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We’re born myopic. Let’s fix it.

Evolutionary improvements over the past few eons have taught our brains to detect and identify any immediate changes around us. You might have noticed that at times when you are not even focussing at the corner of your eye, the slightest movement catches your attention. This is remarkable by the way and very specialized processors and sensors (rods in the eye and the hippocampus in the brain to be specific) help you achieve this feat. Think of it like low-power natural language processor built in the new Moto X. Evolved, just to do one thing really good.

Such hyper-efficient systems are myopic. As a result, our brain loses out on noticing long term changes around us. If I were to change the colour of this text one point on the RGB scale at a time chances are you that will not notice it till some time has passed. I am talking about changes that your eye CAN detect, but your brain refuses to acknowledge – like the gradual scaling of paint on a wall over seasons or the tree adding a new branch. Big changes – that we do not ‘see’.

I believe that we should inculcate the same approach in our short lifespans too. This hyperopic approach will force you to compensate priorities for something you did not before. Long term changes are arguably enormously more powerful than short term changes.
Consider the skill of language: Our ability to pass on unique information we learn to our children (this is the basic skill of language that only a few species have). It allows us to teach our children to ward off new dangers and point to new resources. Over time this makes us insanely more powerful than any other species.Consider however the time it would have taken to evolve speech, hearing and language from the point where we didn’t have it. I don’t know the exact years, but safe to assume it was more than 100,000 years. While that looks like an awfully long time to one generation, it is a blip for the entire species in its’ evolutionary story. That ‘blip’ however completely differentiated these ‘speaking’ species from others to a point where you simply don’t look back ever !

As a case in point, here are two ways you could think of this in your work life.

Your active, contributing working life is somewhere between 40 to 60 years in which many of us end up in a learn-everything-by-going-to-college-then-work-all-your-life approach. Don’t you think punctuations for picking up additional skills is a much better thing to do ? Or perhaps a six month period every 5 years where you only improve on a specific area of yours that you wish to make better on ?

Or think about your goals at a 40 year scale; I think that having a personal brand that clearly stands for what you imbibe is so much more important than the immediate promotion or a salary hike that you’d been vying for and perhaps even losing sleep over. Trust, I have always believed is much harder to earn than money and takes a much longer investment to achieve. It is much harder work than say, closing a sale or writing a program to solve 2048.

And the above examples are just the onset of a way of thinking – What’s stopping you from thinking about other aspects of your life in this way ? Perhaps all your key decisions like the choice of the city you grow up in, the spouse you chose, the books you read would be influenced by this thought process.

I look forward to hear how you think the world would operate differently if everybody became hyperopic 🙂

To the drivers in Delhi

Delhi-Traffic

I am going to do something laughable. I will attempt to coax the junta of Delhi to change just one of their driving habits by presenting a rational argument.

Before I lay out the rationale, here is the summary: I’d like you, the people of Delhi, to stop adding new ‘lanes’ to road at a traffic light by shoving your vehicles at the sides diagonally in an attempt to make it ahead of the car to your side.

First, let me explain a concept: The flow or traffic (or fluid for that matter) through any particular cross-section of road is the largest when unrestricted and is in a single direction. That’s how faucets work – no in a kind of reverse way ?

One of the most important principle in traffic is to avoid collisions. This is done by maintaining adequate separation from all other adjacent vehicles. Imagine a scenario on a two-lane road where no vehicle can possibly change lanes. In this scenario, the only separation a vehicle needs to worry about is front and back. Now by allowing for vehicles to change lanes, the need for maintaining sufficient sideways separation becomes important. If the vehicle in front of you in the adjacent lane wants to come in to your lane you need to either reduce your speed or (if you’re a Delhi driver) increase your speed making the other guy wait for you to pass. Either way the average speed of the two lanes reduces, adversely impacting the throughput of the road.

Extending the above scenario to a case where there are lanes on either side of you, the potential reduction in speed is even greater because you could have vehicles come in from either side. You get the drift. You could argue that vehicles can instead indicate their intention of changing of lanes beforehand. That does allow for inter-vehicle separation to be kept lower but it nevertheless does impact average speed on either lane albeit a bit lesser.

Now imagine what happens when a lot of vehicles are waiting at a red light waiting for it to turn green. The throughput of the road (number of cars that pass through in one unit of time) essentially depends on the speed of the vehicles in front. If they are slow, the entire traffic behind them is slow.

So what happens when another vehicle edges at the side of the traffic light hoping to get ahead of the one already in waiting ? It adds an additional lane to the traffic and due to a greater need for separation causes the vehicle already at the light to be even slower than what it is. This in turn reduces the throughput of the *entire* road affecting every vehicle. Perhaps two or three vehicles do gain by edging from the sides and the impact is the reduction in speed of about 50 other vehicles.

In my book, this is not cool. So I urge you to consider not creating a new lane by edging your vehicle in.  Do this for the greater good. Do it for the warm fuzzy feeling that you did not cause agony to about 50 other vehicles as well.

The downside ? That punched-in-the-stomach feeling that some other sucker still did that leaving you in the slow lane. If only I knew the way around that…

What’s ‘your’ limit ? What’s the ‘true’ limit ?

 

Are you better than a mouse ?

070322-mouse-vision_big

Many ‘intelligent’ species can recognize patterns and can learn from them. For instance a mouse that receives an electric shock every time he sees a blue dot will quickly learn to expect a shock when the blue dot comes next. The Pavlovian dog knows to salivate on hearing the door bell, we learn to become stressed when (some of) our bosses walk in to the room and so on…

That’s all good so far.

Now focus on the image below. Take your time to absorb it.

image

 

The image above is something that is not possible in real life, and yet somebody could imagine and draw it too. [Hat tip: these guys].  It is this that separates us from every other species on this planet.

Let’s do a simple experiment: Imagine a black dog with a purple flower coming out of it’s left ear, standing on one toe wearing a pink skirt. Even though you’ve never seen this before it isn’t impossible to imagine so.

Take your dreams for instance:

One of the important functions of sleep is to commit the events of the day to our ‘permanent’ memory. During sleep, the brain will recollect events of the day, find patterns, merge them  and commit them back to a more permanent memory. Infact, recollection of memory also works so. Our brain digs into separate portions of our memory to look for patterns similar to the one we’re looking for and fetches them for us when we need it.

You can imagine … Anything. Congratulations.

This ability of ours to create visions of things that do not exist is extremely powerful. We could become attracted to a vision when we haven’t even experienced it first-hand. Earth’s largest bookstore, All the world’s information universally accessible, Ultra marathons and our audacious goals at workplace are great examples. This forms a large part of our internal dopamine supply.

I respect such dreams and I believe that we’re not just born to just do the obvious. We’re here to change the perception of obvious.

There is a dark side …

There are also times when chasing a vision can turn bad, very bad. The Apple Maps team was probably delusional about their ability to launch a decent Maps product. On the extreme, some drug addicts see things that are just out of this world and harm themselves irreparably.

So how do you balance ?

It is important hence to be aware of the fine line between vision and reality.

So when Elon Musk imagines a colony of humans on Mars, he is doing exactly the above. Whether he’d be successful or not will largely depend on his ability to be *aware* of the difference between vision and reality. People who do this well are rare.

Knowing to be aware is an extremely important thing and it requires an more than ordinary sensitivity – to people, environment and laws (scientific mostly, since human-made laws are pretty arbitrary and transient).

So my point is,

I’ve seen enough people with the vision but with no connection to reality and hence lack in their ability to execute on their vision. On the front, such folks will exhibit other leading symptoms: they aren’t open to critique and have less desire to learn every day. I wish they’d have the awareness.

Your aim must be to change the world to a better one. Not just dream it so.

 

On running

running shoes

I started to take running seriously when I turned 30. And while I have been an occasional runner since childhood I have learnt more about this sport in the past five years than in the rest of my life.  So in this post I’ll try to put out what I know and also what I don’t. Hopefully this will help those of you who are starting on running.

My mentor in this sport is Harsh Mehta, whom I first met in Finland. He taught me a couple of things that are the core constitution of all I follow now.

Continue reading On running

What are you made of?

There is always someone out there who can do what you do – a bit better even. Here is an example.

How long do you think you can hold your breath? With some practice, I have been able to do it for 1 minute 30 seconds. Once, I might have touched 2 minutes. I am proud of that –- it took me a lot of practice. But as I said, there is so much more out there!

Diving in deep water is done with oxygen cylinders attached to the back of divers. As the divers descend, due to the increased pressure under water, their tissues absorb more nitrogen than they would on the surface. During ascent, the excess nitrogen is expelled and if the diver comes up too soon, nitrogen bubbles could form in blood vessels. This might cause excess pressure on blood vessels and internal organs, causing extreme nausea, passing out or even death. Therefore, all divers who dive below a certain depth must come up at a strictly governed pace. Continue reading What are you made of?