Dr. Suprakash Roy appears in The Best Seller, a novel by Arunabha Sengupta.

A cyber conscious mender of minds, he is interested in the effect of the modern world of the internet and social networking in changing human behaviour.

The following are a demonstration of how the doctor's own mind works, extrapolated from the novel.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Change of Weather

23rd September, 2010 ... Facebook faces technical problems.

Some New Yorkers used the Facebook outage as an opportunity to step away from the computer and enjoy the weather.

"Since facebook went down, I went outside. I forgot how nice September can be. Go outside," tweeted user Broadbandito, who is located in New York.

Change of weather? Clouding of the virtual skies enabling us to switch on the sunlight in our lives?

Strange times.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Net aided Neocortex and Community Stamp Collection

University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Wegner conducted an experiment to demonstrate what he calls transactive memory.

It seems all memory is not stored within our own heads. As social animals, whenever we interact closely, a lot of storage takes place outside, in combination with other cortical cells as well. Almost like a joint memory account.

He conducted a memory test involving  59 couples, all dating each other for the last three months. Half of them were allowed to form pairs between themselves, and the other half were split up and paired randomly. Wegner then asked all the pairs to read 64 statements, each with an underlined word. Eg. Midori is a Japanese melon liqueur.

Five minutes later, they were asked to write down as many of the underlined words as they remembered. Sure enough, the pairs who knew each other could remember a lot more. They seemed to have an implicit joint memory system.

Cognition in community is different from cognition of individuals. Same with memory and reactions.  The difference in the behaviour of one by himself and in a group is very well known and analysed.

A community existing together tends to develop a set of characteristics unique to the group. Where, as a group, they like, dislike, appreciate, hate, idolise and take steps that would have been alien to the individual lives of the different individuals who constitute the group.

Think what it means in terms of communities like Facebook, Orkut, Twitter and the rest. As people tend to spend more and more time within the groups, the questions crops up.

How much does an individual think for oneself?
Is it a tweet and then the migratory reflex takes over the population, with each one unsure of the direction, moving as a united whole? Much as the migratory birds do?

But then, man is a social animal.

With neocortical volumes of apes proportional to the intelligence, and that in turn proportional to the size of the groups they can peacefully cohabit, man finds himself in the biggest communities.

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar found the phenomenon very striking and also fit an equation linking cortical volume with community size.  The more a community grows, the bigger is the number of multiple way interactions that one has to keep track of. In a five member group, one has to contend with 6 interpersonal dynamics apart from the four between self and others. When the group increases to 10 members, it becomes 36 interpersonal relationships added to nine between self and others. So, naturally, living and cohabiting peacefully in a big group requires sufficient brain size to manage all relationships and interactions.

The size of the ideal human group based on the cortical volume, according to the equation derived by Dunbar, is 147.8 or roughly 150. Human beings are programmed through evolution so that more than 150 people in a group necessitates branching into different communities or creating a complicated system of hierarchy. That’s why military units are hardly ever more than 150 and some of the hunter gatherer tribes who survive to this day, like the Hutterites, make it a point to branch off into other group once the member count reaches 150. Even high tech firm Gore Associates, Newark, Delaware, follows the policy of opening a new office whenever a centre exceeds 150.

The reason for a cap in the number of members in a group is simple. Bonding as friends, or close associates, empathising and resonating takes time, and burns emotional energy. At more than 150, our channel capacity is exhausted. Then the group behaviour becomes erratic, unmanageable and unpredictable, often harmful.

However, we see people collecting friends like stamps on Social Networking sites, often ‘friends’ numbering more than 500, and moving as a unified group along with them. The 150 boundary is flagrantly overstepped.

The questions that naturally arise are ...
Is an individual losing individuality, burnt out in expended emotional energy ?
Are the friendships meaningful?
Are networks moving haphazardly, malfunctioning their way to some downfall?
Are human beings, powered by internet, evolving to have greater net aided neocortical capabilities?
How easy is it in today’s community linked world to control the minds of many in unscrupulous ways?
Is some self motivated power not already doing it?

Well ... we have to wait, watch and find out ...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Evolution of Language and Cognition in Twitter Age

Body language matters …

When talking to people, there are different expressions, facial features and gestures typical to types of individuals that tip the cognitive map of our brains into liking, disliking, trusting, mistrusting, developing a rapport, remaining aloof, becoming friendly, falling in love, getting aroused and all sorts of emotions.

In a strange chain reaction, various ancient memories mapped in our schema, of this life or ancestral, comes into the picture. You may like someone because she moves her lips as you speak, as if trying to repeat what you have just said … something mapped to your schema of the mind because your high school girlfriend used to do the same. You may not like a salesperson because his eyes move too quickly, arising memories long dead, of an ancient ancestor being confronted by a snake.

Tone of  the voice, shift of the eye, twitch of the facial muscles, position of the hands, these are different for people with different traits – which allow them to connect as senders, receivers and carriers of emotion.  If we see two people in conversation, a silent video film of their interaction will produce particular patterns that can be correlated with the dynamics built up by the two. The eyes contribute to 80% of the senses, so the visual factor influences the cognitive maps in ways no sense organ can even approach. Most of this connection often takes place within the first blink of the eye.

And in the modern day, people are being heralded at birth by Twitter, tracking progress on facebook and communicating in mediums of chat, sms, emails … A lot of the connection between people happen over the connection space of the social network, where, following body signals with eyes is eliminated from the equation, replaced by smileys. The dance that we witness in a video recording of interaction between individuals is replaced by distinct images of space and time separated reactions to scraps, wall posts, emails and texts. Even in real time chat, one does not see the movement of the eye, the twitch of the face.

But, as the worldview, and with it, the interaction space changes, human beings will evolve in their cognitive connections. New words, expressions and language quirks are bound to come into communication. I am not speaking of ROFL and GNSD and WYSIWYG. There are bound to crop up specific  patterns of word usage in the medium of the net that will distinguish senders from receivers, that will be instrumental in building  rapport among different individuals, that will emit the approximation of those signals produced by subtle movement of body parts, facial features … and within the secret cognitive map of the human being, will develop the skill of reading and deciphering these signals. Probably a lot of it has already developed. 

Language and cognition of language is undergoing an upheaval. We are some years from knowing the exact details.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Virtual World Record

When we talk of world records in sports, we are still restricted to the field of play - even when the erstwhile distinct divide of the world into the actual and the virtual is becoming more and more fuzzy.

And like every sphere of the actual game, in the virtual world too, Sachin Tendulkar is the trailblazer, lighting up the web in a way that outshines firewalls.

When he was nearing his 200 against South Africa - the first man to score a double hundred in an One Day International - the crowd of users flocking to check the updates crashed Cricinfo.com. For a long period of time, the site was unavailable. The first time this had happened because of overload in the history of the website.

Mark of a genius ... and I guess some indication of the way he influences the lives of millions.

However, I get the feeling that before long the charisma, x-factor, and popularity of sportsmen will be judged by the number of hits - not across the net or past the fielders, but on the web pages.

Or is it already the case? New cognitive world view ... new Weltanschauung.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Information Freeway or Modern Maoism?

Social Networking is the panacea of many. Especially for the BRIC nations, blogs, status updates, family photo albums, political tweets and virtual videos are a window to sharing with the rest of the world. The East West divide of progress of the 20th century is more or less reverse replicated in the extent of social network usage across the world. And this information sharing has brought about a revolution in the way of life and understanding of the same.

However, when I asked pointed questions over implications of powers with vested interests controlling sites that people take for granted as gateways to information - Google and Wikipedia - people grew uncomfortable, but ultimately scoffed.

Pessimistic as it sounds, it may not be too far from the truth. Who will pass up this monumental opportunity of propaganda if given the chance?

China has already started creating a great wall around the information highway. And the graph given here will demonstrate how different states are very, very concerned about controlling information and manipulating minds.

In this world view of unprecedented group think with scarce thinking and more forwarding social networked animals, mind control of the mass is easier than ever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

iPhone therefore I am - net nuggets

With one Apple, expelled from Eden ... with iPad, iPhone, iBook, iTunes, iPod ??? Expelled from earth to roam forever in virtual reality

iPhone therefore I am

A world that wakes up to read the writing on the wall

Twitter has made the world more forward thinking than ever ... albeit more prone to forward than think

The click shall inherit the earth

Facebook - a combination of id, ego and superego ... with id signifying electronic identity

Cosmic consciousness or end of free will?

Words of the Prophet are written on the Facebook Wall ...

Click and thou shalt find

Thy will be done ... on earth as on the web

Panic is infectious, twitter and facebook the carriers ... the social networked animal is approaching the tipping point of an epidemic

About Me

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A novelist and cricket historian, Arunabha Sengupta is the author of three novels and the Chief Cricket Writer on cricketcountry.com. In his novels he deals with the contemporary world with acerbic humour. In his cricket writings he covers the history and romance in the game, while his post graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces