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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Why KUFIT

Editorial

The academia signifies the convergence of manifold creative and critical minds. But, sometimes, because disciplines naturally demand diversity of works and schedules, scholars have to be segmented in different academic corners. At the same time, in absence of a plea to come together for common discourses and expansion of knowledge, and because our disciplinary priorities (and sometimes biases) and personal inclinations are so intense, we let our collective potentials atrophy in divergence. Such can be the case in our own place.With physical expansion and inflow of a larger number of academics, KU has turned from the family-like structure of the initial days into a larger community where regular personal contacts and collective work are becoming literally difficult. Hence the significance of an interdisciplinary online platform like Forum for Interdisciplinary Thoughts, KU (KUFIT).

KUFIT comprises a group of academic enthusiasts who promise to represent a motivation for growth by unifying our rational efforts. We will try to think more like scholars and intellectuals than experts of particular disciplines. We will try to educate one another by writing our perceptions of the world through simple essays and stories so that more people will join us in healthy discourses in the future. We invite our colleagues to send us thought-provoking contributions for this monthly online publication and to initiate and augment scholarly discussions through comments.
A New Year is believed to signify new promises and enthusiasms. So, on the occasion of New Year 2068, we are presenting KUFIT as a signifier for intellectual unity among KU academics. We wish to work to envision fresh zeal for collective growth, and to sustain our old values for quality pursuits and services. May our efforts lead us toward a successful and enriching academic future.
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Editorial

 

An Inspiring Book

Deepak Subedi

Recently, I read an interesting and very inspiring book entitled: Surely Mr. Feynman You are Joking by Richard P. Feynman, one of this century’s most brilliant theoretical physicists and original thinkers. The book is based on his conversation with Ralph Leighton. Before commenting on the book, I would like to give a brief introduction of the author himself.

Feynman was born in New York, USA, in 1918 and studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he graduated with BS in 1939. He went to Princeton and received his Ph.D. in 1942. He also worked in the famous Los Alamos Atomic Bomb project during the second World War. He became Professor of theoretical Physics at Cornell University. He was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his monumental work in Quantum electrodynamics (QED). His equally important contributions are the three volumes of lectures on Physics, Feynman’s Lectures on Physics.

Although all the volumes of Feynman’s work are very popular and read by millions, this particular book, Surely Mr. Feynmann You Are Joking, is touching because it is an autobiography of a most colorful personality in Physics. There is an interesting story as to how Feynman conceived the peculiar title for his book. On his first day to Princeton, he had been invited by the Dean, Eisenhart for tea. Mrs. Eisenhart, while pouring tea for him asked “Would you like cream or lemon in your tea, Mr. Feynman?” Feynman replied “I’ll have both, thank you,” While he was still looking for a place to sit, he heard Mrs. Eisenhart laughing and saying: “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.” This is how he created the title of his famous book.

In Surely… Feynman has described some of the memorable events of his life, specially when he was starting his career as a physicist. His peculiar way of describing the events inspires everyone who loves science. He had an extraordinary ability to communicate his knowledge of science to his audience at all levels. The New York Times described him as arguably the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the post-war generation of theoretical physicists. He has employed his extraordinary skill and knowledge in physics in solving a wide range of problems which we encounter in our everyday life. When we read the book, it becomes evident that physics teaches us the way of doing science whichever may be the field. For example he applies his wits in cutting salads to cracking safe, playing drums to painting portraits and even in deciphering the Mayan-calendar.

Most importantly, Feynman put his love of physics to a highest position. He possessed an unquenchable thirst for adventure and unparalleled gift for telling extraordinary stories of his life, which are reflected throughout the book. This book has inspired thousands of physicists around the world. Anyone who is interested in science should read this book in order to cultivate an enthusiasm for learning new things and understanding the joy of doing science.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Criticism

 

Communication scholarship in Nepal: From ‘globalization’ to ‘glocalization’

– Nirmala Mani Adhikary
Communication, as a discipline of knowledge or as an academic field of study, has remained inherently problematic in many non-Western countries – Asians and Africans alike; Nepal being no exception. On the one hand, these countries indigenously inherit the concept of communication, and have been practicing it since time-immemorial. On the other, communication-as-modern-discipline-of-knowledge is borrowed from the West.
There must exist communication practice and theory in every living society. Thus a communication tradition, rich and refined both in theory and practice, should have been an inseparable part of Nepali culture as Nepal is the inheritor of culturally rich civilization. In this light, communication should be considered indigenous – both as practice and concept.
But, as a discipline of knowledge or as an academic field of study, curricula on communication have not been enriched with such indigenous content. In fact, the non-Western countries had three options while they were developing curricula of communication and/or allied disciplines. First, they could have drawn on native perspectives thereby primarily incorporating indigenous concepts, if not theories and models, of communication. Second, it was much easier for them to adopt solely the Western discursive paradigm. Third, they could have adopted comparative approach thus incorporating both indigenous and Western contents, and facilitating ‘indigenization’. Whereas indigenous theories are native, rooted in specific cultures, and emphasize the human experience in specific cultures; indigenization refers to processes of transforming U.S. theories so that they are appropriate in other cultures.
Of these, the adoption of the Western paradigm has been the general practice. Generally, the course curricula on communication and allied disciplines have been West-centric. There are profound reasons for this. I would like to mention three reasons. First, the ‘modern’ system of education itself has been adopted from the West. Second, as academic fields of study, communication, media, and journalism first gained recognition and evolved in the West, particularly in the USA. Third, most of all, the triumph of ‘globalization’ has been the decisive factor in this regard. ‘Globalization’ legitimizes unidirectional gateway for the flow of information. And, communication, as an academic field of study, has lackedS indigenous insights, and hence, it has been treated as an exogenous entity ‘imported’ from the West into non-Western countries.
In case of Nepal too, the study of communication in general, and communication theory in particular, has not been shaped in native perspectives. Even a cursory look at the curricula of Tribhuvan University (TU) and Purvanchal University (PU) is enough to observe that any indigenous concept/theory/model of communication is not incorporated there. The pattern is visible not only in case of communication theory, but in other areas of study also. 
 The issue should be viewed in a larger context. A general predisposition of considering ‘Americanization’/’Westernization’ as globalization is not new in Nepal. And, “‘West is the best’ psyche” is something that can be easily perceived. In this light, the acceptance of Western discursive paradigm and the rejection or apathy to native perspectives in the curricula implies that Westernization-as-Globalization has been the dominant paradigm for the discipline of communication in Nepal.
However, I have sought a different approach – ‘glocalization’, when I have an opportunity for designing the curriculum. In other words, I have sought to incorporate local contents and make the curriculum ‘glocalized’. I have been advocating de-westernization the curricula, and incorporating local/indigenous contents and perspectives. For instance, the curriculum we have adopted at KU contains Hindu, Buddhist and other theories/perspectives on communication in addition to the Western ones.
The very reason for such ‘glocalization’ in the curriculum is: this is the only way by which we can make the academic endeavor pertinent to our realities. We are in the age of ‘globalization’, it is true; but, still we are within particular society, culture, and space and time. The students who join our courses have to cope with both the local/national and the global/international. The incorporation of local contents owes to nationalism/patriotism, and to the consciousness of cultural identity.
I think localizing (and ‘glocalizing’) the course contents is essential for both practical and moral reasons. Practically, without the local contents the curriculum would be unrealistic to local realities and inapplicable in the local context. Any curriculum lacking the national/local/indigenous insights should also be rejected on moral ground. Our society represents old civilization with a known history of thousands of years and a distinct cultural identity of its own. It is the inheritor of culturally rich civilization rooted to the Vedic period. This reality must not be forgotten while designing and developing the curricula.
I would like to distinguish between local content and local issue. For me, to incorporate local content would mean incorporating some indigenous approaches/perspectives/theories/models. To accommodate local issue is another matter. For example, a professor may give example of some particular event from Nepal that follows Aristotelian pattern of communication even if the curriculum may stick to Western content (Aristotle’s model of communication) only. In such case, though local issue has been incorporated the curriculum is lacking originality. To incorporate local content, not merely the issue, is significant. As I have mentioned earlier, the curriculum we have adopted at KU contains Hindu, Buddhist and other theories/perspectives on communication in addition to the Western.  Likewise, the course on media ethics has been designed in such a way that it deals with Hindu ethical principles in addition to the ethical principles accepted in the Western discursive paradigm. In sum, such contents facilitate ‘glocal’ understanding among the students.
Though Westernization-as-Globalization perspective is still dominant for the discipline of communication in Nepal, the emerging practices signify an ongoing paradigm shift. Of Nepali universities, KU has already taken a step forward by incorporating communication theories of Bharata Muni and Bhartrihari, and also sadharanikaran model of communication (SMC) in the BMS curriculum. We are yet to see, whether and when other universities in Nepal will be modify the West-centric paradigms with promotion of the indigenous communication scholarship.
 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Discourse

 

Science and Superstitions

 – Pushpa Raj Adhikary

The English dictionary describes science as systematic and formulated knowledge. Let us explain more elaborately the meaning of science. In the beginning of human history, humans were like wild animals. Slowly and bit by bit they started learning about their surroundings. Such learning was necessary for early human beings for their food and safety. The learning of one generation was passed on to another generation. Instead of parents transferring what information they had to their children, it was thought better to combine all information or knowledge of all parents and pass on to the next generation. The combined knowledge kept by a group of people or a tribe has come to be known as the culture. The factor necessary for the advancement of culture is communication, which includes speaking, writing, and various forms of arts. Communication helped to interact among different cultures and what is passed on by this communication is history. Thus history is the study of cultures.

Where does science fit into this picture? Science is only one of the important parts of our culture. The combined knowledge through generations to generations which helped human beings to survive, prosper, and be on the top of the development is what we mean by systematic and formulated knowledge.

Ancient human beings lived in the fear of darkness. They were susceptible to diseases, insects, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, cold, and heat. All these things were nature’s threats to living beings. Early human beings could not understand why and how such miseries did occur. Somehow they thought someone who is very superior to them is creating such miseries to them. They attributed one superior being for each of their miseries and thus created gods of hurricane, water, rain, cloud, flood, cold, heat and so on. They believed the causes of their sufferings were the results of the unhappiness of one or more of these gods, and constantly tried to please the gods to avoid the miseries and sufferings. Due to the lack of power to reason they cultivated a senseless or irrational fear of the unknown or the mysterious. Such fear is described as superstition or irrational religious system.

We have to examine how science and superstitions affect our daily life and our thinking. We have a long cultural tradition where religion plays an important role. Our puranas and other religious books have a large number of stories and incidents describing miracles performed by saints and gods. These stories conflict with our rational minds and our scientific understanding of our day to day life with nature. Do you believe that the eclipses are caused by the demons Rahu and Ketu? Do you believe that your destiny is decided by some heavenly body or bodies situated at million of miles away? Many of us have a habit of depending on the horoscope as a way to know the future. The position of a planet or a star at the time of your birth does not determine your destiny or future. What shapes your future is your attitude towards life and hard work but not the heavenly bodies made either of cold hard rocks or very hot gases. There are many stories about the unknown phenomena. Rather than believing in such stories and in irrational explanations one should try to understand these unknown phenomena on scientific basis.

Superstition is the irrational way of explaining usual or unusual events. Science does not believe in irrational way of explaining events. Science aims to know the cause and effect of each phenomenon based on scientific principles that can be verified with experiments and are proven on the basis of well-established scientific rules known as laws. Science has rational answers to many of the phenomena.

No scientist, however great he/she is, ever claims that he/she knows everything. A scientist always says, “I do not know” instead of making an irrational explanation of an event. But the fact that there exists no proven scientific answer to any of the nature’s secret does not mean that the answer is known to a religious pundit, or it is written in some saastra, or it is said by some saint or god. Scientists are continuously trying to understand why and how events take place until a rational answer is found. That we have not yet understood many secrets of nature does not mean that god has forbidden us to know those things or we are inferior to god, or we can never understand all the secrets of creation.

Conflict between science, superstition, and religion is not unique only to our culture but in the western society too. The church opposed the idea of Nicholas Copernicus who said that the earth is not the centre of the universe, a belief which was accepted by the Bible. Several other scientists had to suffer the wrath of the church for their scientific beliefs which contradicted with the Bible. But their ideas ultimately got accepted and helped to end the superstitious belief of the religion. In his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking, one of the great scientists of our time, says that philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in EXPRESSIONS, Science

 

Biotechnology: Boon to Humans

– Dhurva Gauchan
The science of biotechnology is an amalgamation of biological sciences and technology. Biotechnology is the youngest of the sciences and is increasing in knowledge at an unprecedented rate. It is the fastest growing technical discipline and has probably gained more information per year than any other field of science. Advances in biotechnology even outpace new developments in computer science. Because of the rapid advance, biotechnology is called a revolutionary science that literally challenges the ability of people to keep up with an understanding of applications in society. In 21st century, no one can anticipate better life without the use of biotechnology because of its versatile applications in all the branches of science. 
There is always a big question why biotechnology is popular  among the advanced biological sciences in the world. It is popular because of its broad spectrum application which encompasses the day to day requirements of human race such as agriculture, dairy, forestry, pharmaceutical, fermentation, environment and medical science. Its interdisciplinary nature makes  it more acceptable by the scientists and ordinary men as well. 
The global population, which numbered approximately 1.6 billion in 1900, has surged to more than 6 billion and is expected to reach 10 billion by 2030. There is an estimation that world food production will have to double on existing farmland if it is to keep pace with the anticipated population growth. Biotechnology can help meet the ever-increasing need by increasing yields, decreasing crop inputs such as water and fertilizer, and providing pest control methods that are more compatible with the environment. 
Biotechnology has immense scope in agriculture, dairy industries, medical and health care in Nepal, especially in crop improvement that could be a great contribution for the inhabitants of the outlying areas. Nepal is exponentially rich in natural resources and biodiversity. Its flora and fauna has great potential to serve the humanity. 
Our country faces problems regarding biotech expertise and all the necessary facilities needed for carrying out quality research works. Nepali scientists from home and overseas can do collaborative industry-based research projects. Lucrative government policies can attract the international biotechnology companies/ donor agencies for investment. We are very rich in natural resources but our labor is inexpensive.

I may dream in daylight but I could not leave the hope to draw the very lavish picture of establishment of biotechnology in Nepal. We can drag the success and make our dream come true if we get the brain gain. Well trained Nepali scientists from all over the world must yoke in the same platform for the noble cause. Private companies and government of Nepal collectively put their collective efforts to pave the way for the upliftment of Biotechnology. Industrialists from Nepal should take sincere interests to fund  the innovative ideas of scientists for production of biotech products.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Science