While I generally refrain from commenting on specific issues, there's a recent development which caught my interest both due to its wider contemporary relevance and to its connection with a general social trait that I have been noticing. Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, ended up having to resign (was forced out) when his campaign contributions to an anti gay legislation in 2008 recently became public knowledge. This outcome was precipitated/hastened by a massive outcry by individuals and companies which do not agree with his position, threatening loss of business for the various Mozilla subsidiaries. In summary here is a person who supported a position which is very quickly losing the majority support (and for good reason in my opinion) by acting perfectly within the legal framework and was punished for it in a way that reeks of mob vigilantism. It also serves as a very good example of a general principle which seems more true now than ever before, flourishing as it is within the deep reach and unifying power of modern mass communication. The principle is one of the diminishing middle where people with centrist, often nuanced, opinions are drowned in the rhetoric and the noise which is generated by the raucous majority. The middle is diminishing faster today because the majority grows bigger, finding it easier to coalesce through the glue of internet and mass media. This is not to say that Eich's views were centrist but intelligent and discerning observers would probably have considered them with more nuance and they would probably have given him more space for his positions which, after all, are quite legal. Intelligent people would also have better evaluated Eich's worth as a technologist separating his personal views from his professional services and capabilities. However doing all of this requires thinking and suspending our deep seated prejudices, something that large groups are not particularly good at. Large groups have always sought simple explanations and have always bayed for blood and revenge in different forms. Large groups become large by crushing dissenting voices and this instance is just another manifestation of this general tendency. Society, just like almost everything else, seems to be moving towards greater conformity in the form of bigger consolidations. The result is an all pervading "us vs. them" narrative which is as bland and as soulless as it is annoying for people who can still think. I wish Eich didn't have to resign. Not because I agree with his position (I don't) but because it reinforces the bad precedent of the rule of the mob over logical and respectful discourse between dissenting thoughts. Because it takes away a little more emphasis from the colorful individual and gives it to the intellectually dead mob.
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Scholars have differed over the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defense. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de-facto way, for some psychological or some physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle. These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all embracing, sometimes self contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust, are in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes.
Of course, like all oversimple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous; like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting point for genuine investigation. Thus we have no doubt about the violence of contrast between Pushkin and Dostoevsky; and Dostoevsky's celebrated speech about Pushkin has, for all its eloquence and depth of feeling, seldom been considered by any perceptive reader to cast light on the genius of Pushkin, but rather on that of Dostoevsky himself, precisely because it perversely represents Pushkin - an arch-fox, the greatest in the nineteenth century - as being similar to Dostoevsky, who is nothing if not a hedgehog; and thereby transforms, indeed distorts, Pushkin into a dedicated prophet, a bearer of a single, universal message which was indeed the center of Dostoevsky's own universe, but exceedingly remote from the many varied provinces of Pushkin's protean genius. Indeed, it would not be absurd to say that Russia literature is spanned by these gigantic figures - at one pole Pushkin, at the other Dostoevsky; and that the characteristics of other Russian writers can, by those who find it useful or enjoyable to ask that kind of question, to some degree, be determined in relation to these great opposites. To ask of Gogol, Turgenev, Blok how they stand in relation to Pushkin and Dostoevsky leads - or, at any rate, has led - to fruitful and illuminating criticism. But when we come to Tolstoy, and ask this of him - ask whether he belongs to the first category or the second, whether he is a monist or a pluralist, whether his vision is of one or of many, whether he is of a single substance or compounded of heterogeneous elements - there is no clear or immediate answer.
-From Russian Thinkers by Isaiah Berlin (The hedgehog and the fox: An essay on Tolstoy's view of history)
After recently reading Lawrence Krauss's 'A universe from nothing' I have understood in greater detail the current state of our understanding of the beginnings of our universe. A fascinating and beautiful picture has emerged over the last 80 years (but more specifically the last 30). A picture which is clearer in some parts and uncertain in others but which is hard to dispute in certain key details. It is also a picture which is infinitely more nuanced and imaginative than any other creation stories that the various religions of the world have come up with. This is not surprising because the people who contributed to the religions didn't know what we know now, even though they may have been quite intelligent themselves.
The story begins around 13.72 billion years with what George Lemaitre called the primeval atom. This primeval atom of infinite density and temperature has been undergoing a constant expansion since then and has resulted in the universe that we currently live in. The theory of the universe emerging from this primeval atom is the theory of big bang. Before this the universe was assumed (by Einstein no less and many others) to be steady and to have existed forever. Three important experimental observations contributed to the advancement of the theory of big bang and no other scientific theory exists which provides better or even nearly as good explanation for these observations:
- It was discovered by Hubble in the first half of the 20th century that far away galaxies (which are not gravitationally bound to our galaxy) are all receding away from us. The further they are the faster they are receding. This would suggest that we are somehow at the center of the expansion which would lend a special place to the humans and the Earth. This runs counter to the Copernican ideas and to the more general cosmological principle which states that the universe, on a large enough scale, is same everywhere and in every direction. If this is assumed to be true, and it is not a difficult assumption, then the explanation for Hubble expansion would be that everything in the universe which is not gravitationally bound to something would be receding away from it. There's uniform expansion everywhere. Extrapolating backwards, the idea suggests that some time in the past all the matter of the universe must have been concentrated at one point, at the moment of the big bang. By measuring how fast the expansion is now, we can determine roughly how long ago did the big bang occur.
- There is a significant abundance of light elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium) in the universe. Once big bang has been proposed it is possible to calculate what the fractions of the light elements should be in the current universe. These theoretical calculations have been found to be in close agreement with experimental measurements.
- When the big bang model was being developed one of its prediction was the existence of its afterglow which could be measured from the Earth now. The measurement was predicted to be in the form of an electromagnetic signature in the microwave regime. This afterglow corresponds to a time around 330,000 years after the big bang. Before this time the universe was, as they say, opaque to such radiation meaning that no observation can possibly be made now about the time before this 'last scattering surface'. This afterglow which goes by the technical name 'Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation' (CMBR) was discovered in 1964 and its properties were found to be in excellent agreement with those predicted by theory. This discovery is also, arguably, the most important observation in all of cosmology.
Big bang, therefore, provides a time frame to our past with a very high degree of confidence in its veracity. Through high energy particle experiments on the Earth the evolution of the Big Bang expansion is reasonably well understood beyond the first microsecond of the universe. What happened in the first microsecond is less well understood and there is no understanding of what happened in the first .
The next question is what is the future of the universe. Which is to say how would the continuing expansion of the universe behave in the future. The answer to this question depends upon the nature of the current universe, specifically the nature of its curvature on large scales. This curvature can be measured from the CMBR profile and our universe has been found to be 'flat' from such measurements. Since the universe is governed by the general theory of relativity which relates the curvature of the universe to the amount of matter in it, it is possible to estimate how much matter there should be in the universe from the fact that its curvature is zero. However, after taking into account all the visible and measurable matter in the universe it was found that we were short of the required amount by a factor of around 50. This apparent discrepancy can be seen in other independent measurements such as gravitational lensing as well. This suggests that there exists another form of matter which only makes itself felt through its gravitational effect and which cannot be seen or measured otherwise. This is named dark matter. It was further discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This has been accounted for by an additional term in the Einstein's field equations. The term itself has been called the cosmological constant and its physical effect, dark energy. There appears ways to investigate what dark matter is but scientist are at quite a loss about what dark energy is. However, what is unequivocal is that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, so much so that, everything in the universe except the structures which are gravitationally bound to us would disappear from our view in about 2 trillion years (unless dark energy behaves in an unexpected way in the future). This is our fate.
Now the concept of big bang is intricately related to the idea of genesis which sits very uncomfortably with religious thoughts of all kinds which claim such stories as only within their own domains of treatment. Big bang itself doesn't overrule the existence of a God because it doesn't explain the initial conditions (where did the primeval atom come from for instance). But various sub-fields of science have together severely restricted the regions where the concept of God needs to be invoked. They have made the idea of God redundant and unnecessary to a large degree. To me it is only applicable now as an explanation of the first cause but even this applicability is unnatural. There may still be a God who started it all but even if that is the case what is beyond doubt is that it bears no resemblance to the gods of the humans because religious ideas are incredibly local and naive when compared to reality. This is not surprising either. People who came up with such ideas had no clue as to what is really out there.
I have often wondered as to how seriously should one's reading habits be taken when it comes to making a tentative assessment of the depth of one's personality. It's a sensitive question on which I gravitate too easily on the side of quick and stern judgments before I find myself arresting such temptations. The hesitations result from the same organic fountainhead from which result all of my other hesitations. I believe that this complex chatter and argumentation is the accumulated result of a long chain of thought processes which has extended through many years and has been refined and molded by some of my own reading habits.
There is a certain period of time in everyone's life when they don't have to make conscious efforts to be interesting. They are young and enthusiastic about the world around them and there's a childlike curiosity which characterizes that time. This is a time which, while it is not known for the best of judgments and the greatest of insights, is nevertheless known for an easily accessible fountain of excitement and a sense of great adventure. However, life catches up much more quickly than one imagines it would and suddenly one is besotted by its practical considerations. It is at this critical juncture when I feel it becomes important to confront what sort of a person one would hope to become. Our personalities appear cumulative but they appear to show diminishing effects of more recent events. This is to say that we are liable to get frozen in a way of thinking and in our set of judgments as time progresses. There is a certain kind of philosophic comfort and some sense of safety in stagnation which perhaps encourages such stultification. However, I maintain that such a state of existence is an objectively ridiculous state because it prevents us from having new experiences for what they are worth and encourages us to judge others rather unfairly. It also makes us behave in petty ways because we come to think that our structures of thought, our creed, and our philosophies are worthy of protection and must be preserved. Before we realize, such narrow-mindedness closes in on us in ways and from directions which are surprisingly numerous and subtle. And we become rather sad shadows of our former selves with a monotonous and unchanging world-view lacking the excitement which is inherent in change and its acceptance.
Coming back to the original question, I feel that cultivating a reasonably complex reading habit tends to offset this degeneration. In a sense such a habit is not very different from cultivating other non-trivial talents which require patience, application, and dedication - they all instill very admirable values which are also very practical. But reading additionally/often requires the considerable application of the mental apparatus as well. It exposes one to the thinking of very accomplished thinkers across centuries and from around the world. It underlines the unity of the human experience and shows, embarrassingly clearly, the existence of an infinity of personalities and a multitude of thought processes. It lays bare the exciting spectrum of life, its humming and buzzing tune. It gives a much needed perspective to our own thought processes. Of course I am talking about a certain kind of reading material which unfortunately does not include easy literature like the American detective novel or genre novels which have become rather popular of late. They are merely entertainment and like all other entertainment there is a sinister side to them. The side which sucks up time and energy and the creative impulse and the side which induces us to think in very simple generalizations. In fact the side which is the very apparatus which accelerates the degeneration mentioned above.
I do think that the existence of a complex and respectable reading habit tells something rather definitive about the depth of one's thoughts. However, a lack thereof doesn't necessarily tell much because different people draw upon different aspects of their lives to develop their own understandings. There is, however, a sharp and an elitist demarcation to be drawn between easy and complex literature and it is a demarcation which I have absolutely no qualms in drawing.
While on the flight from Chicago to San Diego I was thinking what a rush it would be when the plane landed at the Lindberg field airport. Having spent more than 7 years in SD, the city has sort of become a home, complete with the little bits of nostalgia which one associates with home in general. It seemed to me that I have left parts of myself in various corners of the city and these bits of memory must be waiting around quietly, only to spring up and take me by surprise by their poignancy. However I found myself being disappointed when such a rush did not happen as the plane landed. It didn't materialize while I was driving from the airport to UCSD and there was little to speak of when I met my old coworkers there. It seemed to me as if almost no time had elapsed between now and when I used to lumber along in the office at 10. Everything seemed as if in a smooth continuation from when I left. The broken touch of the chipped left hand of my old chair seemed all too familiar to evoke any feeling of loss. UCSD, on the whole, seemed to have been frozen in a reality that I had left it in and the series of experiences which are the mile posts of intervening time appeared to me to have been wholly ineffectual in distancing it in my present consciousness.
It wasn't until I was sitting alone drinking coffee at my old favorite coffee haunt at UCSD, the art of espresso, that the whole structure of nostalgia began to take shape. Its a feeling whose substance is a general sense of loss of something dear and whose physical manifestation is a slowing down of reactions. It derives its strength from the vague associations which render a place real in our minds. The smells which characterize a certain place, its overall visual signature, the sounds which one hears while there, all of it serves to endear the place in our hearts in a more permanent way than is possible with its association with concrete memorable instances. This is perhaps why the most nostalgic moments of this visit for me were while walking through the neighborhoods which I used to walk alone. It was in those instances, undisturbed by conversations, I feel, that the essence of the place became inextricably intertwined with me because it served as a canvas upon which something permanent was drawn: the undulating topology of my own thoughts, the lazy stream of my own consciousness. In that barely remembered structure of my recollections, the buildings, the bridges, the restaurants, the drooping trees, the embers of fire, and the chipped paints of whitewashed fences served as the bones of the skeleton upon which rests the sum total of my understanding. While walking they appeared and disappeared and took me around the labyrinthine corridors of my thoughts, revealing snippets which were long forgotten, giving birth to new explanations and new ways of looking at things, but most importantly, often renewing a link to the past, to a time which I spent not talking and and not in anyone's company but strikingly alone.
Almost all of the places which I associate with these times belong to the last 2-3 years that I spent in SD. It includes a couple of coffee shops which survive within me through the immediacy and intensity of certain sensations, the grain and feel of their wooden chairs and tables, the diffused lights with which they were drenched, the music which played in the background, the flowers which bloomed and withered in the indoor pots, the arrangements and angles of their furniture, the special geometry and touch of their coffee cups, how they appeared when certain regions were taken up by patrons, in effect, by the observations which are easy to miss in good company. Then comes certain streets which I must have spent considerable amount of time exploring. While walking on those again I was exhilarated by how familiar their topology felt, how they rose and fell at places and how the branches of the trees from the adjoining houses leaned over them, how the cracks on the pavement were organized in a pattern that I had intimately known, and how these streets offered well remembered views of the shops, the businesses, and the canyons. I felt a muted sense of happiness when the SD sky appeared framed within its buildings in a familiar way, or when the Sun percolated through the trees like I remembered it did.
In those moments of walking around aimlessly I became aware of a sensation whose flight is often curtailed by ambient distractions, of the permanence of memorized sights and lifeless objects such as a certain color of the sky or a remembered formation of birds silhouetted by a patchwork of clouds or the play of light and shade on the sidewalk. These useless sights, it seemed to me, are not so useless after all but are brimming with incredible potential for genesis and genesis of a kind more permanent and perhaps more important than that achieved through society. They mold and accentuate and sharpen and terminate the various offshoots of our thoughts which are furiously working away trying to make something out of the raw material that is the social part of our lives. They are the tools of creation of hopefully something new and interesting and different and not... well, hopelessly mundane.
I met old friends there who have always been absolutely fabulous. I stand eternally amazed by the variety of their personalities and wish I could spend more time in the company of such awesome people as I know in SD.
So Tendulkar has decided to retire and India has come to a stand still. There is much that is being said, glowing praises of a career pretty much unparalleled, emotional adieus to a man who, as the oft repeated phrase has reminded us time and again, has shouldered the burden of expectations of a billion and some for the last 20 or so years. There is hardly anything new and groundbreaking that can be added to the chorus anymore as far as praising the genius is concerned. His dedication, talent, humility, and single minded devotion to the game have crept into Indian moral lexicon. He is rightfully seen as a glowing testament to several important ideas: the idea of a man beginning from humble roots and achieving true greatness through, what appears to be, an honest and a straight path, the idea of an almost heroic defiance at a time when the people in the country weren't used to such assertiveness, and the simple idea of a person really loving what he's doing more than money, fame, or even success. It is the concentration of such qualities which sets him apart and he is getting all the praise that he rightfully deserves.
But then there's the more muted sort of goodbye which must be proffered by one whose childhood was made better because Tendulkar existed. I have found myself being disillusioned with various facets of sports, especially the kind that is often played now. I find it too crass, too gladiatorial, too stupid. The passions which it seeks to give wind to are the basest of emotions and it seems to turn reasonably tolerable people into complete nincompoops. In its flag waving, chest thumping, fist pumping ridiculousness, sports are not very different from other stupid pastimes like reality shows, soap operas, those ghastly talent shows, crass materialism, most of news nowadays on both the left and the right. And yet there exists the possibility of something really noble appearing in sports. And it often appears as individual genius. Absolute genius. And when that comes about it restores one's belief in the good things in life, in the complex and deep stuff. Tendulkar was one such moment in my life. I didn't realize it when I was young, I could not give words to the complex emotions that I often felt but I think I understand it better now than I did then. He represented the kind of success and the kind of person who doesn't get appreciated much. The one who doesn't beat his own trumpet and doesn't partake in the loud and obnoxious self-aggrandizement which is so much the norm. The one who just does his job and does it better than almost anyone ever did. He represents what Federer also represents. In a world chock full of ready to eat frozen abominations, these people are elaborate recipes lovingly prepared fresh. They are Joyce and Chekhov and Tolstoy and Kafka in a world full of such train-wrecks as Dan Brown and whoever wrote 50 shades or anyone who has ever written a self-help book... Tendulkar is, therefore, much more than a very very good cricketer to me. To me he is a spiffing bloke and the perfect personification of all that is completely opposite to that general umbrella idea which can go by the descriptive adjectives crass and mundane. This is a heartfelt adieu to someone who pulled the correct heartstrings at an impressionable age and encouraged the appreciation of the objectively right stuff.
I sought to find again in reality, I cherished as though for their poetic beauty, the broken gestures of the knives still lying across one another, the swollen convexity of a discarded napkin into which the Sun introduced a patch of yellow velvet, the half empty glass which thus showed to greater advantage the noble sweep of its curved sides and, in the heart of its translucent crystal, clear as frozen daylight, some dregs of wine, dark but glittering with reflected lights, the displacement of solid objects, the transmutation of liquids by the effect of light and shade, the shifting colors of the plums which passed from green to blue to golden yellow in the half-plundered dish, the promenade of the antiquated chairs that came twice daily to take their places round the white cloth spread on the table as on an altar at which were celebrated the rites of the palate, and where in the hollows of the oyster-shells a few drops of lustral water had remained as in tiny holy-water stoups of stone; I tried to find beauty there where I had never imagined before that it could exist, in the most ordinary things, in the profundities of "still life."
-From "In search of lost time", v.2
What is it that I really learned from my undergraduate education? Hmmm, that's a tough one. I actually do not remember in concrete terms what is it I really learned, owing to the fact it was many years ago and also because unlike many of my peers I have sort of continued in the same general area of academia. This makes it impossible for me to sort my knowledge on the basis of its origins. All of my memory in this respect is basically one vague muddled mass where the task of telling whether somethings I know now were actually learned during my undergrad is a hopeless one. But I do remember one thing that I learned during my undergrad which I should not have but which is very easy to learn growing in the educational system that I grew in.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology this time) system, here's a synopsis in a nutshell. Hundreds of thousands of aspirants compete to get into one of these tech. institutes every year out of which a few thousand are selected. The exams for these selections used to be exceedingly hard, so hard, in fact, that I am reasonably sure that I would do really badly if I were to attempt them now. The rigor of these exams seems to have gotten diluted now and the acceptance rate risen up a little (from 1% when I attempted to around 2% now). There is something to be said about being able to 'crack' that exam but I ceased to be proud of it a very long time ago. And I feel nothing but pity for those who may still be hanging on to that sentiment. Part of the reason why I don't feel much about that anymore is the regret I have for learning something which is absolutely wrong in the real world. The idea that it is sufficient to be smart, and that the world owes anything to people with intelligence. Of course such ideas are never explicitly discussed but there is a massive undercurrent which promotes such thinking at the IITs. There are absolutely brilliant students at these institutes. Students who have to study merely for a few hours before the exams to completely crack it open. It is natural then that the ideals of such people and of such an intelligence are continuously reinforced at a subconscious level. Too bad then that the real world doesn't really care too much about it and the thing that really seems to matter finally is how hard one can work at something. I am not saying that intelligence doesn't figure into the equation but that it is not enough, which is precisely what was reinforced in my undergraduate education. And this conclusion is just for material successes. I feel that ultimately the only important thing is if one can be happy about the various situations one is in. The satisfaction from one's work, the social situation one is in, the intellectual stimulation from the environment, perhaps the existence of more intangible emotions like altruism and empathy which make you feel connected to a wider reality, all of these must add up to one's final degree of happiness and I have a sneaking suspicion that people who are made to believe in the virtues of raw intelligence and not hard-work are dealt a rather poor hand when such sum total is considered.
I used to feel a particular emotion and I have seen it far too often in others. The sinking feeling that the world isn't the way that one was led to believe by one's family, relatives, friends, peers, teachers, and professors. That it has little value for the fact that you cracked a tough exam many many years ago. I sometimes wonder about those 'adults' who should have known better and I wonder about the sort of priorities they must have. They are not the only ones who got it wrong. They must be the precipitates of a culture where such proclivities are more than just skin deep.
From Proust's "In Search of Lost Time", second part:
"Now the memories of love are no exception to the general laws of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general laws of Habit. And as Habit weakens everything, what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance, and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memories exists outside us, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which, when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source, can make us weep again. Outside us? Within us, rather, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. In the broad daylight of our habitual memory the images of the past turn gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we shall never recapture it. Or rather we should never recapture it had not a few words been carefully locked away in oblivion."
A similarly beautiful passage occurs in the first part:
"But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."
I have often thought about why is it that nature is so fast whereas our simulations of it are so annoyingly slow and my mind always goes to the same sort of conclusion, nature is a massively parallel system, a seamless collection of very simple processes all taking place at the same time. It then appears that a computation strategy which mimics this parallelism to a certain extent will serve to gain much in terms of sheer computational power and efficiency. Of course there must be incredible challenges or it would be done by now but there you are. Now GPU (graphical processing unit) computing is something which looks suspiciously relevant in this scenario and I have begun exploring it a little for my own purposes. GPU computing allows one to execute massive number of relatively simple processes all at the same time. The catch is that the problem often has to be recast to make it suitable for treatment within the GPU paradigm but if this can be done, and done well, it may lead to significant improvements in efficiency.
Having said that any researcher worth his salt should begin coding in C or fortran and then exploit NVIDIA's CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) to do computations on the NVIDIA GPUs present in most modern computers. I, however, am not a researcher worth my salt, at least not yet by that definition. I code in MATLAB and have recently moved to Python, driven by my pursuit to rid myself of all software which is not exactly free. Python coupled with Numpy is a formidable competitor to MATLAB and it makes sense to eventually port everything to it, if not C and Fortran. This still leaves the issue of parallelization. Fortunately NVIDIA has begun supporting python through PyCuda and I have spent the better part of the last two days trying to figure out how to make it all work. To use Python+Numpy+PyCUDA I needed to install a few things on my machine (Windows 7). Here is a list:
1. Python 2.7.5 from http://www.python.org/getit/ (I used the x86-64 installer which is suitable for 64 bit Win7). I went to the directory where Python is installed and copied its address to the PATH variable. This allows you to run the Python interpreter from the command line.
2. Numpy. A great list of Python packages is at http://www.lfd.uci.edu/~gohlke/pythonlibs/ with numpy being at http://www.lfd.uci.edu/~gohlke/pythonlibs/#numpy. I initially made the mistake of using a comprehensive Python distribution (Anaconda) which contains both Python and Numpy. It, however, did not make the correct registry entries and, therefore, gave me incredible grief when I was trying to install CUDA. I found it simpler just to do everything myself. Additional necessary packages which I installed from this page were Pytools, Setuputils, matplotlib (and its dependencies).
3. PyCuda can also be installed from http://www.lfd.uci.edu/~gohlke/pythonlibs/#pycuda
4. It's nice to have an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Python and I have installed Eclipse for this purpose. You can download it at http://www.eclipse.org/ and look at http://www.vogella.com/articles/Python/article.html for an excellent tutorial on how to get it running and making Python codes.
5. Visual Studio. I haven't been able to figure out why this is required yet but apparently it is essential. I installed VS 2012 Professional from http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/eng/downloads.
6. Finally it is time to install CUDA. This can be done from https://developer.nvidia.com/cuda-downloads, choosing the appropriate version for your OS.
Once all this is done you just have to write a python code appropriately configured to use CUDA and voila, it won't run! The trouble is that certain connections which let python know which compiler to use to invoke the CUDA parts of the code don't exist yet. To make those connections consult this: http://wiki.tiker.net/PyCuda/Installation/Windows. However, I had to make appropriate changes to the PATH instructions because my VS is 2012 and not 2008. For some reason my VS installation was also not in the same directory as shown in that link. Moreover, it was a bit of a trouble finding nvcc.profile and then editing it given that it is a read only file to begin with. Anyway, I'm all set now!