## Reincarnation

Imagine Swamy Vivekananda was right. Imagine you are one with the Universe, every living thing, every inanimate object, every idea. You are me. You are this blog post. You are every single plant, animal, insect, rodent that has ever lived and ever going to live on this universe. Being born as a human right now means that you are way up in the food chain already. You are capable of thought. You probably have enough food to eat. But for your next birth you will have to be born into a poor family in Somalia to live your life fighting for basic amenities like food clothing and shelter. After that you are born as a farm chicken only to be butchered when you are old enough to serve as food for others. But in one of those births you will be born as Charlie Sheen, as Bill Gates, as Angelina Jolie, as some of the most enviable souls of this world.

Now imagine if he was wrong. If you only had one life, the one you are living right now. This means you live your life and you have almost everything you need. However, you will never ever get to feel how some of the luckiest people in the world feel. How it is to be them.

Which world would you prefer to live in?

## Three laws of freedoms-rights

Here are the three laws of freedoms/rights I mentioned I forgot in my earlier post:

1. Your freedom shall not infringe the freedom of others
2. Freedoms/rights cannot be decoupled from corresponding duties/responsibilties
3. Whatever rights and freedoms you are giving yourself, you should be willing to give others also.

## Morality

Today I am going to talk about morality from a scientific perspective. What I am about to say is nothing original, but described well here. But then why write this post at all ? There are two major reasons :

1. I was once thinking about three laws of freedom. Thinking it was trivial, I never bothered to write it down and now I can’t remember the third law no matter how hard I try. It also seems that the thought was original because it seems not to be documented anywhere on the web.
2. This post is also for those who need to see the math to understand anything

So the content I am mentioning below is entirely hypothetical. However, it would be useful to understand the concepts at a theoretical level.

So imagine that someone discovers an instrument that can measure happiness of an individual. This, by itself is a questionable concept. What constitutes happiness ? Is it contentment ? Is it bodily pleasures ? Forget all that and think about it as an abstract ‘something’ that we are all constantly looking for. Furthermore, let us assume that happiness can be added, subtracted, multiplied etc once we bring it to such a system. Now, it would be possible to measure the happiness of all the people in this world. Let it be : ΣHp ( Net Happiness )

We can plot the Net Happiness over time of all the people in this world in the graph as shown:

Here t1 is the moment under consideration and t2 is the instant at which all sentient beings ceases to exist ( Big Crunch ? ). Now assume that t1 is the only point you have free will and based on the decision that you make, the Happiness Graph can change to f(t) or h(t). g(t) is the graph if you have no free will. I argue that, that action which maximizes the net happiness of every sentient being in this world [shown by shaded region for f(t)] is the right action. Every other action is a wrong action. That is, we need to take that action at t1 that maximizes the area under this graph (action that corresponds to h(t)) . That is, the value that needs maximizing is this :

Net ΣHp = $\int_{t1}^{t2} f(t) \, \mathrm{d} t$

I also argue any action that causes this Net Hp value to be lower than the area under g(t) is an evil action. Any action that causes the happiness graph to have an area greater than area under g(t) is a good action.

Implications :

1. Clearly good actions can be wrong actions. For example, assume a scenerio when you learn that the whole world is going to end in a few minutes. You see a beggar on the street looking for a days food. You realize you have about 100 bucks on you. Giving the begger 50 bucks would be a good action. But the only right action is to give him all your 100 bucks (assuming happiness increases linerly with money given).
2. It must be understood that inaction can also be an action. For example, suppose one nihilist has trapped himself in a room where you cannot enter. He has access to a nuclear bomb that if activated will destroy this entire world and kill everyone in this world. Your only option is to kill that person. Here, your inaction will result in the death of everyone in this world. Assuming that if the world goes on there is more happiness to be had for everyone it means you are being evil with your inaction.
3. I have assumed here that one unit of happiness given to one person is same as one unit of happiness given to any other person. For example, one unit of happiness given to one man, woman, black, caucassian, hispanic, aryan, jew, hindu, muslim, christian etc is the same as one unit given to any other.
4. While it is possible for two view-points/philosophies to be equally valid, it is not very probable.
5. Assuming that human beings cannot see all the possibilities ahead, the simplest approach we can take is a greedy approach. For example, it is believed that Helene Hanfstaengl persuaded Adolf Hitler away from suicide after the failure of his first revolution. Afterwards, he went ahead and killed many million people. It is unclear what would have happened, if she had chosen at that point not to do that. However, it may not have made any sense for her not to save someone’s life given the information she had.

## Top-down and bottom-up thinking

So, if the last post was about the details, in this post I will try to explain the concept of top-down and bottom-up thinking.

The smartest people in the world will have the Zoom In and Zoom Out ability which is to understand the nitty-gritty details without missing the big picture. Usually what happens is that either

1. people get focussed on the details ( and gets lost in the details ) or
2. they forget about the details

Both are equally bad and can cause failure. If you miss the Big Picture, it is very much possible that you may miss the impact of external forces that might apply to your system which ultimately results in failure. If you miss the details, it is equally possible that you do not have an accurate understanding of what is possible given the constraints.

Management folks encourage mostly top-down thinking (Big Picture) and engineering schools teach bottom-up thinking (Details oriented). This is one of the reasons for tensions between management and the worker ants in technical companies.

To understand this principle in detail let us take the example of Iridium Communications Company.

The founding company for this firm went bankrupt because it developed the technology for satellites, mobile phones etc, however the cost of putting the satellites in space was in the order of billions which the company was not able to raise. They wasted an inordinate amount of money because they failed to see the external effects of their business plan, the Big Picture.

To explain the concept of attention to detail, take the example of IBM deciding to incentivise developers on number of lines of code they wrote (sorry, can’t explain this without knowledge of some detail and code and technology are details I understand). This caused many problems within IBM as people wrote code that introduced subtle bugs which they rewrote to fix (more lines), they started writing code in a verbose manner and introduced unnecessary complexities etc. What went wrong here ? The root of the problem is that not all lines of code are equal.

When a factory worker has to put in X amount of work to produce N units of stuff, then when he produces 2N units he has put in 2X amount of work. Unlike mechanical jobs (like the above case), this is not true for creative and innovative jobs like software development, journalism etc.

So you can see that the best decisions are made by people who can refrain from getting caught up in the details, take a step back and look at the big picture from multiple perspectives and at the same time see how the details fit together to form the whole system. Further, you will also note how there is considerable overlap between the two types of thinking; meaning it may be easier to explain the above principle to people who think either way.

When you understand the above principle you start to understand the idea behind a lot of quotes that go around the world, like:
“Complex systems that work evolve from simple systems that work”
“The devil is in the details”
“Details often kill initiative, but there have been few successful men who weren’t good at details. Don’t ignore details. Lick them.” — William B. Given

## Error of classification and loosing detail

Today I would first like to begin with error of classification and then generalize it more to error of losing detail. One common mistake people make is the error of classification. The error is so:

1. All elements of class X has Y and Z property.
2. All elements in the world with Y property must belong to class X and hence have Z property

No other post explains this idea better than this one : http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_noncentral_fallacy_the_worst_argument_in_the/

However that post is too specific to errors of classification with respect to logical arguments. It applies very well to other domains. Moreover errors of classification has bigger problems because the classification itself can be wrong.

I will give you some examples:

Everyone knows that a smart person will talk well about what they are good at, barring artificial constraints such as language or mental illness. But we incorrectly assume that everyone who talks smooth is smart which in retrospect looks ridiculous.

I have also heard of people claiming their employers trying to build slides and provide bean bags for them because companies like Yahoo, Facebook, Google etc seems to do them. After all bean bags and slides are what makes these company cultures so great, isn’t it ?

Another example is exams. Here is where the problem of loosing detail can really be problematic. Most people who are good at understanding the basics of what they study can score reasonably well in exams. However, everyone who scores well does not have to be a good student. They don’t even have to be very smart. It is possible to tune the your study habits specifically to beat the system.

This creates a negative incentive system. If you consider plaudits from other people as an incentive ( which in most cases is a reasonable assumption for most mortals ) then there will be a lot of people trying to tune their study habits to beat the system than do what is profitable to the whole world, i.e, students who go into schools should try to gain knowledge and improve their analytic skills.

This would be an interesting problem to solve : to create a culture that values detail and makes correct classifications.

## If you have to keep telling people how real you are, its probably because you’re fake

I would like to share with you something that happened to me when I was coming back from Bangalore yesterday. I was walking from Railway Station to the Bus Stand at Kottayam and while I was walking one guy who was telling fortunes stopped me and invited me to take a session with him. He insisted very much and made a huge fuss about not needing to pay anything that caught me by surprise. I went to talk to him and I found something interesting. Even though he initially said he didn’t want any money he asked for some money (amount of my choice) to be given. He said you can think of it as helping an old guy out and so I gave him 10 bucks . Then he insisted that he be given money for a Meal (“Not a Biryani, an Ordinary one”  ). So I gave him 10 more to see where this was going. I have touched upon the advantages of forcing the price upon the other person before.

Now let me first of all say that I do believe that there can be extra ordinary stuff happening in this world that science cannot explain.

Some stuff he said was right. But they were too general to have impressed me.  Some of them were:

“Your hand says you are technical”

Well, I was wearing jeans and a shirt that people usually wear in technical field. I doubt if he would have made that statement if I was wearing more traditional attire.

“Three letters in name of mother in Malayalam.”

This was correct, but it was too general. If he had named the exact name of my mother, I would have been impressed.

Then there were some random statements:

“Looking at your forehead, you studied LLB. You just did not complete it by action.”

Erm… What?

“You will live till 85 years. Have 3 Kids”

Now, it was when he started trying to predict stuff that I caught his bullshit.

“You are living in a house, which is under construction.”

This was not correct. First of all, I am living in a flat in Bangalore, which is fully constructed, and I am living at my home in Kerala which is also fully constructed. When I informed he was incorrect he asked how many floors it was. I said one and he said that is what he meant. It will be reconstructed to add more floors. Well, then he should have said that shouldn’t he? At this point he correctly predicted that the house occupied a large piece of land, but define large? How large is big enough? Does he mean the length of the house is big or breadth? That statement would simply statistically have worked on a large number of people.

“Tell me a number greater than 7”

I said “2 00 000”

“Now think about a number between 1 and 5. Is it 3?”

When informed I thought of 1, he said he wanted a number not including the limits (?)

Now be very careful of the deception here. First he asked me a number greater than 7 and here I unfortunately gave away my intentions by saying a number that goes beyond what would usually be said. So he realized that I was going to test him and reduced my intervals to 1 – 5. If I had just said something like 10 he probably would have given me a longer interval. Also I think that first he asked me to tell him a random number to test how my mind works. He probably could have got some information that would have improved his chances of guessing my number correctly.

“Think of a flower. Is it Rose?”

Now here I was careful to think of an exotic flower. When I said no and told him the name of the flower, he emphasized he was correct in his guess and said something about colors. Here he really blew it. I don’t think he knew how many colors my choice of flower came in and quickly moved on to something else trying to invoke my Confirmation Bias.

Now here comes his masterpiece.

“You loved a girl, but the hearts never matched.

Some girl is watching your moves and she wants to make contact.

If I say her name will you happily pay me Rs 1000? Other boys like you would usually give 5000.”

I said “No” and he said “You do have the money, but it is set aside for something else”.

I said “No. I just don’t believe in all this”.

Now he was very careful to add more details and advice to his deception like “Do not tell anyone when you call her over the phone, exchange letters etc”.

Now look at the deception here. First he notices my unshaven chin, my loose clothing and takes a guess about my life that would have fit well with a lot of folks that dress like me: love failure. Many of my friends and cousins have joked this about me. Now, he adds hope into the equation by saying that all is not lost; some other girl is watching me, longing for me and wants to make contact. Then he asks for Rs 1000 for her name, but it’s OK, because others would already have happily given him Rs 5000. Ha!

He said that he knew I was not an atheist. Well, duh. I was wearing my rosary and it was visible through the top of my shirt.

Now when all this failed he tried to extract at least Rs 100 from me by using a Bible. He realized that he was in a Christian majority district and had a Bible ready for use when needed.

I probably came of as an easy prey when he saw me walking by: with my loose clothing, unbuttoned shirt, rosary, unshaven chin and everything.

He probably wasn’t expecting someone with least bit critical thinking.

Well, at the end of the day despite losing 20 bucks I learned two things

1. These kind of very smart deceptive people exist.

2. I am not conventional

## Protect your privacy

Recently I realized that Google had changed their privacy policy. In response I set out to see what info they had on me. I was horrified to learn that they had correlated my data and built a profile on me!! So I was testing out some apps and decided to make a video on how you can protect your privacy on the web. Check it out :