Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Prehistoric migrations into South Asia

A new paper here, its abstract, and commentary from Rudradev on BRF:
A diffusion based study of population dynamics: Prehistoric migrations into South Asia
Mayank N. Vahia, Nisha Yadav, Uma Ladiwala, Deepak Mathur
Published: May 11, 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hard evidence on the emergence of patriarchy?

The May 2017 issue of the Scientific American has a story "Of Meat and Men: Ancient Bones may hold clues to the origin of male domination in society".  Following the breadcrumbs leads to this:

"Shifting diets and the rise of male-biased inequality on the Central Plains of China during Eastern Zhou"

Farming domesticated millets, tending pigs, and hunting constituted the core of human subsistence strategies during Neolithic Yangshao (5000–2900 BC). Introduction of wheat and barley as well as the addition of domesticated herbivores during the Late Neolithic (∼2600–1900 BC) led to restructuring of ancient Chinese subsistence strategies. This study documents a dietary shift from indigenous millets to the newly introduced cereals in northcentral China during the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–221 BC) based on stable isotope analysis of human and animal bone samples. Our results show that this change affected females to a greater degree than males. We find that consumption of the newly introduced cereals was associated with less consumption of animal products and a higher rate of skeletal stress markers among females. We hypothesized that the observed separation of dietary signatures between males and females marks the rise of male-biased inequality in early China. We test this hypothesis by comparing Eastern Zhou human skeletal data with those from Neolithic Yangshao archaeological contexts. We find no evidence of male–female inequality in early farming communities. The presence of male-biased inequality in Eastern Zhou society is supported by increased body height difference between the sexes as well as the greater wealth of male burials.
Or, in the words of the Scientific American:
"The bone chemistry indicates that male and female diets were similar during the Neolithic period, which started about 10,000 years ago and in which agriculture began. Both sexes ate meat and grains. "During early farming, females contributed a lot to food production. [Men and women] ate the same things, and they're of more or less equal standing,"  says Kate Pechenkina, an archaeologist at Queens College, City University of New York, and senior author on the paper.

"The menu shift began at the end of the Neolithic and continued through the Bronze Age, often estimated to have begun in China around 1700 BC.  People there increasingly planted wheat, which leaves a carbon signature distinct from that of the millet they had already been growing.  The osteoanalysis shows that between 771 and 221 BC men continued eating millet and meat—but the latter disappeared from women's diets and was replaced with wheat.   Women's bones also began showing cribra orbitalia, a type of osteoporosis and an indicator of childhood malnutrition. "It means already from early childhood, young girls are treated poorly," Pechenkina says.
Very interesting work.  The one thing that bothers me is the compression of the time scale in the commentary.  1900 BC is the most late date for the introduction of wheat; 1700 BC is the date for the beginning of the Bronze Age in China; and the diet shift for women occurred almost a thousand years later.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Yuval Noah Harari has an article at Bloomberg: Humankind: The Post-Truth Species.  He indulges in an Abrahamic-religion centrism when he writes:
"We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively."
The wars in the great epics - the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and I think in the Illiad, are all among people who "believe in the same fictions".

In The Heathen in His Blindness, Balu points out:

The Roman empire was made up of about 1200 city units, plus a considerable number of ethnic groupings which we label `tribes’ and/or ‘client kingdoms’.The divine forces worshipped in each of these units might be seen as similar, analogous, or parallel; one obvious example is the Juno, the cohesive force which gives life to any social unit, whether a family or a city-state. The Romans worshipped not only the Juno who had once belonged to their own kings – Juno Regina – but also the Junones of other states whom the Romans had invited to abandon their original communities and settle at Rome...These Junones were parallel, but not identical, in the same way as the many Jupiters and Zeuses worshipped throughout the empire were parallel but not identical. Each cult honoured its own god. (Wiedemann 1990: 69.)

( Menucius Felix, a Christian writer from around 210 C.E., has Caecilius – the pagan protagonist in The Octavius - )

[The Romans adore all divinities]...in the city of an enemy, when taken while still in the fury of victory, they venerate the conquered deities...in all directions they seek for the gods of the strangers, and make them their own...they build altars even to unknown deities...Thus, in that they acknowledge the sacred institutions of all nations, they have also deserved their dominion. (The Octavius, in Roberts and Donaldson, Eds., n.d.,Vol. IV: 177.)
Indian cultural unity and that thing called "Hinduism" arises similarly.

It is the Abrahamic religions that have made myths into truth-claims - supposedly objective statements about reality - and have slaughtered millions and destroyed entire cultures.  And Harari turns these Abrahamism into those of all of humanity. 

Data Recovery from Network Attached Storage

I found this page on data recovery from Network Attached Storage to be useful, but it wasn't at the top of my search results, so adding a link to it.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Vegetarian Neanderthals and what that implies

Per NPR studies of the dental calculus (hardened plaque, tartar) from three Neanderthal specimens showed that the individual from a cave in Spy, Belgium was largely carnivorous; while two individuals from El Sidrón cave in Spain were vegetarian.

Laura Weyrich, the lead on this study is quoted as follows:
She says the difference in diets reflects the fact that the two groups lived in two very different environments.
Northern Europe, including Belgium, had wide open spaces with grasslands and many mammals. "It would have been very grassy, and kind of mountainous," says Weyrich. "You can imagine a big woolly rhino wandering through the grass there." Perhaps tracked by hungry Neanderthals looking for dinner.

But farther south in Spain, the Neanderthals lived in dense forests. "It's hard to imagine a big woolly rhino trying to wedge themselves between the trees," says Weyrich. And so, she says the Neanderthals there feasted on all kinds of plants and mushrooms. "They're very opportunistic, trying to find anything that's edible in their environment."
We are told by supposedly respectable historians that want to write a grand narrative for the human race that the human body has evolved handle a particular diet.  The very fact that humans adapted to environments from the frigid north where little green grows, to the equatorial regions, or at least environments as varied as ancient Belgian grasslands and dense Spanish forests indicates that humans were not evolved to handle any particular diet.   (Don't quibble that this study is about Neanderthals, not homo sapiens sapiens; our non-Neanderthal ancestors were more successful than the Neanderthal line, and so likely were even more adaptable than the Neanderthals.)

What is amazing is that people with a supposedly scientific temper swallow this historian nonsense with little to no skepticism.   Since I don't think we evolved to credulously believe historians, I'm not sure what is the basis for this lack of skepticism.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How far behind China is India?

Using the United Nations Human Development Index 2016 and associated data (available here), one can construct the following table, showing India's 2015 value and the years bracketing the period when China crossed that value.  So, for example, both China and India have young but  aging populations; India's median age of population in 2015 was 26.6 years; China had that value sometime between 1990-1995 (the data is given at five year intervals).

Human Development Index (HDI) is yearly, and so one can say that India's 2015 value of 0.624 was crossed by China sometime between 2003 and 2004.

One can see that India, per capita income-wise is about 10 years behind China, but in HDI is 13-14 years behind.  In some health and education indicators India is 25 years behind China.  By these measures, India is not getting increases in human welfare commensurate with its increasing income.

Index India 2015 When China
Human Development Index (HDI) 0.624 2003-2004
Demography-Median Age (years) 26.6 1990-1995
Education-Adult Literacy Rate (% ages 15 and older) 72.10% before 1990
Education-Expected years of schooling (years) 11.7 2006-2007
Education-Mean years of schooling (years) 6.3 1999
Education-Population with at least some secondary education (% ages 25 and older) 48.7 1995-2000
Health-Infant Mortality rate (per 1000 live births) 37.9 1990-1995
Health-Life expectancy at birth (years) 68.3 before 1990
Health-Under-five mortality rate (per 1000 live births) 47.7 1990-1995
Gross Domestic Product per capita (2011 PPP $) 5730.1 2000-2005
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $) 5663.5 2005-2006

A commenter asked for the trajectories, two are shown here:

Human Development Index 1990-2015 (light blue: China, dark: India)

Human Development Index 1990-2015: China and India
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $) 1990-2015 (light blue: China, dark: India)
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

What is Itihasa?

In 2014, Professor S.N. Balagangadhara (Balu) gave a talk to the Indian Council of Historical Research, "What do Indians Need, A History or the Past? A challenge or two to Indian historians"; and in the accompanying paper, one can find an explanation of what Itihasa is.

That paper is long, and also might be a little difficult for some, so here are the excerpts of what I consider to be the main points.  I assume that the reader of this blog is interested in the answer, and not in the exploration and arguments that lead to the result.  For such details, follow the link.

We have to start with adhyatma, which for various reasons, Balu leaves undefined in his paper, but we take adhyatma to be combination of two words अध्ययन and आत्मा, i.e. अध्ययन of आत्मा. I will leave आत्मा - Atma - undefined and untranslated.  The danger of using an English word is that unwanted connotations of words sneak in, and to even try to remove these takes a long essay. The danger in what I've done is that it creates a possibility of misunderstanding adhyatma.

Now follows edited excerpts:
‘Itihasa’, a compound Sanskrit word, is normally split as iti+ha+aasa. It is also translated as ‘so-it-happened’ or ‘thus-it-verily happened’. From such translations, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that ‘Itihasa’,as a word, picks out literature that chronicles the past or that it is history of the ‘bygone era’.

The facts: the Chandogya Upanishad speaks about itihasa as the fifth Veda, placing it next to the four Vedas; Shankaracharya mentions that recitations of itihasa was part of certain major rituals; the classical Indian poetics lay down the rule that Mahaakaavyas and Naatakas (drama) draw on itihasa to work out their themes; to this day, performing arts in parts of India (Talamaddale, Yakshagana, etc.) follow this rule... And so on.

Let us begin with the translation of the word: let us accept the conventional translation of itihasa as ‘thus it happened’. Now the question is this: what is being picked out by the referential word ‘thus’ or ‘iti’?

If you look at, say, the Mahabharata as a standalone text and make use of the western conventions of telling a story, the conclusion is obvious: ‘thus’ picks out a story that is yet to be narrated. Under these conditions, that the Mahabharata is considered as ‘Itihasa’ and that this word picks out the story narrated in the text become obvious.

However, Sanskrit is not English and India is a culture that is different from the West. ‘Iti’ in Sanskrit is a meta-linguistic word that picks out what has already been linguistically spoken. When we call the Mahabharata an itihasa text, we are actually saying that it refers back to something else that has been already said and that its discourse is at a meta-level regarding what has already been said at an object-level.
When compounded by other words (ahaasa) or by a name, the word also identifies what
follows. The stories of Mahabharata are called itihasa because the iti prefix refers also to something other than the story. Iti does not refer to the conclusion or the moral purport of the story. Iti is at the beginning of the story; the story merely illustrates what has preceded it. Therefore, unless we figure out what this ‘iti’ is, we cannot understand the itihasa tradition. Here is my hypothesis: Adhyatma is the only possible reference of iti. That means itihasa is a story that illustrates Adhyatma or imparts Adhyatma through an elucidation. That is why it has such an exalted place in the Indian intellectual traditions and not because Indians are narcissists, who revel in repeating constantly their own histories to themselves.
So how did "itihasa" become "history"?
When people from other cultures came to India and studied her culture, they brought together some native cultural elements and categories in a different way. They split things apart, as it suited their way of describing the world, which are united in India. They could not understand that Mahabharata and Itihasa had to be situated in a particular context, namely the Adhyatmic context. Itihasa was compared with a genre familiar to the Western culture; they could be seen as mythologies or histories. As a result, Itihasa became ‘history’; the whole of Mahabharata and Ramayana stood for the ancient Indian historiographical traditions.

‘Absurd and fantastic’ stories of the itihasa traditions led them to search for a factual/historical core of these traditions. These efforts also strengthened the Western notions of a heathen India, which was described using different frameworks: the theological, the empirical, the philological, the romantic, and so on. Western scholarship has tried to come to grips with Itihasa as literature, religious text, history, so on, but none of these fits Mahabharata.

As a result, Adhyatma was split apart from itihasa: one was the domain of religion and another became the domain of history. Educated Indians inherited such discourses. Thus, Itihasa stopped making sense to the western educated Indians, who were informed only by the Western interpretations. They see Mahabharata as an epic written by someone called Vyasa, or by multiple authors over millennia, with interpolations and interpretations by different Brahmin groups with vested interests. It thus acquires a loose structure of katha (story) and upakathas(sub-stories) knitted together to oppress the ‘Dalits’ in India. This book, however, is anything but empirical history. No one has attempted to explain the function of this book in a culture that produced it, except in terms of intellectual weakness that produces fantastic stories
guided by the malefic desire to oppress the ‘Dalits’. At best, it exhibits the naïve historical consciousness of Indians, or functions as a source for the reconstruction of life and thought of ancient Indians, or providing ideals and morals for our life. As far as the latter is concerned, no one has been able to provide a coherent picture of the morals of this book as a whole. At worst, it embodies Brahminical conspiracy.
Reminder: adhyatmic stories are **not** moral stories. A moral story tries to inculcate moral behavior; adhyatmic stories are meant as an aid to adhyatma.
To proceed fruitfully, we have to begin with the fact that itihasa tradition survives in multiple forms among Indians. Mahabharata, in whatever form it exists today, is itihasa because it is structured for a particular purpose. It prepares the ground carefully and knits the stories and upakhyanas (discourses) systematically together into a structure. The stories become itihasa when they find place within this structure.

Mahabharata, as it is today,is a product of the creativity of itihasa tradition over millennia. Creativity has to work under certain cognitive and epistemological conditions, if it has to be productive. Otherwise, creativity does not distinguish itself from delusional expressions, whether oral or written.

Mahabharata works under constraints laid down by Adhyatmic reflections. It works within that structure. That is why it is creative. People just did not add new stories randomly. If Indians did that, why did they not interpolate pornographic pieces, or any such irrelevant parts into Mahabharata? Of course, Mahabharata had enormous scope for pornography... That must be because pornography obviously violated some cognitive condition that Mahabharata was working with....Adhyatma is not concerned with a description of the empirical world of existence. That is why Pornography is irrelevant to Mahabharata.

One could ask whether or not the {Kurukshetra} war is empirical. The answer is simple: Mahabharata does not describe war {i.e., is not a factual history of the war} but merely identifies it as a reference point for what requires saying.

Why illustrate adhyatma through a story unless adhyatma is deeply intertwined with these stories? Each must be supporting the other. The stories must embody adhyatma. Adhyatma is not a moral of the story that comes at the end. Adhyatma comes before, not after the stories. What is the story then? Story is an illustration. That is why itihasa is ‘Thus it happened’ or, even, ‘thus it is imparted generationally’.
If the above is understood, this next drives the point home:

Talamaddale, a performing art, does precisely this. How can people listen to intellectual discourses for hours and be fascinated by it when it takes the form of performing arts? Mahabharata is simply a background for this performance; as a story, it hardly plays a role. It simply sets the context to a learning process. If such is the case, itihasa has nothing to do with a past event, either in the sense of ‘past’ as a time period or as a temporal domain separated from the present. It has no references to the facts of the past and plays no function in preserving the memories about past events. The reference is to something else. It is a learning process through stories about adhyatma.

If one sees this, one will realize the unity that itihasa and adhyatma are. The scholarship of the last four hundred years has pulled them apart to make this division a fact of thecommonsense today. There appears to be no connection between the Mahabharata and what Shankarahas written, say Brahmasutrabhashya. One appears as philosophy and the other as kavya (poetry) or as a story or as an expression of our primitive sense of history.

How does Itihasa help adhyatmic learning? What the Mahabharata does is to put the latter in
the form of a story. Instead of developing a theory, it puts that in the form of a story. So you must know how to read (and listen and see) this story, you must know how to understand the story. You must know how to practice the story. And you must know how to perform the story. When you are following a story of Mahabharata, watching a talamaddale or yakshagana performance, you are actually thinking. Talamaddale teaches you how to think. It does that by transforming adhyatma into anubhava (translated as ‘experience’ in English)

For extra credit, this:
Consider this: it is only through and in Samsara (Worldly life) that we can hope to achieve moksha (liberation). If we are not in worldly life, we cannot achieve liberation. Each of us, in worldly life, is afflicted by avidya (ignorance) and only though this ignorance (i.e. realizing that we are afflicted by ignorance is how we arrive at knowledge) can we hope to reach vidya (knowledge); only through this world, which is asat, (the Unreal), can we reach Sat(the Real). Therefore, there is no break or opposition between these realms; one is needed to reach the other, i.e., only through the one can we reach the other.

Mahabharata clothes Adhyatmic truth as conventional truth. It is through the conventions of the daily life that you get access to Adhyatma. In fact, the latter is realizable only in worldly life. That is what these stories do: help reach the adhyatma through convention. The whole of Mahabharata is only about our lives but it is telling us about adhyatma and is a passage way.
Unlike the discourse of history, which makes the past completely external to a human being, Indian stories can be taken up by any individual from any context and can use them to reflect upon their own lives and experiences. Any context can be transformed into any other context. One uses talamaddale to shed light upon anything human, be it power, money, status, etc. It is thus that these stories become the story of the person using it. However, as I have said repeatedly, to go to Adhyatma we need to go through the worldly life.
What happened is that when Westerners started studying Mahabharata or Ramayana, they recast the story of these epics by putting them in the genre of traditional historical account. In that process, they severed these from their adhyatmic context or content. These stories are basically crafted to illustrate the adhyatmic truths. The adhyatmic content of the epics was severed and cut off from these stories and put in the category of religion; therefore even Adhyatma ceased making sense. The traditional Indians related with the Itihasa tradition that these epics basically are through a unifying experience of these two. However, the educated Indians ceased making sense of either of the two, therefore lost their memory of how to relate with itihasa.

To the ‘modern’ mind, Adhyatmic Gurus became the ‘god-men’ of India, figures of ridicule or leaders of ‘cults’ or ‘sects’. The only possible intellectual engagement they could now have to these texts is to either fight for establishing the historicity of these epics or relegate them to the status of myths or strive for some convenient hybrid of the two {which is the dilemma we encountered yesterday}.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The BJP election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh

The new BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, is a polarizing figure, with many inflammatory statements directed at Muslims in his account.  He has had various charges to face including attempted murder, and rioting. He is also a 5-time member of Parliament. It is true that to survive in Uttar Pradesh politics, which over the past forty years has become utterly lawless, one has to be something of a thug, and many politicians there have a similar record. The BJP promises to start to  change all that.  It remains to be seen whether with the reins of power in his hands, Yogi Adityanath can indeed be the Chief Minister of all people without partiality to caste or religion.  If you want to worry, there are plenty of good reasons to worry.

Uttar Pradesh is a huge electoral prize, and success in improving the situation there could secure Prime Minister Modi his second term in office in the 2019 elections.  But more relevant to me than the fate of specific politicians is the fate of India's 1.3 billion people, of which Uttar Pradesh holds 200 million. 

If Uttar Pradesh improves its development performance India can really soar. If Uttar Pradesh continues on its current trajectory, the PM Modi development project for India will likely take a big hit; and so will the Prime Minister's political standing; and since PM Modi campaigned on development rather than dynasty, religion or caste, other Indian politicians will learn a very wrong lesson. 

The BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh was largely about development, but there were enough "dog whistles" that it wasn't completely so.  The situation that the BJP finds itself in now is nicely depicted  by cartoonist Manoj Kureel: on a tight-rope, balancing development and Hindutva, while their political opponents and media personalities feel the burn and fume.

Anyway, in case you wanted to know, here's a rough translation of the BJP manifesto for the UP 2017 elections.  The main list is numbered because folks want to keep track of whether the promises of the manifesto are kept.  Do note that the 32 page document is a five year program for a state of 200 million, one of the poorest states in India.