Think About It

Linking learning & labour

I’m a huge Asimov fan, and am constantly amazed at how he was able to have a perspective of the future on multiple fronts. I was reminded of two of those recently thanks to their application (of sorts) in contemporary scenarios.

First, Hari Seldon‘s (pretty much the foundation of Asimov’s Foundation series) psychohistory, which was able to make general predictions on the future behaviour of large populations using history, sociology and statistics. The easy contemporary connection is big data and predictive analytics.

Second, a short story written by him called ‘Profession‘, (do read) in which every person’s profession is based on an analysis of his/her brain, and no choice is given to the person in this matter! In India, we seem to be already there even without the analysis!

Collectively, these two made me think of employment, and on a related note, education. The thought was that with so much of data available on education and employment, we should be able to create ‘tests’ to compute the interest and aptitude of individuals at a very early age. What this would aim to do is to eliminate the herd education that currently exists. Instead, children would learn things that help them in a profession for which they have the intent and interest, using say, a combination of traditional classrooms and MOOCs. Also, this would no longer be one part of a life cycle, but a continuous process – helping the individual thrive in a dynamic environment.

If you remember, LinkedIn was my representative for ‘L’ in the ‘change imperative‘ deck. That was because I felt that it had the data and the vision to be the catalyst for this kind of a change. I was very happy when it underscored this faith with the fantastic ‘future self‘ experiment, in which they identified the future professional self (5 year time frame) of LinkedIn user Kurt Wagner – another user Mussarat Bata – using various data points!

LinkedIn hasn’t really built this as a public tool, but just imagine the possibilities! A platform that shows people the possibilities which take them closer to their ‘purpose’. (remember ‘The Evolution of Work and the Workplace‘?) I sincerely hope to see this in my lifetime. :)

until next time, live and learn

Clipboard01

The legacy need

The last two books I read had only a faint connection. One was historical fiction and the other was a memoir. The first – “A Spoke in the wheel” by Amita Kanekar – is a take on Buddha and his teachings by a monk three hundred years after the Buddha’s death when his teachings have begun their journey into religion, the emperor Asoka being the key catalyst. The second – “City of Djinns” By William Dalrymple is his discovery of Delhi – past and present – in a year that he spent in the city in the early 90s. The connection, as you might have guessed, is historical narrative.

It is natural to think that there is a huge difference in a work of fiction and a more research and experience led memoir, but the point of the post is that with time, it is difficult to establish that. In the book on the Buddha, the monk chronicling his life and teachings is irritated by the supernatural abilities being attributed to him. But we do know that many people believe in it now and even consider him as one among the avatars of Vishnu. On a related note, William Dalrymple delivered a body blow to my notions of the Mahabharata era when his conversation with an archaeologist constituted a distinct possibility that the war was fought with sticks and stones and probably a bit of metal! (the proof being excavations around what is considered one of the earliest versions of Delhi – Indraprastha) I am a huge fan of Hindu mythology and it has fascinated me from as long as I can remember. I truly believed that they had happened in some form, but the archaeologist is clear that most descriptions in the epic would fall under ‘poetic license’!

It made me wonder if there would be any difference between the two books say, a hundred years from now. It is possible they might exchange roles. It is also possible that they both are treated as fiction, or as factual pieces of work. I think all scenarios are possible because at the time of chronicling something, we believe that its factuality would be transmitted across time. And yet, we could debate the Mahabharata’s historical authenticity and Buddha’s superpowers both ways! So think about it, the same thing could happen to the information we store now as well. Thanks to digitisation, more data is being created in this world than ever before and (arguably) every point made has a counterpoint. There are no objective annotations because even the original construction is a product of biases, interpretations, perspectives and so on.

That brings me to legacy, something a lot of us care about. From children to business empires to art to helping others, there are many avenues. However, I think that unless there is documentation, the chances of a legacy lasting beyond a few generations is questionable. For example, Dalrymple finds the last line of direct Mughal descendants and their knowledge of their ancestors is limited to a few generations before them. The futurist in me does fantasise about a global neural network and consciousness that connects all of humanity and has sufficient storage to instantly collect, catalog and annotate all ‘memories’  in as objective a state as possible for later generations to study them.

But meanwhile, even as I dissect my baggage of the past, I am now forced to consider my need for leaving a legacy – something behind that will represent me when I’m gone.  After all of the above, how relevant is that need? Isn’t it just a demand made by the ego, a story we create for ourselves? Something to continue the narrative of our lives? We do talk a lot about letting go of the baggage of the past, but isn’t legacy also a baggage? A baggage of our future? If we let go of that, how different would our thoughts and deeds be? Understanding that is probably the key to living in the moment. I could easily twist my favourite cricketer-gentleman’s words for this context- He’s not concerned about his legacy, he’s concerned about what actually makes him come alive in the first place, which is that love of life, the desire to live completely.

recite-15416-48543400-hiy6v5

until next time, present participant

The IP Man

Disambiguation: This is about the Infinitely Patient Man. For the original, see Ip Man.

In the last post, and a few before that, (Brand &  the personal API, The path to Immortality) I’d written about our increasing ability to log and monitor our various activities (food consumption, exercise, sleep, location, to name a few) as well as apply them – for example, to measure and  course correct – manually, machine-led or using a combination. The idea of the quantified self, I’d think, is to make a better human being at least in the physiological sense to begin with.

In another line of thought, I’d also explored whether, as we proceed along this evolution, we could also create a more mindful version of ourselves - what I called a qualified self. This surfaced again a few weeks ago, as I analysed my own behaviour in a certain situation. I have been trying to be non judgmental, but it’s not easy to let go of some baggage, especially deep rooted ones that have existed for a long time. As I became grumpier (also) thanks to my irritation at not resolving my battle with inner demons and the other person’s behaviour remaining unchanged, the person at the receiving end remained his calm self. As always, I had conflicting emotions later – on one hand, guilt, for treating him thus, and on the other, a justification based on many events past and present. I also tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he must have felt.

That’s when I realised that the process of creating a qualified self is much more challenging because there is no objective measure of right and wrong. i.e. one can objectively quantify the input/burning of calories based on BMI, gender, age and other factors which are subjective, but on what objective scale does one decide whether one’s action/decision/thinking is right in a particular context?

What must have gone on in his head – did he face and win against the same struggles I had, or was he detached from it? Either way, it seemed to me that he was less anguished than I was. Is it his considerably larger experience of life that makes him so? It made me think – are such people, the infinitely patient ones, a key to cracking the qualified self? Is it even possible to monitor let alone apply their path? Or is it the kind of IP that refuses to bow to objectivity, and plays a part in making us what we are – human?

until next time, intellectual propriety :)

Bonus read: Achieving Apatheia

patience

(via)

 

I won’t be the judge of that!

A few days ago, S wrote to me that she was going through my old posts and was delighted to find lower caps for ‘i’ , font change for each blog and heavy and careless use of ellipses after every three sentences. The background is that in my professional life I am a stickler for error-free content. Even until a few months ago, I’d have been irritated at myself for this and despite the painful process, would have gone ahead and corrected each post! In fact, as I told her, I had even considered this once. I occasionally refer to my own posts when I’m writing new ones and once, sometime last year, I happened to read one from 2008, with all of the things that S mentioned and more! That’s probably one of the first times that I implemented something I’d been wanting to for quite a while – stop being judgmental and to be comfortable with myself – past and present.

There’s a back story to that as well. My judgmental nature had been on an ascendant for quite a while, and coupled with a temper and wit/sarcasm, I realised that I was hurting people. As is my wont, I analysed a bit and figured that at the base of it was the fact that I was extremely unforgiving of myself. Since I drove myself to those levels, I took a higher ground and berated others when they didn’t live by those standards, across various life situations. I also understood that the work had to begin internally before I could manifest it to/on others. It wasn’t easy to forgive myself in the beginning, but I got the hang of it gradually.

KR

(The Kite Runner)

This was, and continues to be, a bit tricky. How does one maintain objectivity when being kind on oneself? When does it slide into laziness? The way I deal with it is to try and understand the relative importance of an incident in the larger scheme of things. Carrying it forward to other people was a much easier task, especially when I paused for a moment and made myself understand that behind every behaviour there is a story. The challenge here is to make sure others don’t take advantage of the new found benevolence! If you’ve gotten thus far, you’d be able to handle it.

During a recent offsite, my current boss said I was one of the most unflappable people he knew. Huge compliment, and one I totally cherished, not only because of my history in this context and therefore my progress, but also because I actually think he is one of the most composed people I’ve come across! This also allows me to bring up a related subject – praising others. One of the side effects of being harsh on myself was that I became stingy with praise. I think it was Surekha who first pointed this out to me. In Em and the Big Hoom, I saw some lovely words, and have tried to live by them.

EATBH

Anything else makes you less.” That’s probably a judgment right there, but we’ll let it pass. These days, I try to praise – not for the sake of it, but by being a little more open to it. I also try not to judge. Even if I do, I keep it to myself, and make it as transient as possible. In the era of Twitter, this does become quite challenging! It is still a work in progress, and most likely will remain that way always, but I like to think that I have gained some ground. The mantra these days is

quote-Wayne-Dyer-when-you-judge-another-you-do-not-42355

until next time, judge dread!

A mind beyond auto pilot

The world we create for ourselves, as I wrote a fortnight back, is a filtered version of all the stimuli we encounter. As we grow older, our stream of consciousness gets more populated because of our experiences and we automatically try to find patterns. That’s the brain’s basic learning process which helps us to navigate stimuli. The world though, does become complex, the navigation more difficult, and that’s probably how we slip into auto pilot.

We think we’re conscious of the things we do, and we are, at a superficial level, but are we really mindful? The simple experiment to do, and I think I’ve written this earlier, is to re-imagine the last hour of your life. How many actions you can remember is probably an indicator of mindfulness. There’s no question that the auto pilot is useful, but I doubt we’re in actual control of the takeover, and that’s where the problem is. Our decisions and our actions become mechanical, and even when they’re not, they’re dictated by filters designed by the auto pilot.

mindfulness2

(via)

But I think there is hope. One of the best 2014 trend reports I’ve seen – by Zambezi – has ‘Mindful Society’ as its first trend. While that is more a take on digital devices and our time spent on them, the JWT trend forecast has ‘Mindful Living’ as their final trend, and talks about a growing interest to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. I also think that we might have unwittingly figured out a way to start out on this. One of the hottest trends this year is the quantified self - self knowledge through numbers - it encourages people to monitor all aspects of their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, domestic and working lives. (via)

At this point, it is more focused on the physiological aspects, and there will most likely be a deluge of devices, services and allied products that would be an end in itself. However, it is also possible that we will truly understand our body, as numbers show the impact of our behaviour and consumption, and as a result, we’ll become more mindful in our actions. And maybe, just maybe, once we’re done with that, we’ll begin trying to do the same for our mind, and the decisions it makes. It’s difficult to imagine how that will work out, I agree, but hey, even five years back, did you think something you wear on your wrist could give you analytics on your sleep patterns?

until next time, a qualified self :)

A measure of helplessness

A while back, I’d seen a Malayalam movie titled Pigman. Not really a typical movie by any standards, and that explains the poor performance at the box office. It is the story of a young man whose life pretty much becomes an abyss. (spoiler) The movie starts with him pursuing a doctorate in linguistics but failing to get it because of his research guide, who is miffed at him rejecting her advances. He sees no point in continuing and thanks to his family’s dire financial circumstances, is forced to take a job. He gets a clerical job at a pig farm courtesy a friend. A series of altercations with the corrupt management gets him demoted to the lowest job in the system – that of a pigman. He continues his protestations and the movie ends with him losing his mental faculties after being given electric shocks.

It is a depressing story, and one can really feel his helplessness as his life spirals downwards degree by degree. In fact, the entire theme of the movie is failures in life, and it is as though, the intent is to drive home the point that some lives are meant to be lived in a continued state of helplessness.

I think we have all felt helpless at some points in time, in varying degrees. Helpless in traffic (probably tactical helplessness, for the lack of a better word) at one end to probably the other extreme of watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything to prevent it or alleviate the suffering. I couldn’t help but compare it against what I’d call (again for the lack of a better word) chronic helplessness -a life consistently going down in quality (defined in this context as standard of living) – like the life of Pigman’s protagonist. In turn, I also couldn’t help but compare this to someone who has never had a decent standard of life. I wondered whether, among the last two, the last was better – if one hadn’t really experienced a higher standard of living, one wouldn’t know what one was missing, and therefore the suffering would be lesser than someone who had experienced it earlier, but could no longer do so because of circumstances.

And that is the really enigmatic thing about this business of living – there is no objective measure of mental anguish. If there were, probably we’d be better at helping those less fortunate than us. That would at least be a step up from feeling helpless at the injustice of it all. Help more, to feel less helpless. Sounds like a plan?

until next time,

Clipboard02

The path to immortality

I’d written earlier on how brands could use an individual’s data (the personal API) to fit themselves into his/her narrative and had used Nike as an example.  But this data could also be used by fitness and health companies to discover ‘fault lines’, gradually delay wear and tear, and one day, totally prevent a machine shutdown. This video - A Day in the life of Tim Ferriss (watch for a minute from 3:25) – gave me an idea of how we might be moving faster in that direction because of  data collection.

Back in 2011, in ‘God in the details‘, I’d opined that over a period of time, when our data capture capabilities were evolved enough, and we had a lot of data on people on a lot of their behaviour, consumption etc, we would potentially be able to answer the most profound questions about our existence, purpose etc, and unlock further dimensions. I was extremely happy to read the same thought in this (long, but) amazing read called ‘Navigating Stuckness‘. “I could sit safely at my desk and write computer programs to gather vast amounts of Internet data, which I thought could finally answer timeless questions like “what is love?” and “what is faith?” with precision and clarity.

On one hand, data could help us in our path to immortality, and on the other, it could provide us the answers to fundamental existential questions. I wonder what would happen first, because, as I wrote in PhilosoRapture, I also wonder if those questions would remain relevant once we became immortal.

Meanwhile, the other track to immortality that is rapidly developing is that of the augmented human, where human parts (including the brain) will be replaced by mechanical replicas. We’re only a part of evolution, as this wonderful, humbling video would show, and it is probably only our ego that makes us believe (if we do) that we’re the endpoint. Maybe, there will be a species later, of whom we’d be probably be creators, for whom our questions will seem irrelevant and who will have their own sets of answers to seek.

cs

(quote via, image via)

So it would seem that whichever way we approach immortality, by the time we get there, chances are, it may not be that significant.

The year we conquer morality, by the way, is 2040, as per Ray Kurzweil. I’ll be 62 then, or maybe not, or maybe it won’t matter, or maybe…  :)

until next time, live long and proper :)

Notion states

My last post on the subject of home was in the context of the multicultural world we are creating, how in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity we might end up creating a homogeneous world, and whether the idea of home would change with time, as we begin to choose places that connect to our soul over the soil we were born in. (soul vs soil courtesy Pico Iyer)

One of my main punching bags in the institutional realignment line of thinking is the concept of the nation state, more specifically its relevance in a massively connected world. A simplistic view is that economics, trade and many other things might be better off without them, given how much of an enabler technology is turning out to be, and geo politics will anyway be a lesser phenomenon if there aren’t any nation states. Arguable, yes.

However, I had very little idea on the replacement concept. Geography (land) would exist and would have to be organised in some way. What way? In a wonderful display of appropriateness, Wired gave a possible answer – in the form of a post titled “Software Is Reorganizing the World“. I loved the concept of ‘geodesic distance’, and the mapping of not nation states but states of mind. (soul) The idea of (what is now) cloud communities taking physical shape is fantastic! While it might sound far fetched, it really isn’t – the post gives historical precedence and emerging patterns to back up the idea. As does Tony Hsieh’s The Downtown Project in the present day to transform the decaying and blighted part of the old Vegas Strip into the most community-focused large city in the world.

Around the same time, I came across this Facebook (official) note titled “Coordinated Migration“, (thanks MJ) which shows how Facebook is using ‘hometown’ and ‘current city’ descriptions to track migratory patterns across the world. Probably, in a few years, this would be a mapping everyone would take a keen interest in, to find kindred souls, and to be what they are destined to be.

pico2

(via)

until next time, a state of bliss

PhilosoRapture

In one of the slides in the presentation I shared last week, I had touched upon institutional realignment, and ‘health’ as one of the drivers. But the origins of this thought go back at least 4 years to The Man..the machine, and  Life…streamers, and the subject of immortality and the path to it – the augmented human – have since then made several appearances here – ‘The Immortal’s Reality‘, ‘Back to Eternity‘,  ’Your Next Avatar‘, and Remember the Feeling to name a few. As I read these posts recently, I realised (again) that the possibility of the current version of the human being just another step in evolution is a humbling one.

On one hand, I remembered the story of Yudhishtira and the Yaksha, and the answer to a part of Question 9. The Yaksha asks, ‘What is the greatest wonder?‘ and Yudhishtira answers “Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to/think they will live forever. O Lord, what can be a greater wonder?” On the other hand, I also read that Google (which shares its first two letters with God) has invested in a company that will work on combating aging and disease. Google is not the first company to attempt this, and scientists are already figuring out how to reverse ageing, but it does have the Ray Kurzweil advantage. (also read) This is promising to be a fight to the death! :)

On the same day that the Google article was published, my favourite thinker on the subject – Scott Adams – posted an article on our ‘choice’ of immortality- one was the Google way of doing away with aging, the second was we would be able to transfer our mind to robots, and the last was transferring our minds into virtual worlds. I am inclined towards the augmented human route – body parts getting replaced one by one, until we become a ‘Ship of Theseus‘ and a perfect example of the paradox. But one way or the other, it seems as though we’re destined to be immortal. The funny thing is that despite that, the question would remain – ‘what is life and why do we exist?’ I wonder if an eternity would be enough to answer it. Or probably, our state of consciousness would be such that we wouldn’t feel this urge for an answer. After all, according to my 500th photo on Instagram,

Clipboard02

The end of death is probably the end of philosophical questions as well. Whether that is a good thing is an open question. Or not. After all, Carl Sagan did say “I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.” :)

until next time, cogito ergo hmm

P.S. Not a big fan of donuts, but a fantastic take on the subject of life and its context - http://imgur.com/K6EKeRW

A different kind of prosperity

A couple of months back, there was a very heated debate (mild term) based on an article that was titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” and (also) dealt with something that has occupied my thoughts for a while now – the sense of entitlement. It had a very simplistic formula on happiness : Happiness = Reality – Expectations, and the author’s take was that a sense of entitlement/being special heightened expectations and when that collided with reality, Gen Y’s happiness suffered. Another key factor in this was they are also regularly ‘taunted’ by people who are doing better – simply because the latter share their successes much more.

I must say that my observations on the sense of entitlement have led me to believe that it’s not totally an age thing. I do agree that societal and lifestyle changes have led to parents becoming more indulgent, but I think the larger culprit is mass publishing platforms –  the ability to broadcast one’s thoughts to large number of people. It is enhanced when the publisher realises he/she has an audience. It does seem higher in younger groups but that’s only because they have been exposed to these platforms much earlier in their life than an earlier generation and therefore do not have the alternate perspectives and experiences of the latter. But the entitlement discussion is for another day.

An interesting point made in the article was that Gen Y wanted fulfilling careers. What does not come out though is what defines ‘fulfilling’. Is it the emotional satisfaction of working towards a shared purpose, or is it the perks that come with a high-flying career? I suspect that fulfilling at this point swings more towards the material success that the latter provides. Umair Haque has an interesting take called ‘Growthism‘, a devolved form of capitalism, whose dogma is to achieve growth at all costs and according to the author prevents us from developing a sophisticated conception of what prosperity is. It does seem fluffy but that’s probably because we have been conditioned by various institutions for a long while now.

But I sense a change is on its way. For instance, thanks to this post, I came to know of The Prosperity Index, which goes beyond the GDP and economic success based models of measuring prosperity of nations. While this is indeed a positive step, I think true change will happen when constituents like the Gen Y mentioned earlier begin to look at currencies beyond money for a sense of fulfillment, and happiness. In this must-read article titled “Who Will Prosper in the New World“, the author mentions “People who don’t need money” - people who have the incomes of the lower middle class and the cultural habits of the wealthy or upper middle class.

I think we’re at the beginning of a new cycle – a generation will start ignoring the paradigms of success and fulfillment set by its predecessors and their institutions, and use the fabulous technologies that are evolving to craft its new narrative of happiness. I also think that my generation might be the casualty of two large concepts at war with each other, but maybe that’s what it takes for a civilisation to be entitled to its prosperity….

moral

until next time, changelings

P.S. On a related note, do read ‘On Lifestyle Rigidity