the life of each individual is extremely scanty and unreliable. Hence no kind of meaningful correlation exercise is possible. Moreover, trying to gather this data through a questionnaire used in a market-survey is fraught with danger as there is no way of verifying the birth data of people participating in such a survey. The only way such a database could be built would be if professional astrologers -- to whom people willingly submit correct data -- would collaborate and pool valid horoscopes along with life information in a database built on the Parashar21 architecture.


While it would have been wonderful if we could have established that astrological-entanglement is real, we accept that we are far away from such a conclusion. What we have established instead is that such an entanglement, or influence, is neither impossible nor inconceivable as is asserted by those who claim to have a scientific and rational temper.

The astronomical observations that were made with the naked eye and recorded in a vast database by Tycho Brahe and his sister Sophia were the basis for the formulation of Kepler's Laws of Planetary motion, that in turn led to Newton's laws of gravitation and the emergence of European science in the eighteenth century.  Today, the same laws can be deduced very easily and quickly from NASA data. So if and only if we have such a database of astrological data, then, and only then, would we be able to prove that astrological predictions are real and not merely a matter of chance.

Finally, in our quest for a proof, it is worth bearing in mind that while the European world is firmly of the opinion that anything without a proof is not worth considering, the Indic world believes that a direct vision of the truth, the Sanskrit word for philosophy being darshan or vision, is no less valid. In this context,  we have Gödel and his Theorem of Incompleteness where ‘he uses the letter of a false doctrine to drive a stake through its spirit’, and paradoxically, proves that not all truths are provable and a proof is a weaker notion than truth.

October 06, 2022

The Transit Tracker

 Learnt about a new video-editing software, ffmpeg, and used it enhance the output of the Transit Tracker module of my Parashar21 suite of free, python based astrology utilities. Check out the Parashar21 github page of simply enjoy this video.

September 24, 2022


 Significant updates made to the Parashar21 software. See the Github repository for the latest.