Thinking About Thinking - 2021

The Universe is Kinder Than You Think

By Balaji Prasad

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls." ~ Joseph Campbell

Things that you think are wrong may actually be right. And things that you think are right may be wrong. That is a scary thought! Because it turns the world literally upside down. Literally, because, at the end of the day, the only world that really exists is the one inside your head. But there is an “outside" too.

An Inside Job

This chasm between the “inside" and the “outside" is what makes things both interesting as well as challenging, perhaps even terrifying, at times.

The inside is quite pliable and malleable. Repeat a song fifty times and you're likely to achieve the capability of reciting the song, verse and chorus, in your sleep, maybe even along with much of the accompanying instrumental music.

This pliability is useful. “20 + 20?" You blurt out “40!" without missing a beat. This is the stuff of SAT's and IQ tests and such, where your ability to repeatedly do things accurately and quickly is tested and calibrated by those who value mindless gymnastic abilities as a key to success. That was maybe a tad bit harsh. There is likely value in being frugal with the mind's scarce conscious resources, pushing some automatable things down into the unconscious layers of the mind's infrastructure. There are things like “20+20" that we know for sure and don't need our conscious brain to derive from fundamental principles each and every time we confront this rather trivial question.

An Inside Choke

But, as with many other things, alas! Our very strengths are also insidious carriers of weaknesses that can lead to an ignominious downfall. If our ability to automate certain things can be hijacked and hacked by those motivated to do so, things that should not be automated can get pushed down into the powerful nether regions in our minds that possess the capacity to mechanize things into repeatable algorithms and programs. So things can be rapidly and mindlessly bucketed into the good, the bad and the ugly with the swiftness of a magician's hand. And voila, we have as many dichotomies as our hearts desire: Safe and unsafe, cultured and uncultured, smart and stupid, considerate and inconsiderate, science and not science. And so on. And if we like to be a little more nuanced, we might stretch these dichotomies into trichotomies like Goldilocks might have done so that we try for “just right" rather than duel with dualism. “Trualism" has a better ring to it, and interestingly may amp up our illusion of truth. Three feels more true than two; it improves the resolution from two pixels to three, never mind that reality operates in an infinite continuum rather than in twos and threes.

Reality is messy, often intractable and more often than we realize, unknowable.

Outside the Box

The notion of “unknowability" strikes terrors in the average mortal's heart. Especially when the stakes seem really high. “Could I die!?" you ask anxiously as you deal with bits and pieces of “knowledge" that could lead to this most tragic of outcomes. But is the “knowledge" that you think you have really knowledge? “I am just a simple being," you mutter to yourself, adding, “but there are experts, of course, that I can rely on, to answer these literally grave questions, and perhaps to even intervene and do something magical to save me from the grim reaper."

But all this is too simple. In very complex things, the experts may know more than you, even a whole lot more than you, but they too, may be flying blind for the most part. Knowing 2% of something is not much better than knowing 1% of something. It is quite possible too that your 1% is worth a lot more than the 2% that the expert knows. Mathematics is strange, and creates strange illusions. Some things can be way more important than other things, and that's where your 1% can demolish the other's 2%.

But none of this matters more than knowing that neither of you knows that much at all. And you don't have a choice but to fly blind whether you do so on your own, or engage another equally blind driver for a fee.

Outside Everything

All this sounds pretty bad, except if you realize that the 99% that you don't know about is not chock-full of fire-breathing dragons, slithering serpents and grim reapers salivating to get you. Much of that is Mother Nature or God, or however else you see it. And She generally works, and works pretty well for the most part. So the 99% holds lots of potential, but it requires faith and it requires trust.

If you are able to overcome fear and self-concern, and get to trust, you may find that the universe is not as unkind as you might believe it to be. It just needs a small leap of faith to something with a pretty good track record. And, of course, some humility.


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