Sense and Nonsense

By Balaji Prasad

“Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple." ~ Dr. Seuss

The most important thing in making a decision is the decider: You! Seeing yourself as central in the decision making will literally shift the world, if you were not looking at things in this manner.

It seems almost trivial, even superfluous, to make this assertion that creating a world that is inclusive of your “you" is a thing that is new. But a little reflection may light up the revelation that you may indeed be leaving out the king (or the queen) from the kingdom.

See the “You" in the Universe

Clearly, a decision is something we find ourselves needing to make because we are in a position where we believe that what we do – or don't do – will influence the way in which the world will turn. If we let the world do its own thing, then we will just be a tiny clump of cosmic dust that gets carried along by the howling winds that scream through the vast emptiness of the galaxies. Of course, at some level, we are just a little smidgen of cosmic dust; it is nice to be at this philosophical level when we are privileged enough to be able to afford such a luxury, but not when a tiger is on the loose in the neighborhood, and some pressing decisions need to be made.

There are many tigers, crocodiles and other fierce creatures in this world. We will face many of them over our lifetime. Some of these will be real, and will require us to draw on all our resources. But some of them will roam only the vast savannahs of our minds. The challenge, brave warrior, is to know the one from the other: the demons from within, versus the ones that devour you with hungry eyes from the outside, as they lick their chops, awaiting a more satisfying kind of devouring.

Alas, the mind is a frail and fallible entity. It often fails to draw bright lines between wispy, shadowy creatures and the ones that really have teeth. On top of this, it is the same mind that spins out mirages at the rate of several a minute that needs to do double-duty to deal with all these creatures, some of which are existential threats while some are just fluffed-up kittens from some parallel universe.

To think about things that we need to think about, we must not think about things that we must not think about! It is important to find the part of the “you" that generates nonsense and beat it down so that it doesn't get in the way of the you that needs to deal with real things and make real decisions that make real differences.

A Clash of Infinities

So, it is possible to inhabit a world that has a different kind of infinity that is quite unlike that of the real universe that we live in. And we do. And this is where all the nonsense comes from. It is inescapable because the world is not something that we can comprehend in its entirety, because a lot of it is neither right here, nor is it in the now. We cannot get away from the fact that time stretches ahead of us; nor can we see too much beyond the tips of our noses, although we often must. However, we do have to deal with currently unobservable things that make up the universe. And we do this by imagining, by hypothesizing, by theorizing, and yes, sometimes by fabricating nonsense, because not everything that we imagine will turn out to be grounded.

Nonsense is not a homogenous clump though; there are varying shades of “nonsenseness". So, we assign probabilities to these things, and this has nothing to do with whether we ever attended a Probability-101 class, for, we are sophisticated probability and statistics machines by birthright. We assign various shades of gray to our imaginative creations based on our prior experiences that give us grounding in the form of common sense, fundamental principles and reasonably effective rules of thumb.

Differentiate Sense from Nonsense

Assigning probabilities is a dark art though. If we assign an 80% probability to something that has a 5% chance of really occurring, and a 5% probability to something that has an 80% chance of happening, we will live in an upside-down world that bears no resemblance to the one we live in.

It is even more complex; besides probability, impact matters too. There are things that have very high impact on our lives, for example, if something is likely to get worse over time and also have high impact, and if we fail to see that as a significant risk, we may act in ways that are dangerous to our well-being. On the other hand, if we take what a more careful eye would see as a molehill to be a mountain, we will act in ways that will make us our own worst enemies.

There are no easy answers, and there is no crystal ball. We must do what we must do to keep the nonsense under control and the sense in focus.


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