Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Sometimes, it's much easier to find peace within ourselves when we find the means to silence the inner-voice's constant "Why?" questions.
Especially when there are no answers. At least, no apparent ones. 

It's better to accept that sometimes there are no reasons, no linear causal chains. 

Sometimes, things just happen. They just do. Just like that. 
Sometimes, you will be treated badly. Just so. 
Sometimes, people will not like you. Just so. 
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you cannot change people or situations. Just because it's life.

Sometimes, there's no use in mounting frustrations and a hoarse, broken, and battered inner-voice that no longer has the strength to pick you up, let alone persist in asking questions that aspire to enlighten. No use. 

Sometimes, just silence, accept, swallow, digest, purge. Repeat the cycle until there is peace within you.

Sometimes, this is the only way to face your life and keep moving on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reflections: Imagine

Human Imagination and the “spouts” of creativity hidden inside our complicated lobes is an utterly fascinating and endlessly humbling topic. What causes one to create something, to innovate something entirely original? The answers to these questions form the fundamental layer of human progress. I was eagerly waiting for this book to show up at bookstores. And when I spotted it, I grabbed and raced through it with my usual bouts of notes and questions. But then, here’s the disappointing news. The author, Jonah Lehrer, who was riding the wave as a celebrated science writer, has admitted to fabricating quotes of some of the celebrities he mentions in the book (specifically, Bob Dylan). This has resulted in the publisher recalling this book, and an army of self-righteous journalists and professors extensively reviewing all his essays and books.

That explains why I have been unusually silent since reading this book in July. I am just disappointed and baffled. How does one with a rigorous academic training and a journalistic training even think about fabricating quotes concerning someone like Dylan, AND confidently include them in a book that was expected to be a best-seller? It just boggles me. This is science writing 101. I cannot understand the motivation, the reason for shooting oneself in the foot in such a naive manner. I feel sorry that he has ruined his writing career with a needless sloppiness that has now cast a shadow on all his previous work.

His error aside, what bothers me more in the recent times, is how impossibly hypocritical and unforgivingly critical society is. We mindlessly celebrate someone one day, and the very next day the smallest flaw is exaggerated to horrendous proportions, and the celebrated person is mercilessly executed. Everyone feels entitled to comb through every little detail and relishes in nit-picking and speculating about even non-existent errors (“A sentence of his seems similar to mine in this article”). Well, if one rakes through thousands of sentences and compares them against hundreds of thousands of other sentences with beady eyes that want to find fault, I am sure everybody would find a “similar” sentence somewhere. I agree that what Lehrer did is categorically wrong, but what seems shocking is the unbalanced conservative stance on journalistic standards of right and wrong. One flaw makes people blind to the bigger picture of what Journalism represents; missing the forest for the trees. And honestly, I don’t really understand issues on “self-plagiarism” and “recycling of old content”. Countless academics would be guilty of recycling old content and plagiarizing their own work.

Well, that rant aside, I did like his book. I am sorry to say that a part of my mind is biased, though. So many harsh reviews (in the light of his admission) have made me question my initial impressions. A common criticism is that many of the concepts in the book are overly simplified. Yes, Lehrer explains theories in a simple manner, and I liked the fact that he could do so. People, such as my husband, shy away from anything that’s got to do with cognitive theories and “psycho-babble”. But he was riveted when I read out a section of the book that articulates the heavier theories through practical examples and relatable metaphors in the corporate world. However, someone that knows the subtleties of the theory might understandably find this unsatisfactory. And I could relate to that as well. For example, Lehrer’s explanation on some of the theories surrounding Working Memory and Attention made me cringe a little, because I am so used to them, and consequently quite fussy about the technicalities of the terms and the descriptors. But all that academic nit-picking aside, the point is, he conveys the essence, the big picture that one needs to know, remember, and apply. And he succeeds without compromising on the science.

Essentially, Creativity and new thoughts arise when our neurons make divergent associations and connections between seemingly unrelated or far-flung concepts. New neural connections between different ideas result in an innovation, a creative insight. This is vastly an unconscious process. We give our brains enough fodder and information and let it all stew and “incubate”. One fine moment, a “bulb glows” in our head. It is important to give the mind/brain the time and space to work out its connections and to sort out all the ideas. Rather than rigorously and consciously thinking about something, if we took breaks, relaxed ourselves, engaged in completely different activities, and provided the brain the meditative clarity of stillness of thoughts, the neurons are encouraged to form their connections and transmit insight. It makes sense. That’s why quieting one’s thoughts and mind is essential to gain peace and clarity. This outpouring of insight has been studied to arise from a lobe in the right hemisphere of the brain.

Another important element in Creativity is horizontal sharing of ideas - that is exposing oneself to different kinds of ideas in completely unrelated fields helps our brains to make these brand new connections between supposedly unconnected ideas. How were the Post-It notes invented? Lehrer shares wonderful stories behind brilliantly simple innovations that now seem intuitive and indispensable. These inventions were a result of an Engineer learning something from a Microbiologist, or a Chemist learning something from an Artist, and connecting the dots between a bunch of disconnected theories. The more we venture out of our comfort zone and familiar ideas, the more we are bombarded with different ways of thinking and fusing ideas. When Chemists had abandoned their quest to find a floor cleaning liquid that’s better than the current ones, a team of engineers thought of something entirely new. Upon seeing a woman casually clean coffee with a disposable napkin, the Swiffer was born. It helped to step out of the lab and chemical equations. Such products are an amalgamation of existing ideas with newer applications and effective design.

Our social networks, the culture of our cities and schools, the kinds of interactions we have with colleagues and friends, everything helps us nurture newer ideas and thoughts. It’s not a strike of randomness that the Silicon Valley booms with a certain vibration of creativity. Something inherent to its culture is responsible for it. It all comes back to assimilation of different kinds of thoughts, and a culture that would foster a supposedly “unstructured”, out-of-the-box thinking  to form better neural connections - i.e., creativity. Letting go of inhibitions, not afraid to take the perspective of a reckless outsider (sometimes familiarity and expertise breeds rigidity), intermingling with different groups of people, and even being allowed to build on others' work without being restrained by extremely narrow stipulations on Intellectual Property is argued to engender creativity. And sometimes, Lehrer says creativity is just mundane practice and hard work. It’s all about focused attention on a problem until we slowly but steadily arrive at a good solution. I don’t particularly agree with the last part.
That’s just hard work and dedication to excellence and perfectionism towards the problem or task at hand. True, gradual increase in expertise and learning will lead to better understanding and insights, but that's not always Creativity.  The theories on learning, expertise, and problem solving are a little different from the ones on Creativity.

I think different people define “Creativity” in different ways. I am not sure what my definition would be, because it’s hard to verbalize it, but I did not agree with Lehrer’s discussions that treated Creativity and Problem Solving as almost the same thing. Problems can be creatively solved, but finding good solutions to problems is not always “being creative”.
This is just my quibble. Most of the times, problem solving is a heavily analytical activity, and creativity is argued to be a reprieve, an insight that leaps out when the analytical mind is hushed. So, the lines became blurred in some sections of the book.

But this is what I mostly liked. Lehrer explains that creativity is not just a burst of uncontrollable talent that involuntarily pours from the mind of a “gifted” person. He argues that creativity is like a latent bomb that lies hidden in every brain. And it can be ignited or cultivated if we trained our brain and ways of thinking. I really liked this positive approach. It makes us all believe that we can also be painters and inventors, if we worked at it, gave ourselves the opportunities to explore the area, exposed ourselves to different ways of thinking, and allowed ourselves to listen to the whispers of insight in our brain.

I can't rate this book because it is clouded with all the ethical implications. But I found it interesting. And I'm sorry that it is out of the market.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Youtube recommended this video to me...ha, go figure! And wow, I really did have an "Aha" moment! I don't know what prompted me to casually click the link to watch the video, but I'm so grateful to my impulse.

I obsess over this tussle between being true to myself whilst being altruistic and doing my duty to others around me. It means that I tend to put others in front of me, when duty and inner-need don't align together. I go back and forth on this topic, never really believing that it is indeed okay to put myself in front of others. But Iyanla explains it so beautifully. I like the way she puts it. Her metaphors bring balance and clarity, with or without the spiritual connotation. 

My favorite lines (if and when the video is removed some day):

"It's inauthentic that you always put other people before you.  How you treat yourself is how you treat God. So, you're putting God last. Because you are the representative of God in your life

In your life, you've got to be as good to you as you want to be to God, in order to be of service to others in the world. 

It's self-full (not selfish) to be first, to be as good as possible to you, to take care of you, to keep you whole and healthy. That doesn't mean that you disregard everything and everyone; but you want to come with your cup full. 

My cup runneth over. What comes out of the cup is for you all, what's in the cup is mine. But I got to keep my cup full.

So many of us think that we're going to get brownie points in heaven, like we're going to get to sit in the box-seats section if we just give and give and give and give. The course of miracle says, when you give to others to the degree that you sacrifice yourself, you make the other person a thief. When you start sacrificing yourself for other people, you make them a thief, because they are stealing from you what you need and they don't even know it."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reflections: The Last Letter from Your Lover

After a serious accident that leaves her amnesic,  Jennifer Stirling returns to an unfamiliar place that everybody calls “her home”, to a strange man that everyone calls “her husband”. As she pieces together her past life and identity, she comes across a passionate love letter that is addressed to her. Only hitch is - the author is clearly not her husband. With the letter as her guide, she is determined to reclaim fragments of her old life that promised happiness and love. Her struggle is presented through the lens of the austere Victorian morals that still gripped London in the 1960s. How does one assess and put into perspective personal freedom against moral responsibility? The book addresses some of these questions through Jennifer’s epic love story.

I had high expectations for this book. I read a couple of glowing reviews for it that made it seem like the book was profound in its discussion of heavier themes on morality. And as predictable as it can get, I was drawn to it like a moth to light. Well, the book attempts to be more than a sappy love story, but it didn’t hit all the points for me. It is very much reminiscent of Anna Karenina in its portrayal of infidelity. The plot seems to have a formulaic approach. Most of its structure is borrowed from popular culture, literature and movies, so everything about the story is trite and predictable. In addition, it leaps and shuffles across time periods without conveying anything much or adding any dimension to the narration. And, I found the book to be far too long for the content it holds.

But there are certain interesting aspects. The author explores infidelity from multiple perspectives - the cheating husband, the cheated-on wife, the cheating wife, the cheated-on husband, and of course the unattached lover. Is it ever justifiable to have an affair? What about children? How important is one’s own personal freedom and happiness when it threatens to affect the happiness of others? Does morality and moral responsibility take different shades with the passage of time and evolution of society’s values? Heavy questions. But only a small portion of the book addresses the questions. For the most part, the story makes the questions seem black and white because it is narrowly presented through the specific contexts of the characters. The author tries to convince the reader that what A does is clearly wrong and what B is doing is clearly acceptable. One is bad and the other is good. The good is eventually favored in a grand twist of (too many) turns, and the bad gets burned. This approach was simplistic to me, and the themes fell apart as the rest of the book took the predictable journey that all romance novels take. Life is full of grey areas, not always happy endings, and serendipitous coming together of ideal circumstances. Although I’m not a hardened cynic that scoffs at happy endings, I do scoff at the heavily contrived ones. Many parts of the story didn't resonate with how reality works. It is just a feel-good, light read.

The book tries hard to make Jennifer’s story epic, but it did not touch me. I could definitely sympathize with some of the characters and I could surely understand Jennifer and her motivations, but the book didn’t leave a positive impression on me.