22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here
15 May

Exponential Technology

Exponential Technology

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • This post, Exponential Technology, argues that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

Exponential Technology

One ray of hope against this exponential threat is one proven exponentially growing tool available with us: Our technology, at least the Information Technology. A group of people are such staunch believers in the power of exponential technology that they even predict that human beings would demat (de-materialize, become digital) by 2045! Technology and Transhumans In a world where human beings are demated (i.e. our minds are ported into machine), we don’t need agriculture, we don’t need cooking, we don’t need transportation (we will travel on electrons), we don’t need to die, we don’t need to have children, we all can have zillion clones, each one of them living inside a $1000 computer! The world inhabited by demat human beings will use less resources than anyone in 20th century could have imagined. This merger of man with machine was named the Technological Singularity (or, simply, Singularity) by the man who predicted it. It is, of course, so loony and so outlandish an idea no on in their right mind would even dare mentioning it in a civil conversation. Only problem is that this idea has been put forward by a no-nonsense person, backed by solid data with mind boggling predictive power.

Exponential Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil, the proponent of Technological Singularity, took 15 different prominent lists, containing major intelligence events in the history of planet earth and plotted it on a log-log graph sheet. Here is what he got: Major Intelligence Events Kurzweil showed (see his book Singularity is Near) that the exponential growht of information technology during later past of 20th century, attributed to Moore’s Law, is merely a part of a larger trend that has been unfolding from the formation of Milkey Way Galaxy! The trend is so reliable and predictable that Kurzweil proposed that it could be safely extrapolated into the future. Kurzweil's Prediction By extrapolating the trend, he showed that by 2013, our super computers would have enough processing power to enable human brain’s functional simulation

PS: Incidentally, in 2013, Kurzweil took up a job with Google and he now heads a project to build the human brain in a machine. In this 2014 TED talk, he discusses as to how intelligent machines that are capable of reading the entire internet will be here in less than 10 years.

He also showed that by 2025, the super-computers will have enough processing power to enable neural simulation of human brain! He went on to predict that by 2045, $1,000 would buy enough processing power to equate all the 10 billion human brains alive that year. By 2045, Kurzweil speculates, we will have the capabilities to port human brain into intelligent machines! However, there is a leap of faith that Kurzweil fails to address adequately. For example, by 2014, $1,000 can already buy more processing power than what is in a mouse brain.

But then, were are the cyborg mice?

While Kurzweil had provided wonderful argument to establish the predictable growth of computing power, he failed to show convincingly as to how the increase in processing power would result in augmentation of intelligence. Though, he provided some indirect evidences to his argument. Kurzweil showed that even stuff that doesn’t seem to be directly related to information technology explosion seem to follow the exponential curve.

Example 1: Exponential increase of private manufacturing in USA

Private Manufacturing   Example 2: Per-capita GDP of USA US PerCapita GDP In other words, Ray Kurzweil showed that technology grows exponentially, that intelligence grows exponentially and that wealth creation happens exponentially. He failed to adequately explain the anomaly between the humongous processing power we have today and primitive state of current intelligent machines.

Idea Explosion

A thinker, author, journalist, politician and ex-banker called Matt Ridley came up with a plausible explanation for the puzzle that Kurzweil left unanswered. Unlike the data driven argument put across by Kurweil, Ridley’s explanation was just another leap of faith. Though, he made an elaborate anecdotal evidences and couched his argument in it. As we will see in the sequel to this post, Ridley argued that human ingenuity would rise to the occasion and save the day.

REFERENCES:
- This post is sequel to Idea Age is Here: Part 1, Exponential Threat 
- Next post in this series is Origin of Ideas
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here 
- In this TED video recorded in 2005, Ray Kurzweil explains the 'impending' Technological Singularity
15 May

Exponential Threats

 

Exponential Threats

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • This post, Exponential Threats, identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

We (humans) are facing an imminent danger to the present way of life. Something must change. The popular belief is that change will drastically reverse the decades of advances that we have made in obtaining ourselves substantially better quality of living. Whereas, the popular hope is that we will come out on the other side much stronger than we are today.

Given that I am an ever-hopeful, I fall into the second camp and strongly ‘hope’ that some incredible breakthrough will come along (after all, what is the point in living, if one belongs to the ‘hopeless’ camp). The obvious candidate for the ‘breakthrough is coming’ camp is the exponential technology. That may not be the case.

All available evidences go to argue that over the coming decades, idea generation will be democratized, quality of average idea generated (or quality of idea generated by average Joe) will improve and give us new solutions that we didn’t even know were possible. This coming Idea Age will be very similar to various renaissance periods from the history, but much more potent. It is my hope that by the time we are finished with the idea age, we would have changed the human race both biologically and culturally.

More importantly, when idea generation is going to be democratized, a significant portion of human creative energy is going to be spent on improving human happiness. After all, in the centralized idea generation era that we currently live in, there is too much focus on economic value of the ideas.

Read on to understand more about the coming cultural and destiny shift, to learn what it would mean to you, and how you can prepare for it.

Growth vs Resources

We are stuck in an economy which is required to grow year on year, endlessly (image below).

Growth is Exponential

For example, no one (at least, no value investor) will ever buy shares in a company that doesn’t promise year on year continuous growth. You wouldn’t want to take up a job that can’t give you continuous increase in revenue. For reasons that I am not getting into here, we can’t wish away the exponential growth cycle without substantial hardship.

The trouble with exponential growth is that our consumption of raw materials doubles once in a few years (image below).

Exponential Growth

If, for example, take Oil. The global consumption of oil grows at 7% per annum year on year. At that rate, the global consumption of oil doubles every 10 years (1.07^10 = 1.97). Every time when consumption doubles, the amount of oil consumed during the new 10 year period equals the amount of oil consumed during the entire period coming before that! That kind of consumption growth can’t be sustained indefinitely.

Way back in 1972, a bunch of European scientists have modeled the global population growth and resource utilization and put their results into a book titled The Limits of Growth and updated it in 2004. The book predicted that our civilization would face a collapse during the mid to later half of current century.

In 2012, New Scientist published a paper wherein the predictions of 1972, as laid out in the book, were compared with the actual date obtained till the first decade of 21st century, and using much better modelling techniques. The result was a chilling conformation that the reality is not much different from the predictions of doom made in 1972 (image below)!

Boom and Bust

 

While the original 1972 predictions have been hotly contested and called deficient, surprisingly very little criticism has been heard about the 2012 New Scientist paper.

In the meanwhile, NASA recently announced that it has come up with climate model that matches with climate changes remarkably well. Based on this highly reliable model, NASA predicts that if we continued ‘business as usual’, by end of the current century, the global temperature would raise by as much as 14°C in the arctics and by lesser degree in other parts of the world.

Global Warming

 

Of course, NASA also pointed out that if we respond to impending climate change aggressively, we might just be able to get away with minimal damages. But the political will and preparedness seem to be widely lacking.

Given the looming resource crunch and consequent economic collapse, aggravated by global warming that is at least partly irreversible, we will have no way but to significantly change our present way of living.

Exponential Technology

While we are facing exponential problems, we have one exponential solution at hand: Technology. In the sequel to this post, we will understand exponential technology and how can it help us to deal with our exponential problem.

REFERENCES:
- This post is based on the presentation titled Idea Age is Here
- You can find the next parts of this series at Idea Age is Here: Part-2, Exponential Technology and at Origin of Ideas
10 Sep

Barbie, Conan, Body Image and Intellectuals

Living Barbie

There is a 28 years old Ukranian woman named Valeria Lukyanova, who believes that she is from Venus and decided to change her look to suit her inner body image.  She chose herself the look of a Japanese anemi character and achieved it using intelligent makeup and some cosmetic surgery (her age, heavy makeup and surgical assistance are all contested).  People started calling her a living doll, and then a living Barbie.  That’s flattering the Barbie doll because she is so much prettier.  Lukyanova is a singer, sort of, and wanted to use her new look to spread her spiritual message of peace from Venus (and, perhaps, to sell some music).

But something quite unexpected happened.  More and more young women are wanting to follow Lukyanova and are going in for living doll looks.  Being a living doll is not for the faint at heart.  It calls for a radical lifestyle modifications, and dollops of money to pay for the mandatory cosmetic surgeries!  Unlike our friendly neighborhood intellectuals would like us to believe, these women are not being brain washed by the Galactic Association of Cosmetic Surgeons or evil multi-national corporations trying to sell them trillions of dollars worth of eye liners to these unsuspecting young women.  They are not even doing this to get themselves more boys.  They do it so that their outer look matches with their inner body image.

Funny and misguided girls you say?  Well, not so fast.

Body Building

Take our male body builders and high octane actions stars.  We have all noticed how they ripping muscles augmented by multiple steroid cycles and Synthol (of course, they hotly contest the usage of steroids or Synthol).  Isn’t it strange that these guys have more heterosexual male fans than women fans?  None of these famous muscle heads have ever been called a sex symbol. On the other hand, the most popular sex symbol today, George Cloony, doesn’t even take his shirt off in most movies.  If you have tried googling “George Cloony Shirtless”, you will know why!

George Clooney Shirtless

If this body is found sexy by most women, then why are the body builders spending huge amount of efforts and money on ripping muscles?  The muscle size doesn’t even add to one’s longevity, mental acuity or money earned.  Like the living dolls, the body builders are catering to the self-image that is typical of their own sexes!

Barbie doll’s body proportions appeal to the girls.  Most guys, on the other hand, salivate for the curvy and strong body of Xena the Warrior Princess!

Warrior Princess

Cosmopolitan is the leading lifestyle magazine for young women and Maxim caters to young men.  Make a quick comparison between the models you find in them and you will find the women in Cosmo are more stick-like.  Whereas the women in Maxim must have curves.  Anorexia, or something close to it, seem to be the inner body-image template and most women try to gravitate to this.  They spend a lifetime trying to go as close to this self image as possible.

Take a look at any men’s fitness magazine and you will find ripping muscles, advertisements for muscle building supplements and black market steroids.  On the other hand, women oriented fitness magazines seldom post pictures of Mr. Universe.  Page after page, the post lean and athletic looking male bodies with broad, well formed shoulders and V shaped torso.  Like Ken.  Men who are looking for ripping are doing it to cater to their own inner urge.

Is it wrong to desire a body that appeals to one’s own inner image?  Of course, not!  If their body-desires doesn’t hurt anyone else, or it doesn’t conflict with their other priorities, what they do with their own body is none of anyone else’s business.

Is it wrong to blame the corporations, capitalists, multi-nationals, patriarchy, media and the buffalo for this phenomenon?  Of course, yes!

Most of our so-called intellectuals are fraudsters who are too incompetent to do their homework before they air out an opinion.  Liberating ourselves from the twisted world views they provide us is an important part of building ourselves happy lives.

That is the central tenet of this blog!

06 Sep

Google Car will be Life Changing

Google Car

Technology progresses in geometric speed.  With every passing day, technological breakthroughs keep arriving faster.  What more, each change has a much bigger impact than the previous change.  Ray Kurzweil predicts that at this rate, technology would’ve progressed sufficiently for man to merge with machines.  He has named this incident the “technological singularity“.  Because our brains are not equipped to perceive exponential curve, we find it extremely difficult to wrap it around the accelerating power of technology (TED video).

Google Car is a strong reminder to the skeptics that rate and magnitude of technological changes do accelerate.  Though Google Car per se is of only peripheral interest to this blog, let us take a closer look at it to help us comprehend the speeding up of technological changes.

Born out of a 2005 DARPA challenge tackled jointly by Stanford and Google, Google’s driverless car (video) pet project has taken a life of its own: The cars have driven more than 500,000km  accident and driver free, three states of US have permitted plying these cars on their roads and many more states and countries are to follow suit.  What looks like a pet project of a billionaire pair and a bunch of geeks is anything but a toy.  This innovation is about to make big changes to the way we live, and the change is going to happen much more quickly than we can imagine.

90% less accidents

The most emotionally appealing advantage from an self-driving car technology is this: 90% of the traffic accidents are caused by human error!  In the US alone, Google expects that its driverless technology will save 30,000 lives an year, avoid additional 2 million injuries and reduce accident related expenses by at least $400 billion.

Save commute time

Because driverless cars will be networked and exchange traffic information, drive with a much lesser physical clearance from each other, avoid collisions more effectively, etc., driverless cars can run faster, more cars can be accommodated in the given road space and they effortlessly select most optimal routes.  Hence, driverless cars will substantially reduce traffic jam and reduce commute time, to 90% by some rough estimates.  A 2012 study estimates that traffic congestion cost about $100b in US alone!

Less Cars on the Road

A car is one of the largest personal expenditure met today, still a car sits underutilized for most of the day.  This is with driverless cars.  In the era of driverless vehicles, most of us will seek to reduce under-utilization of assets by using common resources.  These resources will be operated by businesses that appear like cab companies.  The will have cars parked all over the city, in designated locations.  People hail them electronically, hop in and hop off.  Because the human driver is eliminated, driverless taxi service will be available at just a fraction of the cost we pay our cabs now (which in itself is much smaller than what we usually pay to self-owned car).  If the trend catches up, car pooling will automatically evolve out of this and the cost of using a car will sharply plummet.  Along with this, the number of cars will come down too.  By an optimistic estimate, driverless cars may reduce the total number of cars on the road by as much as 90%!

With 90% of the cars, traffic jams, commute time and traffic accidents all will further reduce!

What changes will happen

Driverless cars will make professional drivers obsolete.  US is already talking about truck drivers being eliminated over the next few years.  The trend will continue and accelerate.  Along with drivers, driving schools will eventually become redundant too.

With the cars being controlled and guided by pre-programmed rules, traffic violations will vanish.  With that traffic policing will shrink and take new roles.

Substantially reduced accidents will eventually put emergency medical services out of business.  Along with that, revenue of car insurance companies, and the companies that offer road accident covers, will shrink.

With the utilization of the cars increasing from the present levels, need for parking space and facilities will reduce.  With substantial reduction in the number of cars, and traffic snarls, construction of new roads will slow down and consumption of fuel plummet (on the other hand, if we discover cheaper sources of energy, car traffic on the highways will increase).  With better utilization of resources, cost of using a car per mile will plummet.

With number of cars reducing (after an initial hike owing to people converting to driverless), many car companies will go out of business.

Cab companies will flourish, but only if they rediscover themselves ground up.  With no driver inside a car, in-car entertainment will take new dimensions.  We will see the birth of a new vertical called ‘car-apps’ and the app makers coming up with several innovative solutions that we haven’t even felt the need for today.  Google, of course, is expected to share the driverless OS (like it shared the Android OS of the mobile phones) and build another mammoth revenue stream out of it.

So much for a pet project.  The funniest thing is, the technological innovations that gave us driverless cars is trivial comparing with, say, coming up with an intelligent search engine like Google (we easily forget that what a fine piece of peerless technology the Google search is).

How soon

In 2008, self driving cars could drive two blocks of closed loop at 40kmph.  By 2012, driverless cars have already driven 500,000km  in real life traffic.  With that kind of driving experience, Google must have pretty much figured out the driving algorithm.

A driverless car must have four additional feature

  • Machine operated controls (trivial challenge)
  • Central silicon brain (trivial challenge)
  • Driverless OS (Google already has it and it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who sets out to build it.  Given that it is just a piece software with few million of dollars of investment, the bar is not high at all)
  • Sensors, consisting of RADAR, gyro, GPS, etc. (existing technology)

As of today, the cost of the sensors runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and they need to go through further miniaturization.  This is the only piece of technology that is keeping the driverless car from becoming a mass market product.  There is nothing fundamentally revolutionary about any of the technologies that make driverless cars possible.

If we take a closer look at the sensors, we will realize that

  • Microwave generator in kitchen oven costs just a few dollars; other than this, everything else is just solid state signal processing
  • Gyroscope (usually, a fiber optic gyro), again, is largely software
  • GPS has already become dirt cheap
  • The cost of putting them all together, as of today, is high.  But that is because only few small companies with limited resources have been developing these technologies for the tiny industry of land mapping.  When mass market players jump in, cost of these sensors will plummet.

With time, these sensors will cost just a little more than a microwave oven.  We shouldn’t be surprised if inexpensive driverless cars become available even before all the countries in the world have permissions in place for plying a driverless car!  In less than three years, driverless cars will become common scene in select places on the planet.  In about 10 years, driverless cars will be a common thing anywhere in the world.  That should convince the skeptics that the Singularity is Near (book)!

Note 1: Funny, the Google Chrome browser I am using to write this article keeps reminding me that “driverless” is not a valid word

Note 2: This post is largely based on the book Driverless Cars: Trillions are up for Grabs

04 Sep

Laura Carstensen: Age brings happiness

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen of Stanford had spent her life researching the state of mind of the elderly.  She and other researchers working in the field have come up with some eye-opening insights, which run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

Psychological Stability

Contrary to the popular image of “grumpy old man/woman”, older people seem to be psychologically more stable!  Human brain seem to become more stable with age.  If an elder person is depressed, they are most probably suffering from what started when they were young.

 

Older Brains are Stable

Also, people who are neurotic seldom learn to become happier with age.  They often start from such a low baseline that any improvement in the inner happiness simply doesn’t muster enough force.

By the way, women of all age seem to be reporting more psychological distress than men.  It is not clear if this is due to self-denial that most men are known for.

Experience more Positive Emotions

Older people experience more positive emotions.  There are lesser threats in their lives and lesser uncertainties.  With age, sources of anxieties start decreasing, either because they have been resolved or because people learn to live with them.  Contrary to the popular wisdom, youth, it seems, is the most miserable period in one’s life!

More Positive Emotions

After about mid sixties, the number of positive emotions being experienced by a person seem to come down with age.  Part of it has to do with age associated impairment of health.  If so, with modern anti-ageing techniques, the dip will be postponed by a decade or two. Does it mean that the increase (in positive incidences) will continue for another decade or two is a different question. If the answer is yes, then age-extension programs will yield some of the happiest human societies we have seen till today!

Ignore Negativity

Older people emotionally disassociate themselves from negativity!

There is a module in the brain called amygdala, which lights up (becomes active) when people encounter emotionally charged stimulus.  When researchers put younger and older subjects in a brain scanner and showed them emotionally positive and negative pictures, something very interesting came out.  The amygdala of younger subjects was activated when they encountered both positive and negative stimulus.  Older people had much bigger spike for positive stimulus than younger people, and they ignored the negative stimuli!

Emotionally Ignore Negativity

Older people have learnt to ignore the negativity.  At the same time, they have learnt to appreciate positive emotions better.  No wonder they are happier!  This has become more obvious through another experiments conducted by the researchers.  They showed younger and older subjects pictures of positive and negative faces and measured the amount of attention they paid.

Positive Bias

 

Older ones paid poorer attention to negative faces and paid better (than younger people) attention to positive faces.  It is as if the elders have become really good at ignoring negativity!  It may not always be a good thing (what good can it be if one ignores all atrocities in the news paper).  At least, it, makes them happier!

Emotionally dense Social Network

With time, emotional life of people becomes richer and more complex.  As people get older, they tend to retain the emotionally close and meaningful relationships and the casual relationships fall off.

Social Network of Older People has much more meaningful realtionships

With age, people become more selective about who they socialize with.  The riff-raff, not-so-close, meaningless relationships dwindle in numbers.

In Laura Carstensen’s words, as people grow older, they tend to

  • Live in the moment
  • Know what’s important
  • Invest in sure things
  • Deepen relationship and
  • Savor life

From the teachers of positive psychology and the science of happiness, we know that these are sure recipe for lifetime of happiness.  Add to this a more stable brain, no wonder that people are much happier as they grow older (of course, we are only talking about healthy individuals, who are also financially self-reliant).

Even anecdotally speaking, when I look around, I see that everyone I know, including myself, is much happier now in the middle ages than we were in our twenties or thirties.  Carstensen must be on to something here!

To learn more about Laura Carstensen’s work, you can watch this Youtube video or read her book A Long Bright Future.

26 Aug

Naked self-portrait: Simplest life extension tool

Naked Self-portrait

Most of us have a huge inertia when it comes to working out and eating right.  Even though we have heard millions of times that eating right, sleeping well and shaping up will add one or two decades to your life, and more life to every year, we never got around to doing them.  There is a simple one minute exercise that will break down your inertia: Get yourself a naked self-portrait!

Are you not convinced that you have body image issues?  Here is a bunch of questionnaires (not-free) that will help you get a scientific self-calibration (but let me assure you, getting a naked self-portrait is lot cheaper, and easier, than dealing with these questionnaires).  If you think you weigh too much or too little, you are likely to have a poor body image.  If you are a perfectionist, guaranteed that your self assessment will be worse than how others assess you.  If you were out of shape during your formative years, you are likely to be carrying the cross throughout your life.

Feeling bad about your body is not some fancy thing for the pansies.  It sits in the core of your self-image and dictates everything you do, it is part of our personality.  For a starter, it dictates what you wear, who you hang out with, the places you go to and the things you do.  It transforms your life.  Body image is a much stronger force than we give it credit for.  Unfortunately, in most of us, it is too subtle a force that it remains under the radar.  Hence, we go through the life without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

Even more unfortunately, in some of us, the body image misalignment is too strong an urge to ignore.  These people go great lengths to correct the misalignment.

  • Chelsea Manning, Kristin Beck went through great pains to transform oneself from being a man to a woman (Beck has a book in Amazon on his/her transformation)
  • Cindy Jackson has the world record for maximum number of plastic surgeries conducted on a person (Cindy has self-published a book on “How to: Cosmetic Surgeries”)
  • Valeriea Lukyanova calls herself the living Barbie and uses her looks to give you a ‘message from the space’ (don’t miss the slide-show; and the video will give you an insight into a mind that is very, how shall I put it, unusual).

Whereas we sympathize these people, or call them desperadoes, they consider themselves brave.  They are right.  They knew what they wanted, they worked hard for several years to get to it.  And they wear their designer persona proudly, even though it might open themselves to ridicule, sometime severe ones.  But this post is not for these brave souls, from Venus or not.

This blog post is for the rest of us, who have lived throughout our lives with this nagging feeling of not having a body that we deserve, a body that we are too shy to reveal, a body that must be covered with clothes in order not make us feel bad, get depressed or wanna fling it over the bridge.  Muster yourself enough courage just for one minute: Get yourself pictured naked!  And force yourself to look at it, really look at it.

For most of us, this one minute, no-money, exercise will make you start genuinely looking for ways to fix your body.  If your inner nag is like that of vast majority of the people (i.e you don’t have issues like sexual self-identify, anorexia, etc.), chances are that you will start to eat right and exercise.  Or at least, consider it seriously.

That will add 10 to 20 years to your life!  Not a bad for mustering whee bit of guts isn’t it?

21 Aug

Fuck-you Money

Fuck You Money

Buckminster Fuller (of buckyballs) said “controlled time is our true wealth”.  To him, wealth is the time span for which we can maintain our desired lifestyle without having to spend time making money. During the dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley came up with Fuck-you Money.  For them, it is the amount of money you need in your hand before you can stop working for your living.

Sadly, the amount of wealth many of us have accumulated can’t even last a month if we stopped working. For some smart people among us, it can last a few years. It’s only the case of a small fraction of people that the wealth can last their entire life time.

Million Paupers to Billion Kings

Historically, masses never had opportunity to acquire decent amount of money without taking huge risks.  Comparing with today’s terms, human productivity was abysmally low [chart below shows the population and per capita GDP of UK (By the way, did you notice how there is a tight correlation between the population and per capita income?  If you want to understand this phenomena, you should watch this TED video)].

UK GDP across centuries

 

Our culture carries the burden of thousands of years of legacy.  We still live by religious and moral teachings that were conceived 2,000 years ago, if not earlier.  They come from an era where anyone who didn’t take work seriously perished, or became a criminal.  Even the nature of work was such that it placed huge premium on toil, rather than creativity.  You can see from the graph that this was beginning to change somewhere around 1850 and the change picked up pace around 1920.

Take a look at the next graph.  It shows the price of lighting (in today British Pounds, for million lumen hours) in UK over the last two centuries.

Price Of Lighting

When you put the two graphs together, you can see that before 1850, not only people were making far less money, they were spending through all their orifices.  Unlike most of us like to believe, today we live in a world that is cheaper than the past.  And, today, we live in a world where everyone makes enough money to live like how a Duke used to live, if not a King.

We now have an opportunity to make enough money, without taking unreasonable risk, in a few short years to fund our living for the rest of our lives.  Unfortunately, no one tells us that because we are stuck in a culture that is founded on values and customs that were appropriate thousands of years ago.

Note: The above two graphs were taken from this paper.

Education for Foot Soldiers

The education system that we have today was founded in Prussia, during the late 19th century.  The purpose of the Prussian education system was to produce more people who were capable of reading bible and working in the army.  Eventually, when industrial revolution came along, the same education system was used for mass producing workers for the factories.

Back then, it was a huge deal.  10 years of education guaranteed a lifetime of earning opportunity.  And as an added bonus, there was even an assurance of some support cash when a person can’t work anymore.  Life has never been this good and every responsible parent rushed to ensure that their children had this thing called formal, mass produced, education.

Unfortunately, mass education prepares us to be a worker throughout our life.  It doesn’t teaches us the skill required for retiring early in life.  Even after getting a 20 year education, we

  • Can’t even set up a personal financial accounting system (unless we are specifically trained as a financial accounting professional)
  • We have no concept of creating wealth.  We are only geared towards earning money.
  • We learn nothing about risk taking or risk management
  • Training on ethics and morals are relegated to the margins of elementary classes, when we can’t appreciate much of nuances involved.  To make the matter worse, the ideas taught in the name of ethics are often toxic.
  • No one tells us that happiness is the ultimate purpose of life.  Whereas, mass education constantly keeps reminding us that we must be good workers, good citizens, etc.

The list goes on.  But the point is this: Not only does our education fails to equip us with skills needed for creating enough wealth, education and the society actually orients us towards life time of toil. No wonder most of us have no concept of ‘wanting’ to become wealthy for life!

Work subsumes everything else

During our working years, so much of our lives revolve around work. We simply have no time left for anything else substantial.  We allow the work to spill everywhere and ‘life’ to be relegated to the cracks and crevices.  Whatever non-work time that we permit ourselves is mostly used up for recovering from work.  Worse still, very often we spend our leisure time to augment our success at our work.

In a life that is filled with thoughts of work from the time we enter the kindergarten, to the time we are 60 (when physical fitness deteriorates), it is no surprise that we don’t even stop to contemplate the possibility of making a pile and getting out of the game.  We don’t know how to make the pile, or how much, or what to do when we make it.

We are so inseparable from our work that with the exception of perhaps the Batman, all of us define our identies by the work we do!  For anyone in their right mind, it should sound ridiculous.

Non-work is an Unfamiliar Territory

Most of us don’t know what to do with our time if we stop working today.

Many exciting moments of our life happen in our work place.  Until recently, before the online social networks popped up, work is the only place where we could meet people of comparable caliber and taste.  Work also brings us to a larger number of more colorful people.  Work brings us self-esteem.  Work gives us easy targets.  Work removes many ambiguities from our lives.  Work also gives us a clear sense of getting ahead.

Not working has one crucial disadvantage: Too many options and zero training to handle such abundance of opportunities!

Since all of us live such a work-centric life, there is a sheer paucity of sufficiently exciting, and sufficiently engaging, non-work activities in our culture.  The impoverishment of options further reduces the choice of things one could do after one stops working.

We have over-designed our systems to give us economic security. We failed to design them for happiness.  That was OK till the last century, when becoming rich was synonymous to raising above the poverty line, which is the pre-requisite to happiness.  However, with large portion of the world leaving the poverty behind, the idea that wealth is only a pre-requisite to happiness is just sinking in.  We are just beginning to realize that once a certain amount of wealth is accumulated, and our future is secured, we are better off spending our time on pursing happiness more directly.

So, how much is too much?

If you are setting out to make your own pile of fuck-you money, the first thing you need to do is this: Have a number!

Unless you know what will set you free, you will either under shoot and end up working throughout your life, busy making the ends meet. Or overshoot and end up working throughout your life acquiring meaninglessly huge abundance.

Here are some clues that will help you put a number on your personal requirement:

  • The amount of money should enable you (and your dependents) to maintain the desired standard of living for the rest of your life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to give your kids the acceptable (to you) quality of start in their life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to cover your health care demands for the rest for your life.  And remember, unlike your parents, you are very likely end up living up to a hundred.
  • Around 2020, if not earlier, you will be able to pay money and acquire biological enhancements.  You better have some money for this one!
  • Last, but not the least, you should have sufficient money to chase your passions

If you are looking for living a comfortable middle class life for the rest of your life

  • You live in the West, or BRICS or one of the other fast growing countries
  • You are living in a large city
  • You are in your forties or fifties

if you have acquired approximately US$ 2 million to US$ 5 million (including the money you have to spend in your primary residence), that is your fuck-you money.  If you are looking for living as the upper middle class, then you are looking at 5 to 10 times the number above.

Unless you are planning to use money as a tool to buy you power, influence or recognition, you will seldom need a larger sum to set you free.  Also, if you decide to live a simple life in a small town or a village, you will need much smaller amount.

What is your passion?

Most of the people don’t know what they are passionate about.  Don’t worry about it.  Your passion is likely to change over time anyway.  There is nothing wrong about it.  People whose passion multiple passions live a richer life with much varied experiences.  Even people who stick to same domain throughout their life usually keep shifting their interest areas inside their chosen domain.

There is only one way to find out the things you are passionate about: Try various things!  The more different they are from each other, the better.  The most probable reason you haven’t found your passion is probably because you haven’t been experimenting enough.

Finding your passion outside your work can be a strong incentive to quit working. Or, at least, allocate a decent amount of time for your life besides work.

How to make that kind of money?

Most people don’t know how to accumulate so much of money in a reasonably short period of time.  After all, none of us get an education about making money!  But if you are serious about taking charge of your life soon, you must find an answer to this question sooner than later.

Making money is just a matter of skill. Usually, it is a cluster of skills. The skills are not very difficult and they are very learnable. The problem is you will need to perform all of them consistently with reasonable level of success.

If you don’t set out to find the answer to the last question, you will be dragging yourself through the life, living from day to day, spending 10 to 12 hours on making money, and do it for several decades. There is so much you are going to miss out in life!  That will be sad!!

07 Aug

Talking eyes

Sclera

Have you ever met someone with his or her eyeball tattooed?  And if you have, have you ever tried to hold a conversation with them?  I am guessing you probably haven’t.  But you sure have held a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses.  If that conversation was with a person you don’t trust or you don’t know that person yet, do you remember the uncomfortable feeling you had?  The uncomfortable feeling comes because you can’t see that person’s sclera.

Sclera is the white of an eye.  Sclera of most animals have black or brown in color.  Also, in most animals, the iris is large and it occupies most of the eye socket.

With humans, our eyelids are horizontally elongated, increasing the opportunity for the eyeballs to become more visible.  Human eyeballs have lost all pigmentation so that they are clearly contrasted against the human skin.  The human iris comes in dark colors, clearly contrasting against the eyeball.  Our iris is smaller than the that of other animals, further increasing the visibility of the white of the eye.  All of this make it easy for humans to track each other’s eyes.  Even dogs have learnt to track human eyes (though, they can’t track the eyes of other dogs).

We have talking eyes.  Our sclera and iris are designed to talk and to be listened to.  Even infants can track eye movements.  They can track a care giver’s eye movement even before they can track their head movements!

Eye movement is very much a part of our body language repertoire.  For any body language to work, all of us must be using the body gestures the same way.  So, most of the body language gestures are common across our species.  In fact, many body languages are common across the species too.  That’s why we can clearly tell when a lion is angry.

Since the eye movement is part of our body language, we have a pre-defined vocabulary for our eye-talk.  Unfortunately, not much of it is well understood or documented.  Except for a bit of detective work done by NLP (watch this video).

Eye Accessing Cues

NLP has discovered when you try to recall a picture, your eyes move to ‘your’ left-top.  Or when you try to build a new image in your mind, your eyes move to your right-top.  Similarly, when you try to recall some sound you’ve heard, your eyes move to your left and when you are build up a sound, your eyes move to your right.  And when you are having an internal dialog, your eyes tend to move to your left-bottom.  When you get in touch with some tactile experience, your eyes tend to go to your right-bottom (more in this article).  So, when someone is describing about a fun conversation they had last night, and their eyes keep going to their right (and not left), then you know that the person is probably lying!

Our talking eyes are one more evidence that we have been mutually-cooperating social animals for millions of years.  If we had lived in a free-for-all, me-first, devious society, advertising your intent with talking eyes would be a bad thing to do.  If you can’t believe that next guy will do the right thing, you won’t advertise that your are looking at something interesting, like food or a potential mate.

Advertising your intent openly to everyone means (a) you believe that you will not be exploited and (b) your intent (to share the food, for example) will be returned when the time comes.  These two are social traits are deeply embedded in our genetic code and white sclara is just one such places where it shows.

It is in our nature to be social (see the previous post about our fundamentally social nature).  To say that humans need to be forced to cooperate, or that we should be bound by rules to act fair, or that we are selfish in nature, are all total hogwash.  Such claims are testament to lack of understanding of how we work down deep inside.

Down deep inside, we are cooperative social animals with a selfish me-first streak (more about this later).  We are neither this, nor that.  We are a fine balance between honey bees and leopards.  If that is not complicated enough, the point of equilibrium keeps shifting from time to time!

03 Aug

Refusing Anti-ageing is accepting Death

All Roads Lead to Death

For life to sustain, several million things must happen in a particular order.  But death can occur in any of the million ways.  There lies the secret behind the apparent immortality of mortality.  Death doesn’t have any special status in the greater scheme of things.  We just need to jump too many hoops to avoid death.  I believe that the Universe doesn’t care if we live.  And that It doesn’t care if we die.

We all avoid death for one reason or other.  For some of us, it is the fear of the physical pain.  For some, it is the pending responsibilities.  Others can’t bear the tears of near and dear.  Some don’t want to die without seeing the wonders that the future has to offer (detour: Isn’t it interesting that many of our reasons to live are driven by what we mean to others?).  And then, there are people who continue to live because can’t find a good reason to die.  I always find it surprising as to how so many people claim that they are not scared of dying.  Whereas, these same people won’t hesitate to kill if their life is threatened.

Even though everyone is scared of dying, we always ridicule the people who went chasing after immortality.  We have stories and legends where the chasers of immortality always have sorry ends (but often, in our legends, heroes who chase the noble are gifted immortality).  These stories are not far from reality.  People who went chasing immortality, longevity or youthfulness always failed.  It is nice for us to think of them as desperate and greedy.  It probably justifies our own laziness.

When it comes to wanting immortality, vast majority among us take the defeatist attitude.  Nothing else explains why we are uncomfortable with the idea of immortality.  After all, if we have a good reason to live today, there is no good reason to not want to live tomorrow.  Or the next year.  Why should it be OK for us to accept death in fifty years from now, when it not OK to want to die today?

Granted, in our youthful swagger, it is normal for us to want not to live into the frailties of senescence.  But when senescence creeps on us slowly, it turns out that it is not such an unbearable thing after all!  Our justification of accepting death on the ground that ‘senescence is unacceptable’ appears baseless.  But given that I am one of those people who vehemently cry “keep me fit or give me death”, I can look at this group sympathetically.

Modern anti-ageing techniques, though they are far from perfected as of now, can easily add one or two additional decades of healthy living to most of us.  But surprising number of people think too low of taking it up.  It is perfectly OK for them if the death creeps on them slowly.  But wanting to jump on the anti-ageing bandwagon is too painful to them for two reasons: One, it amounts to accepting our desperation to want to live another day.  Two, reminds us that death is real.

For the people among us who avoid anti-ageing, state of default seem to be safe and non-threatening. Having taken an emotional decision not to act, we go around inventing false justifications as to why we chose default over action.

Don’t.

Take anti-ageing seriously.  It looks funny to you because it is positive healthcare.  Healthcare is usually focused fixing things that are broken.  In other words, conventional medicine is about coming from negative to zero.  Anti-ageing takes something that may or may not be broken and makes it better.  It is a process where the final destination is positive.

Anti-ageing alone can add thirty to forty years to your life, at the very least.  You can absolutely not come across any other single action that can add so many healthy years to your life. Period.