Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My thoughts on a personal vision statment

A letter I wrote to one of my teachers recently:

The problem I have run into is something i think almost everybody faces but 'somehow' they manage to 'bypass' it. I am having a very difficult time because of this. The problem itself is that I don't have a vision and therefore no direction and so I don't know what to do!

Do you have any ideas on how to solve this problem?

I think the traditional answer to these kind of problems is 'pray to God he will help you' but I suppose that really doesn't help, because in many ways I suppose I have been 'praying' to him for most of my adult life and if there is a particular prayer people know about then they seem to hold it very close to themselves.

Another view people have is "don't think about it!” This is almost a best seller among the group of people around me. I can't see this one solving the problem either.

"Good Luck!" is my personal favorite.

End of letter

People mostly don’t have a personal vision statement. Those who do have a clarity which helps them achieve their vision. With a certain resource of intelligence and enough passion most visions should I think be achievable.

People who I know have achieved their visions’ to a large degree are:
Google founders: “To organize the world’s information”
Bill Gates: “Put a computer on every desktop and in every home”

Earning money and even taking care of the family is hardly a vision! Both of these things can be done easily if one is pursuing a worthy vision! But how many people around you have given it enough thought? How many people have a vision? And why not…

The pharaoh’s vision I understand was primarily to achieve power. Ok so he achieved power, what then? Where do you go from there? Is this vision fulfilling enough? I don’t know how the Pharaoh would have answered the question I find it too boring a goal to pursue!

In the recent Bond movie his friend wanted to get revenge and kill the man who murdered her family. She did that. What then? Was this goal sufficiently big?

The prophets have had a vision that I must say has been the most powerful of them all! But they are outliers by a great measure! Having fulfilled their vision in the process great change took place in the world. It became a mess later on… because things were perhaps badly misinterpreted by many but the message is still there I understand for anybody to reach out and grasp.

My vision! It has to be good!

What I do to Relax

I have been under the impression for a long time that relaxing can only come from ‘doing nothing’. Now sleeping is an activity that involves ‘doing nothing’ and it helps me relax as well. However one cannot generalize on the basis of this method and create a rule which says “All activities that involve doing nothing will help me relax”. In fact it is quite the opposite because if I am awake and I try to ‘not to do anything’ it in fact bores me. It sometimes bores me so much that it frustrates me and when this happens I find it difficult to relax.

On the other hand if I do too much work I get exhausted and therefore tired. Neither the process of getting exhausted neither the state of being tired is relaxing.

Having observed that a certain amount of activity i.e. mental activity or mental stimulation keeps me entertained and that this is the state that brings me closest to relaxing it hit me that in order to relax what I really need to do is to have a certain amount of mental stimulation while I am awake.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

About "Hard Work"

“Working hard” is a term I have long tried to define. There are many things I can do for a very long period of time and never get tired. Writing my blog, or thinking about things that I put on my blog being one of them. Then there are things that make me tired and these “I think” are those that make me “stretch myself” or make me use my “will power”. I say stretch myself because perhaps I don’t enjoy them very much. Interestingly I sometimes do the former to balance the latter, as somebody might say having a ‘heavy’ discussion with somebody just to refresh myself. (Please do note that there are other ways that I can find to relax as well!)

However, when one starts to feel the pressure and it makes one uncomfortable to a certain degree one might be close to the “stretching point”.

Of course how much you want to stretch yourself is something you’ll have to decide. I think one should be careful to make sure that they don’t push it beyond a reasonable limit. While this stretching point might be “baby’s work” for somebody else it is the “best one can do” and one “must not do more”.

Anybody who keeps pushing themselves in this way will see their stretching point improve with time as well! And very soon it will be as good as anybody else’s!

For the perfectionists out there I hope I’ve touched your hearts!

From A to A+

“One has to put in effort to get an A in a course but to make that into an A+ one has to be a perfectionist” is what one of my teachers once said. I think there is some merit in this statement in that I see that most people get by in their jobs without always putting in that extra mile but those who put in that “extra mile” may develop an insight in their area of work that is fundamental to achieving success. The more effort they put in this extra mile the more insight they develop because they attempt to see the problem from more angles then others. These extra angles I think are crucial to developing a complete “picture” of the problem. Once this “picture” is developed one can use it to solve similar and related problems.

What one however must be most careful with is not to allow one’s personality to digress into that of a perfectionist. This would be a problem because it might get the work done but it will leave the person always dissatisfied in a way that leaves him unhappy.

Another important realization that I have come across is that what it takes most of the times to get the work done is not “exotic” in nature but is mostly “the mundane”. An example I can give is that of completing a Bachelors degree while living on your own. In this case some very important mundane elements for a complete educational experience are:
• Setting out a routine
• Getting the assignments and studying done as per the routine
• Getting chores such as laundry and shopping done

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The utility of modesty

I have been thinking about the idea of modesty lately and of its utility. Modesty is useful I think primarily because it allows us to predict ourselves in the world around us. We can predict ourselves and more accurately our behavior if we have set for ourselves some limits. Whatever these limits may be they have to be reasonable and therefore neither too strict nor too lenient. An example of being too strict would be a limit where we don’t allow ourselves to interact in matters of ordinary dealing with the opposite gender whereas an example of being too lenient would be where we allow ourselves to indulge with decadent women/men such as prostitutes. In either case we will be behaving in a way that will harm us.

Modesty as limits that we set upon ourselves of ‘decency’ should help us interact with people of the opposite gender in a very rich manner. It should in fact ‘simplify’ these relationships.

Modesty as applied to marriage I think follows in the following manner: If an unmarried person comes across another unmarried person and is able to estimate a healthy long term relationship one should simply investigate this relationship further and propose to marry. I would imagine that if both people are mature and want to engage in a healthy relationship then such a relationship should be acceptable not only to the two of them but also to society. I also think that if one realizes that marriage is not possible then he should stop himself from engaging in any emotional manner because this would only hurt the person. It would I think hurt him/her because it will be emotional investment in a relationship which is not realistic.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How we think

The way humans think is different from how computers think. Our cognitive abilities are designed with certain flaws. One clear example of this is called “source monitoring” i.e. we can’t always remember the source of our information. A more important way in which our thinking is different from that of a computer is that our thinking process is often colored with emotion. To demonstrate this let me explain the two types of thinking humans are capable of:
1. Narrative thought
2. Propositional thought

Narrative thought is based on episodic memory, it has a story like aspect to it. For example when we think about going to a party we imagine ourselves there and ask “am I going to have fun?”, “who is going to be there?”. Such thinking unfortunately has the power of running over the facts of the situation. For example if you ask an average person whether traveling in a plane makes him more anxious than traveling in a car most people who know that the statistical chances of death in a car are higher than in a plane would still tell you that traveling in a plane makes them more anxious simply because the narrative of a plane accident is more scary.

Propositional thought is problem set kind of thinking, mathematical for example. For me writing code to make a “notepad application” would involve propositional thought not narrative thought. For example if you write down a problem on a piece of paper and “think it through” by taking out the “emotional” aspect of things and think in “realistic” terms the chances that you will arrive at a sound conclusion are higher. This then is “factual thinking”.

Examples of narrative thought vs. propositional thought

1. Politics: In the US presidential election one candidate could use the “employment statistic” to show how well the government’s policies were while the other candidate could use the example of one individual who was “wronged” by the system (as a fault more of his own more than that of the system) and leverage narrative thought for the buy-in of the voters.

2. Car vs. plane example: Riskier to travel in a car but more scared of traveling in a plane!

3. Lottery example: The probability of winning is next to impossible however the stakes are so high you still play. This is against propositional logic but one is lured by narrative thinking.

4. Marketing surveys: One should not use ‘loaded terms’ because you start to bias the reader because of his ability of narrative thought.

5. Socializing
A) One could leverage people’s “narrative thinking” abilities! Machiavelli would say: lure them by giving them half-truths, which is probably what Hitler did! He was the witch-doctor for the Nazis and gave them an integrated view that had flaws that people did not question!
B) Hazrat Ali would say: leverage from the power of eloquence based on truth! If one becomes articulate enough, if truth becomes clear to a person then he can do this.

Source: MIT Open Courseware, Introduction to psychology lecture on “How do we think”.

Why one should take interest in philosophy

A book I was reading by Ayn Rand “For The New Intellectual” narrates the journey that human society has made. I have extracted from this the role and importance of philosophy for us in our present time.

Over the course of history there have been three types of individuals:
1. Attila: who used force to conquer. He viewed the world as a set of experiences that were all on the concrete level and so he was missing an “integrated” view of the world. He could only see the world in disconnected chunks that had no deeper relationship with each other. For example he would conquer people to produce for him but never asked what it was that made those conquered “able to produce”.
2. Witch doctor: who thought his psychedelic experiences were a heightened state that brought him closer to reality whereas they were in fact completely divorced from reality. The witch-doctor gave Attila his integrated view who therefore depended on the witch-doctor and in turn the witch doctor depended on Attila for his position in society.
3. Producer: who used reason and not force or a hyper-consciousness to build is worldview.

It is said that by default man is an Attila or a witch-doctor. It takes one to question one’s environment to open their eyes and have the stomach to absorb what goes on in the world around them; to develop an integrated view of the world; to be sincere in their effort to discover objective truth in order to “wake up” gradually and be less of Attila and less of the witch-doctor and more of the producer!

One should study philosophy I think in order to develop an integrated view of the world thus find the relationship between all their experiences and their experiences and others experiences.

According to Ayn, Attila was first de-throned during the Greeko-Roman era and then again during the renaissance. However it was the industrial revolution that blasted Attila off his throne. For the first time in history, men gained control over physical nature and threw off the control of men over men—that is: men discovered science and political freedom. According to her the first society in history whose leaders were neither Attilas nor Witch Doctors, a society led, dominated and created by the Producers, was the United States of America. She says that in order to have the right to live by one’s own independent judgment one needs to live in an environment where there is Intellectual freedom, which cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are thus corollaries.

And so exists the capitalist economy where the producer – the “knowledge worker” is paid for what he knows for what he produces. This has created society based on reason, society that uses its resources (such as scientists, engineers and businessmen) to discover reality ever more.

The eye that opens by reading philosophy is ever important for an individual in this new society, a society of producers, knowledge workers because in the new societies that are shaping all over the world it is the producers who will be rewarded for what they produce!

Facts about IQ

If you ask people how intelligent they think they are it is interesting to know that the average perception is that everybody thinks they are above average. This is also true for the self-perception of how good one looks. Everybody thinks they are better looking then they actually are. One group gets it right though and that is the depressed people. They have an accurate assessment of how intelligent or good looking they are. Some have said that our unreal perception of our intelligence keeps us from being depressed!

We can divide the intuitive idea of intelligence in the following ways:
1. Fluid intelligence: Set of reasoning abilities that let you deal with abstract relations which reaches its mature state by age 16.
2. Crystalline intelligence: Application of knowledge to particular tasks. This ability keeps growing throughout our life span. Example vocabulary.

IQ tests measure fluid intelligence! A simple test of fluid intelligence is one which involves “number calculation + remembering a word”. Example if the tester were to say “4+3-1=?, Uncle” I would have to do the calculation and remember the word. The calculation would then became harder example “23-16+4=?,fish” and I would have to remember the word again. The more I am able to stretch myself the better my IQ would be!

Intelligence is a good predictor of
1. School performance
2. Higher lifetime salary
3. Less of a chance of a criminal conviction
4. Less of a chance of teen pregnancy

In a population the variance in IQ comes from the variance due to genetic factors and the variance due to environmental factors. However what is more important than both factors is the “interaction term” which is the cumulative effect of the two. For example in a socio-economic environment where resources are low the environment may be such that one’s fluid intelligence is not able to hit its peak! One evidence for this is before WW II the Japanese IQ was 10 points lower than the US and after WW II it was 10 points higher!

In fact all over the world IQ has been getting higher. IQ is improving too fast for it to be genetic.

This leads to policy implications as follows. The state should give the poor resources so that they can develop good IQ. If they do this the chances that they will end up in crimes or get pregnant will be reduced and this will benefit the whole of society.

An experiment was done where children of a low SEC (socio-economic-class) were given good resources and did as well as the students from higher SEC but as they grew older they started doing poorly again! One could argue that the experiment failed and it was much like the rubber-band effect where they snapped back to their original. However one would argue that you should never let the rubber band snap back much like the medication that is given to diabetes patients which is given as long as it is needed.

Another interesting factoid is that while larger brain sizes are generally associated with higher intelligence there have been people with small brain sizes who were very intelligent as well. Example Gauss who made a number of discoveries had a small brain (he came up with the Gaussian curve among other things). However he had a lot of wrinkles in his brain! It is also these wrinkles that are highly associated with intelligence. A dolphin has a larger brain than man but much fewer wrinkles in it for example.

Source: MIT Open Courseware, Introduction to psychology lecture on “Intelligence”

About Islam

The basis of Islam is reality. The prophet was a guide because he was very close to reality and wanted to bring others close to reality as well. God is the Ultimate reality. The message of the prophet to human kind was one that would empower them. It would empower them because it was based on reality.

Everything in this world is related to everything else. Example 1: “Six degrees of separation” rule says that “Any person needs a maximum of six people in between to connect to any other person B on this planet”. Example 2: “Story of how the parents of President Nixon met”. A man fell over a banana peel that was thrown by somebody else and went to the laundry where he met a woman. They fell in love, got married and their son became the president of the United States of America. If that banana peel had not been thrown there the course of the world might have been a little different. This very well could be the story of everybody on this planet!

Not only is everything related to everything else but it’s all very well ordered based on a certain set of rules. Evidence 1: Science is based on rules that have allowed human kind to make such tremendous progress. Evidence 2: The prophet understood these “rules/meta-rules of reality” enough to be able to change society from a delta of -10 to a delta of +10.

Now while the former example shows of progress on the empirical/material level the latter example shows progress in the form of “man’s enlightenment”.

I think these rules to reality have the properties:
1. Singular i.e. one set of rules
2. Universal i.e. exist in all parts of universe
3. Constant i.e. these rules don’t change with time

There is a unity to these rules and meta-rules that point to God and once again the message of the prophet was to discover this reality. We should discover this reality in order to be able to “predict and control” our environment to the point we can. We cannot “predict and control” beyond a certain degree because of the limitation of our cognitive system. One way of saying which is that in a chess game for example the best chess player can only see moves to a couple of moves ahead and not more than that! Although we have limited cognitive abilities we are in a world where these “rules of reality” are “always consistent” and so what lies beyond our abilities to process in order that we are able to deal with this what we must do is to be resign ourselves to be sincere, to evolve and to continually trying to “hit the mark”. We must try to do this in a way that is manageable such that we do not over burden ourselves because to overburden ourselves in this way would be a personality flaw that psychologists call “the flaw of being a perfectionist”.

This ultimately is what good is and what will bring about happiness!