Coz you see best when your eyes are closed.

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Can you reason? Or have you learnt to reason?

During my high school days, there was a kid who used to do well in studies. My perception of him, however, was that he didn’t have a logical bend of mind. His eyes, his manner of speaking, his sentences… somehow he always appeared to me as a dumb person, lacking creativity and imagination and more importantly a strong rational mind. But surprisingly, he would be the only one who would answer the teacher’s questions. Most of which were reasoning based questions. It somehow didn’t fit the picture. I would sit and wonder “How in the world did he answer that?”. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out. The first thing that had to be confirmed was “Was he learning the answers by heart?”. I began observing the questions that he answered, trying to figure out the books where he could have already seen them. I could trace some, but not all of them.

My sleuthing was cut short by the “inquisitive culture”. Spurred by advertisements on television, the children caught the idea that asking questions was fancy. Irrespective of whether they wanted to know the answer or not. There ensued confident doubt asking series in our classes. The teachers, television viewers themselves, also encouraged them. And intelligently, the questions would be deflected back to the rest of the class (my earliest experience with crowdsourcing). This boy would answer. Some doubts were cooked up, some were genuine, some were conceptually tricky, some were imaginative. He would answer them all; the why’s and the why not’s. I was stumped. These doubts could definitely not be standard questions in a question bank. Then how? I began to sense what was happening but decided to observe more such people.

As I got into college and thereon, I bumped into many such students. So this boy wasnt the only one. What they did was this. They wouldn’t learn the answers. They would learn the reasons. It wasn’t rote learning since they didn’t byheart facts without understanding. They did seek the logic behind the answers. And then… byhearted the logic! And since they knew the logic so well, they could apply it to problems they hadn’t seen before and crack them with ease. Let’s pause for a minute and replay. So they know the logic behind the answer, they have imbibed it and they can apply it to other such scenarios. Where’s the catch? Isn’t this what we call learning?

Let us look at a non-specific example. Let us say that the crux of a formulation is that if A is greater than 0.5, B is 1 and if A is less than 0.5, B is 0. This is the logic behind some dynamics, to arrive at which geniuses did works beyond the scope of high school kids. You have read a good book which has cleverly boxed this result, an indication of its importance. If you remember this logic, you are ready to face all sorts of questions that can come up. What is B if A is 0.7? If A is continuously decreasing, what value of B will you land up with? And googly questions like if A multiplied by B is 0.3, what is A? (Answer: not possible) Such reasoning is used in various concepts in Physics, Chemistry etc. When a student not only tells you how A and B are related but also answers application questions like above, you need to give it to him. He has a strong foundation of the subject. If you try him in an interview, he will shine. He will also do well in the job he is given.

He hasn’t memorised the answers blindly. But he has memorised the logic. He has even memorised the line of thinking needed to approach these questions. He has also noted possible traps. He can now reason convincingly. But does he reason? I have often wondered how people who answer these logic questions, act insensibly, not on few occasions but often enough. The perception that we get of the person by interacting with him many a times turns out right; in spite of them answering logical questions. It is this discrepancy that is often termed as IQ and EQ. Reasoning academic questions does not necessarily imply that you are a sensible person. You can be illogical in the way you treat people or draw conclusions in your daily life. What causes this difference? When the same logic is successfully applied to 15 scenarios, why does it fail at the 16th? Is it because the real life application deals with emotions and we don’t have much control over them? That some emotions cloud our heads leading us to skewed viewpoints on issues? The brain that dodged googly questions, now easily falls prey to emotions? Probably. But, in that case, he only learned to reason. He never really did reason.

For an attitude to become a way of life, we need to experience it. And experience does not come just by emulating it. It comes by living it. By making those neuronal connections, by which you not only know where you are but also how you got there. That tells you why you are where you are. It is with that conviction and that journey that you begin to be the attitude and not an imitation of it. We can learn facts, the reason behind the facts, the reason behind the reason for the facts and so on. We can achieve depth in the subject this way, but we cannot experience the journey. When we are teaching students how to reason, we must encourage them to understand why we reason. Make them love reasoning in general, irrespective of what the issue is, which genre it falls in, or what the rewards are. It is reasoning that he should try to understand, more than the reason itself. Unless he lets himself be senseless, feel uncomfortable about it and make his way towards sense, he will never know why he wants to be sensible. He would also not know how to realise he is being illogical and how to find his way to sense. When we take an illogical decision, we feel a pinch. A pinch of doing injustice, of being unfair to someone, of being unethical, of putting ourselves at risk.

Long time back, facts were valued. Being aware of facts was a commendable feat. We graduated from that stage to rooting for reason. Students are now admonished for knowing “what” without knowing “why”. While we have accepted the benefits of external manifestation of reasoning, we are yet to accept its importance as a way of life. But then, we are yet to accept the very need for a way of life…


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Breaking the loops with the search for a bead

Randomness, superstition and understanding:
Everything starts by being random. You can’t spot the head or the tail. But you don’t just feed the angel or kill the monster. You try to figure out its start and end. You start with correlations coz that’s what your brain can spot at first. Your beliefs at this stage are nothing more than superstitions if you stop here and hypotheses if you pursue them. You carry out fair experiments to test each factor and then zero in on the ’cause’. You then try to find a ‘method’ by which the cause can lead to the effect. With that you claim to have understood something of the monster.

Correlation may not be the causation, but it might be a future causation:
Correlation is not causation. But, many correlations are results. And many results are feedbacks into the system thereby becoming a contributing cause of whom they were themselves a product. Feedback is a lovely aspect of evolving systems. It changes dependency into inter-dependency. The dependencies get woven so intricately that we no longer like the term dependency. We prefer to use the word interaction. We interact with our surroundings and the surroundings in turn interact with us. A positive feedback encourages us, a negative feedback discourages us. If we get encouraged, it encourages our surroundings which encourages us further. This phenomenon is a fundamental part of what we encounter every day. We see it in brawls when anger escalates, on social networks when a topic trends, in fashion when a style is a hit and in society when beliefs get accepted.

A single source, feedback and a continuum of sources:
The beauty of a feedback is not just in the interaction but also in the establishment of a diffused source. What originally started from a single source, now seems to spring from various factors. This is because the first round came up with some outcomes, each of these outcomes acted as a feedback source thereby becoming a source themselves. By the time you are done with twenty rounds, you don’t know how it all began. In fact, the point from where it began may not even exist at present. Yet the structure exists. It may have started with your boss shouting at you. But with you getting irritated at a wrongly parked car, the driver challenging your parking skills, you abusing his sister, he punching you in your stomach and now both of you in hospital, there really isn’t a single source you can trace this menace back to. The boss meanwhile is enjoying saas bahu serials at home.

‘Source’ is the source of cessation, not the source of origin:
How it originated is not the question here. If that’s the path you are going to take, it’s not going to work. There is absolutely no way by which you can trace your way back to the origin in an evolved system. But, what you can do is attack from the periphery. Curb future feedbacks. Eat your way back into the system. You don’t even need to eat your way right to its core. There is no core now. The extended expanse is what it is, hollow from inside. Kill future feedbacks and you can starve the system to death. Feedback is the food for the system. Education is a means of implanting new sources, but the environment still governs the feedback. We can have endless debates on whether illiteracy is the root cause or whether educated men don’t commit crimes. The answer is “I don’t know how it began. But I can suggest how to curb it. There isn’t a direct cause-outcome that led to it. But there is a direct cause-outcome that can hope to curb it.”

Brain as a cause:
While humans may struggle to make sense of the world around them, there is a very simple causation that they intuitively agree upon – thoughts cause actions. Maybe you didn’t think, but the thought came and so you acted. This isnt correlation. It is outright causation. Even in the case of impulses. For us to understand the actions, we don’t even need to bother whether it is ‘the’ causation or a pawn in the path of some other causation. All we care is that thoughts are an inescapable precedent to actions and curbing thoughts is a way of preventing actions. To bring about a change in actions, we need to curb the feedbacks that lead to the thought itself. You can bring forward deterrents for the action. But that is like applying pressure on a tube. The content is going to find some other way of coming out. If you are applying pressure on this end by deterring actions, the thoughts are applying an equal pressure from the other end causing the frustration to build. Kill the sources which feed the content itself. The thoughts.

Mind and Mentality:
Mind is about emotions. Mentality is about expression. Mentality is a more physical level wiring which allows for routes to express your emotions, give them a form. Anger is an emotion. But do you get angry when you are jealous or do you get angry when you are in pain? What do you get jealous of? A woman who is earning more than you or a man who is stronger than you? These concepts shape our mentality. When we are hit by an emotion, we look to the mentality routes for expression. As magically bizarre the rise of emotions are, the shaping of mentality is pretty much comprehensible. I cannot predict when you will get jealous. But I can shape your wiring to not get jealous of, say, kids who are playing in the garden. I can discourage you from beating kids up every time you do get jealous of them. Am not changing your mind, am changing your mentality. And that is not very tough.

Mentality transcends smoothly into actions. The routes provided by the wiring lead right upto tangible objects. If the emotion is intense enough, if you are weak enough, if you don’t question your thoughts, you are one step away from executing the mentality. Love is mysterious. An emotion you don’t know what to do with. But when you associate smashing cars with it, you know exactly what to do the next time you feel romantic.

Mentality and cache:
Mentality is not always about deep-rooted beliefs. It is, many a times, about your cache memory. What have you been thinking about for the past few days. Funny how the people who resist attaching narratives to every outcome feel uncomfortable doing something without a reason. But, that’s how actions unfold. Many a times what we have is not a reason but a comfortable route provided to us. We don’t always question why we do things, we don’t always evaluate the pros n cons before taking a decision, we don’t always “really want” to do something for us to do it. We often crowdsource the thinking to the environment. Not everyone who uses a car knows why the car is shaped that way, or why it should have gears etc. You could be inquisitive and find out. But somewhere, you do trust the people who have given it enough thought. More bluntly put, you trust the society. If this is how you see it happening, this is how it must be meant to happen. And this is where feedback latches directly onto your mentality and hence your actions. This part of evolution of the system is so direct that given its vagueness, you are tempted to attack this part first. And profitably so, it yields immediate results. Of all the people who have cellphones now, not everyone really wants to carry one. Some had even strongly spoken against carrying one. But now, if everyone is carrying it, they go with it. This must be the way it should be. We instinctively accept the societal norms prompted by an urge to survive. If they say men shouldnt cry, that must be the way it should be. If they say men should dominate women, that must be the way it should be. No personal vendetta against women. No belief to be shaken either. Just something that the I go with since that’s what I see. Show me something different and I will quickly switch to that. This is how a lot of product adoption graphs evolve. The early adopters start a trend. If enough people adopt, it cascades into the entire system going for the product. Argue all you want – Maybe the product had intrinsic value, audience matured, there was no competition. All arguments can be countered. Reality only being that the initial feedbacks created a fertile environment for it to grow and the subsequent cache copying led to an unchallengeable establishment of the product.

What you see in majority, what you hear every hour every day, shapes your cache. Recall the time when you are getting late for office and don’t have time to think. What do you wear? The one right in the front in your wardrobe. Quickly pull it out, wear and leave. Or maybe the one you are most used to wearing. You know its buttons are intact, you are comfortable with it. Don’t want to experiment at this time. Fall back to your most used suit and rush off. This is the power of mentality. When you are looking to express your emotion, you don’t have the time or patience to think of avenues. You then either go with the cache route that had been bred into you by repeated inputs from your environment. Or you retrieve your own most comfortable route, the mentality you have lived with for long, the wiring your brain has traversed n number of times.

Change mentality towards women you say? K, do that. How are these guys then going to vent their frustration and anger? Maybe they begin a mentality that plants are our enemies. Maybe they begin to religiously visit parks in the evening, in gangs, and pluck all leaves out of a plant, meticulously, violently. You can then begin sensitizing them towards plants, tell them it provides you food, bring laws, bar parks after 8 pm, deter them. They will look for other avenues then. The idea is to keep doing that till they find a harmless or better still a constructive way of expressing themselves.

Cultivate interests:
And this is where education comes in. Education not only helps you cope with your emotions but also provides you with alternative channels to vent the emotions out. We have heard about artists who dance till they faint to vent out their anger, who play till their fingers bleed to vent out their pain. Lets talk about a more common emotion – boredom. We have options, we actually ask ourselves what we want to do to entertain ourselves. Maybe chat on social networks or watch the television or read a book or play a game. What do you do when you don’t have interests? You go back to the wirings your mentality provides. You try to implement your emotions through the same channels. The guys who went to pluck leaves out of anger have cultivated a feedback environment which now others take to when they are bored! What do you do as a law imposer or an activist? What do you call a cause, what an effect and whom a perpetrator?

The case of feeding sexual channels:
For those who feel lyrics of a song, the television, movies, language etc are trivial things to focus on, step out of your world of myriad interests and enter this world where people live, breathe and eat sex. Right from getting up in the morning, watching people in tousled clothes, watching people bathing, hearing songs on the radio, calls on the cellphone, words used in every sentence… The entire day is filled with not so subtle innuendos which shape your mentality and fill your cache. These are not people who have developed skilled channels for expression. Language and songs make up for a major chunk of their interaction with the world. Some resort to sexual channels to vent anger, some to vent energy, some to vent frustration, some to vent helplessness and some just to vent boredom. There’s a guy who rapes because he has lost his job and a schoolboy who gropes en route from school coz he doesn’t know what to do with his energy. The core cause is not the same, but, the feedback is the same. They all take to what you feed them. All those who listen to songs and sing them do not do so coz they have a musical inclination. Society drills music into them. Feeds them music. You do the same with sex and you have what you have now.

The special mention on expletives:
Expletives, abuses, create the environment, the feedback that works on your mentality and cache. How far you let it affect you is your own control, but the idea is that it needs a control from you. By default, it does affect you. There is no way you can say F*** hundred times in a day without at least thinking twice about the act.
And let us just say that you don’t mean it when you say it. You don’t mean it when you dance to Chikni Chameli in a party. It is just a word or just a song. Am willing to go with it. After all we understand what kids mean even when they use wrong words from the limited ones they know. But then, if that’s how you treat words then how do you pride on your vocabulary, how do you incorporate complex structures like pun and sarcasm into your words and how do you challenge me randomly on my choice of words. How also do you attach style to words? Why is “hanji” mediocre while “yup dude” is happening? And why are you using the word F*** specifically? If the word itself doesn’t matter then why not duck or muck or luck? Coz you too rely on what the society feeds you. You may not mean the word, the insult when you say F***. You still say it coz the environment has fed that into your cache. When you are irritated, this is the word that comes to your mind. Translate this onto the mind of the perverts. Not all who molest are sexually aroused, not all are mad about women, not all are suppressed souls, not all even know what sex is all about. Yet they take to it. The way you take to F***. Your saying may not harm me. But their doing does harm me. Immensely.

To end fashionably:
Causes aren’t always direct and time bound – Not like you wash your hands and a disease will go away. Not like for the time you havent washed your hands you are suffering from a disease. But, not washing hands is a cause for many diseases. It encourages the growth of a breeding ground for germs.

Feedback may not be the cause for existence, but is a sure cause for death –  Not like you feel hungry every time you pass by a fridge. Not like the fridge makes you eat. Not like you wont feel hungry if a fridge is not around. But, a fridge is what you will open when you are hungry. And the contents of the fridge are the choices you will face. And one of those contents is what you will eat. We can’t control when people will feel hungry. But we can control what we are hoping to feed them.

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So, how did you get there?

It’s a relatively common question in Science when you present the questioner with an answer. You never really know whether it implies your answer’s right or not. All it says is – you need to explain your method, irrespective of its outcome. Maybe that’s why when someone voices his opinion, I invariably end up asking, “So, how did you get there?”

When I first began to interact on social networks, I realised that some words seemed to occur very often in user profiles or descriptions. One such word was (no, not procrastinator) opinionated. There was pride in the acceptance of the fact that one was closed to hearing other points of view. An attempt to portray a confident and substantial self. An asset in today’s world where you are bombarded with convincingly expressed contrasting views from all sides. There is so much pressure on expressing one’s views vehemently that a mere allowance of the mind to think along a different line is a betrayal of one’s own opinion. I remember the advice debaters of our school would get, “Do not accept the logic in an interjection. Politely acknowledge it and then rubbish it.”

I see two treatments meted out to people – one is a stubborn insistence by the headstrong ones, and the other is a passive acceptance of anything you say by the accommodating ones. There’s a supposed benevolence about allowing contrary views to coexist in a sphere. But, where in both these treatments do you figure? Obstinance seems rude, accommodation seems nonchalant. Does anyone try to understand your view in the light of the direction you are going along? When they find you arriving at a different destination than theirs, do they pause in their tracks, turn their heads and ask, “So, how did you get there?”

Teachers often struggle to make their students learn a method. They repeat themselves endlessly but the student still returns incorrect answers. The procedure would be so much more effective if only they could ask the child “how” he arrived at his answer. If they understood the method he was adopting, they could point out flaws in it and change his route. This not only equips the child to henceforth walk by himself but also convinces him that he is on the right path.

Conviction is what confidence looks like when spelled right. On one hand if it’s our responsibility to understand a different view in its own right, on the other hand it is our duty to convince others of the view we hold. Our thoughts are valuable only to the money makers. For everyone else, it is our thought process that’s important. We seldom realise that listeners are looking to trust our opinion. They are eager to be convinced, irrespective of what their preconceived notion is. While expressing our views through the verbal, visual or written medium, it is only courteous of us to acknowledge different aspects of the issue, explicitly consider them and take the listeners along on the path we followed. They may disagree with the path we chose, but they will understand us, trust our view given the line of thought. A difference in direction may lead to disagreement, but a difference in destination leads to hurt.

Every perspective has a view attached to it. The idea is to find the apt perspective for a given goal and then arrive at a view consistent with the perspective we choose. Merely supplying reasons is not enough. Reasons make you defend when you aren’t even being attacked. What the listeners are looking for is a path woven out of these reasons, a mental journey that they can embark on. After all, an opinion needs to be formed of your opinion.

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The tuition teacher in the neighbourhood

“I will stand right here till you finish copying this page,” she says sternly in a high pitched voice. It is a voice that rings all through the afternoon, into the evening. Late evening. Within half an hour after school gets over, kids of ages ranging from 7 to 14 begin to troop in. They have changed from their uniforms, had a quick lunch, packed their tuition bags, caught a rickshaw and arrived. Kicking a pebble on the way and hurrying up the steps is all the play they have had.

The question of why they need tuitions is an issue in itself. For now, it could suffice to say that the teachers in the school are not doing their jobs adequately enough. They aren’t explaining well, they aren’t catering to the child’s needs and the child is not scoring well. Fair enough. But what is this tuition that they are coming to?

One doesn’t need to enquire about her qualifications or experience. It never gets that far. Two minutes into the class and you know where this is going. A shrill nagging voice pestering you to write this, copy that, memorise this, open that… The afternoon drowsiness resists the loud orders, sluggish arms work to rescue the ears and the head gets a killer ache. It doesn’t matter that the studies require one to use his/her brains. The headache nullifies any difference between an academically bright and a dull child. It is a non-stop music of one hour which credits the teacher with Rs.100 of hard-work. Hard it was – as much for the child as for the teacher. No one in the vicinity can raise a finger at the teacher for not having taught. Even a passerby on the road can swear he heard her teaching. Thats one risk secured against.

Now for the other risk – you didn’t teach “well”. Volume can’t account for that. Marks could be a measure of the quality of teaching. But then, who could be assured of that. There is an intelligent way out – to be on the parents’ side instead of taking them on. Religiously, every day, when a parent comes to pick up the child, she cribs to them. “Main uske sar pe khadi rahi, tab jake homework finish kiya usne. Hard work bilkul nahin karta.” (I stood on his head to make him finish the homework. He shirks from hard-work.) “Usne toh mujhe kuch aur hi bataya. Band bajana padega uska.” (She painted a different picture before me. Will have to take her to task.) It gives her the cushion of having done her best, but the child being hopeless. If it weren’t for her, the child would be worse off. Surprisingly, the parents don’t take offense. They like this plan. They join in with their own complaints of the child making them the “we are doing our best but the child is hopeless” parents. The kid stands either swinging the bag or chewing a pencil while his parent and tuition teacher brand him as a worthless life on earth. So much for skipping the afternoon nap and evening play.

It isn’t about what education is, how kids should be taught. No, am not going that far. Teaching is an art, a passion that springs from within. Am willing to leave that aside and make these tuitions routine programs tailored to score better. But are they even doing that? In a classroom of 40 odd students, one may not mind the teacher ignoring him. You don’t feel neglected when everyone’s being neglected. But, in a tuition where you are receiving personalised attention, a teacher who fails to hear you, see you, ask you is committing a clear act of neglect, the kind where you feel wronged, the kind where you lose your self-confidence. What is this entire drama about? A passing-the-parcel between the parents and the teacher? No one willing to take the responsibility lest the music stops? Caught in your foolish game, neither will you hear the child sing, nor will you hear his silence.