Sunday, January 31, 2016

An ode to the old fabric.. and letting go

To give a metaphor, my life was part of a larger fabric. The fabric was not perfect, but it was elegant and soft and had beautiful knitting. The fabric was not strong -- it was woven around an idealized picture of the world and was worldly naive. It believed nice things about the world, and didn't know that there existed storms and hurricanes there.

Then one day a small wind started, that waved the fabric to and fro in joyful, new ways. It was fun at first and even exhilarating. The wind was soft and its overtures were cute. The knots in the fabric enjoyed the joyride.

But then, the wind started growing in strength. It became stronger and stronger pushing and pulling the fabric in all directions until it tore away in several places.

The fabric was smart -- or so it thought. It immediately tried to repair itself and replace its tears with whatever other knots it could find floating in the wind. But the wind kept blowing and tearing and blowing and tearing.

The fabric tried hard to repair itself through the storm. But one fine day, it realized that it has completely changed in its character.

The new knots that replaced the old ones, were wind hardened. The new knots changed all the rules by which the fabric was woven. The old knots lived with the impression that knots need to be around for one another, and if they don't, it either means that they are in trouble and need help, or they don't care. The old knots could not understand why someone could be busy with an avocation for 18 hours a day everyday, and brag about it. The old knots could not understand why the new knots are constantly in a power dynamic and belligerent. The old knots believed that just about everything that built their fabric was made from the elixir of harmony and mutual value addition -- not subjugation of one to the other's wishes. In the old fabric, every knot had its own unique characteristic and knots were not shy of proudly expressing who they are. The old knots could not understand why knots should all be bucketed into homogenized groups where everyone in a bucket is expected to look and act the same, as new knots want them to do.

To top all of these, the old knots hear stories about themselves that they find hard to relate to. Apparently, the old knots don't know the difference between a "T-junction" and a "dead end" and the old knots are like, "What? Us??" Apparently the old knots had no culture or history. And the old knots are like, "Excuse me..?!"

All these would have made a funny, knotty comedy if it were not the case that some old knots have become so utterly lonely and depressed, they are literally dying and withering away in slow pain.

The old knots that are still around have given up hope about the fabric they were once part of. They only hope that there is some superman who has been given the elixir that builds this fabric, and he is safely being nurtured on some remote planet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On the perils of overquantification

Disclaimer: This post is a generic and objective opinion about a recurring systemic issue. If you connect it with any events from my professional or personal life and make any implications about my intentions, then the accountability for such interpretation rests on you, not on me.

"I don't know the secret for excellence, but the secret for mediocrity is to measure and quantify everything." -- A speaker from a pedagogy workshop that I'd attended some years ago.

A common theme that we see these days are variants of the following:

  1. Management in a company comes up with "quality improvement measures" that includes calibrating and profiling employees' each and every activity and feature -- including the status of their marriages, their emotional state at any point in time, etc. (I'm not kidding -- I've seen this implemented.) When any employee protests, immediately they become potential candidates for the next series of layoffs. At the very least, they are seen with suspicion or indignation as though they are trying to hide something. 
  2. Management in an academic institution comes up with "quality improvement measures" that involve quantifying everything including stuff like "efficiency of learning". And dissent towards such measures are scoffed at by pointing to the "arrogance and pompousness of our professors" and how it is a "very Indian phenomenon" to complain and protest and just stopping short of insinuating some kind of integrity issue with them. 
  3. Governments come up with "quality and safety measures" which include tracking citizens in every facet of their lives -- from birth to death, including stuff like what they eat, their sexual preferences, their religiosity, their political stance, etc. Any protest by any citizen, immediately makes them a suspect and a potential criminal or a national threat. Such protesters are automatically placed into watch lists and tagged as POIs (persons of interest). 
For an independent observer, it is quite evident who the real "suspect" if any, there is. In political and industrial spheres, such measures are more about power consolidation, rather than quality assurance. In academia, they are more about "comfort zones" rather than quality assurance.

In this overquantification worldview, apparently teachers have "no right" to tell students to study for the sake of learning and not for the sake of exams. (The reason why we say such a thing is that, students will anyway study for the sake of exams, and forget everything after exams are over. We want to tell them that there is life beyond exams and what they are studying here is relevant there as well.)

Apparently assessment is the objective of an academic program and there is no learning independent of assessment.

Also, apparently in this worldview, terms like "gaining familiarity" as learning objectives are bad words and are "banned." Similarly looking for "evidence" for something is also not enough. Apparently, we should certify in a quantitative fashion, the students' understanding (not even comprehension) of concepts.

This reminded me of an interview with some self-proclaimed spiritual guru some time ago, who had certified himself to be an "enlightened being" and had a score for measuring different levels of enlightenment.

The problem with measuring "understanding" is that, we keep discovering new depths to our understanding of a concept throughout our lives. Understanding something usually happens within the framework of a mental model. In the classroom, we present concepts with some assumptions in mind and test students under those assumptions. To confuse this for "understanding" is a trivialization of an important process of learning. The well known Barometer problem in physics, serves to explain this.

Assessments are also always made within the framework of some mental model. When an assessment score is interpreted as a quantitative certification of the students' understanding of the concept, the message that goes is that this mental model is the only possible or legitimate way this concept can be interpreted.

For instance, I teach Game Theory where I present the concept of Nash Equilibrium. This concept is presented under several assumptions like methodological individualism, common knowledge, subgame perfectness, etc. This understanding can be quantifiably evaluated -- but any amount of assessment under this model gives me no evidence towards the students' understanding of Nash Equilibrium as a concept in itself, to apply in cases where these assumptions do not hold.

To claim that we can quantify the level of understanding that a student has achieved towards a concept is as bizarre as it gets. By way of assessments, we can only look for "evidence of understanding" and provide a rating for the quality of evidence we were able to obtain from the student.

To quantify their understanding is to judge the student and his/her mental abilities (along a single dimension), while rating evidence is forming an informed opinion based on our observations.

Dissent towards such measures is usually countered by saying that these models are based on "tons and tons of pedagogic literature" coming from some prestigious university from "out there."

Not only do such arguments suffer from the "Appeal to Authority" fallacy, it actually piggybacks an incorrect interpretation and implementation on the credibility of a well thought out pedagogic model.

Typically, the underlying model is sound and would be indeed based on tons and tons of good research. Such models usually focus on the different dimensions of learning outcomes that needs to be addressed.

The problem is not with the model, but with how it is interpreted and implemented. It is one thing to internalize the model in an institution, by repeated exposure to the different dimensions of learning outcomes. It is also a reasonable interpretation to say that we need to have "visible evidence" along all the stated dimensions as part of an academic program. But once we insist on having only quantifiable, measurable progress (with numerical scores) along each dimension, the process of "overfitting" or "dumbing down" starts.

My personal grouse against such measures comes from the complete insanity that pervaded academic environments when I was an engineering student some decades ago. Teachers used to often answer difficult questions with the response, "Don't worry, you won't be asked such questions in the exam." And students used to attend classes only because 90% attendance was mandatory. They used their forced attendance to harass the teacher and other students. They usually studied using "exam guides" and "tuition." And students often committed suicide based on their exam scores (so much for our "no right" to tell students to study for the sake of learning and not for the sake of exams.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Understanding Vidhi

Some time ago, I'd written about understanding the concept of "dharma" that has shaped the thought of south and south-east Asian cultures. Common misconceptions about dharma meaning "religion" or "duty" or "ethics" were rejected in favour of an interpretation of dharma as the "principle of sustainability."

This interpretation helps us to maximally explain different characteristics of dharmic cultures -- especially the diverse set of ideas and practices that are considered dharmic in different contexts. Imagine interpreting "dharma" as "ethics" leading us to a flawed conclusion that in Eastern cultures ethics is relative. This explains the misplaced contempt with which other conservative cultures view Eastern thought.

Another similarly mistaken notion is the concept of vidhi. Vidhi is widely translated as "fate" and the central role vidhi plays in Eastern thought, makes our cultures appear to be "fatalistic." This is often used (incorrectly) to portray Indians as lacking initiative and refusing to take charge of situations. This incorrect interpretation is so ingrained and repeated so often (and even taught in "mainstream" schools) that entire generations in India have grown up with such a skewed understanding of their cultural moorings.

In sanskrit, the term "Vidhi" also means "schema" -- and in fact, I would argue that this is the correct interpretation of the term.

So, how did the term for "schema" come to be used for "fate"?

The idea of vidhi is that, our lives are situated within a larger scheme of things made up of the social and physical context in which we live. The scheme of things has its own characteristics, most of which are beyond our control to alter. We can however, operate with free will within this scheme.

In contrast, "fate" as a sense of helplessness or powerlessness to it. If something is in our fate, it is imminent -- it is doomed to happen to us.

In a worldview driven by fate, we are mere passengers in a vehicle that is driven by our fate. We cannot control our fate, while we have to suffer any negative consequences of its actions.

In contrast, "vidhi" is like the contours of the terrain in which we are driving our vehicle. We are in charge of our vehicle -- and it is our actions that lead to consequences for us. The terrain may have its own characteristics. Some terrains may be smooth, while some may be made up of treacherous mountain passes. While we cannot change the terrain, we still have control over our vehicle and it is up to us, how we navigate in this terrain.

We are also not completely powerless against the terrain. We can modify the terrain -- we can build roads, tunnels, bridges and so on to help us navigate our vehicles. But all such actions to modify the terrain will have consequences. Thus, it is important to modify our terrain keeping in mind, the principle of dharma (sustainability).

Vidhi as "schema" and dharma as "sustainability" mix together beautifully.

A more closer term for "fate" is bhagya. But even that is not very accurate. Fate is about the future, while bhagya is about the past. Bhagya is about what happened in our past, because of which we are either endowed or constrained in some fashion. While fate is about what is imminent or inevitable about our future.

In the Mahabharata, Dritharashtra, the prince of Hastinapur was born blind, even though he had all other qualities of a warrior prince. His biggest frustration was about his "durbhagya" (bad bhagya) --  his blindness -- which caused him to go into a life long state of depression.

Several times, the sage Vyasa tries to explain to him that his blindness need not stop him from leading a life of happiness and spiritual fulfillment. He says that his bhagya has only closed one dimension of experience in his life (much like a car lacking headlights), but his life can still be driven by his imagination. It is up to him as to what kind of dreams he dares to dream.

Dritharashtra does not get his point and instead curtly cuts off every such conversation. After his brother Pandu's death, it becomes evident to sage Vyasa that Dritharashtra, who was now crowned the king of Hastinapur, only spells danger for the kingdom. His obsession with his durbhagya will severely impair his sense of dharma and have disastrous consequences on the kingdom and its people. But having no way to substantiate his fears, he is unable to do anything. He simply convinces his mother and her sisters that their time in Hastinapur is now over and they should head to the forest in renunciation, for their next stage of life.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The limits of informed consent

In the liberal worldview, informed consent is seen as the cornerstone of all kinds of relationships, be it personal or professional.

Often times, relationships operate under some form of a "power asymmetry" where one party dominates over the other in some matters. For instance, bosses can overrule their reportees, a higher court can upturn the decision of a lower court, and so on.

Sometimes, power asymmetry crosses objective boundaries and tread into the personal lives and the individuality of the people involved. For instance, the military controls personal lives of its personnel to a large extent and agents in the movie industry often dictate to their clients when they can get married, and so on.

Such cases often poses ethical dilemmas, which are often sought to be resolved using the "informed consent" axiom. Basically, it means that if someone willfully and knowingly enters into a relationship where they experience power asymmetry positioned against them, they don't have a case for justice.

But this post is meant to argue that even informed consent has its limits.

To make my point, let me take the example of some of the new forms of employee "productivity enhancement" tools. Some of them collect so much data from employees in the name of integrity or productivity. These data include elements like their location, their phone details, their internet usage details, details about web pages visited, email details, details about time spent at different locations at work, and even details about emotional state and inter-personal relationships.

The "informed consent" in such cases are often vacuous. Usually, consent about these measures are buried in a long legal contract, for which the employees just have two choices: take it or leave it. Existing employees consent to such contract mostly out of fear of losing their jobs. Indeed, anyone trying to speak against such measures are immediately seen as suspects of some sort, trying to undermine the organizational goals for personal gain.

Such practices are not only unethical and counter-productive, I also believe that they should be made illegal. Labour laws of today were basically framed in response to centuries of exploitation of employees under different other forms of such "productivity enhancement" measures. Advances in information technology and data sciences have opened a backdoor to these practices to be reinvigorated. We should not wait till things reach such desperate levels, before framing adequate laws.

One might argue that such forms of power asymmetry controlling one's personal lives also exist in cases like doctors and patients, lawyers and clients, etc. The difference here is that in these cases, personal information and power asymmetry is used for the direct benefit of the one below in the power asymmetry. This is not the case with the "productivity enhancement" example. In this case, power asymmetry is used for greater benefit for the company, which may or may not trickle back to the employees whose personal lives and individuality were intruded upon. Secondly, with the case of doctors or lawyers, the personal information collected is directly relevant to the problem being faced by the recipient which is sought to be solved. While in the case of employees, even if they get back a benefit in the form of a better pay, it may not directly compensate for the personal information and control relinquished by them.

Informed consent is meaningless when there are no available choices to those facing power asymmetry stacked against them.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Connundrums around culture preservation

As a researcher interested in understanding how the Web is shaping the world, studying cultural challenges in India provides enormous insight into issues that the world at large is facing.

India is a country with incredible, innate diversity. This diversity is not something that is brought by immigrants joining a great big melting pot, like in the case of the US. Our diversity is innate. It has been there for centuries. There is no larger melting-pot infrastructure that can override and overrule cultural differences. Each cultural group believes they represent the real India.

In addition to myriad languages and cultural practices, there is also diversity in paradigms -- or mental models about how the world works. There is a saying that Indian culture is like a long snake. One end of the snake is in the 21st century, writing software and launching Mars missions; while the other end of the snake lives with a lifestyle that has not changed ever since recorded history.

There are places that pride themselves to live with 19th century values. There are subcultures that are still emotionally attached to 17th century rulers. And then there are tribes like the Jaruwa and the Sentinels who live in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in secluded islands cut off from the rest of the country.

The question about how or whether to integrate these disparate cultures have been the subject of intense debates.

On the one hand, "cultural preservationists" argue that culture should be preserved as they embody not just practice, but also knowledge that is deeply local and relevant. Culture preservation is also seen as a humane philosophy of governance, in stark contrast to colonialism or imperialism that impose a culture on the population.

But on the other end of the spectrum are "cultural integrationists" who are worried about effects like entrenchment and cultural isolationism, and the social, economic and biological problems it creates. Too much of cultural protection creates an element of isolation and inbreeding that has severe consequences both in the biological as well as cognitive development of the individual.

As an example, following the 26th Dec 2004 tsunami, an Indian Air force helicopter went on a sortie around the Sentinel island in the Nicobar to assess damage to the tribes if any. They reported that the tribes came out in force and shot arrows at the helicopter to drive it away.

Now imagine a young man in that tribe, seeing a helicopter for the first time. His curiosity would likely be aroused to an extent that he would want to explore the world outside. But the strong tribal norms in his culture would have likely prevented him from pursuing his dreams and he would most likely end up learning how to spear fish like all others.

Cultural isolationism, and even milder forms like cultural entrenchment (cultures having too little interaction with the outside world) lead to problems of "local minima" where there is a lot of resistance to new ideas and practices that could potentially hold solutions to their long standing problems.

Entrenchment also fans ideologies of "us versus them" and poses a hurdle towards understanding universal human values. A collection of entrenched subcultures would likely nurture distrust, xenophobia and discrimination across subcultures.

On the other hand, cultural integration is not without its problems either. The Sentinels for example, are known to be extremely vulnerable to some of the diseases that are common in the rest of the world. As their tribe have never faced these diseases, their bodies have not developed the required immunity. Forcing them to integrate with the rest of the country, might actually put them in mortal risk.

In addition, often times "integration" simply means "homogenization". A stronger subculture usually bullies itself on the rest, in the name of integration. Like the term "globalization" getting equated to "Mcdonaldization." A city is called "globalized" if it has McDonald's or Pizza Huts. But it is not considered necessary for a "globalized" city to also have a Darshini or an MTR or a Saravana Bhavan.

Similarly, it is said that Bollywood is a great engine of national integration. In a Bollywood movie, the actors could be from any part of India -- say Gujarat or Bengal or Tamil Nadu or Chattisgarh. But ultimately, in their hearts, they are all Punjabi, and break out into a bhangda at weddings! :-)

While homogenization in movies is likely benign, when it comes to cultural integration it is just as dangerous, if not more, than cultural isolationism or entrenchment. It leads to eradication of a highly pertinent local knowledge, practices and paradigms.

This is exemplified by an anecdote mentioned in our convocation address by a professor from IIT Kharagpur. As part of their outreach efforts, they were given the mandate to bring "development" to tribal areas in their state. However, despite several efforts, they found that the tribals were opposing digging of borewells that would mitigate water shortage in their area. When asked why are they opposing, they had this to say: "We consider the Earth as our mother and drink whatever water she has to offer on her surface. We do not believe in injecting her with a syringe and pulling out her blood, if she does not provide enough water!

The profundity of this statement stumped the folks wanting to bring "development" to them. The tribals were not asking for water. They were asking to get back their lifestyle where they lived in harmony with nature, and not in confrontation with it!

In their worldview, nature has personal boundaries too. The water that is below the surface -- it is believed that nature keeps it for its own functioning, while the water that is on the surface is what it provides for us to live on.

A worldview that establishes personal boundaries for nature and treats it as an interested party in any decision-making is solely missing in our "developed", "globalized" worldview.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Understanding Dharma

That Hinduism is grossly misunderstood in the West (which still wield a lot of influence and power in India) is an understatement. Given that a significant percentage of the population in India practice some form of Hinduism, this often leads to controversies and skirmishes that captures and polarizes popular opinion.

The most recent episode is the recent controversy around a ban on cow slaughter and consumption of beef in several parts of the country.

This post is not about the particularities of the above controversy -- it is about how the controversy is understood and interpreted in the two different parts of the world.

I remember several years ago in Europe, when someone asked me to explain "Manu Smriti," I asked him, "What is Manu Smriti"? I was not in denial; I had never really heard of it till then. Neither had I heard of Paneer Tikka Masala, which according to them was our favourite food.

After listening to my story of how we practiced Hinduism in our homes, his next question was, "So, who is a true Hindu"?

Even that question made no sense to me, and I vaguely answered using the standard boilerplate template that "Hindu is a word that was coined by the Arabs" and "Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life." I was not sure myself what that meant, and I could see that my European host lost any respect he had for this "religion" and came to believe that Hinduism is nihilistic, and that anything goes. "After all, there are millions of Gods in this strange religion," he must have thought.

Over the next several years I tried to learn as much as possible about my cultural moorings -- not specifics in terms of particular sayings, but in terms of trying to understand the underlying thought process. And some time ago, I'd provided this answer to a question on Quora about Hinduism, that captures essential elements of what I'd learned.

At the core, Hinduism is a philosophy (described in the Vedas) that tries to ask questions about the source or the root of everything -- and pretty much gives up right in the first paragraph of the first Veda. Essentially, the idea is that any description of the root, forces the question, where did that feature come from, hinting that this is not the root. It goes on to say that this root entity "that which is" cannot even be said to "exist" because it is the creator of existence. It cannot be described, because it created the framework in which descriptions are given. "That which is" cannot be explained -- it can only be realized. In other words, "that which is" becomes us.

And then, the texts go on to provide a number of heuristics or pathways (called "marga") to help the seeker realize that "that which is" that is being talked about. There are different pathways like knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti), harmonization (yoga), etc. none of which by themselves will guarantee realization, but make it easier for the seeker when they follow such a path.

So fundamentally, Hinduism as a practice is deeply personal. It is up to the seeker and his/her chosen pathway that determines what they practice and how they approach the pursuit. The millions of "Gods" of Hinduism are actually "deities" that act as pathways in our pursuit of the ultimate realization. There is the Oneness of "that which is" that is behind the millions of the deities.

Social elements like rituals, festivals and ceremonies that are commonly associated with Hinduism come from the evolved practices in ancient India that were fundamentally based on the above paradigm.

An important element of the social practice in these societies is the concept of "dharma" -- something that is again widely misunderstood.

In our English medium school education, we were taught that dharma meant "religion" or "faith". In some other contexts we were told dharma means "duty" or "ethics" or something else.

Wikipedia rightfully declares that the concept of "dharma" has no exact translation in English.

However, I recently realized from a friend that there is a word that comes quite close: sustainability.

The notion is dharma is based on designing systems in a way that they are "sustainable". Dharma is attached to just about every element in life. There is Raja dharma or "sustainable administration," there is Vrutti dharma or "sustainable business" and so on.

What is normally associated with Hinduism was what was earlier known as "Sanatana dharma" or "sustainable co-habitation." As the name suggests, this refers to principles and guidelines that help in making co-habitation sustainable, essentially including elements like inclusiveness, tolerance, celebration of diversity, etc.

The way dharma was practiced also has specific characteristics that are alien to the Western framework of thinking. Here are some of them.

  1. By definition, dharma is holistic in nature -- it addresses the system as a whole and tries to harmonize between the different interests that cohabit the system. This is in contrast to the process of articulation that is central to Western thought, where we study each element in isolation to understand its characteristics. 
  2. Since it is difficult for the human mind to process very large systems holistically, dharmic traditions were practiced in clusters that were loosely knit between themselves, within each of which, a dharmic framework could be reasonably managed. 
  3. While the underlying purpose is the same (sustainability), dharmic principles differed from one cluster to another based on the physical and social context in which it was situated. Hence, there are Hindus who eat meat and there are Hindus who are strict vegetarians. There were Hindu societies that had strict social and family norms, while there were Hindu societies that had very liberal outlooks on issues like marriage. There is no contradiction. Because, dharma are not edicts or commandments, they are guidelines and principles towards a deeper goal called sustainability.
  4. Dharmic knowledge were managed in two broad ways called Sruti and Smriti. Sruti means "that which is heard" and pertains to knowledge that are managed by word of mouth. Smriti refers to knowledge that are written down and communicated. The "Manu Smriti" that is often considered by the West as the "holy book" of Hindus, is just one of the several Smritis generated in one of the different dharmic contexts. (I always thought our holy book was the Bhagwad Geeta.. no wait, it was the Vedas themselves.. no.. it was the Puranas.. or was it the epics.. oh well!) Which is why, where we lived, we had never heard of it. As noted earlier, Smritis are not commandments and are not binding rules -- they are guidelines and heuristics. The only "binding" goal is sustainability. 
Between 2500 to 500 years ago the above mode of thinking permeated almost a third of the world's population which dwelt in South Asia. Most of the "religions" that were born in this framework have a similar "holistic" approach towards managing society -- be in Buddhism or Jainism or Vaishnavism. 

Sustainability does not imply lack of conflict, and indeed there were several conflicts and wars in ancient India. However, the interesting thing was that these wars often had their own dharma (yuddha dharma) or were fought in order to uphold dharma (dharma yuddha). 

What is interesting to note here is that, the reason for war was upholding of dharma, rather than to conquer and rule over the opponent (this is not to say that this never happened). This is very different from say, the wars described in the Illiad and the Odyssey that were fought for values like honour and pride. 

The Indian paradigm is also sometimes thought to be the manifestation of the so-called "feminine" energy that upholds characteristics like nurturing, harmonizing and sustaining life; while the Western paradigm is thought to be the manifestation of the so-called "masculine" energy that upholds characteristics like defeating an adversary, taking charge and control of our lives, and upholds order and law.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Your emotional disposition is more than just who you are...

For a couple of years now, I have been practicing a technique called "mindfulness" -- a term, which is used in several senses by different people, so let me define it here.

It is a technique by which we try to understand our emotional disposition or emotional profile, by observing our emotions over a long period of time.

Emotional disposition is different from our emotional "state" -- the latter simply refers to how we are feeling right now. Emotional states are transient, and in fact, just asking someone how are they feeling, may make them feel different.

Our emotional disposition is our strategic tendency to be in certain areas of the emotional state space, than certain others. It is how we tend to feel and what we tend to pursue when we are under no external pressure.

In that sense, our emotional disposition is "who we are" as a person.

But, it is more than just about who we are.

If we find out things about ourselves -- things that we intensely desire, or intensely despise, and cannot attribute it to any childhood experience, then it is likely to be a characteristic property of our emotional disposition. But where did that characteristic property come from?

The only place it could have come from is our genes. And my conjecture was that forces of evolution encodes emotionally intense experiences of a parent generation, into the genetic code of the next generation.

A recent paper in the Biological Psychiatry journal addresses the same issue and confirms the conjecture. This article in the Guardian, explains more about this phenomenon called epigenetic inheritance.

This is nature's way of recording history. There is an "official" version of history that we are taught in schools and then there is this "personal" version of history that affects us directly.