Thinking About Thinking - 2021

You Think Therefore I am a Yam

By Balaji Prasad

“In the end, we are self-perceiving,self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference." ~ Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop

“He gets things done! He's an accomplisher." they said, nodding with approval and with an unmistakable tone of admiration.

People who get things done are recognized, even idealized as role models to be emulated. But is getting things done all that it is made out to be?

Or as is often the case, is there more to things than meets the eye?

I did therefore I am

Doing definitely feels more real than thinking. Maybe Descartes erred, and might have reframed his famous “I think therefore I am" as “I did therefore I am" and might have had to stare at the ceiling a little less than he did. Doing is real stuff. Thinking? Who knows? You can't touch it and feel it. You can't run your fingers through it.

And so, we idolize doing, deeds and doers.

And the “I am" part of the Descarteism grows through our deeds and accomplishments. Surely my “I am" will dominate your “I am" if it is clear that I did more than you did.

The interesting thing is that the whole thing works in reverse too. The more of the state of I-amness I accumulate, the more I am seen as doing a lot even if I do very little. If someone with a greater state of I-amness does the same thing as me, they are seen as doing much more than me. And they accumulate even more I-amness through their non-deeds that are seen as big deeds. And even if I do a really big deed, the lack of I-amness I have relative to, say, someone like a Bill Gates, my deed will be little more than dust. This thing is like compound interest: it feeds on itself when it's there.

There is a nagging feeling of hollowness that haunts the doer though as he realizes that all this I-amness and recognition boost starts to come a little too easily over time. “Maybe it's not me; it's you!" he says, scratching his head. “Could it be that I see myself and my deeds through your eyes? And if you have illusions about me, then your illusions about me end up becoming my illusions about me?"

You think therefore I am!

“My inflated sense of I-amness comes from you," he realizes, somewhat deflated. “Without you, I just am, without any sense of 'I am'. I am just a thing of nature like the buffalo that roam free in the wilderness, like the electrons that circle nuclei, like the hurricanes that go where they go, tearing everything down along their path, as they move.“

But wait a minute! Isn't it good to be a natural thing that can live free? Free from eyes that judge who I am from the deeds that I do and from the I-amness that I have accumulated? Wouldn't it be good for me to be free from you?

“I am a strange loop"

It is interesting to realize that there is only one of you in this whole wide universe of millions of galaxies and planets. Exactly one! You are one of a kind. A completely “genuwine", original, authentic you. As Dr Seuss said so crisply, “there is no one alive who is youer than you."

So I am strange. And you are strange. Each of us is strange because none of us fits a perfect pattern. Yes, there can be similarities just as one dog may be similar to another one, but yet be a unique and strange dog.

I am also a loop. There is this processing unit inside that keeps on keeping on, crunching everything that comes its way, digesting it, assimilating it, regurgitating it and looping back over and over again. Uncontrollably. And unstoppably.

All this makes me more me than you can ever hope to be.

I yam what I yam

As Popeye the sailor said so eloquently, “I yam what I yam". And that's where we'll let things rest.

People and societies define all kinds of things that are measured and judged as the “done" things and that are worthy of reward (or approbation). It doesn't necessarily mean that all the things that a society idolizes or denigrates at any given point in time is what one should adopt as one's own. And be willing to be judged by. Then you will not be you. And that would be a tragedy. For the world. But mostly for you. Because it will be a life that is not fully lived.

Doing can be fun. A little child builds sandcastles on a bustling beach for no reason at all. The sweet-throated songbird on the tree outside warbles long and strong and effortlessly puts a Michael Jackson to shame. Neither gets awards and trophies for what they “do". Nor do they get titles such as Chief Sandcastle Officer or Warbler Laureate. They do simply because they want to do. And there's no I-amness that arises from their actions. They are oblivious to judging and measuring eyes, including their own.

So why not be like Popeye, jam with it, and be a yam? Even if you're called Mr. Potato Head because of it. And if you are you and I am I, then the world suddenly gets two for the price of one. But who's counting?


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