G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shallow People Demand Variety. Even in Cartoon Captions!

August Strindberg :
"Shallow people demand variety – but I have been writing the same story throughout my life, every time trying to cut nearer the aching nerve"

When I read this quote as epigraph of G A Kulkarni's (जी ए कुलकर्णी) "Pingla Vel", 1977 (पिंगळा वेळ) sometime in the late 70's, I was startled.

First I thought it was a clever ploy of an artist: Just keep repeating the same story by changing names of the characters. (Actually I have read a Marathi book of short stories by a female writer where every story is same except the names of the characters!)

But since then I have realised that it infact is "the same story".

At some level, Vyasa's 'The Mahabharata' and Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather' (1972) are "the same stories". Both profoundly beautiful and cathartic.

G A himself has indeed written "the same story" a few times. My current favourite philosopher John Gray seems to be writing the same stuff. Cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan seems to be drawing the same picture again and again. Homer Simpson, Doug Heffernan, Ray Barone react to the life in the same manner in every episode of their respective TV shows.

And I seem to enjoy their "same" stuff.

Is that a bad thing?

Even to survive in this complex world one may keep using the same strategy as illustrated below.

I first read about Prisoner's Dilemma in the essay by Douglas R. Hofstadter for Scientific American (May 1983), now part of his book “Metamagical Themas", Penguin 1985.

What is Prisoner's Dilemma?

“In it, two prisoners accused of the same crime find themselves in separate cells, unable to communicate. Their jailers try to persuade them to implicate one another. If neither goes along with the guards, they will both receive a sentence of just one year. If one accepts the deal and the other keeps quiet, then the turncoat goes free while the patsy gets ten years. And if they both denounce one another, they both get five years.

If the first prisoner is planning to keep quiet, then the second has an incentive to denounce him, and so get off scot-free rather than spend a year in prison. If the first prisoner were planning to betray the second, then the second would still be better off pointing the finger, and so receive a five-year sentence instead of a ten-year one. In other words, a rational, self-interested person would always betray his fellow prisoner. Yet that leaves them both mouldering in jail for five years, when they could have cut their sentences to a year if they had both kept quiet."


"Strategy for the classic prisoner's dilemma...interest in the iterated prisoners dilemma (IPD) was kindled by Robert Axelrod in his book The Evolution of Cooperation (1984). In it he reports on a tournament he organized of the N step prisoner dilemma (with N fixed) in which participants have to choose their mutual strategy again and again, and have memory of their previous encounters. Axelrod invited academic colleagues all over the world to devise computer strategies to compete in an IPD tournament. The programs that were entered varied widely in algorithmic complexity, initial hostility, capacity for forgiveness, and so forth...

...The best deterministic strategy was found to be tit-for-tat, which Anatol Rapoport developed and entered into the tournament. It was the simplest of any program entered, containing only four lines of BASIC, and won the contest..."

A menacing sounding, almost like taking revenge, actually it's a very simple strategy:
"Cooperate on move 1;
thereafter , do whatever the other player did the previous move."

When translated in a computer program , it won against very complex and cunning strategies.

It was an eye opener. I learnt you don’t have to be clever and cunning to be effective.

I have struggled with The New Yorker cartoon caption contest. This blog is littered with those attempts.

But maybe I just missed a simple trick, a kind of 'Tit_for_tat' for the contest- one caption fits all.

Cory Arcangel thought about it: read it by visiting What a Misunderstanding!.

He says: "I think the same joke over and over becomes something eternal".

Look at the following picture from The New Yorker Caption Contest.

The winning entry is brilliant:

Well, you’re the one who insisted on the smoking section.
by John Pignata, Brooklyn, N.Y.

But look at the caption below the picture.

Artist: Christopher Weyant
Caption: Cory Arcangel

I decided to try this in Marathi.

'What a Misunderstanding!' translates in Marathi as "केवढा गैरसमज!"

Artist: Vasant Sarwate (1969) sourced from his book "The Best of Sarwate" editor: Avadhoot Paralkar, Lokvangmay Gruh 2008

वसंत सरवटे (1969) "सरवोत्तम सरवटे" संपादक: अवधूत परळकर, लोकवाङ्मय गृह 2008

Caption when translated in English reads:

Aurangzeb:-"This is brilliant, Samarth! I understand, for all your life, you spied for me and were on our payroll; but until the end even I never got to know about both! Secrecy has to be maintained like this!! Bravo..."

Replace it with: "केवढा गैरसमज!"

Not Bad, eh?

What a misunderstanding! About the importance of variety!