Winter arrives in the morning. Summer begins in the afternoon. The forests of Jharkhand are a riot of colour as the warmth of February touches leaves, turning green to rust. They sparkle in a last flutter before floating gently to earth to curl up and die. Basant is in the air. The mahua fruit is at its heady moment. Saplings surge up in scattered singles. The national highway through the forest is an avenue from heaven, descending abruptly to earth when we reach the clumsiness of open space. Trees are green and gold, bursting with new life on one side, dispensing with the old on the other. As my good friend James Bond used to say, you only live twice, once when you are born and once when you die. Nature chooses the same moment for both.
A year is a long time in the life of a leaf; less so in the chronicle of an iconic multinational. Twitter, last year’s miracle, is this year’s prodigal. It flourished because it discovered a sweet spot in mass communication; but its propensity for crowd-mongering has converted a frisky playground into a venomous hate-fest, releasing poisons eating away the idea. “Loathies” have taken over.
Crowds acquire identities. In the long twilight of the 20th century, we witnessed the rise of luvvies, untethered clans driven by a consuming desire for self-promotion. The lefties were more stable, for they had better purpose, but withered when their arguments degenerated into advocacy of violence or, perhaps worse, stupidity.
The loonies aroused more curiosity than angst as they smoked their way into outer space and eventually disappeared into the unknown.
The growth area in the age of Twitter, sadly, has been among “loathies”: Unhinged groups that exist mainly to loathe someone or something, often propelled by false morality. Twitter has become a high street lined with too many hate shops on either side, effectively crowding out those with a more positive message to convey. It lacks the one basic requirement of all communication: Editing, to sift sense from nonsense, criticism from abuse, conversation from hysteria. Here’s an idea: Why not appoint programmed robots as Twitter editors? A book I have just finished tells me this is possible.
It is entirely appropriate that The Future of the Mind should be a bit mind-blowing. Check: “…your cell phone today has
more computer power than all of Nasa when it put two men on the moon in 1969”. Before 2020, claim IBM scientists, we will be able to communicate mentally with our computers: Think, and the screen shall respond. Farewell, mouse, your hour in history hath come and gone. You could also store your memory on the web, if not in five then in 10 years. Telepathy happens, so also get ready for telepathy helmets as Diwali gifts.
Robots are going to be emotional and ethical in addition to being super intelligent. That should make them good editors for Twitter. But the bit that I enjoyed most was this: Hyper-religiosity is linked to epilepsy. An American scientist of Indian origin, V.S. Ramachandran, says that 30 to 40 per cent of all temporal lobe epileptics whom he has treated suffer from this condition.
In case you think the book is written by a quack, the author is Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York.
An amusing question that struck while musing on the open road: Why is there no muse for reading? The nine Greek goddesses known as the muses inspire poetry, history, drama, music, hymns, dance and astronomy. Why is reading, the only art form that gives meaning to art, and focus to a wandering mind, denied its place in the firmament?
Story of the year: The Cat who Came in From the Cold. An Iraqi family fleeing IS-controlled Mosul would not leave without their beloved cat, a white Persian. At Lesbos, in Greece, their cat disappeared in the melee of anxious refugees jumping ashore. The Iraqis eventually found a refugee home in a Scandinavian nation. Months later, they saw, on the internet, a picture of a lost cat. Their cat had followed their track for an astounding 2,000 kilometres, up to north Germany, where it was given a temporary home by a German family. The joy of reunion, tears in human eyes and palpable relief on the cat’s face, was a sight to behold on BBC television. Nothing will beat this story in the nine months left of 2016.