Friday, June 9, 2017

Hevel

The traveler had finally come face to face with the man he had been looking for. The quest he had been on looking for this mysterious man had finally come to a sudden end, there he was few yards in front of him.


He was a tall, slim man with a long head of hair neatly tied up in a bun, it was beginning to gray. He wore a white shirt haphazardly tucked into a pair of blue denim jeans, on his feet were working stocks. From the stories the traveler had heard about this man, he should be at least 60 years old, yet the man that stood in front of him radiated with a youthfulness which even his 44 year old self did not possess.

It was finally time to ask the question he had failed to answer himself, the question that haunted him throughout his adolescence until it became the all important quest of his life. A question he was sure this man could answer, With trepidation, he strung together the words that formed his question.


They say you are the wisest of all the seekers that have walked among us...

They say your grasp of sciences is not short the best of academics back at home. Are you Malachai? Melachai from old sussex, son of Ruth and Dave?



The traveler's words hung in the air for what seemed like a minute or two.


Melachai who wrote two brilliant papers on quantum uncertainty before dropping out of a doctorate at Cambridge?

There was no answer, yet the traveler continued with his inquiry.    
They say you’ve lived up here for the last 25 years in contemplation, You must surely know the meaning of this existence? Is the glass half empty or half full? Is there a purpose or is everything we’ve known, felt, been and understood just a statistical anomaly, something that was bound to happen because the numbers are so unfathomably big?

The man's gaze rested on the traveler. the traveler thought he was being gauged. Seconds flew by, the traveler thought he may not even get a response from this man he had searched for a better part of a year. He was going to go back empty handed just like every other time. Then suddenly the man spoke,

It can be whichever one you want it to be, you choose. Just don’t spend too much time making up your mind.  

Hearing this, the traveler felt anger bubbling up in him, did I climb up this god forsaken mountain to hear that crap, he thought. He held back the anger and responded with the calmest voice he could muster.

What’s that suppose to mean?

hmm.. I see you need a few more words to understand but I have nothing more to say than what I’ve already said. Follow me.
The man got to his feet and started making his way up a rocky path that lead to a small hut few yards up the mountain. After a few moments of reluctance the traveler pursued. As they moved up the mountain, the man started explaining,

It can be whichever you want it to be, the glass I mean, but that is irrelevant because that’s not the question you want me to answer, to make you understand. You want to know what is the meaning of living.

the answer to that question is as incomprehensible to us as feeling the curvature of the earth through the soles of our shoes. There is a meaning but it eludes us everytime we get close with our instruments and theories. The greatest of all the fools is he who waits on a singular all encompassing meaning when it’s unattainable in a 100 lifetimes. This, my friend, is the only truth you should know about what you seek.

It is a truth that can be understood with multi-million dollar machinery, in the solitude of a clear mind or on a mindful walk down a coastline. A destination that can be reached in many ways.

Look at the greatest of your sciences, Newton came along and brought to our understanding some characteristics of gravity. With this new found knowledge we could accurately predict movements of our celestial relatives using his equation, but this new understanding brought with it new mysteries, we could now explain why the earth goes around the sun the way it does but we didn’t know how gravity could instantaneously work on the two celestial bodies separated by 150 million kilometers. It took another scientist to bring to our understanding that gravity was bending the fabric of our 3 dimensional reality, spacetime. What we were seeing as the effect of gravity was the movement of objects through this curved space in a straight line. With the resolution to Newton’s question, yet again more mysteries were served on a silver platter for the scientist to bend their heads around. Maybe one day someone would bring to our understanding why us; 3 dimensional beings cannot fathom a 4 dimensional reality and how it can be done if need be but even then there will still be new mysteries to be unraveled. So has it been, so it ever will be.

Let’s continue our exploration through an allegory, take two individuals let’s name them Smith and Jo, they are as identical as they can be in physique, socioeconomic standing and other aspects, all that separate them is the manner in which they make sense of their reality. Imagine both of them are being ridiculed by society in a subtle manner because of some characteristic they both possess. They are both made aware of this fact, Smith decides to cope with this sudden turn of events with denial and continues on as if nothing had happened. Jo, decides to understand why this is so and then rectify the situation, this decision takes Jo through a decade-long bitter journey of discovery, Jo finally comes to understand why, but finds the power to rectify the situation is beyond his abilities. Ironically, Jo finds that all he can do is to deny reality and continue on as if nothing had happened, just as Smith did decades ago, the price he had paid for understanding was decades of his life he could have spent elsewhere.

This is the truth we must understand when we pursue answers to the unknown, sometimes it is within our capabilities to find the answer to our questions, sometimes the questions are much too great for mere mortals, we can only chisel out a piece of the answer, never the whole. Either way, the price of knowing is paid in time. Time, the only true currency we were given to spend.

When we have so few meaningful divisions of time to give away, what we should be doing is finding where it can be best spent. Let the meaning of existence elude you, instead look for that someone who perfectly distracts you, find work that best engages you, spend the time that’s given to you and be grateful because however way you wish to look at it, life is a still a gift.

The two men had made their way to the hut.

Take a seat, my friend, I am the Melachai you seek. Let me make you a cup of tea, said the man pointing to an old wooden chair standing just outside the hut.  


The traveler wearily sat down on the chair and waited.






Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Drift

With arms stretched wide open, we cross the threshold of shelter to the bitterness of the unknown. Hoping and wishing, we drift out. Holding onto our dreams we struggle and at times we stray. Maybe some find all that they ever dreamt of but most of us would settle for meaning instead.

Some find it in the embrace of another. Some find it in gold, failing to see the error in their way till it’s too late. For few the meaning comes much too late, having nothing to hold onto they get carried further into the abyss, having only the ghosts of their pasts to reconcile, they burn, they disintegrate.  



“The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” - Neil Gaiman

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Store away the best throw away the rest

Some of us are more open to new experiences than others, we’ve all come across people who refuse change and avoid trying anything new for the life of them. Is it in our nature to fear change? To reject what is unfamiliar? Maybe. Through my experiences I’ve come to learn that it’s foolish to reject a thing based completely on what the majority think about it. Let me try to explain. 

I am a believer that one must use one’s own faculties to evaluate and judge the merits and suitability of action. Some of us reject things based on what can be seen at the end of the spectrum that is closest to what we are familiar with. Let’s take the relatively harmless topic of anime to explore this premise. Is it considered a non substantial art form? Do most anime have stupid story lines or lack depth? An average appreciator of movies would say yes and wouldn't think too far before labeling the whole genre as garbage, but do you get exceptions to this generalization? sure, studio ghibli offerings like 'spirited away', serials like 'cowboy bebop' or 'avatar' are good examples where anime deliver compelling stories that address deep subject matter and has the potential to better a life. Now if one dismissed anime all together based on its generalized classification, because of their unfamiliarity or because of some social stigma it carries, then they have lost the chance to experience what ever good and unique that anime has to offer. 

This is true to many such negative classifications in society. If one was to inquire closely, they would find exceptions to the classification but as a whole they would find the classification is just. It is just mostly because it is true and valid to the majority, one must not forget that society is one that is best suited to the majority and as such these classifications should be accepted as truths even if they don't hold true to everyone. There are many reasons as to why these classifications ring true in society. Two most common reasons seem to be the difficulty to weed out the the bad parts from the good and the fear of the repercussions of deviating from the norm.

As true as there are almost always exceptions to societal classifications is the fact that societal classifications are almost always mostly valid, meaning though there are exceptions to the case as an inferred truth they do hold up. If we go back to our silly example of watching anime as a means of enriching one's life, one could make the argument that it would make more sense to invest one’s time in watching a genre of movie that has a better track record? For every ‘spirited away’ you find you would waste your time going through 20 disappointments. 


‘Hey man.. that’s not cool! You might suck at finding the good one’s but i’m a pro bro.. you need to correlate the imdb scores with what the experts are saying in the usual sites and you know.. you need to get that zig when you watch the short. It all adds up. It’s a science really. Don’t be hating.’



Well, the dude makes a good point but what if you are someone who has lived under a rock and have never heard of IMDB or the experts and their usual sites the dude is talking about? What if you were born without the ability to zig(if it is something you're born with)? All valid questions, and from my experiences, I’ve come to realize that behind many such negative classifications there is a difficulty of weeding out the bad parts from the good and that It is a difficulty faced by majority of those who've tried. As such, one can argue that it was because the majority faced difficulties of filtering out the good parts, they labeled it an ineffective source and through a societal evolutionary process it got an unfavorable classification. Of course there are exceptions to this too but let’s keep it light for this post. 

So do classifications built up on the past experiences of a majority serve any purpose? Absolutely, simply put it saves most of us from making bad decisions. These classifications though they have come to be through an evolutionary process, once established becomes societal truths, the expected and the norm. They become part of the psyche of what the philosopher Martin Heidegger called the ‘they self’. ‘They self’, the template members of society are expected to conform to but according to Heidegger hinders the member from being the authentic self he or she can be.  

Classifications do for the most part serve the purposes they are suppose to serve. Not all of us are capable of weeding out the bad or have the internal fortitude to withstand the repercussions of diverging from the norm. Attempting to do so without the needed faculties lead to disastrous  outcomes. To complicate the matter further, most of us are ill equipped to assess the limits of our faculties and so sayings like ‘ignorance is bliss’ and ‘what we don’t know don’t hurt us’ really do ring true for most of us. The man who travels the well known road is far less likely to get lost.

So then what is the point of this discourse? The point should be the importance of classifications for a society and how they come to be. A man who truly understand the reasons would not be too quick to judge someone who appear to diverge from the norm. Further they will not fear diverging just because of an unfavorable classification, they would instead assess the suitability, benefits rationally and come to their own conclusions, gathering pearls of wisdom from places most may not even bother to look. Store away the best throw away the rest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Two kinds of people

While reading up for a paper I have the good fortune(sigh) of having to write, tucked away in a comfortable little inn on a corner of galle fort, I stumbled upon this quote,

“There are two kinds of people in the world, an old joke goes: those who believe that everything can be divided into two categories – and the rest of you.”  - Daniel Pink

I'm not sure how original a quote it is but it sums up one big problem I see in soft sciences' like psychology(another post on the topic). That is, It's insatiable need to define, categories and label things atomic. When I was reading up some of the papers and such that I had to read I couldn't help but think what a mess some of these people have made? Do they really believe all of what they have written or are they just like most of us who are doing the best we can do? I choose to believe the later, that they know that "everything" cant be made sense with a one size fits all mentality, that they are just doing the best they can with whats in hand.

Many truths have an if attached to them at the end. It's apparent, at least to me that the best of scientists are those who know this nature of science at heart.


the scientist 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Meritocracy and Group-think

Meritocracy is important for companies that need to attract and retain good employees, among other things. It nurtures creativity and in turn drives innovation. All must haves for a successful software product company. To be in business for long I would assume a product company needs to make the right products the right way and sell them right, All three aspects that constitute success(according to this lay person) can benefit immensely from the best people and ideas bubbling up to the top. Having a flat organizational structure would work to bring the value of meritocracy faster than say a hierarchical structure where you need to tiptoe through the structure and norms. Though I find it hard to imagine ATM how a large organization(think thousands) could cohesively work without some sort of hierarchy. 

For some of us fitting into flat organizational structure does not come naturally partly due to our cultural norms and conditioning, meaning at times we might have to consciously counteract/resist some of our behavior to do good for ourselves and the companies we work for if they happen to rely on flat structure and meritocracy. Okay, let's leave aside talk of flat structure and stick to meritocracy because it is something that organizations can benefit from regardless of the way in which they are structured(some better strung words on the subject) and because it's not a polite subject to be hypothesizing on. Lets just stick to the subject this post was intended to be about.

Group-think is a psychological phenomena that explains why groups of intelligent individuals sometimes make catastrophically wrong decisions, mainly due to some of those who have something valuable to add in the decision making process keep quite to maintain group harmony. I will assume group-think and such are taught at business school(the engineers are kept out of the loop again!) and will not ponder on about it further, do a search on the work done by Irving Janis on the subject if you need to get to the nitty gritty. Some strategies leaders can employ to prevent group-think,

  • In situations where you need to ensure all relevant information from the ground level are passed back, leaders and other authoritative figures could restrain from setting the agenda when in discussion, preventing situations where employees feel they are going against the leaders agenda/what's expected. 
  • Employing communication medium that fester flat structure and involvement such as email and chat for group discussions.
  • Assigning multiple groups the same activity and evaluating the two outcomes.
  • Bringing outsiders into group discussions or having designated naysayers to make you consider alternatives.   

Group-think can debilitate a meritocratic work culture by at times stopping the best decisions being made. Leaders should be mindful when focus should be given to preventing group-think as not all decision making situations require such scrutiny and in fact doing so would be counter productive. Meritocracy is a concept we all can benefit from putting in place but putting it in place with realities of the day is not an easy task, we must be considerate of this fact and keep on making improvements to the the process when possible.


12 Angry Men. Speak up if you really have something to say.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Merovingian and the question of free will

The matrix trilogy is one of my favorites. Sure, it might have ripped off a few others like ghost in the shell and some comics that are not well known but at least in my mind there is no doubt that it was with the release of the matrix in 1999 that these elements/sentiments were brought to the limelight, to the consciousness of the popular culture. The movies played around with quite a few philosophical questions, one recurring question being do we have free will? Check this,


"Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why." merovingian



It turns out most of those who are interested in this question are either in camp “free will” or camp “determinism”. Both camps have their fair share of spokesman and enough literature to keep an army of scholars busy for a long while. 


Camp free will tells us that the trajectory of a ball released by the hand of a cricketer(baller) is determined, determined by the laws of physics but the cricketer's decision to release the ball to send it hurdling at the batsman in a particular way was one made of free will. In a very generalized sense, free will states that if an action was performed with mind it was done so with free will as the mind could have chosen to do otherwise. Camp determinism is opposed to this categorization based on the existence/non-existence of mind. They believe that every action is determined by some underlying law, even those made with mind, that it is not as simple as “hey man... I got pepperoni pizza instead of deviled chicken because i felt like it.. you know”. Yes, some of the residents of camp determinism tend to be mean spirited and seem to be looking for stones to throw at the other camp. 


Back to the matrix and the merovingian, It's clear that he is a determinist, a hard determinist at that. In a hypothetical scenario where computation has progressed so far(like in the movie) I could maybe entertain the possibility that an intellect could exist that could fathom the insane amount of knowledge/understanding that would be needed and then to actually gather it to be able to say without a doubt why a mind decided to make one choice and not another. Now I know that we have a pretty good idea of how our brains work, we can predict correctly what a mind will chooses to do sometimes but till we can predict correctly every single time without any constraints, it's still guesswork. The debate of free will vs determinism is one that will not be settled till another debate that is between holism and reductionism is resolved(onlyagame makes an interesting case for holism which I think makes sense) and it's foolish to think that it will happen in our lifetime. Meanwhile this armchair philosopher is just going to wait around for a kick ass reboot of the matrix without wasting too much time on questions that no one has found answers to. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

One more monkey to kill

You know how sometimes people say things like “you got to watch what you eat or you'll get sick” or the subtler ones that if you read right adds up to things like “slow down you bum.. do you want to become an alcoholic?” or “Sure.. waste your whole day playing DOTA and see how many jobs you can land in a country like this” and you do the math your self, it all adds up so you politely show your agreement at that moment but secretly think it doesn't apply to you somehow(by the very virtue of being who you are) but later to be proven wrong, at which point you scratch your head thinking how in the world you believed you were the exception(Some might even argue that life is but a series of these embarrassing reveals of our in-competencies and the only thing we can hope to learn is how to handle these reveals with grace). I've had a quite a few of these in my 3 decades and this post is about another one I'm just starting to discover.

The last couple of months I've been waking up pretty late everyday. Why? because on most nights I finish watching my TV shows and what not around midnight and once I drag my energy drenched body on to bed it takes me a good part of what seems like another hour to relax and fall asleep then this hard earned sleep is interrupted a couple of times when my kid wakes up crying at ungodly hours of the night. Waking up late by its self is not a bad thing but when you start feeling drained during the day and you cant help but walk and talk like a zombie no matter how many good cups of coffee you have you know you got a monkey on your back that needs killing.

Sleep deprivation is not something that is new to me, I've been binge watching TV shows and reading on the net to the late hours of the night more than a decade, pulled all nighters studying and doing assignments for my bachelors, etc. None of that slowed down my day significantly and so probably added to my belief that I was some how impervious to it. Well it turns out i'm not so looks like I'd have to do something about this.



House M.D, you will be watched over a period of weeks or months but not days.. sniff sniff

It’s been about 2 months now and I’d like to believe I’ve got back on track. I’ve been hitting the bed early keeping a hard deadline of 11PM and getting to work a good 2 hours or so earlier. I feel great during the day. Things are looking up. I wonder how well I would do at 6 months!