Browncast episode 37: Arabian Linguistics, pre-Islamic Arabia

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Picture for al-jallad.1In this episode we talk to Dr Ahmed Al Jallad, Sofia Chair of Arabic Studies at Ohio State University. Dr Jallad is an expert on the languages and scripts of pre-Islamic Arabia. We talk about the origins of Arabic (most likely in the Northwest of the peninsula and not in the South as previously believed), the development of the Arabic script (most likely from Nabatean Arabic) and the inscriptions of the region (In the 6th Century CE the ones that do reference a religion mostly reference Christianity, not the pagan gods of pre-Islamic Arabia that dominate our vision of the “era of Jahiliya”..


Moves in the Glass Bead Game

I came across two images recently which seemed closely parallel, and yet distinctly different.

When I saw this image:

it immediately reminded me of this one, which I’d seen a few hours earlier:

That’s the first clue as to how to play the Glass Bead Game: it’s as simple as this reminded me of that.


The two images are very different, yet very similar.

Each is an image with a strong Catholic resonance — one image is of a statue of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, the other is an image of a chalice, the cup which Jesus passed to his followers on the night before his crucifixion, and which Christians to this day drink in their various communion services, remembering him.

And both images are very visibly shattered — the shattered statue representing the devastating impact of jihadist suicide-bomber attacks on churches across Sri Lanka, the shattered chalice representing the Catholic Church, “broken” by priestly sexual abuses, and in urgent need of reformation.

In playing Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, at least in the variants that I have devised and which I call the HipBone family of games, the move from one of those images to the other is a move. And the nature of the move is their resemblance across a cognitive distance.


Hesse’s book was written in 1943, a time when elite thinkers — and Hesse was certainly elite — were more comfortable than we are today with sheer erudition — and he gives as an example of a move in the game, a player who had been studying —

…the rhythmic structure of Julius Caesar’s Latin and discovered the most striking congruences with the results of well-known studies of the intervals in Byzantine hymns…

— and here’s another move for you, one of my own. Little did Hesse know it, but I myself was studying up on Church music one day, and dis=covered a book by a nun, Jane-Marie Luecke OSB, entitled:

Measuring Old English Rhythm: an Application of the Principles of Gregorian Chant Rhythm to the Meter of Beowulf

Not only is Sister Jane-Marie’s book itself a monograph length move, buy my association of Hesse’s move in his book and the good Sister’s monograph — one reminded me of the other — is also a move, and a most fortuitous one, starting in the pages of the book I devoted ten or more years of my life to, and ending in a discovery in an area of my own scholarly interest — and now, in my proud ownership of Sister Jane-Marie’s slim blue volume.


Remember, mnthe scope of the game allows moves to be made from the whole range of human intellectual production:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

If you can think it, imagine it, jot it down, sketch it, hum it, or represent it as an equation, you can make a move of it, linking it to some other move already in play, or proposing it for others to link to.


Music is notated in a score, and in the music of ideas which Hesse’s game proposes and my HipBone Games attempt to make playable, my suggestion is to notate such moves as simple graphs — in the form of two named nodes with an edge connecting them.

Here’s a board I’ve devised to allow you to notate a move with two concepts and a linkage between them. I call it my DoubleQuotes Board, and it represents the smallest board on which a HipBone Game can be played — either solo or with a friend:

You can then assign your move to to a node in your game, and link it to another in a way that is rich in content at both ends, and which features rich connections between them, across some conceptual distance — perhaps across distinctly separate disciplines.

Here’s a DoubleQuote between Theodor von Kármán’s Vortex Street, and Van Gogh’s painting of the night sky:

From the dynamics of flow nto post-impressionist modern art — that’s quite a leap! And yet the two are so close, they might as well be twins!


So — the challenge:

What memory-leap — what associative leap, what creative leap can you come up with that most neatly and beautifully links two conceptually distant but richly associated concepts? If you feel like it, you can identify them in the Comments section, or email me at my gmail address — my handle there is hipbonegamer.
You’ll be playing one of my playable variants of Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning Glass Bead Game. And if you have the skill-set to drop your move onto my DoubleQuote board and post it, so much the better.

Here’s that game board again:


Oh, and for Ali Minai in particular, given that self-referential paradox must be an issue in AGI — here’s a board for the self-referential one-move game, with one of my poems in it:

Wanna try?


Enough — until next time..


Pakistan of the Provinces

We’re currently doing a podcast that is exploring Pakistan and China; I’m really shocked by what I’m hearing.

I predicted after last year’s Pakistan election that the Provincial Parties (which were dynastic) would set off against the military backed Imran Khan aegis (Madinat ethics).

I’m quite impressed by how Pakistan is transforming. I’m also a bit taken aback that it seems a Saffron wave is taking over India. Karan Johan is the last man standing for Islamicate culture in Hindustan.

Finally in Bilawal’s iftar; it’s interesting the Baloch and Pathan parties did not attend. Sindh & Punjab are vested in Pakistan but the periphery not so much (no word on MQM).

Bilawal also needs to lose 10-15kg if he wants to look Presidential whereas Maryam looks transluscent (she really lives up to the Kashmiri stereotype).


Genetic variation across many South Asian communities

Someone in the comments posted the results from The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia. I put the percentages with a few ratios in a Google doc. I don’t know what a lot of these groups are. Can readers illuminate? We need to be careful about the sample size, but I think there are a lot of interesting patterns in there.

Remember that “Steppe”, “Indus Periphery” and “Onge” are populations artifacts within a model. The way I explain it to people is that rather than focusing on the percentage, look at how the populations vary across the parameters. That is a pretty robust result. No matter what outgroups you’re going to use, Brahmins in most of South Asia seem to have more “West Eurasian” type ancestry than other populations (except in the NW). Because “Indus Periphery” has a minority of “Ancient Ancestral South Indians” (AASI) as part of its ancestry, the “Onge” fraction should be seen as a floor on AASI ancestry (the Onge ancestors diverged from the AASI ~40,000 years ago, so it’s a very large difference).

Continue reading “Genetic variation across many South Asian communities”


For a Dharmic Brexit and Unity in Diversity

(This reflection-piece was written for an event where I was called as a speaker by Vichaar Manthan – UK in Leicester on `The Role of Dharma in the Post-Brexit Indo-British Relationship’. It looks at the spirit of India, and how the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ has been ingrained in its core, and what UK could obtain from this understanding in a post-Brexit world)

Jaimini, the author of the celebrated Purvamimamsa and Uthara Mimamsa, explains ‘Dharma’ thus `Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good’. Dharma comes from the word ‘Dhr’ and related to that which upholds equilibrium and balance in society and the Universe. Dharma is a term that appears in a very fluid manner in the ancient and medieval texts of Indi, particularly the itihas or epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Krishna and Rama, however, do share the commonality of not just the speaking of and on Dharma but living Dharma. And it is this that ancient Indian philosophy embodies. Not just saying or doing things, for these are but temporary flutterings on the cosmos, but rather orienting one’s existence so that that which balances, that which equilibriates and that which respects the inherent unity that the oriental traditions may see in the Brahman or Tao while the occidental, contemporary, scientific tradition may see as products of the singularity that exploded into form with the Big Bang.

So, in a world full of polarities, dualities, multiplicities and differences what can be regarded as the equilibrium, as the balance and the balanced, as Dharmic? When relativistic physics tells us that space (and its associated dimensions), along with time, is frame dependent and has no absolute aspect while quantum physics talks of an even more fuzzy reality, whose evolution depends on its observation, surely such a balance is tricky to demarcate or highlight. The Dharmic tradition therefore does a highly sensible thing in the process: it decentralizes the resolution of this dilemma. It makes Dharma the operational balance of elements in the Universe as determined by their innate tendencies and natures, or Swadharma. Gandhi may have called this Swaraj (or self-rule) as did Bal Gangadhar Tilak but the idea itself has its roots in the Vedas and Upanishads of India. This is turn neatly comes from the concept of Rta, the natural order of things in the Universe. Just like fire burns, water flows, snakes slither and so on. The more relative truths of these tendencies build up the relational reality of our universe. Currently I am studying the possibility of unifying physics as we know it using a relational reality as the basis. Regardless of the result of this research pursuit with Prof. Brian Josephson (Emeritus Professor, Cavendish Laboratory and Nobel Laureate 1973) at Cambridge, at a human level this presents a more accessible and equally universal gem of wisdom: unity in diversity.

Read more here:


The Yamnaya Go Hollywood

They pulled into the Mann’s Chinese Theater on horseback wearing designer pelts. Some tourists got their skulls bashed in, but they were good sports about it. Valet parking for the horses was adequate.

OK, it was actually a PBS documentary, but it’s all the same to our friends from overseas:

You can see the full episode here:

The episode was really about the domestication of the horse, proposed as a game changer in human civilization. The present day Kazakhstan Steppe tribe that accomplished this, the Botai (descended from the Ancient North Eurasian) later died out. Their horses then returned to the wild in Mongolia.

But who cares about any of that right? The latter part of the episode is all about our glorious Steppe barbarian ancestors, the Yamnaya who stole/appropriated this horse domestication technology and combined it with the wagon to ravage the Eurasian steppe, eventually propagating their Proto-Indo-European language all the way up to England and down to India.

One German fellow believes there’s no evidence for a handful of guys on horsey riding down and massacring most everyone, but all the other scientists interviewed seem to disagree. The key point is that the genetics don’t lie, with today’s Europeans having 50% and South Asians having 30% ancestry going back to the Steppe.

Overall, it’s a very good documentary. One of the best, maybe. Although I could be biased because I’m R1A. I especially like the Scandinavian scientists and their accents.

As a side note I find it very interesting also the notion that language is connected with wealth and power and people will drop their own language and adopt another one to suit these ends. In India, the Tamils and Bengalis are most anxious about the status of their language even though they have the least to worry about. In Bihar, our languages of Maithili, Magahi, and Bhojpuri (which descend from the language of ancients, Gautam Buddha and the Emporer Ashok) have in 2 generations largely been replaced by Hindi (which  contrary to those maps out there, was not ever vastly the language of the average man on the street in North/Central India, but really the dialect of small region around New Delhi):


But because it’s associated language Urdu had status in the Mughal empire, there were people in positions of power or influence everywhere who knew Hindi/Urdu. Supposedly Bihar was the first state to adopt Hindi as its official language in post-independence India, even though at the time it wasn’t the language of 99% of the people in the state.


Pakistani Christian teen ‘raped, forcibly converted to Islam’

A teenage Christian girl claims she was raped, forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to a 45-year-old Muslim divorcee in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

Neha Pervaiz, 15, a resident of Ittehad Town, told about her ordeal. “I was taken by my aunt, a Muslim convert, to her house on April 28 to help her look after her sick son.

But there I was asked to marry a Muslim man named Imran. When I refused, they beat me up and threatened to kill my minor brother who was with me,” Neha said.

“Later I was taken to a room where I was raped by Imran.

They then pressurized me to convert to Islam and marry Imran.“On April 29, I was taken to an Islamic cleric, who asked me to recite Quranic verses and gave me a new name, Fatima.”

Pakistani Christian teen 'raped, forcibly converted to Islam'

Unfortunately, no authentic data is available on forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan, but about 1,000 cases involving Hindu and Christian girls were estimated to have taken place in Sindh province alone in 2018, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).


Do they even pretend to care about BAME anymore?

I thought the US was a lot more “racially aware” than the UK. I’ve seen countless ads that always put BAME actors in blue-collars roles.

Why didn’t they put a white UBER driver and a black couple in the back? And for those who huff and puff that Art must mirror Life; art never imitates life, have you ever seen an ugly actor? Actors and actresses are order of magnitudes better looking than the rest of the population; it’s a stylised representation of what we want life to be. Continue reading “Do they even pretend to care about BAME anymore?”


Why Pakistan is Middle Eastern

The arguments around the broader regional framework Pakistan lies in have often centered on cultural/aesthetic similarities or pure geography. Here, I will argue that Pakistan lies in the Middle East using scientific metrics that describe human behavior.

Regional comparisons of this kind have to account for other explanatory variables. For example, comparing Pakistan, where the urban population is less than 40%, to countries like Turkey or Iran, where it is nearly 80% can be confounding. Also, these countries are much richer than Pakistan, in part due to their more urbanized and industrialized economies. Finally, these countries are not based on the plains around large rivers.

Luckily, there is a comparator which is similar to Pakistan in these control variables: Egypt. It is a predominantly rural country, with a per capita income not much higher than that of Pakistan.

We consider Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions. Hofstede gives countries scores along the following metrics: power distance, individualism, masculinity, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation and indulgence. Higher numbers indicate a society and culture more oriented towards these values, and lower ones vice versa.

The figure below shows the scores of Egypt (blue), India (violet) and Pakistan (green) on various metrics. We see that along the metrics of individualism, uncertainty avoidance and indulgence, Egypt and Pakistan align very well with each other, but are very different from India. On power distance, Pakistan differs from India and Egypt, on long term orientation, Egypt differs from India and Pakistan, while they score similarly on the masculinity metric.

We see that Indian society is more individualistic and has higher tolerance for uncertainty and risk taking than Egypt and Pakistan. It is also much more indulgent.


Hofstede attributes India’s scores on individualism and uncertainty to Hindu philosophy. The caste system is certainly an important factor on India’s power distance score. On the other hand, the shared religion of Pakistan and Egypt decisively shapes values regarding individual autonomy, risk aversion and indulgence.

There are other similarities as well. The preeminent minority group in both Pakistan and Egypt are Christians. However, Egyptian Copts are a stronger group with links to the West, but the Pakistani Christians are former Hindu Dalits, who converted during the British rule to unshackle caste chains. In terms of marriage customs, both Pakistan and Egypt see predominantly cousin marriages.

They key difference between Pakistan and Egypt is that Pakistan’s elite speaks English and has a vocal diaspora in Anglo countries. The longer and deeper historical imprint left by Britain has decisively shaped Pakistan, indeed much of the country was settled as canal colonies during British rule. Such a deep British imprint is not seen in Egypt, where the elite was originally Francophone, but an increasing switch to English is underway.