MOOC Review: The Biology of Consciousness by Christof Koch

Consciousness is one of the top puzzles of modern science and philosophy. Everything we study in science is objective and has physical properties, but consciousness seems to be an exception. It is subjective, it feels like something to be conscious. Each conscious agent has private, privileged access to his own inner experience which is not available to others. A person can report his pain, but we cannot see his pain and analyze it like a material thing. But mysteriously still, the mental and physical can interact, we can tamper with consciousness by tampering with a person’s physical brain.

The great mystery has me hooked for quite some time and I have been reading books by leading philosophers like Dennett, Thomas Nagel, Chalmers and Searle. This course is a bit different, more scientific than philosophical. It is a short introduction to the biology of Consciousness along with a brief primer about Integrated Information Theory.

The course, called Master Class, is offered by World Science U. I am a big fan of the content they offer, in particular, on Physics. The quality of their courses with animations and interactive content is just amazing.

Following are some of the topics covered by Professor Christof Koch:

  • Why is consciousness a mystery to modern science?
  • Understand what we mean by Consciousness
  • Neural Correlates of Consciousness
  • Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness

Connecting Hyper-V Virtual Machine to Wireless network and Internet on Windows 10

Connecting Hyper-V virtual machines to the wireless network adapter can be a painful experience. I was wondering why it is so hard and poorly documented. As explained here, probably the reason is that the product is primarily targeted for servers where we always have wired networks.

To connect the VM to the wireless network, we have to create a virtual switch. There are two types of virtual switches: Internal and External. I initially managed to get it to work with the internal switch, but it stopped working after some time. External Virtual Switch has more chances of working based on what I gathered from blogs on this topic. It did work for me but after some effort as I was getting the following error:

Error applying virtual switch properties changes (catastrophic failure)

I was able to overcome this by running the following on Command Prompt (Admin Mode).

netcfg -d

Please run this command at your own risk as it will reset your host network connections. You will be disconnected from network and security key will be required for reconnection.

After resetting the network connections using above command, I followed the steps for creating external switch and it worked.

Internal Virtual Switch

Internal switch configuration requires minimum changes to the host network settings and it doesn’t expose your guest machine to the internet. But it may or may be work for your system configuration.

Another way of making internal switch work is described here, but it didn’t work for me.

External Virtual Switch

The external option requires more changes to the network settings. Instructions for setting up external virtual switch can be found here.

Philosophy Lectures by Rick Roderick

Rick Roderick in his overbearing sarcastic style thrashes popular culture and modernity with the aid of Nietzsche’s writings.

He describes Nietzsche as a ‘Master of Suspicion’, a phrase taken from Paul Ricœur. Nietzsche’s definition of truth, the coin worn out by constant use losing it real value and leaving just the metal behind, is epitomical of his method of suspicion. So often we take our understanding of truths for granted, not bothering to see what it really is.

Rick Roderick reads Nietzsche in a much more metaphorical way than other scholars I have come across. For him, Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence is not a theory about cosmology, rather it is meant to challenge you to live a life that you would want to relive over and over. Same applies to Nietzsche writings about God.

Rick Roderick finds plain and simple atheism boring as it doesn’t add value or tell you anything meaningful. On the other hand, writers like Nietzsche are interesting as they understand the significance of religion for humankind and feel the gravity of our condition.

Rick sarcastically criticizes modernity and popular western culture. Donald Trump and other names prop up from time to time in this regard.

In the lecture on genealogy of morals, Rick talks about the immoral beginning of our morals and the values behind our values. He questions all the talk about love by preachers and look at it with suspicion. In particular, he cites Thomas Aquinas regarding the desire of believers to watch bad people burn in hell and take satisfaction out of it.

Completed ‘Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity’ from Coursera

Completed ‘Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity‘ course taught by Associate Professor Jon Stewart from University of Copenhagen. The course is offered through Coursera platform and ran for 8 weeks from 6st October 2014 through 1st December 2014.

Course consisted of weekly reading assignments from the works of Kierkegaard, followed by video lectures where Professor Jon provided the background of the text and explained the key points. Video lectures are shot at various locations in Copenhagen which are associated with the life of Kierkegaard. The course concluded with an assignment to write a shot essay on a given topic related to Kierkegaard’s ideas.

My essay was on ‘What did Kierkegaard learn from his study of Socrates? Why is this connection between Socrates and Kierkegaard still relevant in the world today?’.

Coursera Soren Kierkegaard Certificate

What did Kierkegaard learn from his study of Socrates? Why is this connection between Socrates and Kierkegaard still relevant in the world today?

I wrote the following piece as part of an assignment for online course on Kierkegaard from Coursera.

…..

Kierkegaard believes from his study that Socrates has a distinct methodology for teaching his audiences through his dialogues. This method of Socrates has a profound wisdom where it focuses on preparing his interlocutor for accepting and realizing the truth, rather than directly confronting him with it.

Socrates uses Irony to show contradictions in beliefs of his contemporaries. As Socrates engages in dialogue with a person, he praises his interlocutor and acknowledges his wisdom and social stature. He expresses the desire and willingness to learn from him and claims that he ignorant on the subject. The dialogue starts with Socrates asking questions and getting involved in an argument. As Socrates asks deeper questions or points out contradictions, the interlocutor finds him at a loss to answer. This bring about a realization that some of our deeply held beliefs cannot be defended so easily and may be questioned.

At this point, when the interlocutor cannot defend his position, Socrates doesn’t offer his own position on the subject. Instead, he leaves the dialogue without any conclusion, in a state of Aporia. It is a state of puzzlement where a person actively engaged with a riddle is left on his own to solve it.

Socrates don’t confront his interlocutors with truth. Instead, he felt that the real task is to direct one towards a path where he can find the truth for himself. This is important as we already have the truth within ourselves, just it is needed to be brought out. In this sense, Socrates believed that his role was like a midwife whose only assists in bringing out. This characteristic of Socratic Method is called Maieutics (midwifery).

Socratic Method takes into account the subjective aspect of truth i.e. an individual should have an inward realization of truth to really grasp it. It requires an effort, a journey on part of the seeker. Truth, rather than just being told or accepted based on some authority, should also be internalized. This does not mean that Socrates was a relativist, he was against Sophist who were the relativist of his time. He believed in the objectivity of truth but also acknowledged that it has a subjective aspect.

Socrates’s teachings are negative in the sense that they tear apart arguments and beliefs of his interlocutors. In this regard, Kierkegaard argues that Socrates’s teaching are completely negative and he doesn’t offer anything positive at all. For Kierkegaard, as opposed to Hegel, this shall not be taken as a deficiency in Socrates’s approach. It is due to the wisdom of Socrates that he never offers any positive doctrine but instead plays the role of a midwife. He assists the person in his journey to bring out the truth which he already have within himself.

Kierkegaard is deeply influenced by this Socratic Method and tries to follow this model throughout his scholarly career. This theme can be seen in all his works where Socrates and his wisdom props up from time to time.

. . . . .

Kierkegaard has influenced many later philosophers and thinkers, especially in our times. His ideas have been part of, and a source of inspiration for leading philosophical movements of 20th century like existentialism and post-modernism. His philosophy is still relevant as he was a highly original thinker and was one of first to perceive and predict the problems of modern era. It is difficult to classify him as being part of any of the modern philosophical movements, because he never attempted a systematic exposition of his views. Rather his writings shake and stimulate the reader to look for the truth which he can appropriate and which can become the purpose of his life.

Modern man suffers from the loss of moral innocence and a lack of meaning. There is a widespread feeling of alienation as old social structures give way to the modern way of life. Kierkegaard with his Socratic teaching is pertinent to this modern condition, it encourages us to question the excesses of our times and emphasizes the need to understand and appropriate truth for one’s self. The value of truth is not in the cogent set of arguments which prove its validity, its power lies in the giving us a purpose and making our life meaningful.

Kierkegaard died in 1855 but his ideas are still with us with the power to strike a chord within our heart and make our existence worth it.

 

Reading eBooks – Finding the right reader

Over the years, I have started doing more and more of my reading on electronic devices. In the PC era, Adobe PDF was the format of choice for delivering and reading e-books. But with the variety of devices and form factors in use now, there has been a shift towards ePub and mobi formats. These formats offer reflowable content, rather than fixed pages of PDF. PDF is more suited for printing while ePub and Mobi are focused on making documents readable on different screen sizes. I explored various options for consuming ePub files on PC, Mac and tablets including Apple’s iBooks, Adobe Digital Editions, Calibre, Readium and others.

iBooks

I found Apple’s iBooks to be the most pleasing to use. It has the right options in just the right places. It is available on Mac OS and iOS. But the drawback is: there is no option to get your notes and highlights out of iBooks and take them with you to, let’s say, a Windows machine. There is a third party software that extracts notes and bookmarks out of iBooks but it only works on iPad and iPhone, not on Mac. Due to this limitation I dropped the idea of using iBooks.

Adobe Digital Editions

Digital Editions is available for both Mac and Windows. It stores the notes and highlights in a separate file at C:UsersDocumentsMy Digital EditionsAnnotations. DropBox can be used to sync these files across Mac and Windows. ADE was the first software I downloaded and might not have gone further to try any other reader but there is a bug in current version of ADE (v 2.0.1) which compelled me to look elsewhere. The text rendering is terrible if you keep your side bar open. It took me some time to figure this out that the side bar is causing the awful rendering of text. Side bar contains things like notes and bookmarks, if you keep it closed then the content is rendered properly.

Others

I wanted to try Amazon Kindle also, it is available for all popular desktop and mobile platforms. But Amazon doesn’t allow Kindle downloads outside United States and few other countries.

I tried a few other readers available on internet but all of them suffer from one of the two shortcomings. Either they are buggy and have not been updated for a long time or they don’t provide the functionality to take notes and highlight content while reading.

Finally

After looking at these alternatives, I decided to continue with my current method:
– Use PDF files, this ensures that all my notes and highlights are within the book and can be easily moved around
– Sync PDF which I am reading currently through Google Drive or DropBox

Besides popular DropBox, Google Drive and SkyDrive, a nice cloud sync option is acrobat.com which offers about 10 GBs of free cloud storage. On the positive side, it is integrated with Adobe Acrobat Reader which is available for all desktop and mobile platforms. But the synchronisation is not as robust as DropBox and others.

In case, I just have the ePub file, Calibre is a good tool to convert to PDF and to many other formats for that matter. I found it to be better than other options like www.zamzar.com/convert/epub-to-pdf/‎. Calibre is a ePub reader also but it doesn’t allow note taking.

Took ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ from Coursera

Completed ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ course taught by Mr. Yuval Noah Harari from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The course is offered through Coursera platform.

It is a big history course, giving bird eye view of evolution of humankind from hunter-gathers to present day knowledge workers. The course analyzes long periods of time and is divided into four sections:

Part 1: Cognitive Revolution (about 70,000 years ago)
Part 2: Agriculture Revolution (about 12,000 years ago)
Part 3: Unification of Humankind
Part 4: Scientific Revolution (last 500 years)

Each section has several lectures with the total of 17. The course ran from 10-Aug-2013 to 31-Dec-2013.

It is an highly opinionated account of history, full of contentious claims and ideas. I disagree with the Professor in many of the views expressed in the lectures, still it is a fascinating journey through history, albeit with a different perspective.

Coursera A Brief History of Humankind_01

Udacity’s ‘Introduction to Physics’ course

Took ‘Introduction to Physics’ course at Udacity. It is a beginner level course and I have skimmed through most of it. But what kept me going till the end is the extremely engaging way in which it is taught. Every lesson, you take one important Physics problem and try to solve it. You make progress in small steps by learning required techniques and mathematics. Interactive nature of the platform always makes you think by asking questions before introducing new concepts. On top that, all this is linked with the history of the problem, who solved it and how?

The course has 7 lectures:

Lecture # 1: Circumference of Earth

The Greek philosopher, Eratosthenes (276 BC – 195 BC), was the first person to calculate the circumference of earth with remarkable accuracy. He used geometry and trigonometry to figure this out.

He only needed to take following measurements for his calculation:

  • Length of the shadow cast by an object A at noon at location X.
  • Height of the object A.
  • Distance of location X to the nearest location where sun doesn’t cast any shadow at noon.

See the diagram and link below for details.

Method of Eratosthenes

(Source: http://www8.svsu.edu/~lgreed/PartGrant7illust.htm)

 

Lecture # 2: Speed of freely falling object

Aristotle had following view on this:

  • Objects fall at constant speed.
  • Speed is directly proportional to mass of object.

It was Galileo who found that the distance covered by a falling object is directly proportional to the square of time it has been falling (i.e. objects fall with constant acceleration irrespective of their mass).

 

Lecture # 3: What causes motion?

The prevalent view before Galileo and Newton was Aristotelian. According to which there is one set of laws governing heavenly bodies and a different set for bodies on earth.

Newton through his laws of motion asserted that both heavens and the earth follow the same laws. And the apple falling from a tree or moon orbiting the earth do so under the influence of same force.

 

Lecture # 4: Keeping Holland Dry

 

image

This lecture is about Archimedes Screw and the basic principles behind its working. It builds on the understanding of force from previous lectures and introduces simple machines: Inclined Plane, Pulley and Lever. Simple machines enable us to trade off the force required to lift or move things with the distance. For example, using an inclined plane to move something to a higher level will require less force but we need to push it for a longer distance.

Next, the concepts of Work, Energy and Power are introduced.

  • Work = Force * Distance
  • Work = Change in Energy
  • Power = Work / Time
Work Energy Theorem 
 

Finally, the Law of Conservation of Energy is discussed with the example of roller coaster ride. During the ride, energy changes its form between kinetic and potential with some of the energy lost due to friction as heat.

 

Lecture # 5: Lost at Sea

Problem of this lecture is how to measure latitude and longitude?

image

Latitude is relatively easier to calculate while longitude is much trickier.

When sun is at the highest point in the sky and it is equinox, the latitude can be calculated as explained in the first lecture.

For calculating Longitude, we need to keep track of time. Galileo attempted to measure time by observing transit of Jupiter’s moon but the idea was not very fruitful due to the difficulties involved.

The answer lies in Simple Harmonic Motion.

Simple_Harmonic_Motion_Orbit

Elastic Potential Energy

pelasimage

k = Spring Constant

Lecture discusses the discovery of Pendulum by Galileo and invention of Pendulum Clock by Christiaan Huygens.

Longitude can be measured by comparing the time on ship to the time of a known location. Pendulum clocks can be used to reliably measure time and hence calculate longitude.

 

Lecture # 6: Lightning Strikes

 

image

Lightning is an electrical phenomenon. This was not very clear in 18th century. The link between lightning and electricity was there in the literature but it was Benjamin Franklin (17-Jan-1706  to  17-Apr-1790) who emphasized this link and developed lightning rods which prevented buildings from burning due to lightning strikes.

 

This lecture talks about basics of electricity with particular focus on lightening rod and how it grounds the electric current keeping buildings safe.

 

Lecture # 7: Special Relativity

This is brief teaser to Special Relativity explaining the following two postulates of the theory and how they lead to bizarre conclusions like time dilation.

  • Laws of Physics are same in all inertial frame of reference
  • Speed of light constant regardless of the frame of reference

de Sitter double star experiment is explained as test of Special Relativity.

 

It concludes with a final exam where you can test your problem solving skills using the knowledge gained through the course. There are couple of bonus lectures also about ‘simple harmonic motion’ and ‘why can’t we open windows on an airplane’.

Read ‘Physics of the Impossible’ by Michio Kaku

 

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel’ explores the popular science fiction concepts in the light of hard scientific facts. In doing so the author explains scientific theories in a way that is very engaging and comprehensible for a layman. Along the way author alludes to interesting details about how the modern scientific theories developed overtime and what are current areas of research which could make the impossible possible. All analyzed concepts are categorized based on how long it might take for human civilization to achieve them if ever.

In my opinion, this is a definite read for only one interested in science or science fiction.

Completed ‘Machine Learning’ from Coursera

Completed ‘Machine Learning’ course offered by Andrew Ng, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University. This course was offered through Coursera.org

The course started on 23rd April and the duration was 10 weeks. It was an exhilarating opportunity to learn about this cutting edge field. The distinctive feature of the course was weekly programming assignments in Octave which were automatically evaluated by Coursera.org. Also the course was very well organized, we can expect that as it was offered by the co-founder of Coursera.