Thinking About Thinking - 2019


Weaving a Web in Charlotte

By Balaji Prasad

“Too many things on my mind," said Wilbur, "Well," said the goose, "that's not my trouble.I have nothing at all on my mind, but, I've too many things under my behind."
~E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

Too many things! There are way too many things to deal with. Why couldn't things be easier?

No broadband service!

Things are often characterized relative to something else. “Too many things" suggests that too many is too many because of some limitations in the mechanism that needs to deal with these things, which is why those things feel like too many things. What are these limitations due to? Bandwidth!

We are all limited by our bandwidth to whatever the “cable company" installed in us. And a mighty strange cable company it is, because they don't have any upgrade options, and they imposed a lifetime contract on us! To top it off, it is a narrowband service – sometimes it feels like I can barely get 2-3 bits per second through the #$%* system, right when I need to deal with tons of stuff!

The unfortunate consequence of these bandwidth limitations is that we can do mostly one thing at a time. Some optimistic souls believe that they can multi-task with ease, but this fantasy has been banished to the myth-pile by studies conducted on this subject. To make sure that I am being somewhat scientific about this, I conducted my own rigorous study on a representative sample (sample size = 1) and arrived at a 99.9% confidence level that multi-tasking is near impossible. To be even more rigorous, and to make sure that the study was replicable, I checked with one or two similarly scientifically minded friends, and they all attested to the veracity of my findings. Yes, friends, it is sad but true that we cannot multi-task, barring some obvious scenarios such as being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Only one channel!?

So I can think about this, and I can think about that, but much as I yearn to, I cannot think about this and that at the same time.

This or that, but not this and that. There is a bit of nuance though – sometimes, it is possible to create a molecule from the combination of the atomic-this and the atomic-that, and call it a this-that. It is a bit like dealing with a circle and triangle as separate things versus drawing the circle inside the triangle, and seeing the whole thing as one. Or putting a little ball inside a big ball inside a bigger ball, tossing the ball-in-a-ball-in-a-ball up in the air, and claiming that I can juggle three balls with ease. When I say such a thing, it is true and it is not true at the same time!

Your channel is not my channel

This is the tragedy that makes the truth elusive: that things can be true and not true at the same time. It is what makes life so interesting, and yes, challenging. When something can exist in a state of truth and untruth inside my own head, then imagine all the complications that enter when you come into the picture, along with your head. For, I may talk about my “this", and you may talk about your “this", while we both fail to talk about the “that" that is the other person's “this". And, neither of us notices the emergence of a this-that that comes as a consequence of the interaction between my this and your that.

It's not you; it's me!

What is the this, and what is the that? It can be anything at all. However, most of the time, a this is always a specific thing, and a that is a specific thing too. We are generally preoccupied with a very special kind of this or that: Ourselves – an I. But my I is a you to you, and your I is a you to me. And out of that emerges an I-you to me, and likewise an I-you to you, which is really a you-I to me. One may mistakenly think that an I-you and a you-I are the same thing, if we are inclined to think along the lines of the commutative law that we may have come to know in elementary math. But make no mistake. These are radically different constructs. The weightage given to each part of the I-you matters. I will weigh the I part of the I-you very heavily, while you, from your end, will weigh the you that is your I as the most important by far. So you shift your attention between your you-I and your I as I do likewise with my I-you and my I, and it may just be that we can never see I to I, because the eye in each I is limited in its capacity and the programming embedded in it by some unknown hand.

Only one program!?

It gets worse. There is not just an I. There is a whole slew of satellites that swirl around the I. There are people, there are things, and various imaginary creatures that seem to be important to the I. And, this I thing sits at the center of the web it spins like a spider. So there is only one program that the I watches: itself. In other words, I am Spiderman. And that is the only program that plays on this narrow bandwidth channel. Each episode brings the same characters and creatures, and it's always a struggle. Spiderman makes his web bigger and bigger to catch more and more of the same sorts of useless things. But Spiderman is getting a little tired of it all. There are just too many things! He feels trapped in his web.

The final episode of Spidey

The I watches the final episode with horror, as Spiderman dies fighting in a last-ditch effort against great odds. It was bound to happen. And it did!

I wake up from this strange dream drenched in a cold sweat. Maybe I need to stop spinning this tangled web. Do I need all these things and this web? Do I need to be Spiderman? How did I ever become this creature? Can't I just slide along in life, and become Spiderman instead before the final episode plays? Maybe? Or can we not help being spiders that spin tangled webs that we trap ourselves in?

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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