Thursday, October 6, 2011
It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.
You could also say that it's a book about intuition, except that I don't like that word. In fact it never appears in "Blink." Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings--thoughts and impressions that don't seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It'sthinking--its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with "thinking." In "Blink" I'm trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?
Researchers at the University of Arkansas are studying a new field of fossilized dinosaur tracks, including one set that appears to be from a large three-toed predator, the university said on Wednesday.
The tracks were found on private land in southwest Arkansas and provide a window into the life forms that roamed the area as long as 120 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period.
“The quality of the tracks and the length of the track ways make this an important site,” said Stephen K. Boss, who led the project.
The research effort is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Based on the rock in which the footprints were found, researchers have a good idea of what the climate would have been like, Boss said.
“Picture an environment much like that of the shores of the Persian Gulf today. The air temperature was hot. The water was shallow and very salty,” Boss said. “It was a harsh environment. We’re not sure what the animals were doing here, but clearly they were here in some abundance.”
Some of the tracks in the field have not been documented before in Arkansas. The researchers’ work will expand knowledge about dinosaurs that roamed the area and the climate during the period.
The tracks from the three-toed dinosaur are about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long by 1 foot (0.3 meter) wide and likely are from Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, one of the largest predators ever known. There are also prints from sauropods, large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs. Other sauropod tracks have been found in the state, including at a site near Nashville, also in the state’s southwest.
“Through tracks, we can learn all sorts things about dinosaur biomechanics and behaviour,” said University of Kansas researcher Brian Platt, who is taking part in the program. “Dinosaur bones can be dragged away by animals or swept out to sea. But we know that about 120 million years ago, dinosaurs walked right through here.”
The grant from the National Science Foundation enabled a team of researchers to spend two weeks studying the site. They used traditional tools, including hammers, chisels and brooms, but also cutting-edge technology to record images, take measurements and map the site.
Rock samples from the site can also shed light on the conditions under which the dinosaurs lived.
“Because we see footprints here, we know that this surface was at one time exposed to the elements,” said Celina Suarez, a postdoctoral researcher at Boise State University who will be joining the faculty at the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2012.
Researchers can calculate how much rain fell and how much moisture evaporated. Using data from this site and others, scientists can learn more about the climate in general and work to predict the planet’s future climate.
“This site will add to the knowledge of both the animals and climate of the Early Cretaceous,” Boss said. “Scientists will be studying these data for many years.”
Is distress migration on a massive scale responsible for one of the most striking findings of Census 2011: that for the first time since 1921, urban India added more numbers to its population in a decade than rural India did?
At 833.1 million, India's rural population today is 90.6 million higher than it was a decade ago. But the urban population is 91 million higher than it was in 2001. The Census cites three possible causes for the urban population to have risen by more than the rural: ‘migration,' ‘natural increase' and ‘inclusion of new areas as ‘urban.' But all three factors applied in earlier decades too, when additions to the rural population far outstripped those to the urban. Why then is the last decade so different? While valid in themselves, these factors cannot fully explain this huge urban increase. More so in a census in which the decadal growth percentage of population records “the sharpest decline since India's independence.”
Take the 2001 Census. It showed us that the rural population had grown by more than 113 million since 1991. And the urban by over 68 million. So rural India had added 45 million people more than urban. In 2011, urban India's increase was greater than that of rural India's by nearly half a million, a huge change. The last time the urban increase surpassed the rural was 90 years ago, in 1921. Then, the rural total actually fell by close to three million compared to the 1911 Census.
However, the 1921 Census was unique. The 1918 Influenza epidemic that killed 50-100 million people worldwide, ravaged India. Studies of the 1921 Census data say it records between 11 and 22 million deaths more than would have been normal for that decade. There was also the smaller impact of World War I in which tens of thousands of Indian soldiers died as cannon fodder for Imperial Britain in Europe and elsewhere.
If Influenza left its fatal imprint on the 1921 enumeration, the story behind the numbers of the 2011 Census speaks of another tragedy: the collapse of millions of livelihoods in agriculture and its related occupations. And the ongoing, despair-driven exodus that this sparked in the countryside.
The 2011 Census captures only the tip of an iceberg in terms of rural upheaval. The last time urban India added more numbers to its population than rural India was 90 years ago and that followed giant calamities in public health and war. Yet, without such conditions, urban India added 91 million to its 2001 total, against rural India's 90.6 million. (Table 1). Nor can this reversal be fully captured by the factors Census 2011 cites as driving the urban increase. Take ‘migration.' In public debate, ‘urban' is often equated with big metros. This conjures images of massive waves of people from villages heading straight for the big metros. And this flow, you will be assured, is falling. (Vital data on this will emerge only next year and might surprise us).
The Census data, however, do not convey the harshness and pain of the millions trapped in “footloose” migrations. That is, the desperate search for work driving poorer people in many directions without a clear final destination. Like Oriya migrants who work some weeks in Raipur. Then a couple of months at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. Then at construction sites in diverse towns in Maharashtra. Their hunger, and contractor, drive them to any place where there is work, however brief. There are rural migrations to both metros and non-metro urban areas. To towns and smaller cities. There are also rural to rural migrations. There are urban-urban migrations. And even, in smaller measure, urban to rural migrations.
Flight from agriculture
Neither the Census nor the National Sample Survey is geared to capture the complexity of India's migrations. A migrant in the Census is someone counted at a place other than his or her last place of residence. This records a single move — not multiple migrations. So it sees only the tip of the mobility iceberg, missing footloose migrations altogether. What we do know from Census 2001 is of the flight from agriculture. Between 1991 and 2001, over seven million people for whom cultivation was the main livelihood, quit farming. That is a mind-boggling figure. It suggests that, on average, close to 2,000 people a day abandon farming in the country. Where do they go? Nothing in employment data suggests they get absorbed in decent work in bustling cities.
What about ‘natural increase' (the difference between the numbers of births and deaths in a population)? That does not explain the switch around in rural-urban increases either. Indeed, the rate of natural increase has declined in both rural and urban areas. Still the urban population and towns get bigger and bigger.
As Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India Dr. C. Chandramouli puts it: “Fertility has declined across the country. There has been a fall in numbers even in the 0-6 age group, as a proportion of the total population. In fact, in absolute numbers too, this group (now 158.8 million) has declined by five million, compared to the previous Census. This would suggest migrations as a significant factor in urban growth. But what kind of migrations we can only ascertain or comment on when their patterns emerge more clearly. The Census in itself is not structured to capture short-term or footloose migrations.”
We also get an extraordinary picture when viewing what demographers call the ‘Urban-rural growth differential.' The URGD is simply the difference between the rates at which rural and urban populations expanded in each decade. It is also a rough and ready index of the extent of rural-urban migrations. The URGD in the 2011 Census is 19.8, the highest in 30 years.
‘Natural increase' does not then account for the growth in urban numbers. Certainly not for the 30 per cent rise in urban population in the States. Thousands of towns today have far larger populations than they used to have — but not due to natural increase. The reason is migrations on a massive scale. Rural folk still outnumber urban people by more than two to one. In the 2001 Census, rural family size (5.4) remained bigger than urban family size (5.1). Also striking, States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar show massive falls in growth rates in 2011. In the 2001 Census, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were “the two States with largest number of net migrants migrating out of the state.”
The other factor cited by the current Census for the turnaround is interesting. “Inclusion of new areas under ‘Urban'.” The number of ‘statutory towns' has gone up by a mere 241 since 2001. Compare that with the preceding decade when they rose by 813, or more than three times that number. (A ‘Statutory town' is an urban unit with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee.)
There is, however, a boom in the number of ‘Census towns.' In the decade 1991-2001, Census towns actually declined from 1,702 to 1,361. In the 2011 Census, they nearly tripled to 3894. That is stunning (Tables 2 and 3). How did this happen? And what is a ‘Census town?' This is a village or other unit declared as a town when: its population crosses 5,000; when the number of male workers in agriculture falls to less than 25 per cent of the total; and where population density is at least 400 per square kilometre.
At the very least, this means the male workforce in agriculture has collapsed in thousands of villages, falling to less than a quarter of all workers. So the farm exodus continues. What might the 2011 data on cultivators show us when it is out late next year? It could show us that the numbers quitting cultivation since 2001 might equal or exceed the over seven million dropouts of the previous decade.
We are celebrating one more Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 and at least today let's compare the India of the Mahatma's dreams with the India we made. Gandhiji said: “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. This is the India of my dreams.”
In the India we made, we have successfully deprived the poor of their voice in its making. We have created an India where more than 17,000 farmers commit suicide every year. We have created an India in which 830 million people live on Rs. 20 a day.
We have built our country in a way that we have at least three bomb blasts in our major cities each year and the bodies of innocent people are blown apart. Gandhiji said Indian culture is neither Hindu, Islamic, nor any other, wholly; it is a fusion of all. But in December 1992 we taught him that Indian culture is wholly Hindu and we gained perpetual mayhem; we have exacerbated the already volatile communal harmony.
Intoxicating drinks and drugs are the greatest means to fill our national exchequer, did Gandhiji know it? No, he knew only how to oppose a government. He did not know how to run one. Therefore in governing our country we can learn nothing from him. We can't even imagine an India where there is no place for intoxicating drinks and drugs.
And women enjoying the same rights as men — it is not even a subject to be discussed for us Indians. We are not even ready to allow the female foetus to be born, let alone women enjoying equality. We are successful in decreasing the number of girls to every 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group to 914 in our latest census.
Our structural inequalities, state violence against the deprived and downtrodden people and the violence of religious intolerance are more intense than ever before and therefore Ghandhian principles are also more relevant than ever before. As Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in The Discovery of India, the unhappy, dispossessed millions haunted Gandhiji and everything seemed to revolve round them.
The ambition of the Father of the Nation was “to wipe every tear from every eye.” And what our ruling elites together with the haves are doing today is extracting as much tears from the dispossessed millions as they can.
While the parochial and divisive forces made us the most fragmented society, the corporate leanings of our successive ruling establishments have made us the helpless victims of the market forces. As a nation, the real India — the India of toiling masses and farmers — stands dejected and deserted. The real India today desperately needs a Gandhiji to fight communal hatred, poverty, female foeticide, the corporate onslaught, the corrupt bureaucrat-politician nexus and the ‘shining' India of the rich.
As shunning all kinds of violence is the dire need of our age, it is apt to conclude, quoting in detail an experience of Gandhiji from his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth: “Long before I undertook the education of the youngsters of the Tolstoy Farm I had realised that the training of the spirit was a thing by itself. I saw, therefore, that I must be an eternal object-lesson to the boys and girls living with me. They thus became my teachers….One of them was wild, unruly and quarrelsome. On one occasion, he broke out most violently. I was exasperated. I never punished my boys, but this time I was very angry. I tried to reason with him. But he was adamant and even tried to overreach me. At last, I picked up a ruler lying at hand and delivered a blow on his arm. I trembled as I struck him. I dare say he noticed it. The boy cried out and begged to be forgiven. He cried not because the beating was painful to him; he could, if he had been so minded, have paid me back in the same coin; but he realised my pain in being driven to this violent resource. Never again after this incident did he disobey me. But I still repent that violence. I am afraid I exhibited before him that day not the spirit, but the brute, in me.”
Ever since I saw Nalanda for the first time as a child, I was completely bowled over by the vision it offered to humanity. I dreamt of bringing the great institution back to life, some day. As I continued to visit Nalanda through my teenage years, the idea of an outstanding centre for higher education at the great centre of ancient Indian civilisation, in Bihar, gripped me more and more. When Chief Minister Nitish Kumar approached me about helping them build a new institution near the old site, I was impressed to see how close his own vision was to what I had hoped would happen one day. I hope to see that dream being realised — at least the initial stages of it — before long. The fact that Bihar also has a lot of economic problems, including persistent poverty, makes it even more necessary for the new Nalanda to offer educational opportunities for the useful arts (such as information technology, environmental studies and management), without undermining the more abstract investigations.