Indian Statistical Institute

Little Boxes
Malvina Reynolds
(sung by Pete Seeger 1962)
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there's doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.
And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There's a green one and a pink one


And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
Words and music by Malvina Reynolds.
Copyright 1962, Schroder Music Company
Here I am reiterating Nietzsche – truth-seeking is a disease – will to know leads to will power.
Even then, we have truth rooms (TR) and we are celebrating our truth claims if it leads to
‗foundational‘ ‗original‘ knowledge base. Though we are decorating our TRs with the pieces of
our celebrated fundamental knowledge, we do not think that it leads to fundamentalism. My TR
is true in the true sense of the term and My TR supplies fundamental knowledge and yet it is not
fundamentalism! We are following, either in our day-to-day life-spaces, or in our statist-space or
in our academic or aesthetic life-spaces, different TRs, knowingly or unknowingly, basics of any
fundamental TR or TRs acclaiming that only my watch is running rightly. When I am branding
one TR as fundamentalist TR, I do not consider my TR as fundamentalist TR, though it is
fundamental piece of work and I am also a fundamental truth-seeker. Am I seeing my civilized
mirror-image, when I am branding other as savage, terrorist, or fundamentalist?

Following Malvina Reynolds, I want to call all these TRs as little boxes. Within this little box or
TR of one vegetarian, all the animal proteins, onion and musur dal are prohibited and another
vegetarian thinks s/he can consume onion and musur dal along with egg and still preserves
vegetarian status according his/her world-views. In case of determining the semantic status of
the term ‗vegetarian‘, are we ready to incorporate two TRs of two vegetarians, or the ‗meaning‘
of the term is to be decided positively, formally and deterministically by terminating the second
vegetarian as vegetarian? Where are the entry-points of such TRs? Where lies the closure of
such TRs? Or, they ―all look just the same‖?

Anyway, the preservation of these different little boxes is a problem to me and in this paper, I
will try to understand it in reference to the foundational questions of scientific investigation. My
Little Box gives me comfort, security, ease and simultaneously provides me with suffocation,
insecurity, and discomfort. This very much claustrophobic dependence on a single TR makes
me remember of a giant, Damastes or otherwise Prokrustes, who laid all human beings on his
bed and then ―lop them or rack them out to make fit it.‖ Are these Little Boxes Prokrustean Bed?


Let us scrutinize some TRs in this regard in reference to different academic disciplines –the
disciplines categorized according to the norm of academic beaurocrasy or academic

Let us start with Classical Physics. M. Rouget argued (cited in Hollis, 1994: 55) that scientific
statements are often

―as if‖ ―true‖.

Hollis (ibid), following Rouget, elaborated it with ―the

accepted hypothesis that the acceleration of a body dropped in a vacuum is constant g (about
32 feet per second per second on earth), implying that the distance (s) traveled after t seconds
is given by the formula s=1/2 gt2. When the formula is applied to various objects dropped from
various heights in the earth atmosphere, it is found to hold, more or less, in usefully many but
not all cases.

It can therefore be stated: under a wide range of circumstances, bodies that fall in the
actual atmosphere behave as if they are falling in a vacuum. In the language so common
in Economics, this would be rapidly translated into: the formula assumes a vacuum. Yet it
clearly does no such thing…. the formula is accepted because it works, not because we
live in approximate vacuum—whatever that means. (1953, p.18)”
Let us try to understand this abstraction with a popular example. Once Sunil Gavaskar
commented on a particular deployment of a software—Hawk eye. This special software was
deployed in the Mini World Cup (2002) to predict ―Leg Before Wicket‖-decision as it shows the
possible trajectory of the cricket ball (whether it hits the wicket or not). Gavaskar pointed out that
the software did not count the variables like the character of soil (the pitch), the direction and
speed of the wind, the height of the bowler‘s hand and his/her grip (grip is seldom overt) etc.
Though Hawk eye is ―ideal‖ software, it is not suitable for the ―practical‖ decision on LBW as it
does not take into account such variables. Though, in Science, we generally idealize a formula
by considering ―other‖ variables as non-existent entities (say, for example, the swinging of
different pendulums in different regions of the earth.).

In Cricket , we can say, without any hesitation that Shane Warne is continuing his 6.5 over.
What is the status of .5 in six-balls‘ over? Even at the moment of calculating cricketers‘ career
averages, this .5 preserves its status according the Cricket community‘s convention.

If Wittgenstein is to be believed, mathematics is a practice, performance-- mathematics is
something we do, and we could just as well do it any other way, mathematician‘s TR is also a
Little Box. One could write 12+1=14 as in my apartment there is no thirteenth floor as according


to that truth-room, the number 13 is ‖unlucky‖. Therefore, mathematics is a performance of the
community(cf. the counting of decimal system, multiple of 20 system and binary system). For
Wittgenstein communalism of mathematics is determined by the communities‘ convenience and
In case of Economics, I can write ―3 goats= 1 cow or ―1 apartment= Rs. 12 lacs‖ by adding
some sufficient causes. How do I put the sign ―=‖ in between two unequal signifiers? The
question is irrelevant enough within the TR of Economics. Questioning the equalizing effect of a
dangerous supplement, a properly signed signifier called money, is prohibited within the ambit
of economic activity‘s TR. I am not questioning anything, rather I am representing


presentations of a priori s, though it is neither analytical a priori, nor the synthetic one, but
something called historical a priori—an a priori determined, conditioned, appropriated,
approximated by the historical incidences and those a prioris get epistemic status within the
ambit of a certain TR.

Let us switch over, for the time being, from academic administration to some problems of
ordinary language, which, as alleged by the Logical Positivists, is illogical. Ok, let us try to
rewrite these ―problems‖ of Bangla language in the form of sentential Calculus.
The problem, we have to face, may be termed as ―one is not equal to one‖ problem, which is
according to existing mathematical system impossible. A rule of ―one deletion‖ was proposed by
Dasgupta (1987). For example, in the Determiner Phrases like





Obviously, "one‖ is deleted in 2. However, Dasgupta mentioned that ‗one deletion‘ is not true in
the cases like






As according to the physical measurement, and in Bangla one cannot say


*EkTa jOl
‗One-classifier water‖

There are some pragmatic cases where such expression like 5 is possible. That possibility may
be ignored for the time being and instead, one may still maintain the rule of ―the one deletion‖ as
the perception from the part of the speaker may still be ―one" in those cases. It is ‗one‘ as a unit,
which is perceived here by the speaker. Of course, this is not a deterministic physical ‗one‘, but
one as a whole unit. When any Bangla speaker says,

phrij theke


fridge from water-classifier


"Bring water from the fridge."
his/her intention obviously refers to ―one bottle of water‖. Therefore, ‗one‖ is there, but it is a
fuzzy one.

The concept of this fuzzy "one" can be further illustrated in the following examples, where
deterministic numeral expressions are changed to non-deterministic Determiner Phrases:

7.a) paMcTa
five-classifier (definite)
7.b) goTa paMcek
classifier( indef. ) five-one
"more or less five "

five-classifier (definite)


jona paMcek
classifier( indef. ) five-one
"more or less five "


khan paMcek
classifier( indef. ) five-one
"more or less five "


10.a) paMc
"five thousand"
10.b) Hajar
"more or less five thousand"
11.a) paMc lakh
five lacs
11.b) lakh paMcek
lacs five-one
"more or less five lacs"
Examples like 7-11 show those deterministic expressions in (a) and non-deterministic
expressions in (b). Compared to (a), examples in (b) show the fronting of classifiers with
subsequent phonemic change and an addition of /ek/ ―one‖ to the specific numeral x. This one is
not deterministic +-1, but this ―one‖ has a range more or less than +- 1.

All these represent a psychological non-deterministic range of numbers in the cognition of
Bangla speakers. The Bangla numeral expressions show the world-views of the community
concerned with a special reference to their psychophysical way of looking at things (perception)
and ways of making order of things (understanding). Therefore, it is a hermeneutic problem that
involves the relative gap between human perception and understanding in relation to their
habitat. The range of +-1 is different in different persons belonging to different socio-economic
classes or even it may be different in a single person in different psycho-social context.

From the non-deterministic TR of ordinary language, I am returning to the problem of my
discipline—Linguistics. In case of Linguistics, Chomsky is proposing a creative speaking subject
with zero history. Within the TR of ideal speaking subject , this equality of language is a
necessary one. It is true, but it is unreal as at the moment of constructing the metanarrative of
ideal speaking subject, this TR does not consider the correlation between empty linguistic
organism and human malleability and the childhood configuration, neurotic elements and
individual biography.

In this situation, I am not labeling any of these TRs as fallacious and I am not negating or
refuting any of these TRs. All these TRs provide us enough comfort and ease to live our life
happily. If I wish to destroy any of these TRs, it would be considered as a violence. The


question is what to do now? If all these TRs are ephemeral and contingent enough, how do we
ensure our insurance within TR?

Let me put it in this way: if I do not like one TR, let me take it as a legitimate possibility without
any commitment and on the other hand, if I feel comfort in one of these TRs, let me commit
myself to that particular TR. Or, another possibility is to swing from one TR to another TR. This
type of attitude leads to the politics of tolerance. I am not projecting other as fundamentalist,
terrorist or savage by keeping aside my own fundamentalism. Moreover, I do not want to hide
violent market fundamentalism by foregrounding the violence of religious fundamentalism. Both
of these two are violent and the agenda of proposing such (ill)ogics of TR is to reiterate the logic
of ahimsa, non-violence, as proposed by the Jaina Theorists. And this is Anekanta of the Jaina
Philosophers. What I am paraphrasing here is nothing but the re-reading of Jaina Philosophy by
Krishnachandra Bhathacharya and Kalidas Bhattacharya. For it was a response from the
colonized domain against the monolithic enlightenment project of the Sahibs. This imagination
of plurality, or one may call, following Krishnachandra, the concept of alternity, as a response to
the singularity of different regional sciences inaugurates another problem. Chatterji said,
“If nationalism in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined
community from certain „modular‟ forms already made available to them by
Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?….” (1993:5,
emphasis added)
I want to extend this question and wish to switch over from the nation statist space to the
epistemological space. Did we have no imagination at the level of epistemology?

In fact,

Chatterjee‘s question (―…what do they have left to imagine?….‖)inaugurates the question of
―rem(a)inder‖ (in Lacanian sense of the term) in the context of colonial subjectivity, which is,
though destroyed by the imagined symbolic order, constructs its ―real(-ity)‖ as rem(a)inder
through a negation of Nationalism (Gandhi, Rabindranath) and by introducing anekanta (theory
of many perspectives) alternity ( Krishnachandra Bhattacharya and Kalidas Bhattacharya in
Philosophy); Abu Sayed Ayub, Buddhadeb Basu and Sudhindranath Dutta in Bangla literary
criticism and translation theory; P.C. Mahalanabis and J.B.S. Haldane in Statistics and natural
sciences. All of them deployed anekanta-theory in their respective fields).

Let me introduce a little bit of different History of ankantavada in the Indian colonial context. If
any one looks into the logo of our institute, s/he will find a statement written in the Devanagarifont in the bottom of a banyan tree1: bhinnesu (‗in different others‘ loci‘, note the plural number


in Locative in the Sanskrit word ―bhinnesu‖) aykyasya (unity‘s, the counterpositive, pratiyogin)
darsanam (perception, ―darsana‖, in the Indian context, means Philosophy). The great banyan
tree in the logo also reflects the nature of such proposition. This proposition bears the impact of
Jaina Anekantavada, in which Mahalanabis was himself interested as he found a link between
Probability Statistics and Jaina Anekantavada and published a paper on the same in as early as
1954. J.B.S. Haldane (1957), following Mahalanabis, also noticed in the syadvada (a part of
anekantavada) in reference to the then physiology, the position of conclusion intermediate to
certainty and uncertainty. Haldane mentioned one crucial thing in connection with syadvada that
is known as halting problem of Turing Machine. Haldane mentioned paradoxes of Principia
Mathematica, when are given in a machine, the answer from the part of machine would be

The question is then, how do I myself engage myself in this domain of alternity? Chomsky:
Context free ideal creative speaking subject with zero History
Sed contra: Context-sensitive creative speaking corporeal with History
(The term creative[in the Chomskyan sense of the term]is kept under erasure because creativity
is a presence as well as an absence)
My response to such answer is simply ―bhedabheda‖—a much discussed phenomenon in the
Indian Philosophy—it is at a time identity (abheda) and difference(bheda)—positive equality as
well as negative equality. Creative speaking subject is there—out there—but with
constraints,…It is at a time syadasti and syat nasti and avyakvyam. What is about contemporary
Physics? Am I not

taking cue from natural science(Chomsky,1980:2) or Anarchist Socio-

Biology a la Kropotkin? Alternatively, am I confining myself in the Little box of my own TR? Or,
why am I anxious enough to include my proposition in the Little Boxes of such disciplines as
well as methods?
1. It is a replica of the great banyan tree of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden,
Shibpur. The relevant information regarding this tree is as follows:

The Great Banyan Tree
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden, Shibpur, West Bengal

Age more than 240 years.
Highest Branch 24.5 m

Canopy 420 m
Prop roots 2880


Main trunk Removed in 1925

Origin India

The Great Banyan Tree is one of the greatest attractions and landmark of Indian Botanic Garden, the tree,
FICUS BENGHALENSIS-L (FAMILY: MORACEAE). In more than 250 years old and spread over an
area of about 1.5 Hectares with about 2880 prop roots. A wonder in plant Kingdom, the tree occupies its
position in the “Guinness Book of World Records”.
This banyan tree perfectly reflects, metaphorically speaking, the ethos of anekantavada.
Bhattacharya, Krishnachandra. 1958. Studies in Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banrasidass.
Bhattacharya, Kalidas. 1982. bharotio SaNskriti o Onekanto bedanto. Bardhaman: Bardhaman
University Press.
Chatterjee, P. 1986. The Nations and Its Fragments. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chattopadhyay, D.P. 1991. History of Science and Technology in Ancient India. Vol. I and II.
Kolkata: Firma K.L.M.
Chomsky, N. A. 1980. ―On Binding‖. Linguistic Inquiry II (pp. 1-46)
Dasgupta, P. 1987. kOthar kriakOrmo. Kolkata:Dey‘s Pub.
Ghosh.P.1991. ―Syadvada‖ in Chattopadhyay, Debiprasad.1991. (pp. 449-55)
Hollis, M.1994. Philosophy of Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Haldane, J.B.S.1957. ―The Syadvada Systems of Prediction.‖ Samkhya Vol.18. Reprinted in
Chattopadhyay, Debiprasad. 1991. (pp.433-40)
Kothari, D.S.1985. ―The Complementary Principle and Eastern Philosophy‖. French, A.P. et al.
(ed.) Neils Borh: A Centenary Vol. Mass: CUP. Reprinted in Chattoadhyay Debiprasad. 1991.
(pp. 441-48)
Mahalanobis, P.C.1954. ―The Foundations of Statistics (A Study in Jaina Logic).‖ Dialectica-8.
Reprinted in Chattopadhyay, Debiprasad. 1991. ( pp. 417-32 )
Nietzche, F. 1911. The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. (Authorized English Translation
by Levy, O. L.) New York: Macmillan.
Wittgenstein, L. 1983. Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. Cambridge: MIT Press.


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