Nuisance Flaws of Notions

By Balaji Prasad

“Harinaapi harenaapi brahmaapi surairapi,
Lalata likhitha rekha parimaarshtum nasakyathe.
(None of the gods, even Vishnu, Shiva or Brahma
can erase that which is written on the forehead)."

~From the Hindu Shastras

Is it possible that the old Hindu shastras were right? Maybe we cannot change what is written inside our heads? According to myth, Brahma wrote something there on the sixth day after we are born. So we are doomed to think what we think, be what we are, and do what we do. And that's that!

Fatalism is a bit unappetizing though. Even those who profess to subscribe to everything (ourselves included) being predetermined don't act on that notion. In fact, many seem to assert a fatalistic view only when things go not quite their way, but exhibit very visible signs of wanting to control anything and everything most of the rest of the time. Maybe we shouldn't be so eager to pin everything on Brahma's sixth-day irreversible deed, tempting though it is to find a scapegoat for why we are the way we are.

Pin the tail on the donkey

So, if Brahma cannot be held responsible for all of our shenanigans, we need to find a different suspect to pin the blame on for why we are who we are and not something different (and better, of course).

When things get complicated, Newton is a good one to turn to: supposedly, a pretty smart man who gave us insight into many natural phenomena. We human beings are kind of natural, too, though it is sometimes a bit hard to see that, when there seem to be myriads of unnatural things we do nowadays. If we grant that we are also products of nature, maybe Newton's insights have the potential to shine a light on the darkness of why we are who we are.

Many of us should be familiar with Newton's Laws of Motion, which explain why things move, why they don't, and everything in between. Let's see if we can apply these to not just motion, but to notions – the things that we hold inside our heads. And, if we shed a bit of hubris, we might acknowledge, even if grudgingly, that these are flaws, rather than laws. Because there is so much where we seem to fall short.

Nuisance First Flaw of Notion

So here is the first Flaw of Notion (with apologies to Newton):

A mind at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it,
and a mind in notion at a constant velocity will remain in notion in a straight line
unless acted upon by an outside force.

In other words, If we embed in the head a solid notion, and there is no other force acting upon it, that notion will remain in place, solidly at rest. Dogma rules doggedly: “this is my story, and I'm sticking to it".

But when external forces act, things can get a bit more unpredictable. It's time for the Second Law!

Nuisance Second Flaw of Notion

The Second Flaw of Notion (once again, with deepest apologies to Newton) is expressed very simply:

F = m*a

Expressed in simple words, Force (F) exerted on a mind translates into acceleration (a). A mind acted upon thus will no longer be in a state of rest; it will begin to move, even accelerate! In the world of physics, Force is measured in Newtons. In the world of the mind, we will measure it in “Nuisances". It seems appropriate, because external forces that threaten to unseat our pre-existing notions are definitely felt as annoying nuisances: “Why can't you just let me be!?" we wail soulfully.

But wait! There is hope: there is that little “m" thing in the equation that hovers in there. “M" is mass, essentially how much of stuff is in the thing that we seek to move by the force, “F". So for a given force applied on the mind, the mind moves a lot or a little, depending on how much mass there is. Mass is a bit like moss, if you think of the mind as a rolling stone that keeps gathering moss. So if you have been repeating a thought over and over and over again in your mind, it gathers a lot of mass. Also, it doesn't have to be just you. If people around you keep parroting the same thing repeatedly, and you keep hearing it ad infinitum, it becomes a thing, then a larger thing, then an even larger thing, and eventually, a humongous thing! The offshoot of this is that it takes a lot more force to dislodge a notion that has acquired so much mass over time. This is how indoctrination works. If we keep hearing the same thing over the years as we grow up, it solidifies, cakes and bakes inside us. And, it becomes unmovable!

Nuisance Third Flaw of Notion

We need to move! The Third Flaw of Notion aids us here; it explains how notions are set in motion:

Every notion has an equal and opposite notion

Newton's Third explains how a bird flies: when the bird pushes the air down, the air pushes the bird upwards. In a similar vein, when an external notion is applied to our minds, an equal and opposite notion arises. These forces may seem to cancel out, and nothing budges, but that is not quite so. Our Second Law explains why. Our notion moves (or not) depending on its mass. If it is huge, the intruder experiences a violent pushback. But, if the mass of our embedded notion is small, our position may shift.

So, if we keep thinking about something repeatedly in a certain way, it may feel as if Brahma etched it in with indelible ink. However, the real authors of the writing on our foreheads may come from our own penmanship, and the writings we plagiarize knowingly and unknowingly from others that have influenced us. So let's let Brahma off the hook, and hold the head forehead author accountable!

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Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or balaji.prasad@newcranium.com