COMPATIBLE HALVES MAKES A BETTER WHOLE

The matters like men are better with line and rule and women with heart and imagination, I presume have been resolved. Embryologists say that Nature’s first intention was to create a female. “For its first 35 days in the womb, every human foetus is female.” How did the female foetus become a man? To explain this, perhaps, we can use the perception of ‘emergent properties’; properties that emerge at a certain level of complexity, but do not exist at lower levels. Using this perception we can say, once the simple female foetus achieved a certain level of complexity, it switched to a more complex male. It is better to be both smart and wise. But wise is not necessarily smart, and vice versa. It is said that a smart man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend, and a wise woman is one who can find such a man. Both the propositions are interesting. Getting a smart man is as difficult as getting a wise woman. Generalisations, however, are always risky. Conflicts arising out of gender discrimination can only be resolved by an understanding that men and women have the same worth as human beings.

Compatible, not perfect, halves make a better whole. A perfect whole needs two perfect halves, and perfect halves are not found. The important point is to understand that differences between two human beings are natural. Perfect means the most compatible. The thermodynamics of better halves says, if man is a source, woman is a sink and vice-versa, depending upon the circumstances. The mathematics of better halves says, this relationship is non-linear in nature, as it gives rise to chaos. The weather is famously non-linear, where simple changes in one part of the system produce complex effects throughout. If we replace weather by marriage, the above statement will not lose any of its charm, or significance. So, it is advisable not to try to solve non-linear problems using simple linear equations, and always remember that compatible, not perfect, halves make a better whole.


Good leaders get good followers. Vulnerable leaders get susceptible followers. A good leader does self-introspection, can handle disagreements, and is not afraid to face real situations. Good followers are not afraid to deliver bad news. A destructive confidant is a leader's worst enemy. His flattery misguides the leader and isolates him from uncomfortable realities. A destructive confidante’s job is to continuously assure the leader that he is the fairest of them all. He makes sure that critical information does not get in and out of the leader. He desperately bids for power, side-lining the authority of the leader. Evidently, the attributes that make a good leader, make a good follower. Benjamin Disraeli said, “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”

The follower must be loyal to the leader, but his loyalty must not be blind. It must not stop one from being sensitive to other people’s needs and wants. A good follower tells the ugly truth to the leader, candidly and sensitively. The dynamics between leader and follower is changing, and with that, their expectations and the sense of empowerment is also changing. Followers don’t always try to ‘go along to get along’ with their leaders, even if that means risking their stature. In many networked organisations, it’s not always obvious who exactly is leading. An assembly of extraordinary minds, does it produce extraordinary pictures?


We evolved and with us evolved ideas. With the accumulation of ideas, both order and complexity arose, and that changed our surroundings. Social learning made us different from the other species. It taught us to choose the best option among the available alternatives. We copy people who we think are successful. We copy good ideas and we try to improve upon them. We have mastered the capacity to learn behaviours, simply by watching and imitating others. We can read the mind of others, and more often than not accurately. We possess the capability to choose and adapt. We try to do things differently. This has led to the evolution of ideas and cultural adaptation. There is no need for all to become leaders, nor are all capable of becoming leaders. We need good followers as much as we need good leaders. We need good copies as much as good originals. Leadership is not everyone’s cup of tea. Majority of us are followers. Our herd instincts are our assets. We like to follow, rather than lead. It is advantageous if only a few are leaders. Few things should remain hidden from the purview of the majority. There is no need to know everything. The paradox is that social learning has sculpted us to be very shrewd and intelligent at copying, but, perhaps, less adept at innovation and creativity. We want to be both innovators and copiers. We want to duplicate ideas, as well as create variety.

We back the likely loser. Our affection for the losing team is due to our desire to attain maximum pleasure and excitement. One gets maximum excitement, as a spectator, when two equal teams are playing against each other. One doesn't get similar excitement if one team is much inferior. The missing excitement can be found if the weak team wins. We love the experience of unexpected excitement. There isn't much excitement when the stronger of the two teams wins. If you multiply the odds of an underdog's victory by the amount of pleasure it would produce, you would end up with a greater number, writes Daniel Enaber. When you back an underdog, your action seems more virtuous and appealing. Malcolm Gladwell says that Davids win when they choose not to play by the rules set by Goliaths. "Our affinity for the lesser team is a mile wide and an inch deep," is what researchers say.


We feel morally good when we root for the underdog but at an unconscious level we don't take the underdog all that seriously, writes Scott Allison. Sympathy for the less fortunate is good. Too much sympathy, however, destroys self-reliance and encourages dependency. It is said that misguided compassion hurts. Doing well for the needy is a good idea, but the way of doing matters. Benjamin Franklin said, "I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and, of course, became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer." Overdoing charity can be bothersome. It takes away the initiative, self-confidence and responsibility from the people. If we do that the beneficiaries of charity become favour-seekers, rather than claimants of something they deserve. Some thinkers believe foreign aid is a vicious way to pauperise the already poor.

The more you want to avoid thinking about something, the more you fail to do so. The more you want to avoid anxiety, the more you will get entangled in it. The more you will think of sleeping, the more you will be away from sleep. Don’t worry, everyone does the same. Our brain is an excellent supervisor. It is always eager to see if the progress is satisfactory. Whenever it follows a path, it keeps in handy an alternate path. Because of this alternate follow-up path, we can’t avoid what we wish to avoid. The insomniac’s brain keeps on checking if it has fallen asleep or not. Viktor Frankl said, the fear of sleeplessness results in a ‘hyper-intention’ to fall asleep. This hyper-intention incapacitates one’s ability to sleep. It is a kind of fear. To overcome this fear, Frankl advised, the person should not try to sleep, but rather try to do just the opposite, that is, to stay awake, as long as possible. In other words, “the hyper-intention to fall asleep, arising from the anticipatory anxiety of not being able to do so, must be replaced by the paradoxical intention not to fall asleep, which will soon be followed by sleep.”


Frankl writes about a young boy who can’t get rid of his stammering in spite of best efforts. One day, the boy was travelling in a bus without a proper ticket. Hoping the conductor would let him off, pitying his stammering, the boy tried to stammer, but he couldn’t. At that moment, he found himself free of speech problems. This shows that our tendency to behave in undesirable ways increases when we take important decisions.

Different situations need different kinds of thoughts to arrive at the solution. One doesn’t expect a universal solution, even for similar situations. The ‘art of self-overhearing’, some psychologists believe, is one way to make good decisions. This ‘art’ requires one’s ‘willingness to engage in introspection’, when one is confronted with an uncertain situation. Such situations don’t give enough time for ‘doing maths’ or ‘thinking’. Decisions in such situations depend upon one’s emotions, instincts, and mental shortcuts. “People who are more rational don’t perceive emotion less, they just regulate it better,” believe some psychologists. Acting irrationally in some situations can be helpful.

Our brain not only thinks, it constantly keeps tabs on ‘how we think’. ‘How we think and what we think’ is due to our metacognitive abilities. This mental ability helps us to reconcile with the fact that we can be biased and, therefore, can go wrong. Metacognition gives us an opportunity to avoid blunders.

Were all our journeys pre planned? Did we know about all our destinations beforehand? Is it possible to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge? Yes, it is possible. This complex human ability, referred to as ‘fluid intelligence’, is considered one of the most important factors in learning. The proposition Mackenzie made more than two centuries ago was that “In order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it.” In other words, “Absolute ignorance is fully qualified to take the place of absolute wisdom in all of the achievements of creative skill.” Alan Turing believed that there is a relationship between a formal concept and intuition. He believed that it is not necessary to know how the machine carries out its actions. For Turing, machines are not physical objects but simple “abstract computational devices intended to help investigate the extent and limitations of what can be computed.” Turing’s design space foresaw a traversable path from absolute ignorance to artificial intelligence.


We emerged from a ‘chemical soup’; a ‘chemical soup’ that formed complex molecules, some of these became catalysts for a variety of chemical reactions. Gradually (in billions of years), structure evolved, and from them, the first cell emerged. The first cell did not know what to do next. In spite of that, it went ahead, made mistakes, and produced another cell. The subsequent cells also made mistakes, learnt from the mistakes of others, learnt to compete and cooperate with each other. The vast knowledge thus accumulated, gave birth to versatility. If the first cell knew what was in store for it, and the way to reach there, it would not have made mistakes. Without mistakes (mutations), evolution would not have been possible. And if there was no evolution, we wouldn’t be where we are.

We do many things without consciously knowing why we did it. Evolutionary psychology refers to mother-child conflict in the womb. The conflict is due to the fact that mother is not prepared to give what the child needs, write Paul Bateson and Paul Martin in Design for a Life. At the same time, the child wants to maximise its chance of survival. The mother doesn’t want to give everything to the child, because she wants to keep something for the yet-to-be-produced future offspring. The beauty of this conflict is that both mother and child are not aware of it. Since they are not aware of it, the conflict is so amicably resolved.


Often we feel good doing “purposeless” things. Many times we feel bored in spite of doing “purposeful” things. The irony of life is that phrases such as “Just enough has its own pleasures” or, “To link is beautiful, to delink is sublime” — are easy to say, but difficult to follow. We have diverse purposes to live for. For some, ‘no-purpose’ is the purpose. Evolution may perhaps have no foresight, but it happens. Perhaps evolution had no purpose to begin with, but as it progressed, its purpose emerged. Unless purpose sees the driving force of possibilities, how can it emerge?

Purpose increases complexity. It makes us more flexible and more emotional. As a result of purpose, our capacity to know and gauge evolves. We become more self-aware. We become cooperative as well as competitive. We develop a sense of novelty. We learn the art of exploiting others, and at the same time learn the ways to avoid being exploited by others. We learn the ways of predators, parasites and pathogens.

Some people can explain things in direct and simple language. Some people are good at making simple things complex. P B Medawar made an interesting observation. He said, there are some fields that are genuinely difficult. In these fields, if you want to communicate, you will have to work really hard to make the language simple. There are also other fields that are fundamentally very easy, where if you want to impress people, you have to make the language more difficult than it needed to be. Medawar called this "Physics Envy". What he meant was that there are people who want their subject to be treated as profoundly difficult, even when it isn't. One of the interpretations of physics envy is that we are not as simple (or complex), as we present ourselves to be.

We like to construct as well as use simple models. We expect that the simple models should give us all the answers. But that is not possible. Take this question - How rich will we be when we have converted all our forests, all our soil, all our water resources, and all our minerals to cash? One might think this is a simple question, but it is really not. It is a form of physics envy. Albert Einstein said, things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

It is true that all complex systems are made up of simple parts and everything is a complex manifestation of simple laws. But it is also true that a system is more than the sum of its component parts. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann said, “The basic laws of physics are fundamental in the sense that all the other laws are built on them, but that doesn’t mean you can derive all the other laws from the laws of physics.”


Some people think that all problems are simple. If they appear complex, it is because of the lack of effort to find solutions. Complexity evolves from simplicity. It is context-dependent; one’s behaviour could look simple when interacting on a one-on-one basis, but the same individual could behave very differently when in a crowd. The solution of simple problems requires simple logic. Its logical extension is that the solution of complex problems would require complex logic. But this is not always true. In many situations, complex problems may not require any logic. In such situations, the illogical seems logical.


Not every simple thing evolves into a complex thing. A few things become simpler and vanish from the scene; for example, a question doesn’t remain a question, soon after its answer is found. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine." The simple fact of life is simplicity. As one simplifies life, the laws of the universe become simpler. The difficult part is to lead a simple life. We know what our needless wants are. What we don’t know or want to know is to remove the ‘unwanted’ from the list to make our lives simpler. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is how Leonardo da Vinci summed up the complexity of simplicity.

We are always advised to lead a healthy life, particularly when one is on the other side of the fence. Does not leading a healthy lifestyle also mean depriving ourselves of the pleasures? A little unhealthy, and a little maladjusted lifestyle, often is needed to lead a ‘good’ life. It does a balancing act. An extremely cautious life is bland and boring. These lives have no “character” of their own and are unreal. A slightly unhinged life can convey more meaning than a well-adjusted life.

The usual social interactions don’t interest some people. For these ‘unstable people’, passion for work often overshadows many other facets of life. Some of these people, though considered socially unstable, have made significant contributions for society. These ‘pathological personalities’ are often ‘healthier’ than the ones who have lived a so-called ‘robust life’.

We are a mix of good and bad. We can’t be only good or only bad. If we are pleasing and gracious, we are also disorderly and volatile. If we are very rigid, we also lose our composure. Anxiety is a natural part of our character. Pain is important for us. It prepares us for a more panoramic understanding of the human predicament. It is true that our idiosyncratic desires can often put us into deep trouble, but it is also true that too easy a life may divert us to wrong paths that are devoid of creative, vibrant, and meaningful lives. An unruffled life can be quite hollow.