Choices

Free* Will

*Conditions Apply

The first documented appearance of the subject on the blog is in 2011, and I seem to have posted on the subject every alternate year, the last being in 2015. But it’s sheer coincidence and not really pattern following that led me to think, and write, about free will now.

Across my life, I have moved from having a faith and believing in predestination (will of God), to being agnostic and believing in karma, to being an atheist and believing in the influence of luck (random chance) in all the plans I make. In the last version, the view is that my free will is dominant – I make my own choices which dictate my future and nothing is predetermined. The luck explains the good and bad out-of-ordinary things that change my future, but it is random. Karma stories are a forced narrative based on hindsight. More

Prisons of happiness

I read a few articles recently debating whether the purpose of life is happiness or usefulness/leading a worthwhile life. The Aztecs as well as contemporary thinkers favour the latter. I am not convinced though. For starters, I think ‘purpose’s is something our consciousness insists on. The world will go on without us, it is for us to derive a sense of meaning for ourselves. And since it is subjective, I’d optimise for happiness/avoiding discomfort (I’m bunching it together for now) simply because my usefulness/being worthwhile to others around increases when I am happy.

This is a topic I have been circling for a while now – There is no middle path? was a take on happiness vs avoiding discomfort, for instance. A favorite line of thought from “And the Mountains Echoed” has been coming back to me in various forms from various people in the last fortnight. “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” That is essentially avoiding discomfort. More

Informed Renunciation

Around me, I see a few people who seem to have stayed put at a certain point in time in terms of their lifestyle – the clothes they wear, the homes they live in, the gadgets and vehicles they use, the content they consume, and so on. In many cases, I have attributed it to age. Maybe they just couldn’t perceive the incremental enjoyment that the new thing offered, or maybe priorities changed – either in terms of economics or interest. But there are also relatively younger folks who eschew a lot of things I might consider a need. In both cases, I wonder whether it is a conscious choice/ trade off, or something that just slipped in unobtrusively until it became a way of life, or something that circumstances forced.

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(Ben Frankin, via) More

Work, Parenting & the Monoculture

Sunday morning gave me a fantastic read, via  multiple shares on my timeline – “Why do we work so hard?“, in which Ryan Avent traces the evolution of work (hours) from the time after the second world war, and wonders why a trend was reversed and we started working more hours. She considers her own as well as her father’s experiences, and explores whether it is the treadmill effect, the satisfaction of work, or a combination of both. She sums up one of her answers thus –

It is a cognitive and emotional relief to immerse oneself in something all-consuming while other difficulties float by. The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.

Something about it gave me a sense of deja vu. I realised that this has also been my hypothesis about parenting! Back to that in a bit. Meanwhile, she ends the article with

..precisely why what I’m doing appeals to me. They are asking about a job. I am thinking about identity, community, purpose – the things that provide meaning and motivation. I am talking about my life.

It reminded me of a short conversation with S recently, where we agreed about how (many) people follow up their introductory “Hi, I am XYZ” with their designation and/or place of work, irrespective of the meeting context.  More

Convenience & Choices

It’s difficult to accuse Mashable of being thought provoking, but I have to admit that “After Harper Lee, will there be another literary recluse?” made me think. The article also brings up JD Salinger. Both the concerned books are personal favourites. Bill Watterson immediately comes to mind in this context of people who did not care for an encore. I can relate more to him because it seems more recent. I discovered the works of Harper Lee and Salinger decades after they became the classics they are.

It is indeed tough to imagine creators of this era shying away from the public eye. In fact, I’d be surprised if they didn’t do exactly the opposite. Most of the world would consider that silly! After all, if one is pragmatic, it is easy to see that most art is business. And even if the business is niche, the select target audience needs to hear of it. Even in the cases that it isn’t a business, they are a method of self expression, and in the era of social media, sharing that point of view and starting a debate on it is easy and cheap. Just to clarify, this is not about being  judgmental about it, after all these are choices. More

Re-framing employment

For untold generations work was simply a matter of maintaining the status quo.

Across the world, the debates on productivity, reduced work hours, 4 day work weeks, DND after work hours etc are intensifying. Add to this the narratives of “the end of employment” and the “gig economy”, (and therefore the case against full time employment) and the signs of an upheaval of our concept of work seems imminent. I can vouch for that from my own experience as well – expressed to a certain extent in earlier posts –  The Entrepreneur & the Professional, and Re-skill. My posts on AI and its impact on employment are also related to this in a “bigger picture” way.

It is personal in a different way too, because it’s increasingly an application of a broader life framework and worldview. In fact, I was accusing myself of over thinking this, until I read this fantastic piece – How Not to Let Work Explode Your Life. That’s where the quote at the start has been taken from. It traces the origin of the clashes we are facing in our work-life environments now to trends that have been forming for centuries. Long, fascinating read, and a confirmation of many of my complicated thoughts! More

Wills and ways

It seems I never tire of writing about choices! Mad Men, and its reviews, is the reason for the latest bout of thinking on the subject. Very specifically, S7E6 and the review at AV Club. As the show nears its end, it is easy to see how each character’s choices have led them to a particular point. Much like our own lives. This, from the review, pretty much sums it up

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For Charlie to tango

The interesting question is, just because something thinks differently from you, does that mean it’s not thinking? We allow that humans have such divergences from one another. You like strawberries. I hate ice-skating. You cry at sad films. I’m allergic to pollen. What does it mean to have different tastes – different preferences – other than to say that our brains work differently? That we think differently from one another?
~ The Imitation Game (via)

I watched the movie last weekend, and this was one of the scenes that stayed with me. By sheer coincidence, the book I was reading then was The Age of Spiritual Machines, which dwells on the progress of artificial intelligence, and therefore, its impact on humanity. Humanity will be forced to reckon with AI sooner than later, (an earlier post) but long before that, we will need to learn to deal with ourselves. Have we really learned to live with our divergences? Take this as an example :

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Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Artificial Humanity

In Natural Law, I had touched upon the idea that we will have to make choices as a species in the context of the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, and how/if compassion towards each other would play a part in these decisions. As I watch thoughts and events unfolding around me, I am beginning to think that it will most likely not be one crucial decision later in time, but a lot of smaller choices, made at individual and regional levels now, that will shape our society in terms of acceptability, morality etc. And so, just as I wrote in a post around five years ago, that we might not be able to recognise the final step we make in our integration with AI, there might be an increasing inevitability about our choices as we move forward in time.

What sparked this line of thought? On one hand, I read a New Yorker post titled “Better All the Time” which begins with how a focus on performance came to athletics and has now moved on to many other spheres of our life. On the other hand, I read this very scary post in The Telegraph “The Dark Side of Silicon Valley” and a bus that’s named Hotel 22 because it serves as an unofficial home for the homeless. It shows one of the first manifestations of an extreme scenario (the nation’s highest percentage of homeless and highest average household income are in the same area!) that could soon become common. The connection I made between these two posts is that increasingly, there will be one set of humans who have the will and the means to be economically viable and another much larger set that doesn’t have one, or both. This disparity is going to become even more stark as we move forward in time. I think, before we reach the golden age of abundance, (if we do) there will be a near and medium term of scarcity for the majority.

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