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What if we could read other’s mind?

I am reading  [amazon_link id=”0307278824″ target=”_blank” locale=”US” container=”” container_class=”” ]Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel[/amazon_link] these days.  I must say that I am big fan of Michio Kaku for his sheer ability to elucidate complex Science for the common people to understand. Although his books are not meant for a layman, but anyone with a little background and interest in Science would appreciate his writing style.

This particular book is all about looking at the scientific viability of certain phenomena which currently lie in the realm of science fiction and paranormal experiences. One of them is the ability to read other’s mind. While I was reading up this section from a scientific standpoint, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how would this impact us, if this were to become true. And the conclusion is nothing sort of a disaster of the highest order!

Let’s imagine for a while that this was possible. We could read what was going on in anyone’s mind. And before we discuss the effects, following are some of the points which I believe are rooted in the thought process of every human being with no exceptions:

  • All of us are selfish by nature. While we care for people around us and wish to make them happy, it is because ultimately it makes us happy. And yes, there are people who can’t see others happy, but that is not the type of selfishness I want to discuss in detail here.
  • All us have mixed opinion about every individual we know of. Haven’t you been in a situation where your boss is saying something and you are just thinking “What bullshit?”. If you don’t think so, there’s something terribly wrong with you. Stop reading and analyze yourself.
  • We all process and manipulate information between the time it arises in our minds and is expressed in words, actions or writing. We all want to make things look/sound/feel good.

Now you could question, there are people who don’t care about all this. And they straightway tell whatever comes to you mind, whether good or bad. Well, that is with everyone to some extent. But I am sure, there are enough situations, almost everyday, when you don’t speak what you mean.

Our entire social ecosystem runs very delicately on perception. You believe what you perceive and not necessarily what is true. All this is applicable to all aspects of our lives; our personal lives, our work lives and our social lives. You may be more honest with expressing your thoughts in your personal life than your official life than your social life (this order may be different for different individuals), but I can’t believe that one always speaks his/her mind and still enjoys a healthy living. Manipulations and lies are as important to our social fabric than speaking out the truth. Again, I want to stay away from the debate of motive behind the manipulation and lies. And I am not encouraging manipulations done to harm people. What I rather want to emphasize is the fact that unless we manipulate a few things, it is impossible to survive. I think it is a survival instinct we have developed. Truth will lose its meaning if lies don’t exist.

No matter how hard I think, I can’t imagine a society without lies and manipulations. Coincidently,  I am also reading the [amazon_link id=”0814720595″ target=”_blank” locale=”US” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Works of Charles Darwin, Volume 16: The Origin of Species, 1876[/amazon_link] and I can easily correlate how human beings have developed the instinct of processing our thoughts before it comes out to be able to survive in society as we know of. If this was not the case, we would still be running around in jungles, probably hunting for each other.

Combining what Darwin has inferred and how Science is headed, I think nature has imposed some inherent limitations which otherwise will become a threat to our survival. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t get beyond those limitations. It we were to get through those, it will forever change the world we know of.

We are therefore better off not reading other’s mind 🙂




The Dilemma of Causes and Effects

For quite some time I had been longing to write on this, but was looking for an appropriate example from personal experience. I got a good one a while ago.

For a backdrop; every phenomenon or activity happening in this universe has got some effect(s) on the surroundings for some time. Some effects are short-lived, while others may last indefinitely. Some are confined to a small region, while others may extend infinitely. An example of a long-lived far reaching effect would be what happened and has been happening after the Big Bang. If the Big Bang theory is correct, it may very well be the cause of everything which has happened to date. Even me writing this post is an effect of the same, though it can’t be co-related directly. Without explaining any further I propose the following theory:

“The universe is interwoven in a fabric of causes and effects where a particular event could be a cause or an effect depending on our frame of reference and the set of events considered within that (the frame of ref.).”

Cut it to the experience I wanted to share. I was working on a Blackberry project a while ago. The application was going on pretty well until, just a couple of days short of a critical release, we discovered that it doesn’t work on the Blackberry Pearl! The reason for this conclusion was the fact that the application failed on 3 different Pearls handsets. Just to mention I couldn’t test it out myself on  Pearl as I didn’t have it handy during that period. With the release pressure, I spent no stone unturned to figure out if Pearl didn’t support anything specific we were using in the application. Of course I was not to find any concrete answer to this as I had completely misdiagnosed the problem.

So what was it which was making the application fail on Pearls? Well we took a step back and tried to think as to what all could cause this. Suddenly it struck that could it be the OS version in those devices? We quickly ran a check, only to figure out that coincidently all the Pearl devices on which the application was tried  had an earlier version of the OS which we never intended to support. Upgrading the OSes did the trick.

This is just an example of misdiagnosing an effect as a cause. In this case the OS was the cause of the application not running on it. Just that it manifested through the Pearl. I took a big lesson out of this. A problem may manifest in various ways all of which are effects and not the cause. It is important to take a step back, and think through the artifacts available to be able to figure out the cause. Many a times, I’ve ended up spending more time on eliminating the effects as opposed to getting down to the root cause and eliminate it. No matter how hard you try to suppress the effects, things will keep troubling unless the cause is eliminated.

Easier said than done! Sometimes it is virtually impossible to discriminate between the effects and the cause(s). What if there are multiple causes?

Consider this:

“A study suggests that 78% of men who have lung cancer have an ash-tray at home.”

Does that mean ash-tray causes lung cancer? Well, obviously not. In this case we can easily make out that it is smoking which could be the cause (of both cancer as well as the ash-tray being at home). However it is not so simple to deduce this always.

Is there a trick to get down to the cause?  Well, I don’t have a specific answer to this. It is embedded in human nature to get rid of the trouble as soon as possible, which prevents us from the appropriate diagnosis. Most of the time we try to suppress the effects.

Before I sign-off on this one, just wanted to emphasize that the dilemma exists in every aspect of our lives, whether personal or professional. While some uncertainty would still be there, it’s worth taking a step back to review when we are next stuck at such a situation and try to indentify the cause rather than supressing the effects.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : A Review

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

(Photograph courtesy : Amazon.com)

“Since the ‘ONE’ is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it can’t be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than ‘ONE’ itself.”

– Robert M Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

If the above doesn’t make any sense to you and/or makes you inquisitive, do not pick up the book!

I just finished up this book and a couple of people asked me how it was and whether it is worth reading. This was the second time I had picked up the book. The first time, I just couldn’t read beyond the first fifty pages. But that was more because of the fact that I didn’t have any inclination towards reading stuff.

What fascinated me was the fact that this book was published first in 1974, i.e. more than 30 years ago and still is, widely popular. I wanted to start up on philosophy, and this book featured in the top-10 lists at quite a few places. So I decided to give it a go.

To cut it short, this book is about a few journeys. One of them being a literal one as long-distance, cross-country motorcycle ride, one of them into the author’s past life and a third one into a philosophical journey which pops up randomly as the book starts and takes center stage towards the second half of the book. I had not read anything on philosophy before this and yet I could get along with the book. The book starts on a lighter note with more emphasis on the travelogue and slowly emphasizing on the philosophical concepts which the author wants to communicate. I’d say, the pace is built up well even for a casual reader on philosophy.

The book will introduce you to some of the philosophical concepts, however doesn’t really define all of those. Also, the book is ‘open-ended’‘, i.e. although it initiates quite a few questions in mind, it doesn’t really provide answers to all of those. That pisses off quite a few people I guess. But then, I feel that the book achieves what it intends, i.e. generate the inquisitiveness to pursue some of the concepts discussed in the book. As an advice, do not attempt to understand and comprehend everything, as some of the concepts presented are not fully mature and conclusive. Just take it as a starter and if it really interests you, look for some more reads in the main course 🙂


Re: Sometimes losers win

While going through this post,  Sometimes losers win which crisply explains how (smart)losers  win sometimes by re-defining winning as being losers,  I got reminded of an age-old wisdom story which goes like this:

Akbar,  who was a successful and able King was known for his witty questions and Birbal, one of his favorite courtiers was known to counter and solve those with compelling reasoning. On one such occasion, to test Birbal’s wit, he drew a line and asked Birbal if he could shorten the line without touching it! Birbal quickly drew another line bigger than the one Akbar did and said, “See, I have shortened your line without even touching it!”

Now I’ll co-relate this story to another common trait in losers who try to win. To prove that you are the best among the lot (team) you are working with, there are two ways:

  1. You really have the capability which gets demonstrated in your day to day work and over time, you are accepted as the best.
  2. You somehow manage to prove that others in the lot (team) are dumb and idiots! The moment you achieve this you’ve pulled it off.

Does the idea behind point#2 resemble the essence of the story above? Well to clarify my standpoint, Birbal was never a loser. I just wanted to illustrate the concept.

This is how some people are able to rise in organizations in spite on their incompetence. I’ve seen this, esp. in big organizations where, usually, there is a disconnect between the leadership and the junior employees. Unfortunately there are numerous re-defined winners in the middle management (because it’s kind of tough to get beyond that by re-defining winning!) This eventually causes a lot of frustration among the people who actually get the work done as they do not get the credit and become victims of the blame-game.

I believe it is very important for any organization, to have a really good and genuine middle-management for two reasons:

  1. It gives the leadership team, the bandwidth to focus on the business as opposed to look into people issues.
  2. They are the only way for the junior people to be “Connected” with the leadership and the company as a whole.

I acknowledge that people who re-define winning to become winners are smart in their own way and can gain a lot personally by doing so in the short-term, there is no way this is going to take them to the top. I feel it is very important for the leadership to identify such re-defined winners either through 360 degree feedbacks for through a defined set of processes and filter them out to ensure a healthy and competitive work culture.

I agree with the following phrase which I have been hearing, ever since I joined the software industry:

“People do not leave companies, they leave their Project Managers.”

This may not be true always, but I believe it is true more than 80% of the time.

All this inspires me to put up another post. So coming up…….

“Everyone can be a Winner!”


Say ‘Yes’ to ‘No’

How many times you have found yourself in a flux because you accepted to do something half heartedly? How many times has it happened that you are a part of a situation which you shouldn’t have been? How many times you want to run away from what you are doing just because you don’t like what you are doing?

If the answers to these remind you of quite a few instances in your life then continue, else this post is not meant for you.

I have had numerous such instances throughout my life, and today, when I sit and analyze, more than half of them are because of me! Yes absolutely because of me. But why?

Well, just because I didn’t use ‘No’, one of the simplest words in the dictionary, as much as I should have. No doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve said Yes when I actually wanted to say No. My instant reaction to anything assigned to me is Yes.

While we do not have control over everything that happens in life, we do have control over more than what we think. I could have avoided quite a few troubles if I said No at the very onset. Saying Yes when you mean No is as good as inviting trouble. It could mean spoiling relations, it could mean screwing up one’s schedule and what not. Eventually it could mean saying No when we want to say Yes just because we are in a screwed up state because of a wrong Yes. Let’s clarify a couple of phrases here:

Wrong Yes: Saying Yes when you want to say No.

Right No: Saying No when you want to say No.

I guess it is getting too complicated! If yes, please read the last paragraph again and continue 🙂

No is generally associated with a negative-ness. People who say Yes very often are acceptable more in the society than people who say No. They are considered more optimistic. But we must understand that there is nothing pessimistic about the right No. I believe the most successful (and satisfied) people in the world are those who have mastered the art saying No when required, even if that means going against the wind. People may not like it. But that is the way they go.

Saying a wrong Yes may help us build a short term relation, but if we don’t believe in what we are doing, we can never extend that relationship. Saying a right No may have a detrimental short-term effect, but that would give us enough bandwidth to do things which we want and possibly be more successful than do things which we don’t want to and fail.

I am working with the Software Industry and every time there is a decision to be made whether or not to take-up a project. Now executing a software project bottoms down to two things (from a technical perspective):

  1. If you have the right resources (people + expertise) to execute it.
  2. If the time-line is manageable.

It’s tough to say No when there is enough money to be made. But it is better to say No gracefully when you can not satisfy the above two criteria. A wrong Yes would not only mean screwing up the project but would also mean impacting other projects which are going well (hopefully 🙂 ).

I wouldn’t comment more as I don’t have enough experience yet, but one of the basic principles of economics says:

“Do what you do the best.”

More importantly sometimes, it is not about the ‘Capability’ to do something, but it is about the ‘Bandwidth’ to do it. So even if you have the ‘Capability’ but lack the ‘Bandwidth’, gracefully say No.

Also, saying No comes with a hidden Yes. For example: Saying No to work on Saturdays may mean saying Yes to spend time with friends and family.

Having said all this, it is not always possible to adhere to it. But I am sure our lives would be much simpler if we use the right No instead of the wrong Yes 50% of the time.

Notes to myself: Learn to say the right No.