Monday, January 25, 2010

3 Idiots - Philosophically Advancing or Populist?

I was finally able to watch 3-idiots a couple of weeks back. The movie is pretty hilarious, music is amazing and everyone has done a very good job. I think you can find much detailed review of the movie elsewhere and I am going to focus only on the philosophical thinking advanced in the movie.

Before I start I want to make a few points clear. Firstly, many people believe that they are practical and they do not believe in any orthodox philosophy. In such a thinking, the role of philosophy is only for preaching others. I have argued earlier that philosphy is an abstraction to deal with the complexity of the world and so everyone has it. Secondly, philosophy is an abstraction of the world that people use for making principles and simplifies/catalysis/accelerates achievement of one's objectives. So keeping track of one's goals/objectives is also very important. This trade-off of objective vs principles has been talked a lot by Amartya Sen in his work in welfare economics and philosophy. In his recent work on the "Idea of justice", he talks about the trade-off between "Niti" (dharma/principles) and "Nyaya" (actual realization of justice). He has also argued against the take away point from Gita that "dharma is the only important thing" (citation slipped from my mind).

The 3 idiots is a broad criticism of the traditional thinking of Indian parents and teachers. It tries to highlight a more pragmatic and effective philosophical approach to current world. The 3-idiots reflect three different ideologies in form of three different characters:

1. Worrying about the fruits of a labor without thinking about the labor: The character is only interested in the job after study and not interested in the study itself. While clearly an illogical principle, focussing only on study is also not tenable. If I am going to study thermodynamic principles, should I completely shut off my mind on how it is used or can be used in future. If one's objective is to make money, thinking about its application is also pretty important.

2. Doing something other than what one is good at: This is talking about the trade-off between specialization and diversity. Clearly there is not much harmonization in the two extremes of the wild life and the engineering. However, this difference will get significantly blurred if it was a science subject like physics and an engineering subject like metallurgy. In one gets more specialized by focussing on more narrow issues, probably that is also pretty bad. Actually much of the interesting stuff is discovered through cross-discipline thinking.

3. Do what you love: Well clearly love is held at such high esteem that this principle is almost unassailable. The vague description of love makes it even more so. But let's ask if love is the most primate element or is it a developed feature. Well the ardent believer of "love is god" will argue the former point and considering the vague-ness of "god" and "love", this is almost unarguable. I believe that love for work is a developed feature that is mostly obtained through critical thinking and implementation of the ideas.

While all the three viewpoints advanced in the movie reject some obvious extremes of existing thinking, the proposed one does not sound much philosophically advancing. Actually I am more worried about supplanting one philosophy with another without talking about the goals/objectives. The critical thinking which is far more important that debating about philosophy is completely left out. So the movie does a pretty bad job of bringing out a good philosophical discourse and highlighting the importance of critical thinking.

Clearly the movie does an excellent job of rejecting different approaches advanced by parents and teachers. And in that sense I feel that movie was really aimed to satiate the populist and rebellious nature of the youngsters.

Overall I liked the movie but I certainly believe that the movie could have done a better job of bringing out a better discourse among the youngsters (not that I feel old myself :))


Anonymous said...


>1. Worrying about the fruits of a labor without thinking about the labor:

I interpret the meaning of "Worrying about the fruits of labor" this way - Don't waste time thinking about the outcome for the effort put into the labor. Just use the time and energy on the labor itself.
"Worrying" is not about not applying your mind on the subject's practical use. This is how I would like to interpret "karmanye vadhika raste, Ma phaleshu kadachana.."

Sushant said...

@Anonymous: Again I would argue that thinking about the outcome of the effort is very useful sometime. The labor is not the end in itself.

I am just saying that the formula is useful in certain situations but not others. And making fun by showing an extreme situation of that philosophy is not fair.

I can even make fun by creating situations where a person is only interested in the labor.

I think what you are saying is that let the philosophy be inclusive of the goals but devoid of fear, which in my opinion a better abstraction of the reality.

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