Open Thread – 1/16/2021 – Brown Pundits

What’s going on?

I have a 6000-word piece on Indian genetics coming out on my Substak in the next few days (waiting on some maps that were commissioned).

Update: The pieces (had to break into two) are ready to go. Part 1 today and part 2 tomorrow. I commissioned some simple maps and created an infographic. Since these will be “paid” (you have to subscribe), I’ll post the infographic for people here:

Continue reading “Open Thread – 1/16/2021 – Brown Pundits”


The Sindhi homeland of the “Dravidians”

Peter Bellwood in First Farmers presents a hypothesis for the expansion of the Dravidian languages into southern India in the late Neolithic through the spread of an agro-pastoralist lifestyle through the western Deccan, pushing southward along the Arabian sea fringe. At the time I was skeptical, but now I am modestly confident that this is close to the reality.

There is always talk about “steppe” ancestry on this weblog. But there are groups that seem “enriched” from IVC ancestry, as judged by the Indus Periphery samples. The confidence is lower since we don’t have nearly as good a sample coverage…but I think I can pass on what we’ve seen so far: groups in southern Pakistan, non-Brahmin elites in South India, and some Sudra groups in Gujarat and Maharashtra, seem to be relatively enriched for IVC-like ancestry. Then there is the supposed existence of Dravidian toponyms in Sindh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. And, their total absence in the Gangetic plain.

There have been decades of debate about Brahui. I’ve looked closely at Brahui genetics, and they are no different from the Baloch. Combined with evidence from Y chromosomes (the Baloch and Brahui have some of the highest frequencies of haplogroups found in IVC-related ancient DNA), I doubt the thesis they are medieval intruders (if they are, their distinctive genes were totally replaced).

Genetically, we know that some southern tribes, such as the Pulliyar, have some IVC-related ancestry. But other groups, such as Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, have a lot more. How does this cline emerge? My conjecture is that there were several movements of “Dravidian” people from Sindh and Gujarat into southern India, simultaneous with the expansion of Vedic Aryans to the north into the Gangetic plain. The region the Vedic Aryans intruded upon, Punjab, was not inhabited by Dravidian speakers. Like Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley Civilization was probably multi-lingual, despite broad cultural affinities developed over time.


The scions of the priest kings

I was talking to a person of South Indian Brahmin origin today about their genetics. Over the course of the conversation, he showed me Y and mtDNA haplogroup types amongst his jati. The vast majority of the Y haplogroups were not R1a.

Brahmin groups in India seem to be about 15% to 30% steppe in their overall genome. But their Y chromosomes are usually 50% or so R1a1a-Z93. The lineage associated with Indo-Iranian pastoralists.

So what’s going on with the other haplogroups? For example, J2, L, C, G, and H?

From what I can see J2 and L are the next most frequent haplogroups after R1a1a-Z93. This tells us something. These are haplogroups found in ancient “Indus Periphery” samples. And, these two haplogroups are found at high concentrations in the northwest of the subcontinent.

It doesn’t take a {{{Brahmin}}} to connect the dots here. Some of the gotra as early as the Vedic period were almost certainly derived from high-status individuals in the post-IVC society. Warriors and priests in the fallen civilization of the IVC, which had likely degraded itself to a level of barbarism by the time the Indo-Aryans became ascendant.

I like to make jokes about “sons of Indra.” But let’s give the dasyu credit where it’s due: those Indians carrying J2 and L almost certainly descend from the men who build the great cities of yore. Their dominion was lost when their civilization fell, but they integrated themselves into the new order.


The material wages of caste

When perusing Twitter I occasionally see arguments between the troll Araingang and contributors to this weblog on various topics. Many times I don’t really what the argument is about because I feel it’s deeply semantic.

So, for example, caste, varna, and jati. I know the dictionary definition of all this stuff and the various arguments. As an atheist, and someone who has “no caste” or varna or jati, I’m not very interested in theological arguments as to the origin of these concepts, their validity, and their application. Muslims for example can write 1,000-page books on Tawhid. I don’t care. What I care about is the application of Shariah law upon dhimmis and the heterodox. The rest is commentary.

In the 2000’s I read books such as Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. The argument and evidence marshaled suggest that the raw materials of the caste system predate the British, but their system of manipulation, organization, and rationalization was critical.

Then, in the period after 2010, I began reading and analyze the genetic data. I was shocked at how clear and distinct varna and jati differences were. My friend Surya Yalamanchili sent me his DNA last year, and I asked him if he was Kamma. He had no idea what that meant, but the genetic evidence seemed persuasive to me from other people he clustered within my private data. He asked his mother, and she said “yes.” He was shocked. I was not.

The conclusion I draw from this, along with patterns such as higher steppe ancestry in “higher varna,” is that there are deep roots and structures to the inequality we see across the Indian subcontinent. It is possible that in fact, the jatis were “separate but equal.” But I doubt that just as I doubt the “peace” Islam imposed upon dhimmis was welcomed on the whole (in some cases, yes). Dalits in particular have very small effective populations. That means their genes show evidence of high levels of inbreeding because of incredibly small marriage networks.

This post is less about what I believe, then trying to understand what you know and believe. The genetic data is something I am familiar with. I work with it. The historical evidence I do not know. Were there Dalit kings? Were there long periods where Brahmins were subordinate as menial servants to Sudra jatis?

I understand that Hindus of a more progressive bent are uncomfortable with the association between caste and their religion and identity. Religion is what man makes it, and so I do not see its connection to Hinduism as necessary, ineluctable, and eternal. But, the impact of caste is so strongly stamped on the genes of so many Indians I cannot brush it away as a detail of history.


Review: Advent of the Algorithm

An old review I wrote (back in 2002) for the magazine Herald.

” The algorithm is …the second great scientific idea of the West. There is no third.”

This sentence at the very beginning of the book should warn us that this is not going to be science writing in the Asimov vein. Dr. Berlinski once boasted that he can be accused of many things, but shrinking from controversy is not one of them. A professor of mathematics, a novelist, something of a poet and the successful author of “a tour of the calculus”, Dr. Berlinski is also famous for his very public insistence that Darwinian evolution does not add up; that something is missing from the story and the high priests are engaged in a cover-up. In “the advent of the algorithm” he sets out to tell us about the algorithm: “a procedure, written in a symbolic vocabulary, that gets something done step-by-step without the need for any intelligent assistance”. But he ends by questioning the ability of science to explain the mind: the intelligence that fashions and uses these algorithms and infuses them with meaning.

The book begins and ends with Gottfried Leibniz. Between inventing the calculus, imagining the monads and carrying out his diplomatic duties, Gottfried Leibniz also laid the foundations of mathematical logic and the science of computing. He is followed by Guiseppe Peano, Gottlieb Frege, George Cantor and others, till we get to the great David Hilbert and his challenge to mathematicians to show that mathematics is consistent, complete and decidable (in principle, if not in practice). Within a few years, Kurt Godel was able to show that this is not possible. After an explanation of Godel’s revolutionary result, Alonzo Church, Alan Turing, Emil Post, Claude Shannon and others are introduced and the reader learns about the developments in logic and mathematics that form the foundations of our modern digital world.

Berlinski’s explanations of these developments are lucid, even brilliant, and someone with little mathematical knowledge beyond high school should still be able to understand what he is saying. But he does not want to stop at the bare bones of the theories. He is determined to give his readers a hint of the larger import of these matters, and he presses into service a number of stories, asides and literary flourishes. Sometimes the prose is so purple, it throbs and begs to be deflated, but the overall effect is not unpleasant. Here is a typical fragment about Liebniz:

“And then, by some inscrutable incandescent insight, Leibniz came to see that what is crucial in what he had written is the alternation between God and Nothingness. And for this, the numbers 0 and 1 suffice.

Twinkies and Diet Coke in hand, computer programmers can now be observed pausing thoughtfully at their consoles.”

And here are the last days of Hilbert in Nazi Germany:

“Hilbert closed his remarks with words that were later inscribed on his tombstone: we must know. We will know.”

“We realize now that that was the last time those words could have been uttered without irony…the mathematicians who had heard his voice and fallen under his command had scattered, some going to the US or South America or even China, others, for all their sophisticated and intellectual cunning, finding themselves packed in freight cars, grinding their way to some place in the east.”

This powerful and humane sense of history and tragedy is accompanied by an almost wicked sense of humor and an absolute unwillingness to submit to fashionable opinion. The stories and asides are generally delightful, though the author could easily have spared us his own amorous adventures and multiple marriages without any loss to the book. The math is challenging, but not overwhelming and worth the effort to understand it. In the last chapters, he takes on the issue of whether the mind is simply an algorithm, albeit a very sophisticated one? The question is not if the mind uses algorithms or if many of its functions can be reduced to algorithms (it does, and they can). The 300-pound gorilla in the room is consciousness: an algorithm is merely symbols, manipulated according to rules (themselves strings of symbols) but an intelligence creates those symbols and assigns them meaning. When the mind sees, something is seen by someone. Who is this someone who sees? Berlinski knows that even the scientists do not know the answer to that. The attack on scientific monotheism in the last chapters may upset those who suspect that such “attacks from within” will provide ammunition to those who wish to bludgeon us into more extreme monotheisms of their own. But Berlinski believes that doubt has brought us this far, it is too late in the day to stop. All the emperors are naked, why should the emperor of science get special treatment? And so he ends with Heraclitus:

”you could not discover the limits of the soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form”


Error Rate of Different Disciplines

After the covid era, we might do better to quantify our trust on the expertise of experts in various fields. Neils Bohr defined expert as a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. And Richard Feynman once wrote that what he could not create, he does not understand .So there are experts in physics,  maths,  chess, Jiu Jitsu. So a Phd in these fields makes one an expert , where they have a consequential knowledge of different moves one can make and their consequences. cooking for example is one area where trial and error works so quickly that everyone can become experts in a range of dishes.

By comparison, journalism and history for example are different and phd in humanities is not to be seen on par with science. There should perhaps be a visible distinction to stop the confusion. Science often is open to experiments that can be repeated and tested, history is not. Perhaps one could quantify expertise in different fields with regard to the number of variables involved, the ability to carry out experiments or to be able to simulate in say a computer or contemporary availability of information, sources and feedback. . Couple of years back, in a ted talk, a surgeon talked about the human errors in his profession and compared to batting averages in baseball. We can be sure that doctors made treatments that were not adequate in early period of covid pandemic and have made their methods better over the following months .

Taken together, ability to experiment and get feedback quickly makes the difference and the contemporary availability of information to check and verify would place journalism marginally better than history. So perhaps ranking the expertise of experts would be along these lines, cooking, chess, jiu jitsu ,  engineering, computer science, maths ,  physics, biology , economics, journalism and perhaps history. Ranking the validity of expertise in different subjects would perhaps help us focus more on areas that are easier to hack by partisans. 


Denial of Hindu persecution and its beneficiary.

Bjp and Hindutva are beneficiaries of academic denial of persecution of Hindus. It seems common sense that when Hindus see that there is a blanket denial of their persecution or burial of news about it, they will seek to choose an option that explicitly stands for them. If people will deny your persecution, how can you trust them with anything?. Academics should be mindful of this that this very discourse by them pushes many towards bjp. I am not surprised that many among the literate Indians have shifted to support bjp. Where congress was the default option earlier. This kind of discourse also comes with serious humanitarian costs on hindu minorities in particular in present day pakistan and bangladesh. For these thinkers, neither do hindu minorities exist, not does their suffering matter. And there is no name to the ideology that torments them. For these folks Islamic bigotry did not exist in pre Independent Indian subcontinent. And if it did, it was politics all the way, as though politics and religion are always mutually exclusive.

Even in public discourse in India, by many mainstream journalists, the bigoted jibes of “bhakt” and “gaumutra” has been normalized, it seems the elites in India have imbibed colonial prejudices to the degree that in their need to be contrarian they accept even bigotry and denial of persecution of hindus as legitimate tactics and count such people as their allies, they have no objective criteria in their minds of what constitutes bigotry towards Hindus and they dont care and people are noticing this.

If there are many qualifiers to explain away bigotry but there isnt any adequate criteria for what should constitute bigotry, one could get away with about anything.

This brings to memory a good article of scott aaronson, “The Kolmogorov option” .That science requires no martyrs , so truth will come out in the end.
And a good response to it.

where the catholic apologetics is mentioned on how scientists were held guilty of their views on non scientific things and were not strictly persecuted for their views on science.

Roger Bacon was a thirteenth century friar who made discoveries in mathematics, optics, and astronomy, and who was the first Westerner to research gunpowder. It seems (though records are unclear) that he was accused of heresy and died under house arrest. But this may have been because of his interest in weird prophecies, not because of his scientific researches.

Michael Servetus was a sixteenth-century anatomist who made some early discoveries about the circulatory and nervous system. He was arrested by Catholic authorities in France and fled to Geneva, where he was arrested by Protestant authorities, and burnt at the stake “atop a pyre of his own books”. But this was because of his heretical opinions on the Trinity, and not for any of his anatomical discoveries.

Lucilio Vanini was a philosopher/scientist/hermeticist/early heliocentrism proponent who was most notable as the first person recorded to have claimed that humans evolved from apes – though his theories and arguments were kind of confused and he probably got it right mostly by chance. City authorities arrested him for blasphemy, cut out his tongue, strangled him, and burned his body at the stake. But nobody cared about his views on evolution at the time; the exact charges are unclear but he was known to make claims like “all religious things are false”.

Pietro d’Abano was a fourteenth century philosopher and doctor who helped introduce Arabic medicine to the West. He was arrested by the Inquisition and accused of consorting with the Devil. He died before a verdict was reached, but the Inquisition finished the trial, found him guilty, and ordered his corpse burnt at the stake. But he wasn’t accused of consorting with the Devil because he was researching Arabic medicine. He was accused of consorting with the Devil because he was kind of consorting with the Devil – pretty much everyone including modern historians agree that he was super into occultism and wrote a bunch of grimoires and magical texts.

Giordano Bruno was a contemporary of Galileo’s. He also believed in heliocentrism, and promoted (originated?) the idea that the stars were other suns that might have other planets and other life-forms. He was arrested, tortured, and burned at the stake. But although his “innumerable worlds” thing was probably a strike against him, the church’s main gripe was his denial of Christ’s divinity.”
A recent example of this has been how amnesty international and press have kept quiet about rohingya massacre of hindu minorities as it was not opportune to make their case, only later was this news revealed.

A review of the book . It is important to call out such consequential lies . Does not matter who or how many. To actively deny persecution poisons the well and lets people come to the conclusion that they only have themselves to trust and no one else. And they are better off to go it alone even at the expense of others .And the fact that there have not been many Indian muslim scholars who are willing to call faults on their side even from history, irrespective of how horrible the characters have been leads people to be more suspicious of them. It is not surprising that bjp in power is not in a hurry to redress this as it can only gain from such discourse.