Monthly Archives: April 2010

Thoughts and possibilities

I was sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend of mine and he mentioned to me that he was leaving to Thirupathi that night (For those who do not know, Thirupathi is the abode of Lord Venkateswara and is the richest temple in the world). I didn’t feel like engaging in a conversation, so we just had some loose talk till we were done with the coffee. But interestingly, I could see that there were lots and lots of thoughts that came up in the mind in response to the topic of discussion.

As we walked back to the desk, I was thinking about this. Probably because I did not speak, the compulsive need to pursue a thread  wasn’t that significant, and this must have allowed all these different thoughts to come up in mind.

I tried to list some of these thoughts here:   (what is in the main bullet is the primary thought trigger and what is in the second level bullet is the secondary though trigger which comes from the primary)

  1. I haven’t been there yet, I would like to go
    • Is this the right time to go there? When is the rush less?
  2. Is this your first trip? Do you go often?
  3. It’s the richest temple, I read that there is a special ’chakra’ installed there to attract money
    • I read recently that the temple of Shirdi is the second richest temple
  4. I normally go to Sabarimala everyyear
  5. In Kerala, we do not worship Balaji
  6. Infact I have not been going anywhere for a long time
  7. I s it better to drive? I want to go when I get my new Car?
    • I will plan to get the new car in June
  8. Is it necessary to shave the head?
    • My sister had been to Palani recently to shave her daughter’s head
  9. It’s interesting that all the major temples of South India are on hill tops

 These different thoughts in fact stem from different aspects of our mind and personality. For e.g thoughts 3, 5, 9 come from the point that I want to show that I know these facts (probably this will enhance my sense of self as a ‘knowledgeable person’). Thought 7 is a dangerous one and can hit my self-esteem big time. Thoughts 4,5 justifies my not going there, so that my sense of self is not diminished etcetc.

 This is infact a practical illustration of the concept described in the post The act of mindful watching. In normal scenario we do not see so many thoughts for a single trigger. We probably have one or two. This depends on our personality, mood and state of mind. For e.g if at this moment I am nurturing a feeling that my life is a failure, the likely hood of me getting only thought 6 is very very high. And since each of these thoughts can take the conversation/further thinking in a totally different direction, we are most likely to take one of those thought paths than to look at more thoughts coming up.

Needless to say, more reactive the mind is lesser the options we see Many times there are those negative feelings within us waiting patiently to react to any thing that would engage them. This is the reason why everything looks negative when your mind is in a negative state.

As we discussed earlier, if we can overcome the compulsive  need to react to a trigger, more options simply arise and this is the most basic quality for a creative mind.

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On Connections Again..

 The way mind connects thoughts and memories is something I have been interested in deeply. Perhaps it can throw some light on how the memory is organized and accessed. Since as adults we have consciously/unconsciously altered our thinking patterns and we are very reactive in nature, it is difficult to see the brilliance of the mind. On the other hand children can give you lot of such insights, because what’s in their mind comes out without much of logical interference. Here is an incident that happened today evening.

We were waiting for a doctor’s appointment; and I was chit-chatting with my 6-year-old daughter. Somehow the conversation strayed in to topic of me getting old.

 “Will you look after me when I am old?” I asked her

“Yes” she says

 “What will you give me?”

 “I will give you Orange, Apple….” She pauses here for a moment and suddenly asked..

“Papa, will you buy me those love birds that we saw in the market other day?”

As she went on to describe how many birds she would like to have and what color etc, I was wondering at the abrupt switch in the topic.

Though it seems like that the topic of conversation changed all of a sudden, it is not really so. The two topics are in fact connected.

If you didn’t get it, here is what probably happened. Last week when we were at the market, we saw some pairs of love birds for sale. My daughter was very much interested and we had watched them eating, drinking and merry-making. Probably when this incident is stored in her memory, she has also stored the meta data around it. One such meta data was ‘feeding’- this was something that caught her attention the most.

During our conversation, at the point when she was promising to give me orange, apple etc, it is ‘feeding’ that must have been at the back of her mind(as a feeling or as an experience, I do not know for sure). And immediately the mind connected this conversation to a memory which was also related to ‘feeding’

What makes this even more interesting in children is that the associations are not done through language. This is a common problems we adults face, because most of our experiences are stored as words and sentences and the associations we trend to form generally are derived through word comparisons. But in children, since the language is not yet developed fully, some of these experiences are stored in abstract forms.

 This is also reason why children can think creatively….

PS:I was reading an article on the evolution of language and the author suggests that it in language lies the root cause for schizophrenia. I agree. No wonder silence is so much glorified in this tradition.

Stories and Associations

We have already discussed in depth how associations lead to creativity. Like most of the other mind structures, association happen at several layers right from connecting two thoughts/memories (in the process called thinking) to connecting to unrelated concepts.

One of the interesting expressions of the power of association can be seen in stories. You must have seen people who have a story or an anecdote for any situation which entirely captures the essence of it, but comes from totally different plane altogether.

I would like to illustrate two incidents that happened yesterday in office, each of them show how powerful the capacity of the mind to process things is.

1) As some of us sat chatting over a coffee in the evening, the conversation drifted to the recruitment drive that was on. Someone (he has recently joined the organization) remarked : “What is the need to recruit so many people like this, I do not see any need”. Some one else responded to this with the below story : Someone was trying to get in to a train. The compartment  was already full, so the passengers were ‘physically’ resisting anyone who was trying to get in. But our man somehow forces his way in to the compartment much to the displeasure of other passengers.

 “Don’t worry, I will also join you from the next stop” he tell them.

 “What for” asks an irate passenger.

 “To prevent anyone else from getting in to the train.”

2)  Any conversation these days ends up in us discussing about this particular manager, his manners, approach etc.  And when this happened for the umpteenth time, some one stood up in the bay to narrate this story :

 “Once upon a time, there was this small  boy preparing for an examination. He was expecting  an essay on coconut tree (the story is in Indian context, this is one of the common topics for essay  in primary schools..) and prepared a good one. But he was asked to write an essay on Cow instead. The boy had only prepared for the essay on Coconut tree. So he began “Cow is a very useful animal which gives us milk. A cow is normally tied to a coconut tree. A coconut tree…” He continued the essay with what he prepared about the coconut tree.

Later, when it was time for the next exam, he was sure that the topic would be coconut tree this time. But unfortunately the topic was Hen. He began: “Hen is a very useful bird that gives us egg and meat. Hen is not usually tied to a coconut tree. A coconut tree…” He continued the rest of the essay with what he had prepared about the coconut tree.

I believe that anything in the mind exists in several layers some in abstract form and others expressed in languages. If you see the incidents and the stories above, you can see that they are connected at a higher level. It’s a marvel how the mind is able to pick these two incidents, extract a pattern from them and connect them in a manner that makes sense for others.

Perhaps, this is the same quality that enables the mind to see patterns.

Thoughts and Arrangements

The way thoughts connect/ associate with each other is the basis for how the human mind functions. It may be interesting to see that this is reflected (mostly in a subtle way) in the way things around us are progressing. Especially the technology. A good example is the ‘tags’ which is popular on the net; in fact the human mind uses something like tags to connect  two thoughts/memory (‘all those painful events in my life’ for e.g).

I was in a Supermarket yesterday. I haven’t been there for quite long and in the meantime the shop had undergone significant restructuring and reorganization. Earlier they had four floors with dedicated space for apparels, grocery, electronics etc. Now they have reduced to 2 floors (got rid of some things like furniture in the process) and the arrangement looked little bit haphazard.

 We were to visit a friend of mine who had an 8 months old baby. We were looking for a gift to buy. We started with the toy section; but couldn’t find something interesting. Then my wife suggested we could alternatively look for a dress for the baby and we proceeded to the adjacent section where  they had dress for kids.

As usual, my attention was drifting off from shopping. And suddenly, something struck me. The toy section and the apparel section for kids are now arranged nearby, so that one would naturally move from one to the other. They had an apparel section elsewhere too. It looked like they have completely gotten rid of the dedicated space and rather decided to spread them. This was done very intelligently. For e.g one could move to the ‘children’s dress area’ either from the ‘main apparel area’ or from ‘toy section’ or from the ‘school stationary’ section. This also meant that there are different places where similar items were displayed, which is against the typical way the supermarkets are arranged.

I am not an expert in the way goods are arranged in supermarkets to attract customers; I know there are people who specialize in this. But you can find a similar trend in areas where spatial arrangement of objects is done.

I think, subconsciously human beings are imitating the way the mind functions  and how we typically organize our thoughts. The logic (or lack of it) the mind uses to connect thoughts can help to design more intelligent spaces that will best be used by humans.

Afterthought:

This is the concept of mind in the traditional Hindu philosophy. There is a universal/ all knowing mind (conciousness) which is not bound by time, space etc and is present in everyone and also is connected.This is the all knowing conciousness. But this consciousness expresses in every one as ‘mind’, which is like an extension of the universal mind and  through which we can (possibly) access the universal consciousness. I am just wondering – is this the way the world wide web is designed? Perhaps the popularity of the internet can be attributed to this grand design?

Finding Anil Joji

I had just started at the new office. As expected, there were lot of small things to be sorted out, like I wanted the handle of my chair removed and I wanted the AC vent to be partially closed etc. To get all these fixed, I had to interact with someone from the facilities department, called Anil Joji. We exchanged mails and at times we spoke over the phone;but never met in person (unfortunately at the new office, there wasn’t a site where one could look at the photos of employees)

For a strange reason, I became curious about who could this person be (perhaps the name had something catchy about it). We occupy three floors in the building and as we move around, we must have surely be passing by each other. This was a strange thought. But as it happened, I began (sub consciously) to scan people who passed by to spot someone who could potentially be Anil Joji.

Over the next couple of weeks, I had narrowed down the list of possible candidates to two. I was almost sure that one of them was “Anil Joji”. And last week I happened to have one of them close by, and managed to read his name on the identify card. And even to my own surprise, it was Anil Joji.

This was very strange. There was no way I could explain what happened. Till that point I had not realised that subconsciously I was doing this process of elimination.

Later, I tried to figure out how the mind could do such a thing. This is the possible explanation I could figure out.

The first thing that happened was that, as I began to interact, the mind began to identify some unique characteristics. Few that I can recollect:

–          The name suggested that he was from a particular state in India (and I have an idea how the people from that state typically look like)

–          The name also suggested that he was a Christian

–          He was part of the facilities team which meant that

  • He would be seen interacting with teams like admin
  • He would be seen moving around looking busy
  • He is seen around places where there is some problem ((In fact finally when I spotted him, he was in this situation, the lunch was delayed in the canteen and he was there standing)
  • Etcetc….

With these characteristics in mind, over the next few days, my mind was scanning people around trying to find a match and eliminating the others. It came to the point where the list narrowed down to just two.

Later, I narrated the entire event to a friend of mine. I ended with a comment that there is no way computers can match the intelligence of the human brain. In response, he narrated a very interesting incident to me:

Years back, the Deep Blue machine was developed to play chess with Kasprov. The machine was specially programmed to foresee millions of possibilities and moves ahead. As they went on to play, the machine won the first two games. But then Kasprov went on to win the next three games and the series.

Later people asked Kasprov, how he won over such an intelligent computer. And Kasprov said – Computers are programmed by humans and it cannot be more intelligent than them. After the first two games, Kasprov figured out that though the computer was extremely intelligent in one sense, it could not understand something like ‘sacrifice’, which is unique to humans. In the next games he used such approaches to confuse Deep Blue and win over.

Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.