Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Musings 272 – Pick a hobby; Win the Nobel

Monday Musings 272  – Pick a hobby; Win the Nobel

A study by the University of Michigan as quoted in the book called ‘Originals’ by Adam Grant found out something so utterly bizarre, counter intuitive – and perhaps heresy to most middle class Indian parents; that your chances of winning a Nobel prize as a scientist become increasingly more if apart from the field of study you also dabble on the side with an artistic hobby. The odds become 2X greater if its music, its 7X greater if its Arts, 12X greater if its writing and a whooping 22X greater if it is Performing arts like an amateur actor or a magician.  Now who could have thought that!!

What should we pursue – the lifelong pursuit of only one craft or vocation and the desire of becoming a virtuoso or picking up alongside the core pursuit of our lives and dabble in a sundry interest here and there? The classical view on this one appears to be in the favor of the former; the latter are reviled tastefully under the burden of aphorisms like ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ – as if the whole point of being a stone is to gather moss! So should be pursue depth or breadth?

The debate on depth or breadth is akin to the coffee-toffee debate of yesteryears around the candy ‘melody’ – and most would stand for the stance which is closest to their own experience rather than a serious study of the subject; and would offer the jingle of the TVC as the answer to this depth vs. breadth conundrum – ‘’melody khao; khud jaan jao’.
There is also something called ‘Prison of prototypes’ – we process new information within the framework of what we already know. Hence the more width we have, even if it is not deep mastery, the more are the chances that we can process the new information and new perspectives. The question I am holding is whether our adult lives is spent heeding to the import of this nuance or do we perpetuate the dogma of ‘one life – one pursuit’? The emphasis is to carve out time for a deliberate expansion of experience to newer fields, however unrelated and however amateurish they might be in the beginning, not necessarily to gain anything material out of it, but just for the childlike joy of doing something new. The point to be made is that one never knows when and in what ways does this come to play a pivotal part in your current pursuit – and if this Michigan study is to be believed that more often than not it does increases your odds at succeeding in your core pursuit.  It is now a folklore for the Apple fans to quote Steve Jobs own admission that his passion for breathtaking product design was greatly influenced by a course in calligraphy that he had undertaken just on the side.

I am sure there is more to this that what is postulated – and we shall approach this basis our own intuitions and biases. Irrespective of our current stance – we must think about it and while we take some time to arrive at a definitive view, pick a small hobby on the side – to play an instrument or sing or write or perform. It just increases our bets to win a Nobel you see!!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Monday Musings 271 – The Orwellian dystopia

Monday Musings – The Orwellian dystopia
Good writing does not only inform and educate – it also indicates what do the winds augur. In a very uncanny way great literature is like crystal gazing – only far more complex. Sci fi writers also do the same thing but they occupy a different realm – of how science and technology will dramatically alter the processes of life and living. Rarely, if at all, do they talk about how will these inventions and advancements fundamentally alter the behaviour of people, the quality of relationships of individuals and groups, both within and across, and finally how will the polity at large change.  

Hence the other literature that tries to describe the ‘what can happen’ if the present fault lines continue to be under duress, becomes priceless and only too rare. Anyone who has an eye and stomach for such a literature must read the masterpiece ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

1984 was published in the late 1940’s and describes a polity which is excessively centralised, diabolically power hungry, and as it poignantly describes, power uncorrupted by the burden of having a higher purpose, but for power sake. Most critically it also describes the ones who want to exercise control over its people by controlling two fundamental things – ‘thoughts’ and ‘the past’.

One cannot help but notice how prescient the book was more than half a century ago – suffice it to say that one could have changed the title to ‘2016’ and it would be an accurate description of our times. I am sharing hereafter two critical themes from the book and leave it for you to admire the parallels – and should it tempt you to pick it up, do not resist it.  

The first is - He who controls the past controls the future. So an attempt is made by the powers to be, to obliterate all evidences of the past, particularly the alternative narrative. The past is continuously edited; newer versions of history is discovered and pedalled – which serves not only as a rationale for the current actions but also a source of its moral basis.  

The second is the concept of ‘thought-police’ – a system which keeps a tab on not only what you are doing but more importantly on what you are thinking. Even a mere thought which is independent of the popular/official narrative (or the narrative that the powers to be want you to believe) is treason. Thinking is no longer an independent act but a wayward force that must be controlled and an attempt to do so considered as defiance.

1984 is a frightening book as we read it today – I suspect if the world would have welcomed this great work as only a fantastic literature of its times or really a warning of the times we might inherit one day.

As a reader generally – and after reading this Orwellian masterpiece particularly, I have grown wary of all ‘history’ – whether of faiths, communities or nations. I am no longer sure if the ‘version’ I know is really how it was – or is just another version of truth. As Meryl Streep's character in the fantastic movie ‘Doubt, where she plays a nun in the church – a place where the currency of faith overrules all thought, says to the Bishop with anguish only a person of faith shaken to her core can experience – ‘Father, I have  Doubt’. 

I only have doubts now – or so it seems.  What makes my position so precarious is everyone around me is so absolutely sure.