Quant Talent Management

The trouble with quants is that it is hard to keep them anchored to their moorings. Their talent is in high demand for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is the increasing sophistication of the banking clients, who demand increasingly more structured products with specific hedging and speculative motives. Servicing their demand calls for a small army of quants supporting the trading desks and systems.

Since structured products are a major profit engine on the trading floor of most banks, this demand represents a strong pull factor for quants from competing institutions. There is nothing much most financial institutions can do about this pull factor, except to pull them back in with offers they can’t refuse.

But we can try to eliminate the push factors that are hard to identify. These push factors are often hidden in the culture, ethics and the way things get done in institutions. They are, therefore, specific to the geographical location and the social settings where the banks operate.

Performance Appraisal — Who Needs It?

Performance appraisal is a tool for talent retention, if used wisely. But, if misused, it can become a push factor. Are there alternatives that will aid in retaining and promoting talent?

As it stands now, we go through this ordeal of performance appraisal at least once every year. Our career progression, bonus and salary depend on it. So we spend sleepless nights agonizing over it.

In addition to the appraisal, we also get our “key performance indicators” or KPIs for next year. These are the commandments we have to live by for the rest of the year. The whole experience of it is so unpleasant that we say to ourselves that life as an employee sucks.

The bosses fare hardly better though. They have to worry about their own appraisals by bigger bosses. On top of that, they have to craft the KPI commandments for us as well — a job pretty darned difficult to delegate. In all likelihood, they say to themselves that their life as a boss sucks!

Given that nobody is thrilled about the performance appraisal exercise, why do we do it? Who needs it?

The objective behind performance appraisal is noble. It strives to reward good performance and punish poor shows — the old carrot and stick management paradigm. This objective is easily met in a small organization without the need for a formal appraisal process. Small business owners know who to keep and who to sack. But in a big corporate body with thousands of employees, how do you design a fair and consistent compensation scheme?

The solution, of course, is to pay a small fortune to consultants who design appraisal forms and define a uniform process — too uniform, perhaps. Such verbose forms and inflexible processes come with inherent problems. One problem is that the focus shifts from the original objective (carrot and stick) to fairness and consistency (one-size-fits-all). Mind you, most bosses know who to reward and who to admonish. But the HR department wants the bosses to follow a uniform process, thereby increasing everybody’s workload.

Another, more insidious problem with this consultancy driven approach is that it is necessarily geared towards mediocrity. When you design an appraisal process to cater to everybody, the best you can hope to achieve is to improve the average performance level by a bit. Following such a process, the CERN scientist who invented the World Wide Web would have fared badly, for he did not concentrate on his KPIs and wasted all his time thinking about file transfers!

CERN is a place that consistently produces Nobel laureates. How does it do it? Certainly not by following processes that are designed to make incremental improvements at the average level. The trick is to be a center for excellence which attracts geniuses.

Of course, it is not fair to compare an average bank with CERN. But we have to realize that the verbose forms, which focus on averages and promote mediocrity, are a poor tool for innovation management, especially when we are trying to retain and encourage excellence in quant talent.

A viable alternative to standardized and regimented appraisal processes is to align employee objectives with those of the institutions and leave performance and reward management to bosses. With some luck, this approach may retain fringe geniuses and promote innovation. At the very least, it will alleviate some employee anxiety and sleepless nights.

To Know or Not To Know

One peculiar push factor in the Asian context is the lack of respect for technical knowledge. Technical knowledge is not always a good thing in the modern Asian workplace. Unless you are careful, others will take advantage of your expertise and dump their responsibilities on you. You may not mind it as long as they respect your expertise. But, they often hog the credit for your work and present their ability to evade work as people management skills.

People management is better rewarded than technical expertise. This differentiation between experts and middle-level managers in terms of rewards is a local Asian phenomenon. Here, those who present the work seem to get the credit for it, regardless of who actually performs it. We live in a place and time where articulation is often mistaken for accomplishments.

In the West, technical knowledge is more readily recognized than smooth presentations. You don’t have to look beyond Bill Gates to appreciate the heights to which technical expertise can take you in the West. Of course, Gates is more than an expert; he is a leader of great vision as well.

Leaders are different from people managers. Leaders provide inspiration and direction. They are sorely needed in all organizations, big and small.

Unlike people mangers, quants and technical experts are smart cookies. They can easily see that if they want to be people managers, they can get started with a tie and a good haircut. If the pickings are rich, why wouldn’t they?

This Asian differentiation between quants and managers, therefore, makes for a strong push factor for some quants who find it worthwhile to hide their technical skills, get that haircut, grab that tie, and become a people manager. Of course, it comes down to your personal choice between fulfilment and satisfaction originating from technical authority on the one hand, and convenience and promotions arising from people skills on the other.

I wonder whether we have already made our choices, even in our personal lives. We find fathers who cannot get the hang of changing diapers household chores. Is it likely that men cannot figure out washing machines and microwaves although they can operate complicated machinery at work? We also find ladies who cannot balance their accounts and estimate their spending. Is it really a mathematical impairment, or a matter of convenience? At times, the lack of knowledge is as potent a weapon as its abundance.

How Much is Talent Worth?

Banks deal in money. Our profession in finance teaches us that we can put a dollar value to everything in life. Talent retention is no different. After taking care of as much of the push factors as we can, the next question is fairly simple: How much does it take to retain talent?

My city-state of Singapore suffers from a special disadvantage when it comes to talent management. We need foreign talent. It is nothing to feel bad about. It is a statistical fact of life. For every top Singaporean in any field — be it finance, science, medicine, sports or whatever — we will find about 500 professionals of equal calibre in China and India. Not because we are 500 times less talented, just that they have 500 times more people.

Coupled with overwhelming statistical supremacy, certain countries have special superiority in their chosen or accidental specializations. We expect to find more hardware experts in China, more software gurus in India, more badminton players in Indonesia, more entrepreneurial spirit and managerial expertise in the west.

We need such experts, so we hire them. But how much should we pay them? That’s where economics comes in — demand and supply. We offer attractive expatriate packages that the talents would bite.

I was on an expatriate package when I came to Singapore as a foreign talent. It was a fairly generous package, but cleverly worded so that if I became a “local” talent, I would lose out quite a bit. I did become local a few years later, and my compensation diminished as a consequence. My talent did not change, just the label from “foreign” to “local.”

This experience made me think a bit about the value of talent and the value of labels. The local quant talents, too, are beginning to take note of the asymmetric compensation structure associated with labels. This asymmetry and the consequent erosion of loyalty introduce another push factor for the local quant talents, as if one was needed.

The solution to this problem is not a stricter enforcement of the confidentiality of salaries, but a more transparent compensation scheme free of anomalies that can be misconstrued as unfair practices. Otherwise, we may see an increasing number of Asian nationals using Singapore-based banks as a stepping stone to greener pastures. Worse, we may see (as indeed we do, these days) locals seeking level playing fields elsewhere.

We need to hire the much needed talent whatever it costs; but let’s not mistake labels for talent.

Handling Goodbyes

Losing talent is an inevitable part of managing it. What do you do when your key quant hands in the dreaded letter? It is your worst nightmare as a manager! Once the dust settles and the panic subsides, you should ask yourself, what next?

Because of all the pull and push factors discussed so far, quant staff retention is a challenge. New job offers are becoming increasingly more irresistible. At some stage, someone you work closely with — be it your staff, your boss or a fellow team member — is going to say goodbye. Handling resignations with tact and grace is no longer merely a desirable quality, but an essential corporate skill today.

We do have some general strategies to deal with resignations. The first step is to assess the motivation behind the career choice. Is it money? If so, a counter offer is usually successful. Counter offers (both making them and taking them) are considered ineffective and in poor taste. At least, executive search firms insist that they are. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

If the motivation behind the resignation is the nature of the current or future job and its challenges, a lateral movement or reassignment (possibly combined with a counter offer) can be effective. If everything fails, then it is time to bid goodbye — amicably.

It is vitally important to maintain this amicability — a fact often lost on bosses and HR departments. Understandably so because, by the time the counter offer negotiations fail, there is enough bitterness on both sides to sour the relationship. Brush those wounded feelings aside and smile through your pain, for your paths may cross again. You may rehire the same person. Or, you may end up working with him/her on the other side. Salvage whatever little you can for the sake of positive networking.

The level of amicability depends on corporate culture. Some organizations are so cordial with deserting employees that they almost encourage desertion. Others treat the traitors as the army used to — with the help of a firing squad.

Both these extremes come with their associated perils. If you are too cordial, your employees may treat your organization as a stepping stone, concentrating on acquiring only transferable skills. On the other extreme, if you develop a reputation for severe exit barriers in an attempt to discourage potential traitors, you may also find it hard to recruit top talent.

The right approach lies somewhere in between, like most good things in life. It is a cultural choice that an organization has to make. But regardless of where the balance is found, resignation is here to stay, and people will change jobs. Change, as the much overused cliché puts it, is the only constant.

Summing Up…

In a global market that demands ever more customization and structuring, there is an unbearable amount of pull factor for good quants. Quant talent management (acquisition and retention) is almost as challenging as developing quant skills yourself.

While powerless against the pull factor, banks and financial institutions should look into eliminating hidden push factors. Develop respect and appreciation for hard-to-replace talents. Invent innovative performance measurement metrics. Introduce fair and transparent compensation schemes.

When it all fails and the talent you so long to retain leaves, handle it with tact and grace. At some point in the future, you may have to hire them. Or worse, you may want to get hired by them!


The Asian Tsunami two and a half years ago unleashed tremendous amount energy on the coastal regions around the Indian ocean. What do you think would’ve have happened to this energy if there had been no water to carry it away from the earthquake? I mean, if the earthquake (of the same kind and magnitude) had taken place on land instead of the sea-bed as it did, presumably this energy would’ve been present. How would it have manifested? As a more violent earthquake? Or a longer one?

I picture the earthquake (in cross-section) as a cantilever spring being held down and then released. The spring then transfers the energy to the tsunami in the form of potential energy, as an increase in the water level. As the tsunami radiates out, it is only the potential energy that is transferred; the water doesn’t move laterally, only vertically. As it hits the coast, the potential energy is transferred into the kinetic energy of the waves hitting the coast (water moving laterally then).

Given the magnitude of the energy transferred from the epicenter, I am speculating what would’ve happened if there was no mechanism for the transfer. Any thoughts?

Quant Life in Singapore

Singapore is a tiny city-state. Despite its diminutive size, Singapore has considerable financial muscle. It has been rated the fourth most active foreign exchange trading hub, and a major wealth management center in Asia, with funds amounting to almost half a trillion dollars, according to the Monitory Authority of Singapore. This mighty financial clout has its origins in a particularly pro-business atmosphere, world class (well, better than world class, in fact) infrastructure, and the highly skilled, cosmopolitan workforce–all of which Singapore is rightfully proud of.

Among the highly skilled workforce are scattered a hundred or so typically timid and self-effacing souls with bulging foreheads and dreamy eyes behind thick glasses. They are the Singaporean quants, and this short article is their story.

Quants command enormous respect for their intellectual prowess and mathematical knowledge. With flattering epithets like “rocket scientists” or simply “the brain,” quants silently go about their jobs of validating pricing models, writing C programs and developing complicated spreadsheet solutions.

But knowledge is a tricky thing to have in Asia. If you are known for your expertise, it can backfire on you at times. Unless you are careful, others will take advantage of your expertise and dump their responsibilities on you. You may not mind it as long as they respect your expertise. But, they often hog the credit for your work and present their ability to evade work as people management skills. And people managers (who may not actually know much) do get better compensated. This paradox is a fact of quant life in Singapore. The admiration that quants enjoy does not always translate to riches here.

This disparity in compensation may be okay. Quants are not terribly interested in money for one logical reason–in order to make a lot of it, you have to work long hours. And if you work long hours, when do you get to spend the money? What does it profit a man to amass all the wealth in the world if he doesn’t have the time to spend it?

Besides, quants seem to play by a different set of rules. They are typically perfectionist by nature. At least, I am, when it comes to certain aspects of work. I remember once when I was writing my PhD thesis, I started the day at around nine in the morning and worked all the way past midnight with no break. No breakfast, lunch or dinner. I wasn’t doing ground-breaking research on that particular day, just trying to get a set of numbers (branching ratios, as they were called) and their associated errors consistent. Looking back at it now, I can see that one day of starvation was too steep a price to pay for the consistency.

Similar bouts of perfectionism might grip some of us from time to time, forcing us to invest inordinate amounts of work for incremental improvements, and propelling us to higher levels of glory. The frustrating thing from the quants’ perspective is when the glory gets hogged by a middle-level people manager. It does happen, time and again. The quants are then left with little more than their flattering epithets.

I’m not painting all people managers with the same unkindly stroke; not all of them have been seduced by the dark side of the force. But I know some of them who actively hone their ignorance as a weapon. They plead ignorance to pass their work on to other unsuspecting worker bees, including quants.

The best thing a quant can hope for is a fair compensation for his hard work. Money may not be important in and of itself, but what it says about you and your station in the corporate pecking order may be of interest. Empty epithets are cheap, but it when it comes to showing real appreciation, hard cash is what matters, especially in our line of work.

Besides, corporate appreciation breeds confidence and a sense of self-worth. I feel that confidence is lacking among Singaporean quants. Some of them are really among the cleverest people I have met. And I have traveled far and wide and met some very clever people indeed. (Once I was in a CERN elevator with two Nobel laureates, as I will never tire of mentioning.)

This lack of confidence, and not lack of expertise or intelligence, is the root cause behind the dearth of quality work coming out of Singapore. We seem to keep ourselves happy with fairly mundane and routine tasks of implementing models developed by superior intelligences and validating the results.

Why not take a chance and dare to be wrong? I do it all the time. For instance, I think that there is something wrong with a Basel II recipe and I am going to write an article about it. I have published a physics article in a well-respected physics journal implying, among other things, that Einstein himself may have been slightly off the mark! See for yourself at http://TheUnrealUniverse.com.

Asian quants are the ones closest to the Asian market. For structures and products specifically tailored to this market, how come we don’t develop our own pricing models? Why do we wait for the Mertons and Hulls of the world?

In our defense, may be some of the confident ones that do develop pricing models may move out of Asia. The CDO guru David Li is a case in point. But, on the whole, the intellectual contribution to modern quantitative finance looks disproportionately lopsided in favor of the West. This may change in the near future, when the brain banks in India and China open up and smell blood in this niche field of ours.

Another quality that is missing among us Singaporean parishioners is an appreciation of the big picture. Clichés like the “Big Picture” and the “Value Chain” have been overused by the afore-mentioned middle-level people managers on techies (a category of dubious distinction into which we quants also fall, to our constant chagrin) to devastating effect. Such phrases have rained terror on techies and quants and relegated them to demoralizing assignments with challenges far below their intellectual potential.

May be it is a sign of my underestimating the power of the dark side, but I feel that the big picture is something we have to pay attention to. Quants in Singapore seem to do what they are asked to do. They do it well, but they do it without questioning. We should be more aware of the implications of our work. If we recommend Monte Carlo as the pricing model for a certain option, will the risk oversight manager be in a pickle because his VaR report takes too long to run? If we suggest capping methods to renormalize divergent sensitivities of certain products due to discontinuities in their payoff functions, how will we affect the regulatory capital charges? Will our financial institute stay compliant? Quants may not be expected to know all these interconnected issues. But an awareness of such connections may add value (gasp, another managerial phrase!) to our office in the organization.

For all these reasons, we in Singapore end up importing talent. This practice opens up another can of polemic worms. Are they compensated a bit too fairly? Do we get blinded by their impressive labels, while losing sight of their real level of talent? How does the generous compensation scheme for the foreign talents affect the local talents?

But these issues may be transitory. The Indians and Chinese are waking up, not just in terms of their economies, but also by unleashing their tremendous talent pool in an increasingly globalizing labor market. They (or should I say we?) will force a rethinking of what we mean when we say talent. The trickle of talent we see now is only the tip of the iceberg. Here is an illustration of what is in store, from a BBC report citing the Royal Society of Chemistry.

China Test
National test set by Chinese education authorities for pre-entry students As shown in the figure, in square prism ABCD-A_1B_1C_1D_1,AB=AD=2, DC=2\sqrt(3), A1=\sqrt(3), AD\perp DC, AC\perp BD, and foot of perpendicular is E,

  1. Prove: BD\perp A_1C
  2. Determine the angle between the two planes A_1BD and BC_1D
  3. Determine the angle formed by lines AD and BC_1 which are in different planes.
UK Test
Diagnostic test set by an English university for first year students In diagram (not drawn to scale), angle ABC is a right angle, AB = 3m BC = 4m

  1. What is the length AC?
  2. What is the area of triangle ABC (above)?
  3. What is the tan of the angle ABC (above) as a fraction?

The end result of such demanding pre-selection criteria is beginning to show in the quality of the research papers coming out of the selected ones, both in China and India. This talent show is not limited to fundamental research; applied fields, including our niche of quantitative finance, are also getting a fair dose of this oriental medicine.

Singapore will only benefit from this regional infusion of talent. Our young nation has an equally young (professionally, that is) quant team. We will have to improve our skills and knowledge. And we will need to be more vocal and assertive before the world notices us and acknowledges us. We will get there. After all, we are from Singapore–an Asian tiger used to beating the odds.

Photo by hslo

And the Wind Whispered…

[This post is my translation of an excellent short story by one of the most gifted storytellers of our time, O.V.Vijayan. The translation from Malayalam is a feeble effort, because such distant translations are not merely between languages, but cultures. The untranslatable expressions are marked with asterisks. Enjoy!]

Reached Kanjikad from Palghat by Coimbatore street. From there on, it was unpaved dirt road to the mountains. Even the rough taxi Jeep found that hard to take. This was Theyunni’s second trip here in the last ten years and he had no complaints about the roughness now.

“Ditch ahead”, Driver said, glancing at the dirt road in front.

“If you want to stop here, it’s okay”, Theyunni offered, “I can walk.”

It’s about two miles from here. Accustomed as he was to the comfort of limousine rides between airports and star hotels, the prospect of the hard hike did not discourage Theyunni.

“Nah. We’ll go slow, sit tight.”


The Jeep carefully negotiated the winding mountain road. Theyunni glanced at the wild valley as if for the first time. The sunshine cooled by the hillside, the east winds tunnelled through the mountain passes and roaring towards Palghat…

“The trees are all gone, aren’t they, Driver?”, Theyunni observed.

“All downed. Was forests here till about five years ago. Elephants used to come down.”

Yes, last time when he was here, there were huge trees on either side. Trees he didn’t know the names of. There were crickets all around carrying on with their shrill orchestra. Theyunni recalled that journey. He was coming back to Bombay after a European trip and his wife was at the airport. She said, “There is a letter from home, looks like *Brother’s handwriting.”

“Wonder what is happening. Didn’t you open it, Phoebe?”

“You know I don’t open your letters.”

When the car was moving towards Juhu, Theyunni stole a glance at Phoebe’s face behind the wheel. Like a flawless marble sculpture with golden hair dancing in the wind. It was against her culture to open her husband’s letters. There were many things in her culture that attracted him — her confident courage in kissing him in that garden few years ago, proclaiming, “I love you”. If the relationship were to turn sour in the years to come, the honesty and integrity that would make her say, “I do not love you any more, we have to get divorced”. These were the challenges that inspired him. He remembered the journey home to tell *Father that he was in love with Phoebe, his fellow-student at Stanford. Father did not say anything against it, just smiled his sweet, thoughtful smile. It was *Mother — “We had Devaki’s horoscope looked at…”

Devaki was a distant relative. The daughter of some in-land farmer. Hiding his contempt for horoscopes, Theyunni comforted Mother, “That is not much, Mother. We didn’t give our word.”

Nobody said anything for a while. Then Mother said, “Isn’t understanding as big as word? It’s like Devaki has married you in her heart.”

“It’s the boy’s decision, Madhavi,” Father said, “Why do you want to say this and that?”

Mother withdrew herself, “I didn’t say anything…”

“Don’t worry about Mother’s complaints, Kutta. So, do you like this Phoebe?”

Theyunni was a little embarrassed, “Yes.”

“Will an American girl like to live in this old family house of ours, Kutta?”, Mother inquired.

“Why wouldn’t she?”

Father said, “It’s not as though they are going to come live here, is it?”

“So Father and Son have decided that as well,” Mother said, “that they don’t want to live here?”

“Wherever we live, we’ll come here first, Mother.”

Theyunni saw Mother’s eyes well up. After blessing Phoebe and wishing Devaki well in her life, Mother said, “I won’t ask you to change your mind. But, will you look after Father, Kutta?”

“Of course.”

“You remember how he used to be? His body is getting old…”

Father intervened again with his smile, “Madhavi, why do you say such things and make him unhappy? Don’t pay any attention to her, Kutta.”

Even during the novelty of his love, Theyunni could feel *Devaki’s true meaning in his *rustic heart — the farmer bride who would sweep the floor and light the evening lamp. Mother said, “There was only one thing on my mind — your sister-in-law is not able-bodied. If it had been Devaki, there was a hope that she would look after your father in his old age…”

Theyunni didn’t say anything then. Even in the later years, he couldn’t say anything about that. Phoebe, who never opened her husband’s letters, drove skillfully through the streets of Juhu. When Father fell sick years after the marriage, Phoebe advised, “Your little town is actually a village. Why don’t we take him to a good hospital in a city? We can easily afford that.”

What Father needed was nearness and touch to die peacefully. Theyunni came home alone with those and saw him off. Mother also died in the old family house. Phoebe was back at Stanford then. She sent a formal condolence telegram. *Devaki‘s meaning again filled his mind.

In Juhu, Theyunni read Brother’s letter. “I’m not doing too well, Kutta. Just to let you know. I won’t ask you to take time off your busy schedule and come by these forests. Just think of me, same effect as seeing. Didn’t even let Sreekumar know. I was worried that he might get anxious and take a trip — not easy to come here from Cambridge, is it? If only your sister-in-law had been alive… Weaknesses of an old heart…”

The Jeep continued it’s laborious journey negotiating an occasional ditch and gutter.

“Sorry about the trouble, Driver,” Theyunni tried to comfort the driver.

“Nah, just doing my job.”

Must be another mile from here. It was after his wife’s death that Brother decided to resign from service and move to the high lands. Theyunni vehemently opposed that decision. “Why are you moving to this god-forsaken land in Palghat among leopards and wild boars? Moreover, you could be in service for another 10 years. Even after retiring, you know that a nuclear physicist can do so many things…”

Brother’s reply came, “There are debts that one owes — to one’s country, one’s community, one’s family. I feel that I have repaid my dues to the best of my ability. There are some other obligations that I have to take care of. That’s is why I’m seeking refuge in these valleys.”

Brother never mentioned what those obligations were. Theyunni didn’t inquire either.

The soft-spoken Brother took a decision only after much reasoning; it was not easy to make him go back on them. Later, Brother wrote about his camp-site: about four miles off the road, there were fertile lands lying just outside the woods. Brother built a house there, among coconut palms, vegetables, mango trees… Dirt walls, wooden ceiling and roofs of clay tiles. It was at some distance from anywhere. However, there was a farmer, Ponnuswami, living in a hut nearby. Brother could ask Ponnuswami for help if needed. Apart from that, he was quite alone in that valley. Theyunni could not figure out the meaning of that penance and forgot about it. Years went by. But when Phoebe handed over that unopened letter, he suddenly felt that he should go there in a hurry.

“Well, Phoebe, I’ll go and see what’s going on.”

“What is the name of that place? Kanjikad, isn’t it?”


“Brother had invited me to go and see the mountains.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Must be a perfect place for get-away vacation. But it’s dangerous to get sick there. Why don’t you bring him here? We could have him treated at Jeslock or something.”

Phoebe was repeating her suggestion on treatments. Theyunni remembered the last time the suggestion was offered and it made him uneasy.

“We can’t get inside his mind, Phoebe. I’ll go there and see.”

That was how Theyunni came here for the first time, ten years ago. Not only was he anxious about Brother’s health and solitary life, he also wanted to give Brother a piece of his mind about the untimely penance. When he took a taxi from Coimbatore airport to go to Kanjikad, his mind was filled with impatience and hard feelings towards Brother. The driver got discouraged by the sight of ditches and gutters in the dirt road. It didn’t take too much to provoke Theyunni.

“I could break the axile if I drove up this way,” complained the driver who was Tamil.

“How much does this stupid car of yours cost?”

“Sorry Sir, didn’t mean to…”

“If your car breaks, let it break. I’ll give you what it costs. Drive.”

When he got off the car, Theyunni saw Brother taking a walk in the field — looking bright and healthy.

“Why did you come all this way, Kutta?”, Brother commented on the advisability of the trip.

“You can say that. Living in the forests, writing letters about getting sick, how could I ignore it?”

“Come in.” Brother took him inside the house.

Theyunni looked around and found everything unsatisfactory. “Why do you punish yourself like this?”

“Do I look as though this is punishment?”

Nobody said anything for a while. Then Theyunni inquired, “Who treated you while you were ill?”

“Teat?! Nobody!”

“What am I supposed to say about that?”

Brother smiled, “You don’t get it, do you, Kutta?”

“What do you do for food?”

“I have asked Ponnuswami’s wife to show up. To cook something for you. Me, this is all I eat.”

He pointed to the husks of two young coconuts in the basket. “That was breakfast. Two more for dinner.”

“That is you diet?!”

“Not just diet, medicine as well!”

When it got dark, Theyunni wanted to know, “Brother, what if some thieves show up?”

Brother laughed heartily, “Four white *mundu, four cotton shawls, two towels and some clay pots. That’s all this house holds. The thief is quite peaceful by nature, it’s our avarice that makes him do this and that!”

After dinner, they laid down to sleep — on the floor, on sleeping mats. For Theyunni, it was the first time in a long while without the air conditioner. The winds roared outside the house. Through the mountain passes, like the loud waves in an uptide.


“Yes, Brother?”

“You hear that?”

“The winds, right?”

“Yes, but to you hear them?”

“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

Brother was silent for a while in the darkness. Then he said, “No, you don’t hear them.”

It was with the same dissatisfaction at Brother’s life in the wilderness that Theyunni went back to Bombay. Brother said, seeing him off, “It was a mistake, Kutta. A weakness. Felt like writing to you when I was ill; I won’t bother you like this again. There aren’t any illnesses that these valleys can’t cure. And if there are, do humans have medicines for them?”

Now, it was ten years after those words that Theyunni was coming back. Phoebe was not with him any more. She showed her natural honesty and told him that the love between them had dried out. Theyunni did not fly from Bombay. He took the train to Palghat along with numerous other people. Like in his childhood, in second class. Two day journey. Hills and woods and rivers and villages slowly went by in the window as the train ambled towards Palghat. The old family house was no longer there. So he rested in a hotel and set out for Kanjikad the next morning. His gruffiness during the last journey ten years ago had disappeared now. Theyunni felt that his peacefulness was spreading to the fellow passengers and even the landscapes.

The Jeep driver also was friendliness personified.

“Hard trip, isn’t it, Driver?”

“Nah, we are quite used to these. A little worried about your trouble, that is all.”

Brother’s fences and steps appeared at a distance.

“Over there, Driver.”

“Isolated house, isn’t it, Sir?”


Ponnuswami was waiting by the house. He stepped down to welcome Theyunni. They looked at each other; Ponnuswami wiped his tears.

“He had asked me not to telegram, that is why I wrote a letter instead.” Ponnuswami said, “I am sorry.”

“Not at all, you were respecting Brother’s wishes. I understand.”

Ponnuswami walked over to the backyard. There was a small plot where a Thulasi plant was beginning to take root. Ash remnants of the pyre around it.

“This is it,” Ponnuswami said. “The bones were dropped in the Peroor river. If there are some other rituals you want to do… But,…”

“Yes, Ponnuswami?”

“He said that no rituals were necessary. That he had uprooted the rituals. I am not educated, just thought that he was talking about some sacred state.”

“That must be what he meant.”

“Is Sreekumar coming up?”

“I had telephoned him from Bombay. He is not coming. He had told me one thing — that this land and house are for you.”

Ponnuswami had gone beyond such earthly things. “He also had told me the same thing; I didn’t want to tell you. But, I don’t need any of this. You or Sreekumar could sell these…”

“Brother’s wishes, Ponnuswami. We must respect them.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“How many children do you have?”


“Well, this will be a good place for them to grow up in.”

Ponnuswami bowed once again, “If you ever want to come back and live here, my family and I will get out of here for you.”

“That won’t be necessary, Ponnuswami.”

I don’t deserve to live here, Theyunni said to himself. They got back into the house.

“You take rest. I will get you a young coconut from the fields.”

“The driver is waiting in the Jeep outside. Ask him to come inside and have something to drink.”

When Ponnuswami brought the young coconuts, Theyunni said, “You can go home now, if you like. I’m fine.”

Ponnuswami left. Theyunni said to the driver. “Do you think you can stay here overnight?”

The driver expressed his disagreement through silence.

“Didn’t plan that way when we set out,” Theyunni said. “This is Brother’s house. I came here because he died, couldn’t get here before.”

The driver turned attentive. Theyunni continued, “Feel like sleeping here for a night.”

The driver’s disagreement melted away silently. “I can stay.”

“I can pay you whatever you want for staying.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Time turned red and went down on the hilltops. Theyunni went inside and went through Brother’s wooden box. Three white mundu’s, laundered, three cotton shawls and two towels. Theyunni’s sadness dripped into them. When he went to bed, he was not sad any more, a kind of gratified grief. A fulfillment of love and traditions. He slept with the childhood dreams of fairy tales. Late in the night, he woke up. He listened to the music of the winds. After this night, it would be the trip back to the city. Theyunni could feel Brother’s kindness in the winds. The winds muttered the unknown *Manthras that marked the end of that kindness and life, some *distant baby voices… A night full of sacred whispers, this was the *justification of lifetime.

Theyunni listened to the whispers and slept, awaiting the morning.

The Story So Far …

In the early sixties, Santa Kumari Amma decided to move to the High Ranges. She had recently started working with KSEB which was building a hydro-electric project there.The place was generically called the High Ranges, even though the ranges weren’t all that high. People told her that the rough and tough High Ranges were no place for a country girl like her, but she wanted to go anyways, prompted mainly by the fact that there was some project allowance involved and she could use any little bit that came her way. Her family was quite poor. She came from a small village called Murani (near a larger village called Mallappalli.)

Around the same time B. Thulasidas (better known as Appu) also came to the High Ranges. His familty wasn’t all that poor and he didn’t really need the extra money. But he thought, hey rowdy place anyway, what the heck? Well, to make a long story short, they fell in love and decided to get married. This was some time in September 1962. A year later Sandya was born in Nov 63. And a little over another year and I came to be! (This whole stroy, by the way, is taking place in the state of Kerala in India. Well, that sentence was added just to put the links there, just in case you are interested.) There is a gorgeous hill resort called Munnar (meaning three rivers) where my parents were employed at that time and that’s where I was born.

 [casual picture] Just before 1970, they (and me, which makes it we I guess) moved to Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. I lived in Trivandrum till I was 17. Lots of things happened in those years, but since this post is still (and always will be) work in progress, I can’t tell you all about it now.

In 1983, I moved to Madras, to do my BTech in Electronics and Communication at IIT, Madras. (They call the IITs the MIT of India, only much harder to get in. In my batch, there were about 75,000 students competing for about 2000 places. I was ranked 63 among them. I’m quite smart academically, you see.) And as you can imagine, lots of things happened in those four years as well. But despite all that, I graduated in August 1987 and got my BTech degree.

In 1987, after finishing my BTech, I did what most IITians are supposed to do. I moved to the states. Upstate New York was my destination. I joined the Physics Department of Syracuse University to do my PhD in High Energy Physics. And boy, did a lot of things happen during those 6 years! Half of those 6 years were spent at Cornell University in Ithaca.

That was in Aug. 1987. Then in 1993 Sept, the prestigious French national research organization ( CNRS – “Centre national de la recherche scientifique”) hired me. I moved to France to continue my research work at ALEPH, CERN. My destination in France was the provencal city of Marseilles. My home institute was “Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille” or CPPM. Of course, I didn’t speak a word of French, but that didn’t bother me much. (Before going to the US in 1987, I didn’t speak much English/Americanese either.)

End of 1995, on the 29th of Dec, I got married to Kavita. In early 1996, Kavita also moved to France. Kavita wasn’t too happy in France because she felt she could do much more in Singapore. She was right. Kavita is now an accomplished entrepreneur with two boutiques in Singapore and more business ideas than is good for her. She has won many awards and is a minor celebrity with the Singapore media. [Wedding picture]

In 1998, I got a good offer from what is now the Institute for Infocomm Research and we decided to move to Singapore. Among the various personal reasons for the move, I should mention that the smell of racisim in the Marseilles air was one. Although every individual I personally met in France was great, I always had a nagging feeling that every one I did not meet wanted me out of there. This feeling was further confirmed by the immigration clerks at the Marignane airport constantly asking me to “Mettez-vous a cote, monsieur” and occassionally murmuring “les francais d’abord.”  [Anita Smiles]

A week after I moved to Singapore, on the 24rth of July 1998, Anita was born. Incredibly cute and happy, Anita rearranged our priorities and put things in perspective. Five years later, on the 2nd of May 2003, Neil was born. He proved to be even more full of smiles.  [Neil Smiles more!]

In Singapore, I worked on a lot of various body-based measurements generating several patents and papers. Towards the end of my career with A-Star, I worked on brain signals, worrying about how to make sense of them and make them talk directly to a computer. This research direction influenced my thinking tremendously, though not in a way my employer would’ve liked. I started thinking about the role of perception in our world view and, consequently, in the theories of physics. I also realized how these ideas were not isolated musings, but were atriculated in various schools of philosophy. This line of thinking eventually ended up in my book, The Unreal Universe.

Towards the second half of 2005, I decided to chuck research and get into quantitative finance, which is an ideal domain for a cash-strapped physicist. It turned out that I had some skills and aptitudes that were mutually lucrative to my employers and myself. My first job was as the head of the quantitative analyst team at OCBC, a regional bank in Singapore. This middle office job, involving risk management and curtailing ebullient traders, gave me a thorough overview of pricing models and, perhaps more importantly, perfect understanding of the conflict-driven implementation of the risk appetite of the bank.

 [Dad] Later on, in 2007, I moved to Standard Chartered Bank, as a senior quantitative professional taking care of their in-house trading platform, which further enhanced my "big picture" outlook and inspired me to write Principles of Quantitative Development. I am rather well recognized in my field, and as a regular columnist for the Wilmott Magazine, I have published several articles on a variety of topics related to quants and quantitative finance, which is probably why John Wiley & Sons Ltd. asked me to write this book.

Despite these professional successes, on the personal front, 2008 has been a year of sadness. I lost my father on the 22nd of October. The death of a parent is a rude wake-up call. It brings about feelings of loss and pain that are hard to understand, and impossible to communicate. And for those of us with little gift of easy self-expression, they linger for longer than they perhaps should.

Universe – Size and Age

I posted this question that was bothering me when I read that they found a galaxy at about 13 billion light years away. My understanding of that statement is: At distance of 13 billion light years, there was a galaxy 13 billion years ago, so that we can see the light from it now. Wouldn’t that mean that the universe is at least 26 billion years old? It must have taken the galaxy about 13 billion years to reach where it appears to be, and the light from it must take another 13 billion years to reach us.

In answering my question, Martin and Swansont (who I assume are academic phycisists) point out my misconceptions and essentially ask me to learn more. All shall be answered when I’m assimilated, it would appear! 🙂

This debate is published as a prelude to my post on the Big Bang theory, coming up in a day or two.

Mowgli 03-26-2007 10:14 PM

Universe – Size and Age
I was reading a post in http://www.space.com/ stating that they found a galaxy at about 13 billion light years away. I am trying to figure out what that statement means. To me, it means that 13 billion years ago, this galaxy was where we see it now. Isn’t that what 13b LY away means? If so, wouldn’t that mean that the universe has to be at least 26 billion years old? I mean, the whole universe started from one singular point; how could this galaxy be where it was 13 billion years ago unless it had at least 13 billion years to get there? (Ignoring the inflationary phase for the moment…) I have heard people explain that the space itself is expanding. What the heck does that mean? Isn’t it just a fancier way of saying that the speed of light was smaller some time ago?
swansont 03-27-2007 09:10 AM


Originally Posted by Mowgli
(Post 329204)
I mean, the whole universe started from one singular point; how could this galaxy be where it was 13 billion years ago unless it had at least 13 billion years to get there? (Ignoring the inflationary phase for the moment…)

Ignoring all the rest, how would this mean the universe is 26 billion years old?


Originally Posted by Mowgli
(Post 329204)
I have heard people explain that the space itself is expanding. What the heck does that mean? Isn’t it just a fancier way of saying that the speed of light was smaller some time ago?

The speed of light is an inherent part of atomic structure, in the fine structure constant (alpha). If c was changing, then the patterns of atomic spectra would have to change. There hasn’t been any confirmed data that shows that alpha has changed (there has been the occasional paper claiming it, but you need someone to repeat the measurements), and the rest is all consistent with no change.

Martin 03-27-2007 11:25 AM

To confirm or reinforce what swansont said, there are speculation and some fringe or nonstandard cosmologies that involve c changing over time (or alpha changing over time), but the changing constants thing just gets more and more ruled out.I’ve been watching for over 5 years and the more people look and study evidence the LESS likely it seems that there is any change. They rule it out more and more accurately with their data.So it is probably best to ignore the “varying speed of light” cosmologies until one is thoroughly familiar with standard mainstream cosmology.You have misconceptions Mowgli

  • General Relativity (the 1915 theory) trumps Special Rel (1905)
  • They don’t actually contradict if you understand them correctly, because SR has only a very limited local applicability, like to the spaceship passing by:-)
  • Wherever GR and SR SEEM to contradict, believe GR. It is the more comprehensive theory.
  • GR does not have a speed limit on the rate that very great distances can increase. the only speed limit is on LOCAL stuff (you can’t catch up with and pass a photon)
  • So we can and DO observe stuff that is receding from us faster than c. (It’s far away, SR does not apply.)
  • This was explained in a Sci Am article I think last year
  • Google the author’s name Charles Lineweaver and Tamara Davis.
  • We know about plenty of stuff that is presently more than 14 billion LY away.
  • You need to learn some cosmology so you wont be confused by these things.
  • Also a “singularity” does not mean a single point. that is a popular mistake because the words SOUND the same.
  • A singularity can occur over an entire region, even an infinite region.

Also the “big bang” model doesn’t look like an explosion of matter whizzing away from some point. It shouldn’t be imagined like that. The best article explaining common mistakes people have is this Lineweaver and Davis thing in Sci Am. I think it was Jan or Feb 2005 but I could be a year off. Google it. Get it from your local library or find it online. Best advice I can give.

Mowgli 03-28-2007 01:30 AM

To swansont on why I thought 13 b LY implied an age of 26 b years:When you say that there is a galaxy at 13 b LY away, I understand it to mean that 13 billion years ago my time, the galaxy was at the point where I see it now (which is 13 b LY away from me). Knowing that everything started from the same point, it must have taken the galaxy at least 13 b years to get where it was 13 b years ago. So 13+13. I’m sure I must be wrong.To Martin: You are right, I need to learn quite a bit more about cosmology. But a couple of things you mentioned surprise me — how do we observe stuff that is receding from as FTL? I mean, wouldn’t the relativistic Doppler shift formula give imaginary 1+z? And the stuff beyond 14 b LY away – are they “outside” the universe?I will certainly look up and read the authors you mentioned. Thanks.
swansont 03-28-2007 03:13 AM


Originally Posted by Mowgli
(Post 329393)
To swansont on why I thought 13 b LY implied an age of 26 b years:When you say that there is a galaxy at 13 b LY away, I understand it to mean that 13 billion years ago my time, the galaxy was at the point where I see it now (which is 13 b LY away from me). Knowing that everything started from the same point, it must have taken the galaxy at least 13 b years to get where it was 13 b years ago. So 13+13. I’m sure I must be wrong.

That would depend on how you do your calibration. Looking only at a Doppler shift and ignoring all the other factors, if you know that speed correlates with distance, you get a certain redshift and you would probably calibrate that to mean 13b LY if that was the actual distance. That light would be 13b years old.

But as Martin has pointed out, space is expanding; the cosmological redshift is different from the Doppler shift. Because the intervening space has expanded, AFAIK the light that gets to us from a galaxy 13b LY away is not as old, because it was closer when the light was emitted. I would think that all of this is taken into account in the measurements, so that when a distance is given to the galaxy, it’s the actual distance.

Martin 03-28-2007 08:54 AM


Originally Posted by Mowgli
(Post 329393)
I will certainly look up and read the authors you mentioned.

This post has 5 or 6 links to that Sci Am article by Lineweaver and Davis


It is post #65 on the Astronomy links sticky thread

It turns out the article was in the March 2005 issue.

I think it’s comparatively easy to read—well written. So it should help.

When you’ve read the Sci Am article, ask more questions—your questions might be fun to try and answer:-)

Twin Paradox – Take 2

The Twin Paradox is usually explained away by arguing that the traveling twin feels the motion because of his acceleration/deceleration, and therefore ages slower.

But what will happen if the twins both accelerate symmetrically? That is, they start from rest from one space point with synchronized clocks, and get back to the same space point at rest by accelerating away from each other for some time and decelerating on the way back. By the symmetry of the problem, it seems that when the two clocks are together at the end of the journey, at the same point, and at rest with respect to each other, they have to agree.

Then again, during the whole journey, each clock is in motion (accelerated or not) with respect to the other one. In SR, every clock that is in motion with respect to an observer’s clock is supposed run slower. Or, the observer’s clock is always the fastest. So, for each twin, the other clock must be running slower. However, when they come back together at the end of the journey, they have to agree. This can happen only if each twin sees the other’s clock running faster at some point during the journey. What does SR say will happen in this imaginary journey?

(Note that the acceleration of each twin can be made constant. Have the twins cross each other at a high speed at a constant linear deceleration. They will cross again each other at the same speed after sometime. During the crossings, their clocks can be compared.)

Unreal Time

Farsight wrote:Time is a velocity-dependent subjective measure of event succession rather than something fundamental – the events mark the time, the time doesn’t mark the events. This means the stuff out there is space rather than space-time, and is an “aether” veiled by subjective time.

I like your definition of time. It is close to my own view that time is “unreal.” It is possible to treat space as real and space-time as something different, as you do. This calls for some careful thought. I will outline my thinking in this post and illustrate it with an example, if my friends don’t pull me out for lunch before I can finish. :)

The first question we need to ask ourselves is why space and time seem coupled? The answer is actually too simple to spot, and it is in your definition of time. Space and time mix through our concept of velocity and our brain’s ability to sense motion. There is an even deeper connection, which is that space is a cognitive representation of the photons inputs to our eyes, but we will get to it later.

Let’s assume for a second that we had a sixth sense that operated at an infinite speed. That is, if star explodes at a million light years from us, we can sense it immediately. We will see it only after a million years, but we sense it instantly. I know, it is a violation of SR, cannot happen and all that, but stay with me for a second. Now, a little bit of thinking will convince you that the space that we sense using this hypothetical sixth sense is Newtonian. Here, space and time can be completely decoupled, absolute time can be defined etc. Starting from this space, we can actually work out how we will see it using light and our eyes, knowing that the speed of light is what it is. It will turn out, clearly, that we seen events with a delay. That is a first order (or static) effect. The second order effect is the way we perceive objects in motion. It turns out that we will see a time dilation and a length contraction (for objects receding from us.)

Let me illustrate it a little further using echolocation. Assume that you are a blind bat. You sense your space using sonar pings. Can you sense a supersonic object? If it is coming towards you, by the time the reflected ping reaches you, it has gone past you. If it is going away from you, your pings can never catch up. In other words, faster than sound travel is “forbidden.” If you make one more assumption – the speed of the pings is the same for all bats regardless of their state of motion – you derive a special relativity for bats where the speed of sound is the fundamental property of space and time!

We have to dig a little deeper and appreciate that space is no more real than time. Space is a cognitive construct created out of our sensory inputs. If the sense modality (light for us, sound for bats) has a finite speed, that speed will become a fundamental property of the resultant space. And space and time will be coupled through the speed of the sense modality.

This, of course, is only my own humble interpretation of SR. I wanted to post this on a new thread, but I get the feeling that people are a little too attached to their own views in this forum to be able to listen.

Leo wrote:Minkowski spacetime is one interpretation of the Lorentz transforms, but other interpretations, the original Lorentz-Poincaré Relativity or modernized versions of it with a wave model of matter (LaFreniere or Close or many others), work in a perfectly euclidean 3D space.

So we end up with process slowdown and matter contraction, but NO time dilation or space contraction. The transforms are the same though. So why does one interpretation lead to tensor metric while the others don’t? Or do they all? I lack the theoretical background to answer the question.

Hi Leo,

If you define LT as a velocity dependent deformation of an object in motion, then you can make the transformation a function of time. There won’t be any warping and complications of metric tensors and stuff. Actually what I did in my book is something along those lines (though not quite), as you know.

The trouble arises when the transformation matrix is a function of the vector is transforming. So, if you define LT as a matrix operation in a 4-D space-time, you can no longer make it a function of time through acceleration any more than you can make it a function of position (as in a velocity field, for instance.) The space-time warping is a mathematical necessity. Because of it, you lose coordinates, and the tools that we learn in our undergraduate years are no longer powerful enough to handle the problem.

Of Rotation, LT and Acceleration

In the “Philosophical Implications” forum, there was an attempt to incorporate acceleration into Lorentz transformation using some clever calculus or numerical techniques. Such an attempt will not work because of a rather interesting geometric reason. I thought I would post the geometric interpretation of Lorentz transformation (or how to go from SR to GR) here.

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers. First of, what follows is my understanding of LT/SR/GR. I post it here with the honest belief that it is right. Although I have enough academic credentials to convince myself of my infallibility, who knows? People much smarter than me get proven wrong every day. And, if we had our way, we would prove even Einstein himself wrong right here in this forum, wouldn’t we? :D Secondly, what I write may be too elementary for some of the readers, perhaps even insultingly so. I request them to bear with it, considering that some other readers may find it illuminating. Thirdly, this post is not a commentary on the rightness or wrongness of the theories; it is merely a description of what the theories say. Or rather, my version of what they say. With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s get started…

LT is a rotation in the 4-D space-time. Since it not easy to visualize 4-D space-time rotation, let’s start with a 2-D, pure space rotation. One fundamental property of a geometry (such as 2-D Euclidean space) is its metric tensor. The metric tensor defines the inner product between two vectors in the space. In normal (Euclidean or flat) spaces, it also defines the distance between two points (or the length of a vector).

Though the metric tensor has the dreaded “tensor” word in its name, once you define a coordinate system, it is only a matrix. For Euclidean 2-D space with x and y coordinates, it is the identity matrix (two 1’s along the diagonal). Let’s call it G. The inner product between vectors A and B is A.B = Trans(A) G B, which works out to be a_1b_1+a_2b_2. Distance (or length of A) can be defined as \sqrt{A.A}.

So far in the post, the metric tensor looks fairly useless, only because it is the identity matrix for Euclidean space. SR (or LT), on the other hand, uses Minkowski space, which has a metric that can be written with [-1, 1, 1, 1] along the diagonal with all other elements zero – assuming time t is the first component of the coordinate system. Let’s consider a 2-D Minkowski space for simplicity, with time (t) and distance (x) axes. (This is a bit of over-simplification because this space cannot handle circular motion, which is popular in some threads.) In units that make c = 1, you can easily see that the invariant distance using this metric tensor is \sqrt{x^2 - t^2}.


The Unreal Universe — Discussion with Gibran

Hi again,You raise a lot of interesting questions. Let me try to answer them one by one.

You’re saying that our observations of an object moving away from us would look identical in either an SR or Galilean context, and therefore this is not a good test for SR.

What I’m saying is slightly different. The coordinate transformation in SR is derived considering only receding objects and sensing it using radar-like round trip light travel time. It is then assumed that the transformation laws thus derived apply to all objects. Because the round trip light travel is used, the transformation works for approaching objects as well, but not for things moving in other directions. But SR assumes that the transformation is a property of space and time and asserts that it applies to all moving (inertial) frames of reference regardless of direction.

We have to go a little deeper and ask ourselves what that statement means, what it means to talk about the properties of space. We cannot think of a space independent of our perception. Physicists are typically not happy with this starting point of mine. They think of space as something that exists independent of our sensing it. And they insist that SR applies to this independently existing space. I beg to differ. I consider space as a cognitive construct based on our perceptual inputs. There is an underlying reality that is the cause of our perception of space. It may be nothing like space, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the underlying reality is like Galilean space-time. How would be perceive it, given that we perceive it using light (one-way travel of light, not two-way as SR assumes)? It turns out that our perceptual space would have time dilation and length contraction and all other effect predicted by SR. So my thesis is that the underlying reality obeys Galilean space-time and our perceptual space obeys something like SR. (It is possible that if I assume that our perception uses two-way light travel, I may get SR-like transformation. I haven’t done it because it seems obvious to me that we perceive a star, for instance, by sensing the light from it rather than flashing a light at it.)

This thesis doesn’t sit well with physicists, and indeed with most people. They mistake “perceptual effects” to be something like optical illusions. My point is more like space itself is an illusion. If you look at the night sky, you know that the stars you see are not “real” in the sense that they are not there when you are looking at them. This is simply because the information carrier, namely light, has a finite speed. If the star under observation is in motion, our perception of its motion is distorted for the same reason. SR is an attempt to formalize our perception of motion. Since motion and speed are concepts that mix space and time, SR has to operate on “space-time continuum.” Since SR is based on perceptual effects, it requires an observer and describes motion as he perceives it.

But are you actually saying that not a single experiment has been done with objects moving in any other direction than farther away? And what about experiments on time dilation where astronauts go into space and return with clocks showing less elapsed time than ones that stayed on the ground? Doesn’t this support the ideas inherent in SR?

Experiments are always interpreted in the light of a theory. It is always a model based interpretation. I know that this is not a convincing argument for you, so let me give you an example. Scientists have observed superluminal motion in certain celestial objects. They measure the angular speed of the celestial object, and they have some estimate of its distance from us, so they can estimate the speed. If we didn’t have SR, there would be nothing remarkable about this observation of superluminality. Since we do have SR, one has to find an “explanation” for this. The explanation is this: when an object approaches us at a shallow angle, it can appear to come in quite a bit faster than its real speed. Thus the “real” speed is subluminal while the “apparent” speed may be superluminal. This interpretation of the observation, in my view, breaks the philosophical grounding of SR that it is a description of the motion as it appears to the observer.

Now, there are other observations of where almost symmetric ejecta are seen on opposing jets in symmetric celestial objects. The angular speeds may indicate superluminality in both the jets if the distance of the object is sufficiently large. Since the jets are assumed to be back-to-back, if one jet is approaching us (thereby giving us the illusion of superluminality), the other jet has bet receding and can never appear superluminal, unless, of course, the underlying motion is superluminal. The interpretation of this observation is that the distance of the object is limited by the “fact” that real motion cannot be superluminal. This is what I mean by experiments being open to theory or model based interpretations.

In the case of moving clocks being slower, it is never a pure SR experiment because you cannot find space without gravity. Besides, one clock has to be accelerated or decelerated and GR applies. Otherwise, the age-old twin paradox would apply.

I know there have been some experiments done to support Einstein’s theories, like the bending of light due to gravity, but are you saying that all of them can be consistently re-interpreted according to your theory? If this is so, it’s dam surprising! I mean, no offense to you – you’re obviously a very bright individual, and you know much more about this stuff than I do, but I’d have to question how something like this slipped right through physicists’ fingers for 100 years.

These are gravity related questions and fall under GR. My “theory” doesn’t try to reinterpret GR or gravity at all. I put theory in inverted quotes because, to me, it is a rather obvious observation that there is a distinction between what we see and the underlying causes of our perception. The algebra involved is fairly simple by physics standards.

Supposing you’re right in that space and time are actually Galilean, and that the effects of SR are artifacts of our perception. How then are the results of the Michelson-Morley experiments explained? I’m sorry if you did explain it in your book, but it must have flown right over my head. Or are we leaving this as a mystery, an anomaly for future theorists to figure out?

I haven’t completely explained MMX, more or less leaving it as a mystery. I think the explanation hinges on how light is reflected off a moving mirror, which I pointed out in the book. Suppose the mirror is moving away from the light source at a speed of v in our frame of reference. Light strikes it at a speed of c-v. What is the speed of the reflected light? If the laws of reflection should hold (it’s not immediately obvious that they should), then the reflected light has to have a speed of c-v as well. This may explain why MMX gives null result. I haven’t worked out the whole thing though. I will, once I quit my day job and dedicate my life to full-time thinking. :-)

My idea is not a replacement theory for all of Einstein’s theories. It’s merely a reinterpretation of one part of SR. Since the rest of Einstein’s edifice is built on this coordinate transformation part, I’m sure there will be some reinterpretation of the rest of SR and GR also based on my idea. Again, this is a project for later. My reinterpretation is not an attempt to prove Einstein’s theories wrong; I merely want to point out that they apply to reality as we perceive it.

Overall, it was worth the $5 I payed. Thanks for the good read. Don’t take my questions as an assault on your proposal – I’m honestly in the dark about these things and I absolutely crave light (he he). If you could kindly answer them in your spare time, I’d love to share more ideas with you. It’s good to find a fellow thinker to bounce cool ideas like this off of. I’ll PM you again once I’m fully done the book. Again, it was a very satisfying read.

Thanks! I’m glad that you like my ideas and my writing. I don’t mind criticism at all. Hope I have answered most of your questions. If not, or if you want to disagree with my answers, feel free to write back. Always a pleasure to chat about these things even if we don’t agree with each other.

– Best regards,
– Manoj