Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes

“You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question : what else have I done wrong?” That is the disturbing thought I was left with on the penultimate page of the book. But it wasn’t always that way, you know.
Tony Webster is the narrator of his own life’s story. In the first part, which is about one third of the book, he sets up the context and the characters. There is a deceiving flippancy and brevity about this section of the book, and Tony does seem very capable of being true and objective about his own life. It’s only towards the end of it that one got even a whiff of a suspicion that something different lay ahead.

In the second section, the ‘peacable’ life that Tony desired (or did he?) is his. Even as he celebrates the ordinariness, we do get the other side by his own admission – “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and succeeded – and how pitiful that was” and “We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.” But it is when he gets the bequest from someone he met 40 yeas ago, and exactly once, that the story really unravels into a “what is really happening here?” mode. More

Empathy with AI

I have increasingly felt that our ability to find common ground is rapidly diminishing. This has a cyclical relationship with empathy and therefore our ability to empathise would reduce too. Since a big pillar of our species is cooperation, there is a good chance that the loss of empathy would lead to extinction. This is essentially what I wrote in Empathy & Extinction. “The death of nuance and the rise of binary.”

That’s why I was intrigued by How AI will teach us how to more empathy. While it did make a compelling argument, I was skeptical because to me, the very idea of empathy is because we took the effort to think about the other person. Despite data and information about ourselves and others that will be fed into AI, would it really be able to sense and help us see the other person’s point of view? More

Brewklyn

In the recent past, whenever we look at “newly opened places” on Zomato, Kalyan Nagar is quite the dominant player. While I am yet to ascertain the exact difference in coordinates between that place and Kammanahalli, given that we’re in Bangalore, it’s probably just a difference on what side of the road one is on! Kammanahalli was mostly nothing when we used to stay in Cox Town a decade ago, but soon after we shifted back to Koramangala, the place started sprouting restaurants and that too varied cuisines! We still hold that grudge and that, plus the thought of having to cross Tin Factory, have kept us away from this part of the town. All we did was look at it guardedly on our way to the airport and back. It was the microbrewery that changed the equation.

And thus we headed to Brewklyn fairly early on a Saturday evening to beat the traffic. (map) I really liked the area – seems well planned, and in the context of eateries very well sorted! The same building has a Barbeque Nation, and across the road, we could see Korean, Chettinad and steak cuisines! Brewklyn is on the 4th and 5th floors, and since we found a nice road-facing spot on the former, we didn’t bother going upstairs until after we finished our meal. On a relative note, I found the ambiance downstairs a little more gastropub (despite the graffiti and the pool table) and the upstairs section more like a brewery. Downstairs, you could seat yourselves on some plush seating inside or like us, watch the skyline on bar stools outside. The view was fantastic, especially so since we reached around dusk.

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When Breath becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi
If we go by Montaigne, Cicero had written that “to study philosophy is to learn to die.” If I go by Paul Kalanithi’s work, it is when you confront mortality that you discover your own philosophy. I have never read death this close, and I am finding it difficult to get words that would accurately describe my reaction to it, so I will restrict myself to the streams of narratives I followed in this book.
The first has less to do with Paul, and more to do with his trade. In his case, it isn’t a trade, it is a calling. However, this book has also given me perspectives which ensure that I would not judge those doctors who consider it a profession, and nothing more. Just to be clear, I am not referring to the monsters which the modern hospital corporations are, but the individual doctors who might appear callous or unfeeling in their interactions with us. Through his description of what the typical doctor goes through when he chooses the profession, Paul shows that doctors are humans too. Maybe we forget that, when we expect empathy and understanding. I can only barely begin to understand now what it means to have the responsibility of a life in your hands. A mistake is not about targets not being achieved or losing a job, a mistake is a life lost, or even worse. How can a person deal with that on a regular basis? And yes, some people can’t!