Saturday, July 25, 2020

Physics and Technological Revolutions

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IBM Quantum Computer, an innovation based on Quantum Physics | Source: IBM Research via Flickr

As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of ancient Scripture “Bhagwad Geeta” ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. Oppenheimer, alongside the likes of Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi, George Gamow, was part of the star-studded Physicist squad behind the Manhattan Project.

The biggest implications drawn from the end of WW2 for many might have just been the incoming power Struggle between the US and Soviet Union, but for your average American it went to a great length to show that Physicists form a breed of people who can build dangerously effective technology.

That fact, however, would have been evident to anyone with a brisk walk through Human History itself. Physicists have arguably provided the most significant contributions to the Technological Development of our race. From Archimedes building light reflectors to save the Greek Army from Roman Infiltration to the large-scale Ballistic Missile systems made during WW-II, weaponry technology has been highly influenced by physicists in every generation.

But mere list of armaments cannot do justice to the role played by Physics Research in Technological Developments of our society. To get a feel for that, let’s go back to the fathers of Modern Physics as we know it; Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. Galileo had his long list of achievements in creating cutting edge technology of the day, ranging from Telescopes to Thermometers & the Magnetic Compass. Sir Isaac for his part was the reason behind the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain!

The simple Atwood Machines which have today become mainstay material taught to College Freshman and High School Seniors worldwide, were actually the kind of mechanical models on which the large-scale Factory Machines were built. Newton’s laws kickstarted the modern Technological Revolution and ever since then, Physics has been a constant source of inspiration behind all Technology.

The great pioneers in the field “Natural Philosophy” (the physics of today) after Newton continued the trend which their illustrious predecessor had started. The seminal works on Thermodynamics by the likes of Lord Kelvin, Ludwig Boltzmann, James Clerk Maxwell etc. played the decisive part in creating automobile engines and really any technology which dealt with heat (Spoiler Alert- There were a lot of them!). Maxwell’s work on the famous equations on Electromagnetism now named after him played the most significant part in the mission of making Electricity available to everyone (a conquest now just famously remembered for the fight between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison).

While one can point out that Theoretical works cannot lead to new Technology on their own, that assertion is only the half-truth. Sure, building technology on the basis of theoretical physics is mostly down to the Engineers, but one cannot underestimate the effect new theoretical developments and their possible uses have on the construction of new technologies. After all, if one was not able to understand the principles of the conversion of mass to energy or Electric & Magnetic Fields are coupled to each other, then expecting the construction of Nuclear Reactors and virtually all Electric Tech today would have been off the table.

So one might ask, what are the new theoretical ideas which can guide the next leap forward technologically? Well, no one can be quite sure of the form which technology will take in even a couple of decades (who would have thought that Server systems designed for efficiently using giant Data in CERN would one day be heavily used for making memes!).

I would go as far as to say that we have not yet completely exhausted the technological possibilities of the Special Theory of Relativity itself, the most prominent example of game changing technology based on that has been GPS Communication systems. One can hence fail to even imagine the kind of technological (and Industrial) progress technologies built on the revealing concepts from General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics can bestow upon us (I’m even refraining to comment on the Quantum Field Theoretic parts!).

Whatever that physics will lead us to is a mystery time will be most suited to answer, but one can see the effects of Quantum Mechanics in the next Computational Revolution itself; Quantum Computing. To put into perspective the extent of development Quantum Computing can bestow upon us, consider the following.

Computational devices today, which are stronger than the computers which put humans to the moon, are fundamentally built upon binary bit systems. From generating Big Bang like Energies in CERN and reaching past Saturn, to making all the knowledge available to everyone has been done in two bits. While Quantum Computers, which are being vividly researched on, can work with virtually infinite bits ! So, hold on tight as exciting new physics promises some large-scale changes on our Civilization as a whole.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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