A Journey among numbers and beyond
The last couple of years have been a fruitful journey. I have waded into the world of data analytics and appreciate the new perspectives that has opened up along the way. For the longest time, I have dabbled in finance and accounting, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the technical aspects of those fields. And then the courses that I have taken at Georgia Tech has given me a deeper appreciation of data and data patterns. Surfacing relationships which I perhaps would not have seen, drawing inferences that are counter-intuitive to impulsive thinking, and establishing a personal nomenclature in decision theory have allowed me to establish compelling narratives and draw emerging patterns on what would originally be the dry and the mundane.
Scale by Geoffrey West propelled me into the world of complexity theory. So much so that I have finished half a book on a field that I knew nothing about: yet, I found that field fascinating which led me to study the vast literature in Complexity Theory and the historical evolution of systems thinking. I have pledged that once my data analytics program is done with, I will immediately pursue a deeper dive into systems engineering. This leads me to additional discoveries of myself and the amazing world that we live in. Let me explain further:
I was trained as an economist at college. I had an interest in Neo-classical economics and the Austrian school of economics, in particular! Under the guidance of some amazing professors ( Dr. Kurt Leube, Dr. Shyam Kamath, and Dr. Stephen Shmanske), I jumped into economic philosophy with wild abandon. That led me to spend oodles of time reading Menger, Hayek, Mises, Kirzner, Bohm-Bawerk, Keynes, Friedman, Amartya Sen and Herbert Simon. I wish I would have read more, but the list was long and the time was short. Alas, I graduated! And when I secured a Masters in Finance, I took a tangential interest in accounting and all of a sudden: I fell in love with accounting theory and practice. It is often said that economists and accountants do not make good bed fellows, but I might be a notable exception to the rule. I approached accounting with the scalpel of economic analysis, and then the world of GAAP and IFRS became very clear. So once again, I wanted to go deep in accounting and finance and thereby received my graduate degree in both fields. And then years and years of work in many different environments that provided active material to supplement my studies.
The work spanned almost three decades since, and I rarely broached the rarified air of academics. Through those years, I became an avid book collector and reignited my interest in literature, history and philosophy. In addition, I had this interest in world cinema, and every couple of years I would immerse myself in watching the films of Elia Kazan, Coppola, Godard, Wilder, Ray, Ford, Kurosawa, Bergman, Ghatak, Scorcese, Fassbinder, Bunuel, Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Chaplin … the list goes on and on and on!
And while at that, I took time to follow my father’s counsel and studied the masters: Russian, English and French novelists, Bellow, Singer, Mann, Marquez, Rushdie, Solzhenitsyn, Mahfouz, Havel, Calvino, Cervantes, Baldwin, Rolland, Voltaire … and between world cinema and world literature – I collected books and felt like these were my strawberry fields – forever! I tried my hand publishing a book of poetry and then crafted an entire novel of a family in India: from 1792 through 2004 which led to my interest in history: started off with my interest in the history of Bengal and Chittagong before it expanded through strands to encompass the history of the world. But these were routine and aimless wanderings in the garden of delights: late into the nights and far from the madding crowd. But work continued: and it took me, a Bombayite from Calcutta, to faraway places where I perhaps would never have dreamt of being : London, Paris, Copenhagen, Dublin, Colombo, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, Warsaw, and many other less famous places. Travel provides a further elasticity of mind I think : it places you in territories without maps and then you are left to wander again: I frequented cafes, the bazaars, the street eateries, the museums, the pubs, the bookstores and the libraries. It dawns upon you then: everything is connected – somehow the world conspires to reveal those connections if you open your eyes wide enough. That was the other me – another self that was not rooted, except upon the common ground of humanity. I needed a constant in my life: work provided that constancy.
Here I am: thirty years or so and I am realizing that the duality of my self is merging rapidly. I think it is what Goethe would call the gestalt awakening: the realization that everything distant and discrete is part of a unified whole. Data analytics validated that since it brought together discrete worlds by the means of mathematics and statistical awakening. And yet there is this deep and bigger feeling : there is more to know and I am running out of time. My days are getting longer, my reading list is getting longer, and sometimes I feel that I am trying to pack matter into this white dwarf of my brain and weaving my cosmology of mind. It is a remarkable feeling to start seeing the world as a montage of images — and together it makes a lot of sense.
When I read of some of the classic thinkers of early ages – those who have walked the corridors of Oxford and Cambridge in particular – the Dominican friars, the ratnas in Indian courts, the irreverent thinkers and the Isadora Duncans – I am amazed at their accomplishments and wide interests in vast intellectual territories: how could one so young cover so much and then hammer out some of the greatest treatises that serve as timeless colonnades in boulevards of thought. It seemed so impossible and I might attribute this to the fact that there were perhaps less distractions then – more introspection that led one to articulate their thoughts. What world would produce a Ben Franklin and a Bacon, Shakespeare and Aristotle, Proust and Montaigne, Voltaire and Cervantes! It is amazing to reflect back upon these masters and just wonder: WOW!
I live in a world today where the benefits of cheap and free education is widely available: I live in a world where it is easy for me to communicate with scholars at the Santa Fe Institute: I live in a world where I can now rake my interest in natural sciences to put everything together: I live in a world where I have access to great lectures in great halls: I live in a world where I can hop into my car and head off to Berkeley to meet old friends and have a good laugh: I live in a world which is crazy amazing. I might even have the Panglossian streak: we live in the best of all possible worlds and it will only get better.
But it matters now more than ever to create that framework: and that is what I was referring to earlier, namely: my interest in system engineering. It is less about engineering – I do not know much about it and I am less sure that I want be one, but what I do know is that it proffers a framework that creates the boundaries such that all the points of light come together is a scintillating hue. How do we find order in chaos? What is the mind-body problem? How do the puzzles of yesteryears get solved in the light of the interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach in our world today. I worked as a CFO at Singularity, and had the pleasure of engaging with brilliant minds like Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil: they spoke in abundance about the abundance of the world and the arrival of Singularity – but I look upon singularity differently now – it is the ocean where all the tributaries of distant subjects come together – and with the churning of the ocean – new paradigms, new discoveries, new literature, new expression and new humanity emerge. In 1946, Capra directed : It is a Wonderful Life. 75 years later and it is only getting better! It is a Marvelous Life.