skill management...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:16 AM 5 comments
It's easy to do two things at the same time, as long as one of those actions is a practiced skill that you can do almost automatically. For example, walking and talking is easy. And some people can play the guitar and sing, as long as they have practiced both of those skills until one requires virtually no conscious thought.

But you can't do two things at the same time that both require original thinking.

I know this first hand because my wife, Shaila, likes to bring up conversations in the car that involve rotating three-dimensional objects in my mind while expecting me to simultaneously navigating to our destination. This doesn't work out so well.

The actual driving of the car is easy, because that is a practiced skill. But trying to imagine the correct route to our destination is impossible for me if Shaila is simultaneously asking me to imagine the optimal placement of living room furniture.

The other day, as I was cleaning pasta sauce off of every inch of the inside of the microwave, I was reminding Shaila of my bandwidth limitation for spatial manipulation.

I cajoled her in engaging me in a conversation involving the manipulation of objects while expecting that I would simultaneously be able to imagine the proper combination of pasta, sauce, a bowl, and (this next part is key) a cover inside a microwave. I managed to put four out of five objects in the right place, and frankly felt good about it.

I have a practiced theory that music appreciation resides in the same part of your brain where you think about yourself. That might be why it's good to listen to music while doing boring tasks, such as going for a long walk, because music interferes with your mind's ability to think about yourself.

I also find it impossible to do any sort of creative writing while listening to music, perhaps for the same reason: Creativity springs from a deep examination of self, which you then generalize, and music seems to share that bandwidth.

I can, however, listen to music and manipulate three-dimensional objects in my mind just fine. Those functions don't seem to interfere with each other.

I wonder if we humans will get to a point where we understand how to manage the different parts of our brains in the best fashion. For example, if you have an important upcoming task that involves manipulating objects in your mind, is it better to practice spatial tasks all morning or better to rest that capacity of your brain until you need it?

During some period of my life, I wrote a number of computer programs that involved intense manipulation of objects in my mind, for hours each day. I discovered that it was difficult to be social at night when my mind had been manipulating object during the day.

It felt as if I were deep inside a cave and yelling to the people who stood at the cave opening. It seemed as if the practice of programming interfered with, or exhausted, the part of my brain that handles social skills.

It is generally agreed that playing soccer is a good crossover skill for playing tennis, probably because of the footwork. Could we get to the point of understanding the brain where, for example, we tutor someone who is struggling in math by asking him to do non-math tasks that are complementary to the math-handling part of the brain?

I wonder, does playing a highly spatial video game for hours a day help your math skills, exhaust them, or have no impact?

If you have a date in the evening, will you be at your most witty and charming if you spent the hours ahead of the date doing light exercise, reading a novel, or assembling some IKEA furniture?

I'll bet there's a right answer to that question.

Synchronicity or Chance....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, October 23, 2010 9:06 AM 2 comments
You probably might have read or heard about the story of the woman who won the lottery for the fourth time. Some say the odds of that are 1 out of 18 septillion.

I think almost everyone who reads this blog will assume it wasn't luck, and that there was some criminal activity involved. But it made me wonder if humans have some sort of innate and similar view of where coincidence fails as an explanation. Let's test that....

Let's say a mysterious woman appears at your door and tells you that you have a special power. If you write the name of a person on a piece of paper and put it in a sock overnight, that person will die.

You try it once out of curiosity, picking the name of some scoundrel from the news so you won't feel bad if it works. And sure enough, that person dies of a heart attack that very night.

Your first thought might be that as a general rule, scoundrels live risky lifestyles. You might have gotten lucky on that one. So you try it again the next night with a new name, and that person is also dead by morning.

You try it twenty times, never telling anyone else of your experiment, and each time it works before sunrise the next day.

You can imagine a variety of explanations for your experience. You might be crazy, or dreaming, or experiencing selective memory.

Maybe the mysterious woman who told you of this method is somehow watching you and putting out the hit order on the name you choose, for reasons that you can't understand.

Maybe you're just good at recognizing when people's time has come. Maybe you are part of some sort of science experiment or reality show. Perhaps there are a dozen other explanations.

My question to you is this: How many times could you repeat this experiment alone, with whatever controls or privacy you could muster, before you believed your actions were causing specific people to die?

For me it would be somewhere around the third person.

Two ears and a mouth........

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, October 22, 2010 9:03 AM 4 comments
Just imagine an advanced alien life form that materializes on earth in the middle of a popular dance club. The alien has a cloak of invisibility and observes the humans dancing. He is here to watch and learn.

My question is this: Would the alien ever learn to distinguish good dancers from poor dancers?

Now suppose the alien leaves the club and finds a bar that is open late. He observes a lot of what we call "conversation" happening. The alien's universal interpreter device allows him to understand the content of the conversations.

My question is this: Would the alien ever learn to distinguish a good conversationalist from a poor one?

I started thinking about this after reading that people with Asperger syndrome have trouble understanding the subtleties of human social interaction. That skill doesn't come as a package deal with general intelligence.

The advanced alien can't figure out who the good conversationalists are, nor can the fellow with Asperger syndrome even if he has an otherwise exceptional IQ.

Now suppose we gave both the alien and the Asperger guy some rules about dancing and some rules about conversation as benchmarks by which to sort the good from the bad.

Would it help them?

With dancing, you could point out that the movement of your hips should be timed with the beat, and that the level of motion should be somewhere in a range that is neither too quiet nor too frenetic compared to the other dancers. You could throw in other rules as well, such as no finger-pointing, no excessive repetitiveness, no monopolizing the entire dance floor, and so on.

You might have dozens of rules when you are done, but the highly intelligent alien and the Asperger guy (probably an engineer) could learn them all fairly quickly. And from that point on, they could discern good dancing from poor dancing. They might even be able to imitate it, with some practice.

Now consider conversation. How many times have you been in a restaurant and been victimized by the loud guy at the next table dominating the conversation without the benefit of being entertaining?

It seems somewhat common that people who are neither alien nor Asperger syndrome types have no conversation skills. Indeed, it appears that many so-called normal people don't even understand the concept of a conversation.

A conversation, like dancing, has some rules, although I've never seen them stated anywhere.

The objective of conversation is to entertain or inform the other person while not using up all of the talking time. A big part of how you entertain another person is by listening and giving your attention.

Ideally, your own enjoyment from conversation comes from the other person doing his or her job of being interesting. If you are entertaining yourself at the other person's expense, you're doing it wrong.

You might think that everyone on earth understands what a conversation is and how to engage in one. My observation is that no more than a quarter of the population has that understanding. I was solidly in the conversationally clueless camp until I took the Dale Carnegie course, in which one small part of the learning dealt with the mechanics of conversation. It was a life-changing bit of knowledge.

Prior to the course, I believed that conversation was a process by which I could demonstrate my cleverness, complain about what was bugging me, and argue with people in order to teach them how dumb they were.

To me, listening was the same thing as being bored. I figured it was the other person's responsibility to find some entertainment in the conversation. That wasn't my job.

Yes, I was that dumb and I didn't know it. The good news is that once I learned the rules of conversation, I was socially reborn. It turns out that active listening is more fun than talking, although sometimes you need to guide the conversation toward common interests.

I am sure three-quarters of the people reading this post ..... just thought,

"Uh-oh. I didn't know conversation had rules."

Peace at last.....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:40 PM 2 comments
This relates to my stay in Europe two decades ago. That was a time when there was more peace on earth then what it is today. This probably could be because of a lesser populace or due to more spirituality existing those days than what it is today.

It began with the Islamic call to worship. A friend of a friend agreed to do the call after coming in from Europe the night before and knowing that he would head to Europe the next morning. It was followed by the choir’s rendition of the calm Kum Bah Yah. Then the entire audience joined them in John Lennon’s Imagine.

The experience continued with Buddhist chants by Tibetan monks, a Christian experience of contemplative prayer, Hindu chants, Vedic prayers, Native American music, and a Sufi remembrance. The audience sampled the many ways to connect with and deepen their experience of Spirit.

It was now time to practice being at peace. Across the street, in a public park, 450 people sat in silence for 30 minutes. They were practicing any of the ways just expressed by the spiritual leaders and teachers, or one of their own, but they were all, in that half an hour, deepening their awareness of Spirit’s presence.

Few years earlier, a friend of mine had read an article that said that they tried this in one of the battle zones of Lebanon in the 80’s and the bombs stopped dropping in the village where one percent of the population engaged in a daily practice of meditation. They did not hold the idea of peace or “intend” to manifest peace. They just connected with the Divine.

My friend took up the challenge and thought, “What if one percent of our community, 15,000 people, engaged in this practice?” In the research, it was noted that not only did the bombs stop falling in that village in Lebanon, but the incidents of violent crime and fatal accidents went down.

Science is exploring the idea that two particles that are separated are still affected by the same by an outside influence even when they are far apart. Sociology explains that communities have impact beyond their bounds. In the global economy, the impact of code written in Indonesia is felt around the world.

The message is clear across all disciplines: We are one.

When we think of brokering peace in the world, at best we think of delegations sitting in a room hashing out the complexities, at worst we think that it has to happen by the sword, or gun.

Do you ever think that your meditation practice could bring about an idea so profound and, so far, evading? Do you ever think that you can bring about peace by using the Law of Attraction: bringing peace by being peace?

When you practice meditation, sit with the intent of experiencing Spirit, do you feel at peace? Could it be that the peace that you experience, the peace that passes understanding, is felt by those around you when you walk out of your practice?

For about two and a half hours at my *'Kuladev' in Goa few weeks back, there were no egos, no treaties, no guns, just Spirit.

It was a profound experience of being Spirit. I can vouch I experienced peace.

*Kuladev and Kŭladaiwat, stands for "family deity, that is either a god or a goddess" within the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) sect. Kuladevtas play a very pious role for the GSB's.

Imagine big... You might surprise yourself

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, October 19, 2010 7:15 AM 2 comments
I discovered as a child that the user interface for reprogramming my own brain is my imagination. For example, if I want to reprogram myself to be in a happy mood, I imagine succeeding at a difficult challenge, or flying under my own power, or perhaps being able to levitate objects with my mind.

If I want to perform better at a specific task, such as table tennis, I imagine the perfect strokes before going on to the table. If I want to fall asleep, I imagine myself in pleasant situations that are unrelated to whatever is going on with my real life.

My most useful mental trick involves imagining myself to be far more capable than I really am.

I do this to reduce the risk that I turn down an opportunity just because I am clearly unqualified. So far, this has worked well for me.

I pursued a short career stilt in writing despite having no real talent. When a publisher asked me to write a book, I quickly agreed, despite having no relevant writing experience. When a network marketing business group asked me to give a humorous paid speech to their members, I said yes, despite having no meaningful experience at that sort of thing.

After all, if you spend a lot of time imagining you can run twenty miles, it makes the idea of running only ten miles seem entirely feasible.

Later on, as my enginnering career took off, albeit pretty late in giving me good returns, many of my friends have asked me if I ever imagined I would reach this level of success. The question embarrasses me because the truth is that I imagined a far greater level of success. That's my process. I imagine big.

I've never admitted this before, but my favorite imaginary scenario involves being elected Prime Minister of India. I choose that job as the target of my imagination because I am spectacularly unqualified to hold public office. If I can successfully imagine being a great prime minister, I won't have trouble imagining I can succeed at lesser tasks.

Some of you reading this blog would probably be good at the job of being prime minister if given the chance.

So for you, imagining success as a national leader might not be much of a stretch. But I am blessed with absolutely none of the qualities necessary for leadership. That's exactly why I choose to imagine it.

Let me give you an idea of how unqualified I am to be prime minister.

First, I'm not good at remembering names. Or faces. Or countries. My staff meetings would be a whole lot of  "Maybe we should nudge what's-his-face's country. You know, the one that grows the coconuts. Or maybe they manufacture tractors. I remember that their leader had a funny hat. Make it happen."

I'm not charismatic. If I were to stop at diners as part of my campaign, people would ask me for coffee. It would be one bad photo op after another.

I can't ask people to sacrifice their personal interests for the greater good. It feels evil.

I couldn't force myself to spend time doing useless tasks such as visiting victims of natural disasters or working on a peace plan with our neighbours. I would argue that napping would be a better use of my time.

And I would make matters worse by showing research to back my point. I wouldn't be able to get through an entire press conference without saying "Blow me."

Obviously I couldn't last a full term in office, much less get elected. But that doesn't stop me from imagining that someday the party flag would have my face where the finger used to be.

Imagine big. You might surprise yourself.

The ideal gift idea....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, October 17, 2010 7:46 AM 7 comments
I'm not good at buying gifts.

I start worrying about it in April, and by the time October rolls around I'm in full panic mode. Call me spontaneous, but I prefer when my failures surprise me, not when they are scheduled for October 27th every year. By this time of year I feel as if I'm tied to the railroad tracks, I hear a whistle in the distance, and it probably isn't a bullet train.

When it comes to gifts, they say it's the thought that counts, but I can't even get that part right. Whatever the hell I'm doing is more like the Dalai Lama clearing his mind and meditating, but without the relaxing part.

When I try to think of an appropriate gift for my wife, all I see is nothingness. The problem might have something to do with my own view of material goods. I can walk through a shopping mall for hours without seeing anything I'd want to own more than I'd want to lug it back to the car.

For example, if I see a shirt that looks nice, I can't imagine why I'd want to own it. I already have shirts that keep me warm. It won't make me look more attractive, unless I wrap it around my face, and I buy two more to stuff in my shoes so I'm taller. For some reason my wife prefers it when I have new shirts, which is exactly why I get shirts for my birthday, shirts for Diwali, and shirts for my anniversary. And I have been led to believe there is a holiday called National Shirt Day.

I am guessing that some of you have the same gift-buying problem that I do, minus the crazy parts. I propose that we stick together and come up with some sure-fire gift ideas to make our own lives easier. I will prime the pump with this suggestion, and you can thank me later. It's a company that sells sterling silver necklaces, gold plated and hand-stamped with (wait for it...) the names of a woman's children: Allukas Designs.

Aside from the obvious brilliance that jewelry is always a correct gift for women, when you add the names of her children, it takes it to another level. That's the "thought" part you keep hearing about. I am told that gold works for just about every woman and goes with just about every casual outfit.

Plus, unlike a ring or clothing, there are no sizing issues. I already got this gift for my wife last year, so I can't use it again. (Full disclosure: Shaila told me to buy it for her.)

Okay, now it is your turn. Leave your gift ideas in my mail box or in the comment area, with links if you have them. The ideal gift idea should show some sort of thought, have no sizing issues, and be priced in the spouse-gift range.

Put some thinking into it because in all likelihood you're deciding what my wife will get for her birthdays for the next ten years.

The power of ideas.....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, October 16, 2010 1:46 AM 2 comments
One way of imagining the future is that you and I, the so-called current generation, will selfishly party until we die, leaving to our children nothing but crushing debt, a boiling turd of a planet, and various Apple products.

The problem with this analysis is that young adults have most of the guns and muscles. So isn't the younger generation complicit in stealing from itself? Think about it......

Imagine a 20-something, muscular thug on the street, with a loaded gun in his waistband. A 60-year old banker with a bad back waddles up to him and says, "Give me your wallet!" The thug reaches past his gun and hands over his wallet. That's how our society is organized. I'm not complaining, since I have more in common with the banker than the thug.

In theory, the young soldiers in any country could collectively decide that they deserve most of the national wealth and then simply take it. If you think that sounds like a crime, assume that the first thing the soldiers could do is force lawmakers to rewrite the laws.

If you think that sounds unethical, I would argue that the people who take the most physical and mental risks for the benefit of society should get the most pay. That seems perfectly reasonable and moral to me. And let's assume the soldiers are smart enough to leave enough money in the capitalist system that it still works.

Perhaps the CEO of a major corporation would only earn $250K per year. If he wants more, he can surely join the Navy.

I only bring this up because I'm fascinated by the degree to which brains have evolved to become more powerful than guns. Society's founding geniuses engineered a social system that encourages the young people who have guns to shoot at each other instead of robbing old people.

Forgive me for calling that awesome.

Arguably, the most important function of human language is to protect the smart from the strong. Humans use words to create sentences, and sentences to create concepts, such as our notions of duty and honor.

Powerful concepts control behavior. Without our language and concepts, the strong would kill the smart, and humans wouldn't evolve to be any smarter. I think you could say that human evolution is being guided at least partly by the power of ideas.

I can't remember if I had a point.