One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 14

I liked this interpretation of the history” I said.
“See once, Romans conquered all the olive producing Mediterranean basin and the wheat producing Egypt, the olive trade declined and so the philosophy and democracy with the trade….”

A tractor trolley loaded with foundation-stones roared, as it passed us. It was playing “adda-kona songs” (old bus station; there were music stores that sold audio-cassettes and played loud songs in the noisy traffic) to the loudest, as if the tractor's engine and its speakers were competing for the loudness. In the contest of the noises, I couldn’t hear what the teacher was saying. I kept nodding and smiling, pretending that I am hearing him well. He paused.

“Have you heard of the Darwin finches?” I asked the teacher, once the tractor’s noises faded in the distance.
“I know a bit about them.”
“Don’t you think the diversification, and co-variations of the economic systems and socio-political systems have very much in common to the developments of beak polymorphism in the Darwin finches?”

The teacher didn’t reply. He fixed his glasses and stared down the valley.

“As you know, thirteen (fifteen) finch species were recorded on Galapagos islands…”
“...And they are the well studied. Grants1 studied them for thirty years. They could observe and record the changes in finches as drought changed their food supplies…” I clarified further my question.

“Hmm” was all the teacher said.

I took that response as a sign of silent disagreement.

“Food supply played a key role in human evolution from other apes. One hypothesis is that ancestors of humans started using their hands for collecting food instead of walking like other apes. The freeing of hands made it possible to make tools and increasingly greater supply of food and also migrations to new lands…”

Apparently, my arguments weren’t convincing enough, as they failed to catch the interest the teacher. I felt that down in the valley, there was something more interesting than my arguments. I looked down to find out, what he stared at. Few lights were turned on. I expected the maghrib adhan very soon.

“The seven wonders of the ancient world were either the kings’ burial sites, castles and places of worship. Public buildings such as parliament, churches, mosques and temples were the most prominent buildings till very recent time. But we are witnessing that towers and skyscrapers, with their futuristic designs are becoming more prominent. These towers are the centers of financial activities and is not limited to particular region but are global phenomenon. Food collection and production shaped the ancient humans societies and economies are shaping our world…”

I paused to see, if the teacher had some comments. He was still staring down the valley.

“Are you thinking about something?” I asked.
“Yes.” the teacher replied. “As you mentioned the finches, I remembered an old question that I am still struggling with…”
“What’s the question?” I asked hurriedly.
“Have you heard about the brain’s reward systems?”
“Sort of.”
“Do you still remember our first conversation that I asked you, whether Eids and Wedding celebrations and likes make you happy or not?”
“Balay Ustad!”
“I have long struggled with this questions about behaviors that we enjoy and indulge ourselves into, often obsessively. Take the examples of the craze in football (soccer), cricket, boxing, wrestling, action, thrill and love-story movies, animal racing and fighting, gambling, politics and show-offs just to name few…”
“Balay Ustad.”
“Each of those obsessions have something to do with brain’s reward system…”
“Could have!”
“No, I mean it!
“Our brain have connected pathways of neurotransmitters that reward us in the form of feeling good for behaviors that increase our survival and reproduction. But Humans have also learned to trick the brain in producing the pleasure chemicals….”
“I am not surprised!” I laughed.
“My point is, since cultures vary in their appreciations for different behaviors, and these variations existed for over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, they have caused variations in the brain’s reward system. To make things simple, organisms exposed in different settings for long period of times evolve variations, like the evolution of the beak varieties in the Darwin’s finches …..”



Although, I was introduced to the theory of evolution in 1995-96 through biology class,  but I learnt about Grants’ works (who spent six months of each year on the hot and waterless island of Daphne Major for thirty (more than forty years) consecutive years to study finches) around the year 2000, in the third year of the college.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Conversations With Afghan Teacher; Part 13

“.... You may have heard that most of the earliest human civilizations developed on the fertile soils around the rivers in warm climates where growing crops were easier?...”
“A rudimentary information about the earliest river-civilizations like those of Indus, Euphrates, Nile, and Huang-He  are part of “GENERAL KNOWLEDGE” (As per tradition, serious students read the general knowledge books that were available in the bookstores, and also consumed newspapers regularly in order to be able to compete in the civil-services-examinations, and “general knowledge” was a mandatory part of the examinations.)” I stressed on the word general knowledge to show that I wasn’t that ignorant. “And I also know that rice cultivating civilizations had denser populations than civilizations thrived on wheat and corn 1.” I boastingly added.
“I’m not testing your knowledge.” He smiled. “I just wanted to make sure that you are included in the conversation, so you don’t get bored…”
“No, no…. I’m enjoying the conversation… please carry on...” I was embarrassed. “Actually, I’m not a good conversationalist.” I tried to hide my embarrassment.
“What was your best conversation that you remember?” Asked the teacher unexpectedly.
“Although, I had enjoyed the knowledgeable conversations, but I had enjoyed more the tales of old men about places that I hadn’t visited or the time that I had spent with my friends conversing hours randomly and talking nonsensically…”
“The knowledgeable conversation is very small part of the conversations that interest men. We are creatures with unbounded imaginations that are at work all the times…”

The teacher paused, and we looked down, at the city. The opposite mountains were half bluish-grey and half yellowish-grey. Despite all of its problems, it was a beautiful valley, particularly during early mornings and evenings. Something that was to be felt than to be described.

“You was talking about the river-civilizations?” I broke the silence.
“Oh, Yes..” he fixed his glasses. “I was saying that Sumer was one of the most innovative earliest river-civilizations. They introduced writing, laws, canal irrigation system, wheel and the famous flood story of Noah also originated there.”
“Balay Ustad.”
“The intensive use of land soured the soil and resultantly, the crop production decreased drastically. Despite all those innovations, the Sumerian civilization couldn’t survive the decrease in the crop productions….”
“That makes sense.” I interjected. “We witnessed the collapse of Soviet Union as a result of poor economy, despite being one of the world leaders in the technological advances.”
“While that’s right but it isn’t a one way road. I will come to that as well. Right now, let’s talk about how means of production and control of the production system shape social structures to a large extent.”
“Balay Ustad.”
“You can see there are more orchards than crop fields in this valley and we both know the reasons. Orchards require less water and labor to maintain, and  can grow on poor soils in comparisons to the crops…”
“Balay Ustad.”
“In comparison, to river-civilizations that were based on irrigation and good soils, there were orchard-civilizations in places that faced water shortage and poor soil conditions like those of Mediterranean basin. Olive was the chief of fruit of those orchards. Olives were fine with poor soils, less water and required less labor to maintain and yet it provided a fruit that didn’t spoil till a year, provided oil that had many uses from cooking to lighting. And more important was the fact that once an olive orchard was established, it lived for almost a millennium producing fruits each year…”
“Very impressive.”
“On downside, although olive trees are evergreen and regenerate upon damages, it takes from five to twelve years and some even twenty years to produce olives. So, a damage to an olive orchard required about a decade to produce olives again…”
“That’s very long time..”
“As olive growing civilizations didn’t have crops to maintain their populations, they traded their olives with those of the crop producing civilizations. You may have heard the story of Prophet Joseph and his brothers?...”
“Right, right.” I replied. “Joseph was from Canaan that became a minister in the Pharaoh's’ court. And the Canaanites depended on imported wheat from Egypt..”
“Right. As olive producing civilizations had plenty of free times and needed peace for their trade and olive orchards, they introduced in depth concepts of ethics, justice and brotherhood through democratic institutions and Philosophical schools in the Greek islands, and Abrahamic institutions and schools in the Mediterranean basin. What we know of today's world are mostly based on ideas borrowed from those orchard institutions…




  1. (Although rice has lower calories *130 to 216 per 100 grams depending on rice type* than wheat *339 calories per 100 grams*, but rice had greater yield than wheat per hectare * for instance before 1960, a hectare of rice could sustain 5.63 people and a hectare of wheat could sustain 3.67 people*. Rice producing regions like, South Asia and most of East Asian countries had dense populations and are still the most dense population centers. In comparison to the rice and wheat, corn has 86 calories per 100 grams and till around 1930 had similar yield per hectare as that of rice, however, since then, the corn yields have surpassed that of rice. Despite high yields, proto-civilization based on corn production like those of Mississipi river remained very small and short lived compared to other river-civilizations. Time and isolation *other river civilizations benefited from trades, sharing of ideas and technologies from each others* are few explanations offered.