I think therefore I am

Of late most of the Studies in behavioral economics seem to stress that thinking isn’t all that useful, that its something we’re sort of handicapped in or at least aren’t as awesome at as we’d like to believe. In reality though,  however irrational we are, we are a species that has learnt to do something truly amazing(yes – I mean to think), and for that reason we should never belittle it; we should practice it to the best of our ability and rather than looking at our fallacies as fallacies per se, we should see them as what uniquely make us, us.
Of course in order to really appreciate why this is important, it’s useful to have a slight handle on the literature that exists on the topic. There are the light reading type of books like (pop-economics perhaps?)Nudge, Freakonomics, Predictability of irrationality give us a hint, albeit very superficially, of the current ideas that are being tossed around and confirmed on some level. Some concepts they propagate are on how we are easily fooled by our own cognition and that we have a tendency to not realise that we’re getting more than we bargained for. There are more rigorous books such as Thinking fast and slow by the man who is considered the father of this science – Daniel Kahneman(and his comrade in many of his important studies – Amos Tversky).
In my eyes, inexperienced as they may be, all that we should really draw from these texts is that knowing them is an useful way to try to avoid falling prey to it. However considering the number of heuristics that we have evolved over time it’s nearly impossible to try to keep track of it all, unless you create an app for it!  And that is the crux of the problem really, in order to survive we have evolved loads of rules of thumb, like ‘ expensive is good quality’, ‘a good looking person is more likeable’, I pay more for my coffee at starbucks so that I can get the good stuff though what I don’t know is that what I’m paying a dollar extra for only costs a few cents more in reality(you pay more because you want to).
I feel like the existence of so many heuristics gives some credence to Lamarcks theory that we can pass on the actions that alter our mental state to our kids because the number of heuristics that exist now is far far greater than when there were when you needed to use a telegraph to transfer a message across the Atlantic, now you just need a lot of money in ur prepaid account! I suppose, in essence, that is the point of education.
We manage to somehow live life peacefully even in the presence of so much information thanks to the way we process it. And the very idea that we are capable of something so phenomenal is wonderful. That is what we should marvel at. However it’d take a lot of mental tinkering to manage it appropriately and thoroughly considering that this is just another heuristic(it’s rather recursive you see) that allowed us to focus on the things that could harm us.
Here’s to a better intelligence – cheers!

9 Lives

Cats have a one in nine chance of dying-all im doing is restating the oft stated fact of ‘ cats have nine lives’ in more realistic terms.
Now the why?
It can be said that all life is based on probability. Thats true isn’t it? It’s our chances and circumstances that make us who we are. Comparing how strong the chances are that one event occurs compared to another is just the study of probability.
Yesterday I played 200 games of the beginner level of Minesweeper to get a time of 12 seconds or less. Why 200? Because it was just a matter of probability that I get an easy one in which I needn’t find all the mines to finish. I managed 13 seconds in the end. This lack of an option to redo events is what makes it so important to get lucky in life, cause if you get the chance to replay a chess game umpteen times you’ll eventually checkmate your opponent.
This makes me feel sad, because it absolutely proves that each of us is at the mercy of forces we cannot control. Now rather than fall back on the weak argument of using religion as a safeguard, I’ll suggest that however screwed up your circumstances get, there’s always the Gaussian curve to remind you that it’ll eventually stop simply because the probability of 100 bad things happening is just too low, yup, the glass is half full strategy.
Just one thing, when that good probability strikes, exploit it like the world is gonna end if you don’t.

Mobile Banking in Kenya—> HUGE!

Gigaom

MIT researcher Nathan Eagle regaled the audience at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference yesterday with tales of technical innovation from East Africa. “Kenya has some mobile phone services that are years ahead of what we have right now,” he said. Eagle was at ETech to present his new startup, Txteagle, which aims to be a kind of mobile Mechanical Turk, using countless mobile phone users in Kenya and beyond to solve easy tasks and earn small amounts of money in return. (There’s a good writeup in Wired News today)

It’s definitely an interesting idea. But to me, the real story is how mobile phones have transformed a country like Kenya in recent years, making not only services like Txteagle possible, but also shaking up the region’s entire economic system.

View original post 258 more words

A Continuation to Linchpin

Duhigg first became fascinated by the power of habit eight years ago, while in Baghdad as a newspaper reporter. There, he met an army major who was conducting a curious experiment in the small town of Kufa: After analyzing taped footage of riots in the area, the major identified a common sequence — first a crowd of Iraqis would gather in the plaza, drawing in spectators and food vendors, then eventually someone would throw a rock and all hell would break loose.

So the major summoned Kufa’s mayor and made a strange request: Get the food vendors out of the plaza. The next time the sequence began to unfold and a crowd started to gather, something different transpired — the crowd snowballed and people started chanting angry slogans, but by dusk, people had gotten hungry and restless. The looked for the familiar kebobs, but they weren’t there. Eventually, the spectators left and the chanters lost steam. By 8PM, everyone was gone.

Upon asking the major how he figured out the clever strategy, Duhigg got the following response: “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army.”

*Courtesy Brain Pickings –http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/05/the-power-of-habit/

The Linchpin here as we can see were the food vendors, identify the linchpin and you can change everything.

The Linchpin

Note: This article is based in part on an episode in Castle and the rest on Seth Godin’s book called “Linchpin”, so read carefully and assess for yourself from which angle you wish to look at it.

The Butterfly Effect is this extremely curious scientific theory that tells us that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in some location could lead to the formation of a tornado far, far away due a series of occurrences that are too long and slightly far-fetched to elaborate upon. However, this theory is the one that gives credence to the concept of a linchpin, the single most important event that if executed could alter all of history. Some instances reflecting the same:

  • the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 leading to the beginning of World War 1
  • The fact that Ken Lay was a Christian was the cause of the Enron collapse(explained here:http://www.sal.tkk.fi/publications/pdf-files/rran07.pdf)
  • The setting up of the extremely kind and generous pension plan in Greece(done in the hopes of keeping the populace happy-a very valid reason) was the source of the economic collapse that we now see headlining international news

As we see, practically no one could have predicted the catastrophic events that proceeded such small acts(okay the assassination wasn’t small, but relative to a world war with millions of casualties it definitely was), but thanks to them we realise that the smallest of alterations can lead to a huge blip on the time scale that is our lives.Now, how does that matter?

Well consider this: Over 2 billion people live in poverty all over the world, and it might be possible, if we split them into separate demographics in an appropriate manner, to find the linchpin to completely change their fortunes. Why not? The situation is the same, except that the consequences of initiating the butterfly/linchpin effect are only positive. 

Then we consider global warming, could it be that destroying one specific company could lead to the avalanche reduction of global emissions? Who knows? How do we predict it? 

THAT is the crucial problem in this theory, we cannot in any satisfactory way show that there is this ONE specific event is the one that sets the ball rolling. Statistical/Probabilistic models can only hold so much weight at the end of the day, mainly because being the humans that we are, we’re sure to miss out some crucial factor that we did not foresee. Somehow I am clearly reminded of the concept of psycho-history that Isaac Asimov designed in his books; the concept of predicting the future based on mass decisions now. It fits into the very pattern we are speaking of right now! So maybe as we develop the models in tandem with the development of computers, we will eventually have the ability to compile all the factors and provide a legitimate way to predict the future. Anything is possible… Or is it really?

A Case for Optimism

Why is optimism becoming underrated?

As far as I caan tell, there are very strong cases for pessimism, I’ve read articles telling me that there are good times to be pessimistic and good times to be optimistic, that you HAVE to be an amalgam of both, articles recommending the case of extreme optimism to be tantamount to insanity and articles saying happiness leads to too much intuitive thinking and lack of usage of the executive functions in your head-the thing that really crunches data as you THINK about it. I have no comments on these articles, my case however is for 100% unadulterated good feelings.

I want people to live in a state of well being, mentally and physically, if this is achieved through undeniably extreme optimism then so be it, that is your pill.

Everyone is good, just at different depths. To reach in and actually touch people to that depth you must either know that person extremely well or you should pull that depth up to a level where it’s easy to see. I recommend the latter approach, and I believe it is made considerably easier if the person feels good. Now how do you make someone feel good?

I read in Dr.Martn Seligman’s book Flourish about his new theory on well-being. He states that(paraphrasing here) PERMA is what our well being consists of:

  • P-Positive Emotions
  • E-Engagement
  • R-Good healthy relationships
  • M-Meaning
  • A-Achievement

I don’t believe that gaining something if not everything is impossible, I believe that it is a fundamental right- the right to pursuit of happ(y)ness. It just needs a little work. I believe we are all capable of that work so long as someone believes in them. If we create a community that not only supports but also sustains such a belief we are one step closer to reaching Gaia on Earth. Happiness will no longer have an antonym, it will only have the qualitative feel of less happy and more happy.

As a species our mind is built or negativity, evolutionarily proven and accepted. Now, we defy it. Evolution is what- “Survival of the fittest”. We create well being as the test of fitness, we change the scales by which survival is measured, we turn evolution on its head. That is our future one where we believe that every success counts twice as much as every loss. This would be a world where every single person knows and embodies PERMA.

Altruism is the future. Embrace it and live it.

That whole article came off more as a speech than an article, thanks to which i think that my emotions got penned down in between my thoughts, though to me that’s the best kind of writing :).

India and the Rise of Muscle Bikes

Muscle Car:

The ultimate reflection of Power and Distinction. Because you are invincible, unstoppable, and your car echoes it. And because you feel so damn powerful you go ahead and start a gym to make other people powerful too, on the outside at least.

In India, our car culture is still developing, as is the way people express themselves through the materials they accumulate. Being a show-off is still a little demeaning here. However, our bikes have started echoing sentiments, even if the car’s not yet caught up.

I was walking by a gym the other day(it was named, oh-so-aptly, as “Spirit”) and there was a row of motorbikes in front, and in between all the soccer moms’ (are they “cricket moms” here?) scooters(mostly Scooty Peps, that seems to have really caught their imagination). Around 90% of those bikes were in my eyes “muscle bikes”.

Whoa! What a beaut! 😉

What’s a “muscle bike”?

Anything that tries to be over-bulky and gives you more horsepower between your legs than you should be allowed to handle on Indian roads. Somehow it’s really common among hormone-ridden teenagers looking for an image to either emulate or create for themselves, as though this will let them ride off into the sunset; its also common among the gym going group, with their perfect pecs and toned abs. Or that’s just me being overly romantic.

It is fascinating to notice trends like this among the crowds, I guess that’s why psychology fascinates me, somehow or the other you can identify a common trait, something the people themselves would never have noticed. Go Muscle Bikes! By the way I’d love a Ducati.

The Event

No this is not another movie review, however it does give you a feel for how life could so easily be misinterpreted for a movie in itself. Consider this-4 years back everyone said “Yes we can”. They really believed that Obama would revolutionise America. Now people are wondering whether they’d lost their heads, however, consider this, when did he ever have the opportunity to get into your hearts?

The problem with the way we judge is that we always choose to use the circumstances rather than the person themselves, this leads to not only a very biased and corrupted view of the person, it also generates a lot of negative emotion. It was evolutionarily built into us to understand a person form the way he or she reacted to a particular situation, and in the lack of it we chose to believe the person is useless. It’s on the lines of “innocent until proven guilty” , reworded to “useless until proven useful”.

Many of the people I know are brilliant, but none of them is recognised for being so since there has never been an “event” that has thrust them into the spotlight and shown their true talent to the world in a way that amazed everyone. Everyone who wants to be famous needs this, it’s why publicity stunts are so common, regardless of all flak that they receive. 

In conclusion I believe that had there been another war, the likes of which catapulted FDR into fame Obama would’ve really made a name for himself, however, in it’s absence he looks like a deflated balloon. Every one of us should have an idea of these automatic biases we tend to have(heuristics they are, but ones that can never truly be appreciated for the damage they cause in today’s world) and try to deny them from having control. Though considering the way the world is going, with excessive information cluttering our minds, heuristics might be our only option. And with that contradiction in mind, I’ll let your heuristics take over…

Hugo

A very well directed movie on the simplicity that runs children’s lives and how that itself can easily assume a mantle of enormous importance.The movie made me really feel for Hugo and wonder how you can put the whole world into perspective if you don’t over-complicate the way you look.

Hugo thinks that the whole world is a machine and since machines never contain extra parts, if you’re part of the world, you have some purpose. I saw that as a beautiful way to frame our eternal conundrum for ourselves and set it aside temporarily as we harbour a belief in such thoughts. We all search for our place in the world, here’s a way to not lose hope :).

The boy’s entire life revolves around trying to fix a automaton, a machine that works on being wound up and writes something! That was one idea I really appreciated, the machine looked beautiful, and the there was the poignant scene where he believes that the machine is no good to him, before it miraculously whirrs into life and draws a picture of a rocket hitting the moon. There’s several plots intermingling which collide for a very happy heartwarming ending. 🙂 A movie that’s really worth watching 🙂