My Dominant Hemisphere

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New Beginning: Going Anonymous!

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via NguyenDai @ Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA License)

Howdy readers!

Just a quick update. For reasons far too many to list out here, I’ve decided to pursue an anonymous blog in addition to this one. This blog fills a niche and I’d like to maintain that intact as I continue to post things of interest here. Furthermore, there are many topics that I frequently ruminate about and that I’d be more comfortable writing and discussing about anonymously. I’ve come to understand that this blog, a tool that’s meant to caress my intellect as much as it does yours (come on! admit it! :-P),  is unsuitable to fulfill this important role in entirety.

If you’re a close friend or a blogger who knows me personally, then you know how to find me and would probably recognize  my anonymous presence when you see it. To you I make just one earnest plea: try not to blow my cover 😛 ! My friend, Jaffer of Maniaravings, had a pertinent example of how the privacy of bloggers can be adversely affected by the slapdash behavior of people known to them. Sometimes unintentionally. Always keep in mind some relevant guidelines for bloggers set forth by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a privacy group) here.

Alrighty then! Until we meet again, cheerio!

Copyright Firas MR. All Rights Reserved.

“A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Written by Firas MR

March 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Technology

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How To [Windows/Linux]: OCR On PDFs Using Tesseract and Imagemagick

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via OCReactive@Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA License)

Howdy readers!

Many moons ago, we met and talked about some of the basics of computer programming. Today I’m going to share with you a BASH shell script that I created using publicly available content as I was trying to OCR a couple of PDFs lying on my hard drive.

OCR is short for “Optical Character Recognition”. OCR software contains algorithms that analyze photographs/scanned images of books, articles, etc. (i.e. text matter) and convert them into plain text such that it can be copy/pasted or manipulated in various forms. For more on what OCR does, see here.

PDFs are ubiquitous these days. And although the file format has been opensourced and standardized, what hasn’t is the way people create PDFs. This gives rise to a plethora of unexpected differences such that two people could create a PDF file from the same input and yet come out with totally different looking PDFs. A lot of this has to do with differences in the way the metadata, layout information, text-layer, embedded fonts, reflow properties, etc. have been stored in the PDF file. For across-the-board accessibility (by people using mobile phones, eReaders, etc.) getting all of these right is absolutely essential.

Sadly, many PDFs of eBooks available online (such as at lack these properties and thus can be a pain to read on small screens. One of the most frequent of problems is that often these PDFs are merely a collection of scanned images of books and articles. And aren’t amenable to note taking, highlighting text, or copy/pasting text, etc. This is where OCR comes into play. Using OCR software one ends up with a file containing text that can then be manipulated to one’s liking. OCR software will obviously omit any pictures or illustrations in its output.

This how-to has been tested on Windows Vista Basic and uses free and open-source software. The script will also work on a Linux system.

  1. Download and install Cygwin from here. Cygwin provides a Linux-like environment on the Windows platform. The default shell that it comes with is BASH. As compared to DOS on Windows, BASH provides a saner way to create tiny programs that can automate tasks. The commands are easier to read and understand.
  2. Run Cygwin and check the output of:
    echo $TERM

    If it says "dumb", then you’re faced with a well-known bug in the installation that doesn’t allow Cygwin to behave properly. To remedy this:

    1. Exit Cygwin.
    2. Click on the Start Menu.
    3. In the field that says “Start Search”, type “Run” and then hit ENTER.
    4. Type sysdm.cpl in the dialogue box that opens.
    5. You are now in the Sytem Properties window. Click on the tab that says “Advanced”. Then click on “Environment Variables”.  Under “System Variables” scroll down to and click on the entry that says “TERM” and click on the “Edit” button at the bottom.
    6. In the box that opens, delete whatever is under “Variable Name” and type cygwin.
    7. Click OK and close the box. Then Click OK and close the “System Properties” box.
    8. Open Cygwin again and see that the output of echo $TERM give you cygwin as the answer.
  3. We’ll need to install a few packages on Cygwin. Install the nano package. Nano is an easy to use text-editor and is more reliable than lame-old Notepad. Notepad can sometimes misbehave and enter invisible control-characters (such as carriage-returns or end-of-files) that Linux systems WILL NOT ignore.
  4. Install the tesseract-ocr, tesseract-ocr-eng, imagemagick and ghostscript packages. Tesseract is the OCR software we shall be using. It works best with English text and supposedly has a reputation for being more accurate than other open-source tools out there. Imagemagick is a set of software tools that allow image manipulation using the command-line. Ghostscript is software that Imagemagick will require in order to work with PDFs.
  5. Open Cygwin. Right click on the title bar of the window and goto Properties. Check (tick-mark) the boxes that say “QuickEdit Mode” and “Insert Mode“. Hit OK. Ignore any error messages that pop-up.
  6. Using nano we will create a BASH script called . This will need to be placed or copied to the directory that contains the PDF file that needs to be OCR’d. Type the following text out manually (exactly as it is) or just copy paste it into nano. After copying text from here, when you right-click inside Cygwin, the text will be pasted inside the window. To save the file hit Ctrl-O. Then hit ENTER. Then exit nano by hitting Ctrl-X.

    Using nano to create a file on Cygwin

    Inside nano

    # Created by Firas MR.
    # Website:
    # define variables
    SCRIPT_NAME=`basename "$0" .sh`
    # make a temporary directory
    mkdir $TMP_DIR
    # copy PDF to temporary directory
    cp $@ $TMP_DIR
    # change current working directory to temporary directory
    cd $TMP_DIR
    # use Imagemagick tool to read PDF pages at a pixel denisty of
    # 150 ppi in greyscale mode and output TIFF files at a pixel
    # depth of 8. Tesseract will misbehave with pixel depth > 8
    # or with color images.
    convert -density 150 -depth 8 -colorspace gray -verbose * p%02d.tif
    # For every TIFF file listed in numerical order in the temporary
    # directory (contd)
    for i in `ls *.tif | sort -tp -k2n`;
    # strip away full path to file and file extension
     BASE=`basename "$i" .tif`;
    # run Tesseract using the English language on each TIFF file
     tesseract "${BASE}.tif" "${BASE}" -l eng;
    # append output of each resulting TXT file into an output file with
    # pagebreak marks at then end of each page
     cat ${BASE}.txt | tee -a $OUTPUT_FILE;
     echo "[pagebreak]" | tee -a $OUTPUT_FILE;
    # remove all TIFF and TXT files
     rm ${BASE}.*;
    # move output file to parent directory
    mv $OUTPUT_FILE ..
    # remove any remaining files (eg. PDF, etc.)
    rm *
    # change to parent directory
    cd ..
    # remove temporary directory
    rmdir $TMP_DIR
  7. Next we’ll need to make the file executable by all users. To do this type
    chmod a+x

    and hit ENTER.

  8. Change directories to where the PDF file is located. Eg: in order to change directories to the C: drive in Cygwin you need to do:
    cd /cygdrive/c/

    List contents by typing

    ls -al

    Copy to the directory that contains your PDF. Do this by typing

    cp ~/ .

    (That dot is not a typo!). Rename the PDF to a simple name without hyphens or weird characters. Make it something like bookforocr.pdf . You can do this by typing

    mv <name of PDF file> bookforocr.pdf
  9. Type ./ bookforocr.pdf and observe as your computer chugs away 🙂 ! You’ll end up with a file called ocr-output.txt containing the OCR’d data from the book! Imagemagick will use up quite a bit of RAM memory as it works on the PDF. Expect some sluggishness in your computer as it does this.
  10. You can convert the txt file into anything you like. For example an EPUB file using Calibre that can then be uploaded to an eReader such as the B&N NOOK :-).

One could modify the script to crop, set white-points, etc. for anything fancier. For Windows users who like a GUI, a good open-source cropping tool for PDFs is BRISS. It is a great boon for easily cropping multi-column text matter. Another great tool for the same purpose is Papercrop (although, since it rasterizes its output you notice a significant decrease in quality).

A Linux Journal article describes how to find out position co-ordinates for cropping using GIMP.

Another way that I discovered to OCR a PDF is to use OCRopus. It claims to have automatic and intelligent layout analysis for dealing with stuff like multiple columns, etc.

Alrighty then. See you next time! Feel the OCR power on your PDFs 🙂 !

# Footnotes:

Ubuntuforums Howto on OCR How to OCR multipage PDF files
The Kizz Notes: cygwin: WARNING: terminal is not fully functional

Copyright Firas MR. All Rights Reserved.

“A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Written by Firas MR

March 20, 2011 at 8:58 am

Posted in Technology, Unix

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Meeting Ghosts In The Chase For Reality

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Sunrise (via faxpilot @ Flickr CC BY-NC-ND license)

Watching the morning sun beaming through the clouds during today’s morning jog, I was struck by an epiphany. What ultimately transpired was a streak of thoughts, that left me in a overwhelming sense of awe and humility for its profound implications.

Perhaps the rejuvenating air, the moist earth from the previous night’s rains and the scent of the fresh Golden Flamboyant trees lining my path made the sun’s splendor much more obvious to see. Like in a photograph coming to life, when objects elsewhere in the scene enhance the main subject’s impact.

As I gazed in its direction wondering about the sunspots that neither I nor anyone else around me could see (but that I knew were really there, from reading the work of astronomers), I began thinking about my own positional coordinates. So this was the East, I found. But how did I know that? Well as you might have guessed, from the age old phrase: “the sun rises in the East and sets in the West”. Known in Urdu as “سورج مشرق میں نکلتا ہے اور مغرب میں ڈوبتا ہے ” or in Hindi, “सूरज पूरव में निकलता है और पश्चिम में डूबता है” and indeed to be found in many other languages, we observe that man has come to form an interesting model to wrap his mind around this majestic phenomenon. Indeed, many religious scriptures and books of wisdom, from ancient history to the very present, find use of this phrase in their deep moral teachings.

But we’ve come to think that we know this model is not really “correct”, is it? We’ve come to develop this thinking with the benefit of hindsight (a relative term, given Einstein’s famous theory, by the way. One man’s hindsight could actually be another man’s foresight!). We’ve ventured beyond our usual abode and looked at our planet from a different vantage point – that of Space. From the Moon and satellites. The sun doesn’t actually rise or set. That experience occurs because of our peculiar vantage point – of relatively slow or immobile creatures grounded here on Earth. One could say that it is an interesting illusion. Indeed, you could sit on a plane and with the appropriate speed, chase that sliver of sunlight as the Sol (as it’s lovingly called by scientists) appears or disappears in the horizon, never letting it vanish from view and do so essentially indefinitely.

Notes In The Margin About Language

Coming back, for a moment, to this amusing English phrase that helped me gauge my position, I thought about how language itself can shape one’s thinking. A subject matter upon which I’ve reflected before. There really comes a point when our models of the world and the universe get locked within the phraseology of a language that can actually reach the limits of its power of expression fairly unexpectedly. Speak in English and your view is different from somebody who can speak in Math. Even within Math, the coming about of algebra expanded the language’s power of expression incredibly from its meager beginnings. New models get incorporated into the lexicon of a language and because we tend to feed off of such phrases to make sense of ourselves and our universe, there is the potential for an inertia to develop, whereby it becomes easy to stay put with our abstractions of reality and not move on to radically new ones – models that are beyond the power of expression of a language and that haven’t yet been captured in its lexicon. In a way we find that models influence languages and languages themselves influence models and ultimately there is this interesting potential for a peculiar steady state to be reached – which may or may not be such a good thing.

So when it comes to this phenomenon, we’ve moved from one model to another. We began with “primitive” maxims. Perhaps during a time when people used to think of the Earth as flat and stars as pin-point objects too. And then progressed to geocentrism and then heliocentrism, both of which were basically formulated by careful and detailed observations of the sky using telescopes, long before the luxury of satellites and space travel came into being. And now that we see the Earth from this improved vantage point – of Space – our model for understanding reality has been refined. And actually, really shifted in profound ways.

So what does this all mean? It looks like reality is one thing, that exists out there. And we as humans make sense of reality through abstractions or models. How accurate we are with our abstractions really depends on how much information we’ve been able to gather. New information (through ever more detailed experiments or observations and indeed as Godel and Poincare showed, sometimes by mere pontification), drives us to alter our existing models. Sometimes in radically different ways (a classic example is our model of matter: one minute particle, one minute wave). There is this continuous flux about how we make sense of the cosmos, and it will likely go on this way until the day mankind has been fully informed – which may never really happen if pondered upon objectively. There have been moments in the past where man has thought that this precipice had been finally reached, that he was at last fully informed, only to realize with utter embarrassment that this was not the case. Can man ever know, by himself, that he has finally reached such a point? Especially, given that this is like a student judging his performance at an exam without the benefit of an independent evaluator? The truth is that we may never know. Whether we think we will ever reach such a precipice really does depend on a leap of faith. And scientists and explorers who would like to make progress, depend on this faith – that either such a precipice will one day be reached or at least that their next observation or experiment will increase them in information on the path to such a glorious point. When at last, a gestalt vision of all of reality can be attained. It’s hard to stay motivated otherwise, you see. And you thought you heard that faith had nothing to do with science or vice versa!

It is indeed quite remarkable the extent to which we get stuck in this or that model and keep fooling ourselves about reality. No sooner do we realize that we’ve been had and move on from our old abstraction to a new one and one what we think is much better, are we struck with another blow. This actually reminds me of a favorite quote by a stalwart of modern Medicine:

And not only are the reactions themselves variable, but we, the doctors, are so fallible, ever beset with the common and fatal facility of reaching conclusions from superficial observations, and constantly misled by the ease with which our minds fall into the rut of one or two experiences.

William Osler in Counsels and Ideals

The World According To Anaximander

The World According To Anaximander (c. 610-546 BCE)

The phenomenon is really quite pervasive. The early cartographers who divided the world into various regions thought funny stuff by today’s standards. But you’ve got to understand that that’s how our forefathers modeled reality! And whether you like it or not someday many generations after our time, we will be looked upon with similar eyes.

Watching two interesting Royal Society lectures by Paul Nurse (The Great Ideas of Biology) and Eric Lander (Beyond The Human Genome Project: Medicine In The 21st Century) the other day, this thought kept coming back to me. Speaking about the advent of Genomic Medicine, Eric Lander (who trained as a mathematician, by the way) talked about the discovery of the EGFR gene and the realization that its mutations strongly increase the risk for a type of lung cancer called Adenocarcinoma. He mentioned how clinical trials of the drug Iressa – a drug whose mechanism of action scientists weren’t sure of yet but was nevertheless proposed as a viable option for lung adenocarcinomas – failed to show statistically significant differences from standard therapy. Well, that was because the trial’s subjects were members of the broad population of all lung adenocarcinoma cases. Many doctors realizing the lack of conclusive evidence of a greater benefit, felt no reason to choose Iressa over standard therapy and drastically shift their practice. Which is what Evidence-Based-Medical practice would have led them to do, really. But soon after the discovery of the EGFR gene, scientists decided to do a subgroup analysis using patients with EGFR mutations, and it was rapidly learned that Iressa did have a statistically significant effect in decreasing tumor progression and improving survival in this particular subgroup. A significant section of patients could now have hope for cure! And doctors suddenly began to prescribe Iressa as the therapy of choice for them.

As I was thinking about what Lander had said, I remembered that Probability Theory as a science, which forms the bedrock of such things as clinical trials and indeed many other scientific studies, had not even developed until the Middle Ages. At least, so far as we know. And modern probability theory really began much later, in the early 1900s.

Front page of "Doctrine of Chance – a method for calculating the probabilities of events in plays" by Abraham de Moivre, London, 1718

Abraham de Moivre's "Doctrine of Chances" published in 1718, was the first textbook on Probability Theory

You begin to realize what a quantum leap this was in our history. We now think of patterns and randomness very differently from ancient times. Which is pretty significant, given that for some reason our minds are drawn to looking for patterns even where there might not be any. Over the years, we’ve developed the understanding that clusters (patterns) of events or cases could occur in a random system just as in a non-random one. Indeed, such clusters (patterns) would be a fundamental defining characteristic of a random process. Absence of clusters would indicate that a process wasn’t truly random. Whether such clusters (patterns) would fit with a random process as opposed to a non-random one would depend on whether or not we find an even greater pattern of how these clusters are distributed. A cluster of cases (such as an epidemic of cholera) would be considered non-random if by hypothesis testing we found that the probability of such a cluster coming about by random chance was so small as to be negligible. And even when thinking about randomness, we’ve learned to ask ourselves if a random process could be pseudo-random as opposed to truly random – which can sometimes be a difficult thing to establish. So unlike our forefathers, we don’t immediately jump to conclusions about what look to our eyes as patterns. It’s all quite marvelous to think about, really. What’s even more fascinating, is that Probability Theory is in a state of flux and continues to evolve to this day, as mathematicians gather new information. So what does this mean for the validity of our models that depend on Probability Theory? If a model could be thought of as a chain, it is obvious that such a model would be as strong as the links with which it is made! So we find that statisticians keep finding errors in how old epidemiologic studies were conducted and interpreted. And the science of Epidemiology itself improves as Probability Theory is continuously polished. This goes to show the fact that the validity of our abstractions keeps shifting as the foundations upon which they are based themselves continue to transform. A truly intriguing idea when one thinks about it.

Some other examples of the shifting of abstractions with the gathering of new information come to mind.

Image from Andreas Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica (1543), page 190.

An image from Vesalius's "De Humani Corporis Fabrica" (1543)

Like early cartographers, anatomists never really understood human anatomy very well back in the days of cutting open animals and extrapolating their findings to humans. There were these weird ideas that diseases were caused by a disturbance in the four humors. And then Vesalius came along and by stressing on the importance of dissecting cadavers, revolutionized how anatomy came to be understood and taught. But even then, our models for the human body were until recently plagued by ideas such as the concept that the seat of the soul lay in the pineal gland and some of the other stuff now popularly characterized as folk-medicine. In our models for disease causation, we’ve progressed over the years from looking at pure environmental factors to pure DNA factors and now to a multifactorial model that stresses on the idea that many diseases are caused by a mix of the two.

The Monty Hall paradox, about which I’ve written before is another good example. You’re presented with new information midway in the game and you use this new information to re-adjust the old model of reality that you had in your mind. The use of decision trees in genetic counseling, is yet another example. Given new information about a patient’s relatives and their genotype, your model for what is real and its accuracy improves. You become better at diagnosis with each bit of new information.

The phenomenon can often be found in how people understand Scripture too. Mathematician, Gary Miller has an interesting article that describes how some scholars examining the word Iram have gradually transformed their thinking based on new information gathered by archeological excavations.

So we see how abstractions play a fundamental role in our perceptions of reality.

One other peculiar thing to note is that sometimes, as we try to re-shape our abstractions to better congrue with any new information we get, there is the tendency to stick with the old as much as possible. A nick here or a nudge there is acceptable but at its heart we are usually loath to discard our old model entirely. There is a potential danger in this. Because it could be that we inherit flaws from our old model without even realizing it, thus constraining the new one in ways yet to be understood. Especially when we are unaware of what these flaws could be. A good example of abstractions feeding off of each other are the space-time fabric of relativity theory and the jitteriness of quantum mechanics. In our quest for a new model – a unified theory or abstraction – we are trying to mash these two abstractions together in curious ways, such that a serene space-time fabric exists when zoomed out, but when zoomed in we should expect to see it behave erratically with jitters all over the place. Our manner of dealing with such inertia when it comes to building new abstractions is basically to see if these mash-ups agree with experiments or observations much better than our old models. Which is an interesting way to go about doing things and could be something to think about.

Making Sense Of Reality Through The Looking Glass

Making Sense Of Reality Through The Looking Glass (via Jose @ Flickr, CC BY-SA-NC license)

Listening to Paul Nurse’s lecture I also learned how Mendel chose Pea plants for his studies on inheritance rather than other complicated vegetation because of the simplicity and clarity with which one could distinguish their phenotypes, making the experiment much easier to carry out. Depending on how one crossed them, one could trace the inheritance of traits – of color of fruit, height of plant, etc. very quickly and very accurately. It actually reminded me of something I learned a long time ago about the various kinds of data in statistics. That these data could be categorized into various types based on the amount of information they contain. The highest amount of information is seen in Ratio data. The lowest is seen in Nominal data. The implication of this is that the more your experiment or scientific study uses Ratio data rather than Nominal data, the more accurate will your inferences about reality be. The more information you throw out, the weaker will your model be. So we see that there is quite an important caveat when we build abstractions based on keeping it simple and stripping away intricacy. When we are stuck with having to use an ape thumb with a fine instrument. It’s primitive, but it often gets us ahead in understanding reality much faster. The cost we pay though, is that our abstraction congrues better with a simpler and more artificial version of the reality that we seek to understand. And reality usually is quite complex. So when we limit ourselves to examining a bunch of variables in say for example the clinical trial of a drug, and find that it has a treatment benefit, we can be a lot more certain that this would be the case in the real world too provided that we prescribe the drug to as similar a patient pool as in our experiment. Which rarely happens as you might have guessed! And that’s why you find so many cases of treatment failure and unpredictable disease outcomes. How the validity of an abstraction is influenced by the KISS principle is something to think about. Epidemiologists get sleepless nights when pondering over it sometimes. And a lot of time is spent in trying to eliminate selection bias (i.e. when errors of inference creep in because the pool of patients in the study doesn’t match to an acceptable degree, the kinds of patients doctors would interact with out in the real world). The goal is to make an abstraction agree with as much of reality as possible, but in doing so not to make it so far removed from the KISS principle that carrying out the experiment would be impractical or impossible. It’s such a delicate and fuzzy balance!

So again and again we find that abstractions define our experiences. Some people get so immersed and attached with their models of reality that they make them their lifeblood, refusing to move on. And some people actually wonder if life as we know it, is itself an abstraction :-D! I was struck by this when I came upon the idea of the Holographic principle in physics – that in reality we and our universe are bound by an enveloping surface and that our real existence is on this plane. That what we see, touch or smell in our common experience is simply a projection of what is actually happening on that surface. That these everyday experiences are essentially holograms :-D! Talk about getting wild, eh :-D?!

The thought that I ultimately came with at the end of my jog was that of maintaining humility in knowledge. For those of us in science, we find that it is very common for arrogance to creep in. When the fact is that there is so much about reality that we don’t know anything about and that our abstractions may never agree with it to full accuracy, ever! When pondered upon deeply this is a very profound and humbling thing to realize.

Even the arrogance in Newton melted away for a moment when he proclaimed:

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Isaac Newton in a letter to rival Robert Hooke

Here’s to Isaac Newton for that spark of humility, even if it was rather fleeting :-). I’m guessing there must have been times when he might have had stray thoughts of cursing at himself for having said that :-)! Oh well, that’s how they all are …

Copyright Firas MR. All Rights Reserved.

“A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Written by Firas MR

November 16, 2010 at 12:18 am

Seeking Profundity In The Mundane

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seeking a new vision

Seeking A New Vision (via Jared Rodriguez/Truthout CC BY-NC-SA license)

The astronomer, Carl Sagan once said:

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— in the Pale Blue Dot

And likewise Frank Borman, astronaut and Commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to fly around the Moon said:

When you’re finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?

Why is it I wonder, that we the human race, have the tendency to reach such profound truths only when placed in an extraordinary environment? Do we have to train and become astronomers or cosmonauts to appreciate our place in the universe? To find respect for and to cherish what we’ve been bestowed with? To care about each other, our environment and this place that we are loath to remember is the one home for all of life as we know it?

There is much to be learned by reflecting upon this idea. Our capacity to gain wisdom and feel impressed really does depend on the level to which our experiences deviate from the banal, doesn’t it? Ask what a grain of food means to somebody who has never had the luxury of a mediocre middle-class life. Ask a lost child what it must be like to have finally found his mother. Or question the rejoicing farmer who has just felt rain-drops on his cheeks, bringing hope after a painful drought.

I’m sure you can think of other examples that speak volumes about the way we, consciously or not, program ourselves to look at things.

The other day, I was just re-reading an old article about the work of biomathematician, Steven Strogatz. He mentioned how as a high-school student studying science, he was asked to drop down on his knees and measure the dimensions of floors, graph the time periods of pendulums and figure out the speed of sound from resonating air columns in hollow tubes partly filled with water, etc. Each time, the initial reaction was that of dreariness and insipidity. But he would then soon realize how these mundane experiments would in reality act as windows to profound discoveries – such as the idea that resonance is something without which atoms wouldn’t come together to form material objects or how a pendulum’s time period when graphed reflects a specific mathematical equation.

There he was – peering into the abstruse and finding elegance in the mundane. The phenomenon reminded me of a favorite quote:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

For that’s what Strogatz, like Sagan and Borman was essentially experiencing. A new vision about things. But with an important difference – he was doing it by looking at the ordinary. Not by gazing at extra-ordinary galaxies and stars through a telescope. Commonplace stuff, that when examined closely, suddenly was ordinary no more. Something that had just as much potential to change man’s perspective of himself and his place in the universe.

I think it’s important to realize this. The universe doesn’t just exist out there among the celestial bodies that lie beyond normal reach. It exists everywhere. Here; on this earth. Within yourself and your environment and much closer to home.

Perhaps, that’s why we’ve made much scientific progress by this kind of exploration. By looking at ordinary stuff using ordinary means. But with extra-ordinary vision. And successful scientists have proven again and again, the value of doing things this way.

The concept of hand-washing to prevent the spread of disease for instance, wasn’t born out of a sophisticated randomized-clinical trial. But by a mediocre accounting of mortality rates using a much less developed epidemiologic study. The obstetrician who stumbled upon this profound discovery, long before Pasteur later postulated the germ theory of disease, was called Ignaz Semmelweis, later to be known as the “savior of mothers”. His new vision led to the discovery of something so radical, that the medical community of his day rejected it and his results were never seriously looked at during his lifetime (So much for peer-review, eh?). The doctor struggled with this till his last breath, suffering at an insane asylum and ultimately dying at the young age of 47.

That smoking is tied with lung cancer was first conclusively learned by an important prospective cohort study that was largely done by mailing a series of questionnaires out to smoking and non-smoking physicians over a period of time, asking how they were doing. Yes, even questionnaires, when used intelligently, could be more than just unremarkable pieces of paper; they could be gateways that open our eyes to our magnificent universe!

From the polymath and physician, Copernicus’s seemingly pointless calculations on the positions of planets to the dreary routine of looking at microbial growth in petri-dishes by physician Koch, to physicist and polymath, Young‘s proposal of a working theory for color vision, to the physician, John Snow’s phenomenal work on preventing cholera by studying water wells long before the microbe was even identified, time and time again we have learned about the enormous implications of science on the cheap. And science of the mundane. There’s wisdom in applying the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle to science after all! Even in the more advanced technologically replete scientific studies.

More on the topic of finding extraordinary ideas in ordinary things, I was reminded recently of a couple of enchanting papers and lectures. One was about finding musical patterns in the sequence of our DNA. And the second was an old but interesting paper1 that proposes a radical model for the biology of the cell and that seeks to reconcile the paradoxes that we observe in biological experiments. That there could be some deep logical underpinning to the maxim, “biology is a science of exceptions”, is really quite an exciting idea:

Surprise is a sign of failed expectations. Expectations are always derived from some basic assumptions. Therefore, any surprising or paradoxical data challenges either the logical chain leading from assumptions to a failed expectation or the very assumptions on which failed expectations are based. When surprises are sporadic, it is more likely that a particular logical chain is faulty, rather than basic assumptions. However, when surprises and paradoxes in experimental data become systematic and overwhelming, and remain unresolved for decades despite intense research efforts, it is time to reconsider basic assumptions.

One of the basic assumptions that make proteomics data appear surprising is the conventional deterministic image of the cell. The cell is commonly perceived and traditionally presented in textbooks and research publications as a pre-defined molecular system organized and functioning in accord with the mechanisms and programs perfected by billions years of biological evolution, where every part has its role, structure, and localization, which are specified by the evolutionary design that researchers aim to crack by reverse engineering. When considered alone, surprising findings of proteomics studies are not, of course, convincing enough to challenge this image. What makes such a deterministic perception of the cell untenable today is the massive onslaught of paradoxical observations and surprising discoveries being generated with the help of advanced technologies in practically every specialized field of molecular and cell biology [1217].

One of the aims of this article is to show that, when reconsidered within an alternative framework of new basic assumptions, virtually all recent surprising discoveries as well as old unresolved paradoxes fit together neatly, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a new image of the cell–and of biological organization in general–that is drastically different from the conventional one. Magically, what appears as paradoxical and surprising within the old image becomes natural and expected within the new one. Conceptually, the transition from the old image of biological organization to a new one resembles a gestalt switch in visual perception, meaning that the vast majority of existing data is not challenged or discarded but rather reinterpreted and rearranged into an alternative systemic perception of reality.

— (CC BY license)

Inveigled yet 🙂 ? Well then, go ahead and give it a look!

And as mentioned earlier in the post, one could extend this concept of seeking out phenomenal truths in everyday things to many other fields. As a photography buff, I can tell you that ordinary and boring objects can really start to get interesting when viewed up close and magnified. A traveler who takes the time to immerse himself in the communities he’s exploring, much like Xuan Zang or Wilfred Thesiger or Ibn Battuta, suddenly finds that what is to be learned is vast and all the more enjoyable.

The potential to find and learn things with this new way to envision our universe can be truly revolutionary. If you’re good at it, it soon becomes hard to ever get bored!


  1. Kurakin, A. (2009). Scale-free flow of life: on the biology, economics, and physics of the cell. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, 6(1), 6. doi:10.1186/1742-4682-6-6

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Written by Firas MR

November 13, 2010 at 10:48 am

Contrasts In Nerdity & What We Gain By Interdisciplinary Thinking

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scientific fields and purity

Where Do You Fit In This Paradigm? (via xkcd CC BY-NC license)

I’ve always been struck by how nerds can act differently in different fields.

An art nerd is very different from a tech nerd. Whereas the former could go on and on about brush strokes, lighting patterns, mixtures of paint, which drawing belongs to which artist, etc. the latter can engage in ad-infinitum discussions about the architecture of the internet, how operating systems work, whose grip on Assembly is better, why their code works better, etc.

And what about math and physics nerds? They tend to show their feathers off by displaying their understanding of chaos theory, why imaginary numbers matter, and how we are all governed by “laws of nature”, etc.

How about physicians and med students? Well, like most biologists, they’ll compete with each other by showing off how much of anatomy, physiology or biochemistry or drug properties they can remember, who’s uptodate on the most recent clinical trial statistics (sort of like a fan of cricket/baseball statistics), and why their technique of proctoscopy is better than somebody else’s, the latest morbidity/mortality rates following a given procedure, etc.

And you could actually go on about nerds in other fields too – historians (who remembers what date or event), political analysts (who understands the Thai royal family better), farmers (who knows the latest in pesticides), etc.

Each type has its own traits, that reflect the predominant mindset (at the highest of intellectual levels) when it comes to approaching their respective subject matter. And nerds, being who they are, can tend to take it all to their heads and think they’ve found that place — of ultimate truth, peace and solace. That they are at last, “masters” of their subjects.

I’ve always found this phenomenon to be rather intriguing. Because in reality, things are rarely that simple – at least when it comes to “mastery”.

In medicine for instance, the nerdiest of most nerds out there will be proud and rather content with the vast statistics, nomenclature, and learn-by-rote information that he has finally been able to contain within his head. Agreed, being able to keep such information at the tip of one’s tongue is an achievement considering the bounds of average human memory. But what about the fact that he has no clue as to what fundamentally drives those statistics, why one drug works for a condition whereas another drug with the same properties (i.e. properties that medical science knows of) fails or has lower success rates, etc.? A physicist nerd would approach this matter as something that lies at the crux of an issue — so much so that he would get sleepless nights without being able to find some model or theory that explains it mathematically, in a way that seems logical. But a medical nerd? He’s very different. His geekiness just refuses to go there, because of the discomforting feeling that he has no idea whatsoever! More stats and names to rote please, thank you!

I think one of the biggest lessons we learn from the really great stalwarts in human history is that, they refused to let such stuff get to their heads. The constant struggle to find and maintain humility in knowledge was central to how they saw themselves.

… I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else, but I don’t have to know and answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

Richard Feynman speaking with Horizon, BBC (1981)

The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.

Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure – that it is possible to live and not know. But I don’t know everybody realizes that this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and very strong struggle. Permit us to question – to doubt, that’s all – not to be sure. And I think it is important that we do not forget the importance of this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.

What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman as told to Ralph Leighton

an interdisciplinary web of a universe

An Interdisciplinary Web of a Universe (via Clint Hamada @ Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA license)

Besides being an important aspect for high-school students to consider when deciding what career path to pursue, I think that these nerd-personality-traits also illustrate the role that interdisciplinary thinking can play in our lives and how it can add tremendous value in the way we think. The more one diversifies, the more his or her thinking expands — for the better, usually.

Just imagine a nerd who’s cool about art, physics, math or medicine, etc. — all put together, in varying degrees. What would his perspective of his subject matter and of himself be like? Would he make the ultimate translational research nerd? It’s not just the knowledge one could potentially piece together, but the mindset that one would begin to gradually develop. After all, we live in an enchanting web of a universe, where everything intersects everything!

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November 12, 2010 at 12:00 am

What’s New: Blog’s FriendFeed Alter Ego & Intrasite Tag Search Goodness

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My Dominant Hemisphere now has a FriendFeed! Follow along!

Hello everyone!

Just a couple of quick updates about the blog:

  1. Having just read some of Lorelle’s excellent advice on the use of Categories and Tags, I’ve decided to implement an intrasite tag search at the bottom of every post. Clicking on any of these tags will automatically return items from the blog that are tagged with these words.

    I’m using the following re-hashed bookmarklet (thanks to Lorelle and Rakesh) in order to put them in my posts: 

    javascript: ( function() { /* Technorati Tag Book Marklet 0.3 Created First By: Lorrell <> Later Modified By: Rakesh <> Last Modified by: Firas MR <> */ var a=''; var t=prompt('Enter Tags separated by commas',''); if(!t) return; var tr=t.split(','); a+='---<br /> <img src='+unescape('%22')+''+unescape('%22')+' align='+unescape('%22')+'left'+unescape('%22')+' />Copyright <a href='+unescape('%22')+''+unescape('%22')+' title='+unescape('%22')+'Copyright Firas MR. All Rights Reserved.'+unescape('%22')+'>Firas MR</a>. All Rights Reserved.<br /> <br /> <em>"A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam."</em><p><br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <hr /></p><p><code><font size="-1"><strong>Search Blog For Tags: </strong>'; for(var i=0;i<tr.length;i++) { tr[i]=tr[i].replace(/^\s+/,""); tr[i]=tr[i].replace(/\s+$/,""); var tag_text=tr[i]; tr[i]=tr[i].replace(/\s+/g,"-"); if(i > 0){ a+=', '; } a+='<a href='+unescape('%22')+''+tr[i]+unescape('%22')+' rel='+unescape('%22')+'tag'+unescape('%22')+'>'+tag_text+'</a>'; } a+='</font></code></p>'; prompt('Copy this html code, Press OK, Then Paste into your blog entry:',a); } )()
  2. I’ve cleaned up and organized the Post Categories into a hierarchy for easier navigation.
  3. The blog/website now has a detailed About page that’s worth checking out!
  4. I’ve also added a new favicon for the website.
  5. Also new is a Subscribe by Email link, the option to receive RSS via Feedburner, and a FriendFeed microblogging site with an accompanying widget that goes into the sidebar for shorter updates.

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November 11, 2010 at 7:14 am

कैसे हमारी भाषाएँ हमारी विचारधारा को शकल देती हैं | کیسے ہماری زبانیں ہماری سوچ و فکر کو شکل دیتی ہیں

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Group of early 20th century Ceylon Moors (via Wikipedia)

नमस्कार दोस्तो !

जैसा कि आप जान गए होंगे ये हिन्दी में मेरा पहला ब्लॉग पोस्ट है। मैं ये कोशिश कर रहा हूँ कि जितनी भी भाषाएँ मुझे आती हैं, इन सब का इस ब्लॉग पर इस्तेमाल किया करूँ।

कई दिन पहले मैं एक बढ़िया लैक्चर देख रहा था। जिसका विषय था Urdu Politics In Hyderabad State” अर्थात “उर्दू भाषा की राजनीति, हैदराबाद राज्य में। हैदराबाद राज्य से मतलब, उस वक़्त का जब वो निज़ाम सरकार द्वारा (लेकिन अंग्रेज़ो की निगरानी में) चलाया जाने वाला अलग मुल्क था।  निवेदन-कर्ता थीं कविता दतला और वो बता रही थीं कि किस तरह एक ज़माना हुआ करता था जब हिन्दी और उर्दू एक ही बोली हैं माने जाते थे। एक ऐसा ज़माना, जब ये समझा जाता था कि ये दोनों में फर्क केवल लिखने में ही है। किस तरह, जो लोग उर्दू जानते थे वो हिन्दी भी लिखना-पढ़ना समझते थे और उसी प्रकार जो लोग हिन्दी बोलते थे, वो उर्दू के भी माहिर थे। और कैसे जब अंग्रेजों ने दक्षिण एशिया के इस अनोखे उपमहाद्वीप पर कदम रखा, तो उनकी भी यही गणना थी, जो हम उस ज़माने की अंग्रेज़ी पुस्तकों में पा सकते हैं। कलकत्ता के “Royal Asiatic Society Of Calcutta” की पुस्तकालय में ऐसी कई पुस्तकें भरी पड़ी हैं। उर्दू और हिन्दी ऐसी जुड़ी हुई हैं, कि एक की परिपक्वता दूसरे की उन्नति पर निर्भर है।

आगे भाषण में ये भी सवाल आया, कि आख़िर ये दोनों भाषाएँ अपने इस अटूट और सुंदर रिश्ते से कब और कैसे मुंह मोड़ने लगीं? हाँ ये सच है कि आज भी चंद लोग होंगे जो इन दोनों के बीच ज़्यादा भेद-भाव नहीं करते और दोनों को उतना ही अपने व्यष्टित्व से जोड़ते हैं जो बड़ी ही उच्चपद वाली बात है। लेकिन आज अधिकतर लोग समझते हैं कि इन दोनों के बीच धार्मिक स्वभाव का अंतर है। और ऐसा जब कि इन दोनों के बीच धार्मिक अंतर पहले होता ही नहीं था। श्रीमति दतला इस इतिहास को खोजती हैं। कैसे भाषा से हम अपनी पहचान बनाते हैं, और किस प्रकार ये पहचान समय के साथ-साथ राजनैतिक कारणों से बदलती रहती है। और वो भी आम आदमी के बोध के बग़ैर।

भाषण में, विज्ञान की दुनिया में उर्दू को बढ़ोतरी देने वाली विश्वविद्यालयों और उन से जुड़े माननीय विधवानों के इतिहास पर, उर्दू तथा हिन्दी के बदलते रिश्तों और इन के द्वारा समाजी मनोवैज्ञानिकता पर असर, इन सब पर भी बहुत दिलचस्प बातें हुईं। कैसे लोगों के बीच फूट की कृत्रिम जड़ें पैदा हुईं, और इन के अंशतः कारण कैसे एक भव्य उपमहाद्वीप के लोगों को ऐसे लहू-लुहान बटवारे को सहना पड़ा, जो मानवीय इतिहास के सब से बड़े खून-खराबों में शामिल होता है।

मुझे इस लैक्चर की सब से दिलचस्प बात ये लगी, कि ये भाषा और उस के समाजी मनोवैज्ञानिकता तथा आत्मिक स्वभाव पर प्रभाव के ऊपर एक महत्वपूर्ण उपदेश देता है। एक ऐसा सबक जो सिखाता है मनुष्य के छोटेपन और उस के द्वारा उस के अंदर ऐसी मूर्खपूर्ण एवं भयानक संभावना को, जो कर सकती है मानव जाति को अपने ही हाथों नष्ट।

मेंने इस से पहले computer programming पर लिखा था। लेकिन आज के विषय से संबन्धित एक विचार तब सामने नहीं लाया था हालांकि वहाँ पर भी भाषा एवं मानसिक स्वभाव के तालमेल का भरपूर उदाहरण देखने को मिलता है। शायद अंदर ही अंदर ये सोचा था कि इस बारे में अगर अलग ही ब्लॉग पोस्ट हो तो बेहतर होगा। दरअसल जो व्यक्ति Python जैसी भाषा में programming करता है, उस की सोच और विचारधारा एक C भाषा में programming करने वाले से भिन्न होती है। मानो कि विचारधारा कि सीमाएं भाषा से बिलकुल जुड़ी होती हैं। जो व्यक्ति machine language में सोचता है, उसी को computer के अंदरूनी हिसाब-किताब का असली मानों में पता होता है, क्यूंकि वो computer जैसा सोचने लगता है। हमारी सोच किस कदम पर चलती है और कैसा रूप ढा लेती  है, ये ईस पर काफी कुछ निर्भर होता है कि हम किस भाषा में अपनी विचारधाराओं को सँवारते हैं।

उर्दू इतिहास से संबन्धित मेंने एक और बेहतरीन लैक्चर देखा, जो शहर दिल्ली के अनेक मान्यवर उर्दू विद्वानों के अन्योन्यदर्शनों से भरपूर है। लेखकों के साथ ये बातचीत, Delhi’s Mother Tongue: The Story Of Urdu” अर्थात “दिल्ली की मात्र-भाषा: उर्दू की कहानी, के नाम से उपलब्ध है। निर्देशक हैं, श्रीमान वरुण। इस भाषा के इतिहास का वर्णन करते हुए विद्वान ये कहते हैं, कि हिन्दी और उर्दू ऐतिहासिक रूप से एक ही बोल-चाल के ढंग हैं। उन का मानना है कि समय की लकीर पर उर्दू का जन्म हिन्दी से पहले हुआ, उस वक़्त जब सुल्तान बादशाहों का इस क्षेत्र की ओर आना हुआ। सुल्तानों की सेना को लोक भाषा, जो उस जमाने में ब्रज-भाषा थी, समझ नहीं आती थी। और वो चाहते थे (शायद सैन्य श्रेष्ठता के लिए) कि जनता के साथ ताल्लुक़ात पैदा करने के लिए एक ऐसी भाषा को जन्म दिया जाए जो खुद अपनी तुर्कीय भाषा के साथ साथ लोक-भाषा के मिलाव से एक अनोखा मिश्रण हो। और इस प्रकार उर्दू भाषा दुनिया में पहली बार आई। आरंभ में तो इस भाषा का ज़ोर बोल-चाल में आसानी पैदा करने पर ही था, और लिखाई-पढ़ाई बाद में आई। जब लिखाई-पढ़ाई आई, तब जा कर लोगों ने लिपि के अनेक रूप अपनाए जिन में से दो लिपियाँ वो हैं जिन को आजकल हम उर्दू लिपि और हिन्दी लिपि के नाम से पहचानते हैं। धीरे धीरे, दोनों भाषाओं की लोकप्रियता बढ़ते गयी, और एक भाषा की उन्नति से दूसरी भाषा पर भी प्रभाव पड़ता गया। हत्ता कि आज भी देखा जाए तो यही सिलसिला चलता जा रहा है!

लिपियों से एक और बात याद आई। क्या आप जानते हैं कि श्रीलंका में जो लोग “(Ceylon Moor)” “सीलोन मूर के नाम से अपनी पहचान बनाते हैं, उनहों ने एक जमाने में अरबी भाषा को अपनाया था? और मज़े की बात ये है कि बोल-चाल अरबी थी तो ज़रूर लेकिन लिपि होती थी तमिल में! यानि कि अरबी बोल को वो लोग तमिल लिपि में लिखा करते थे। समय के साथ साथ उन का अरबी से संबंध टूटता गया और वो अरबी को छोड़ कर पूरी तरह से तमिल बोली पर आ गए। है ना दिलचस्प बात!

आशा है कि आज का ये ब्लॉग पोस्ट आप सभी को अच्छा लगा होगा। आज के लिए इतना ही। मिलते हैं अगली बार!


کہانی اردو زبان کے پیدائش کی

(ایک ضروری بات: اس مضمون کو سہی روپ میں دیکھنے کے لئے آپ ناظرین کو یہ font ڈاونلوڈ کرکے اپنے سسٹم پر ڈالنا ہوگا . یہ ایسی font ہے جو خاص کمپیوٹر سکرین پر باآسانی پڑھنے کے لئے بنائی گئی ہے .)

آداب دوستو ،

جیسا کہ آپ جان گئے ہونگے یہ ہندی میں میرا پہلا بلوگ پوسٹ ہے . میں یہ کوشش کر رہا ہوں کی جتنی بھی زبانیں مجھے آتی ہیں ، ان سب کا اس بلوگ پر استعمال کیا کروں .

کئی دن پہلے میں ایک بڑھیا خطاب دیکھ رہا تھا . جس کا عنوان تھا Urdu Politics in Hyderabad State” یعنی کہ ” اردو زبان کی سیاست ، ریاست حیدراباد میں . ریاست حیدرآباد سے مطلب اس وقت کا جب وہ نظام کے زیر انتظام (لیکن انگریزوں کی نگرانی میں) الگ ملک ہوا کرتا تھا . خطیبہ تھیں محترمہ کویتا دتلا اور وہ بتا رہی تھیں کہ کس طرح ایک زمانہ ہوا کرتا تھا جب ہندی اور اردو ایک ہی بولی ہیں ، مانے جاتے تھے . ایک ایسا زمانہ ، جب یہ سمجھا جاتا تھا کہ یہ دونوں میں فرق صرف لکھنے میں ہی ہے . کس طرح ، جو لوگ اردو جانتے تھے وہ ہندی بھی لکھنا پڑھنا سمجھتے تھے اور اسی طرح جو لوگ ہندی بولتے تھے ، وہ اردو کے بھی ماہر تھے . اور کیسے جب انگریزوں نے جنوبی آسیہ کے اس انوکھے برصغیر پر قدم رکھا ، تو ان کا بھی یہی جائزہ تھا ، جو ہم اس زمانے کی انگریزی کتابوں میں پا سکتے ہیں . کلکتہ کے ” Royal Asiatic Society of Calcutta ” کے کتاب خانے میں ایسی کئی کتابیں بھری پڑی ہیں . اردو اور ہندی ایسی جڑی ہوئی ہیں کہ ایک کی برتری دوسرے کی ترقی پر منحصر ہے .

آگے خطاب میں یہ بھی سوال آیا ، کہ آخر یہ دونوں زبانیں اپنے اس اٹوٹ اور خوبصورت رشتے سے کب اور کیسے منہ موڑنے لگیں ؟ ہاں یہ سچ ہے کہ آج بھی چند لوگ ہونگے جو ان دونو کے بیچ زیادہ تفرق نہیں کرتے اور دونو کو اتنا ہی اپنی یکسانی سے جوڑتے ہیں ، جو بڑے اصالت والی بات ہے . لیکن آج بیشتر لوگ سمجھتے ہیں کہ ان دونوں کے بیچ مذہبی خصوصیات والا فرق ہے . اور ایسا جب کہ ان دونو کے درمیان مذہبی تفرق پہلے ہوتا ہی نہیں تھا . محترمہ دتلا اس تاریخ کو کھوجتی ہیں . کیسے زبان سے ہم اپنی پہچان بناتے ہیں ، اور کس طرح یہ پہچان وقت کے ساتھ ساتھ سیاسی اسباب سے بدلتی رہتی ہیں . اور وہ بھی عام آدمی کی آگاہی کے بغیر .

تقریر میں ، علمی دنیا میں اردو کو بڑھاوا دینے والی جامعیات اور ان سے جڑے نامور عالموں پر ، اردو اور ہندی کے بدلتے رشتوں اور ان کا اثر سماجی نفسیات ، ان سب پر بھی بہت دلچسپ باتیں ہوئیں . کیسے لوگوں کے بیچ پھوٹ کی مصنوعی جڑیں پیدا ہوئیں ، اور ان کے باعث (کچھ حد تک ہی سہی) کیسے ایک شاندار برصغیر کے لوگوں کو ایسے لہو-لہان بٹوارے کو سہنا پڑا ، جو انسانی تاریخ کے سب سے بڑے خون-خرابوں میں شامل ہوتا ہے .

مجھے اس تقریر کی سب سے دلچسپ بات یہ لگی ، کہ یہ زبان اور اس کے سماجی نفسیاتی حالات اور روح پر اثر کے اوپر ایک اہمترین سبق دیتا ہے . ایک ایسا سبق جو سکھاتا ہے آدمی کے چھوٹےپن اور اس کے ذریع اس کے اندر ایسی نکممی اور بھیانک قابلیت کو ، جو کر سکتی ہے آدم ذات کو اپنے ہی ہاتھوں تباہ .

میں نے اس سے پہلے computer programming پر لکھا تھا . لیکن آج کے موضوع سے متعلق ایک خیال تب سامنے نہیں لایا تھا ، حالانکہ وہاں پر بھی زبان اور نفسیاتی طبعیت کے تال میل کی بھرپور مثال دیکھنے کو ملتی ہے . شاید اندر ہی اندر یہ سوچا تھا کہ اس بارے میں اگر الگ ہی بلوگ پوسٹ ہو تو بہتر ہوگا . دراصل جو آدمی Python جیسی زبان میں programming کرتا ہے ، اس کی سوچ کا رخ و شکل ایک C زبان میں programming کرنے والے سے الگ ہوتا ہے . گویا کہ خیالات کے رخ کی سرحدیں ، زبان سے بلکل جڑی ہوتی ہیں . جو آدمی machine language میں سوچتا ہے ، اسی کو computer کے اندرونی حساب-کتاب کا اصلی معنوں میں پتا ہوتا ہے ، کیوں کہ وہ computer جیسا سوچنے لگتا ہے . ہماری سوچ کس قدم پر چلتی ہے اور کیسا روپ ڈھا لیتی ہے ، یہ اس پر کافی کچھ منحصر ہوتا ہے کہ ہم کس زبان میں اپنے خیالات کو سنوارتے ہیں .

اردو تاریخ سے متعلق میں نے ایک اور بہترین تقریر دیکھی ، جو شہر دلّی کے مختلف نامور اردو ادبیات کے ماہرین کے انٹرویو سے بھرپور ہے . ماہرین کے ساتھ یہ گفتگو ، Delhi’s Mother Tongue: The Story of Urdu” یعنی کہ ” دلّی کی مادری زبان : اردو کی کہانی ، کے نام سے ملے گی . منتظم ہیں جناب ورن . اس زبان کی تاریخ کی وضاحت کرتے ہوے ماہرین یہ کہتے ہیں ، کہ ہندی اور اردو تاریخی روپ سے ایک ہی بول-چال کے ڈھنگ ہیں . ان کا ماننا ہے کہ وقت کی لکیر پر اردو کی پیدائش ہندی سے پہلے ہوئی ، اس وقت جب سلطان بادشاہوں کا اس خطّے کی طرف آنا ہوا . سلطانوں کی فوج کو عوام کی زبان ، جو اس زمانے میں برج-بھاشا تھی ، سمجھ نہیں آتی تھی . اور وہ چاہتے تھے (شاید دفاعی حکمت عملی کے لئے) کہ عوام کے ساتھ تعلّقات پیدا کرنے کے لئے ایک ایسی زبان کو ایجاد کیا جاۓ جو خود اپنی ترکی زبان کے ساتھ ساتھ عام بولی کے ملاؤ سے ایک انوکھا مرکب ہو . اور اس طرح اردو زبان دنیا میں پہلی بار آئی . شروعات میں تو اس زبان کا زور بول-چال میں آسانی پیدا کرنے پر ہی تھا ، اور لکھائی-پڑھائی بعد میں آئی . جب لکھائی-پڑھائی آئی ، تب جا کر لوگوں نے دستاویز و خط کے مختلف روپ اپناۓ جن میں سے دو دستاویز وہ ہیں جن کو ہم آج کل اردو خط اور ہندی خط کے نام سے پہچانتے ہیں . دھیرے دھیرے ، دونوں زبانوں کی مقبولیت بڈتے گئی ، اور ایک زبان کی ترقی سے دوسری زبان پر بھی اثر پڑتا گیا . حتیٰ کہ آج بھی دیکھا جاۓ تو یہی سلسلہ چلتا جا رہا ہے !

دستاویزوں سے ایک اور بات یاد آئی . کیا آپ جانتے ہیں کہ سریلنکا میں جو لوگ “(Ceylon Moor)” “سیلون مور کے نام سے اپنی پہچان بناتے ہیں ، انہوں نے ایک زمانے میں عربی زبان کو اختیار کیا تھا ؟ اور مزے کی بات یہ ہے کہ بول چال تو عربی تھی تو ضرور لیکن خط و دستاویز تھا تامل میں ! یعنی کہ عربی بول کو وہ لوگ تامل دستاویز میں لکھا کرتے تھے . وقت کے ساتھ ساتھ ان کا عربی سے رابطہ ٹوٹتا گیا اور وہ عربی کو چھوڈ کر پوری طرح سے تامل بولی پر آ گئے .  ہے نہ دلچسپ بات !

امید ہے کہ آج کا یہ بلوگ پوسٹ آپ سبھی کو اچّھا لگا ہوگا . آج کے لئے اتنا ہی . ملتے ہیں اگلی بار !

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Written by Firas MR

November 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm