Thinking About Thinking - 2018

Can You Shrink Your World?

By Balaji Prasad

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination."
~ Henry David Thoreau

The world is a complex place, with lots and lots of things in it. It is like an ocean. And, in it, a little dinghy aims for shore, buffeted about by the winds and the waves. A thing so small in a space so big is sure to make the little thing anxious, if the thing is capable of such emotions.

Bits and pieces float around.
I see them here, then I see them there.
It floats like a circle.
No, wait! It's a square.
I think I see it, then I don't.
How foul such torture to endure,
as thing it flits from pure to impure.
Surely, it's a mess, I must confess!
It might be whole,
were it not for that hole.
I run to the light,
as I hide in the dark.
I see it not,
not even a spark.
I am just here,
I can't cohere.
Please free me now,
of sordid affair,
for though I am home,
I am nowhere.
It's a wild world

Everything would be just fine, if we get the demand and supply lined up, as the economists might say. Maybe life is just basic economics. You have stuff, the world has stuff, and you simply trade your stuff for the world's stuff, and that is that. This is easy enough when we're talking about real stuff. But what about stuff that is not real stuff – stuff that feels more like fluff, the stuff in our heads? That is limited, of course, but since the limits are not easily discernible, might we sometimes assume that there is more of it than there really is, ignoring that it is not quite up to the burden of dealing with the vastness, variety and complexity of everything that is out there? So if we have to match up the supply and demand, we need to work on both ends of the problem maybe. Increase the supply and reduce the demand.

The ever-expanding universe

It is appealing to consider the possibility of expanding the stuff inside our head so that its capacity is commensurate with the huge thing it needs to deal with. But biology imposes limits. Our brains are what they are, for the most part. Maybe in a v2.0 of human beings, the brain could grow beyond its current size and shape. For right now, though, we will need to look at the other side of the equation – the world.

How do we reduce the scope and size of the problem? We need to get creative. Maybe the thing isn't really that big? Maybe the vastness is an illusion – an illusion caused by the expansive imagination that lies within the human mind? Maybe it is not helpful to characterize the human brain as being small. Maybe it is small in some ways, but wide-ranging in a specific way. And, not in a way, that is helpful. Maybe we see more things than actually exist out there? So what we see is some kind of a multiplication of what we have in our heads applied to what is out there. When the seer and what is seen combine in this manner, maybe the resulting world becomes large, much larger than what the mind can handle? Is this scenario possible? Do we make things bigger, and therefore, harder than they need to be?

Honey, I shrunk the world!

So how do we let the air out of this inflated illusion, if that is what it is?

Clearly, the real world is unlikely to yield, and shrink itself. So we have to look a bit closer at the seer, the one who might be responsible for the over-inflation. And, we might find that this being comes with different resources and tools, some of which are more appropriate than others, for the given context we are talking about. The eyes and ears – and our other senses – are somewhat limited in their reach. Obviously, our sight enables us to see only so far, in whatever direction we choose to look.

Of course, the Internet has extended our eyes nowadays, allowing us to see far beyond what we used to be able to see. Even so, time is a gating factor. We can only see so much in a given amount of time. We can only hear so much. And so on. Our senses do need our brainpower, though, to do the work of putting it all together, making sense from our senses. The brain is an interpretive engine, when it operates thus.

Netting it out, the mind is a powerful tool, but it can also fabricate things that are not there, and fill in gaps in creative ways that are sometimes helpful, but sometimes not. We do need our brain to help us interpret, but we do need its more expansive capacity to imagine too. If the imagination part is heavier, there is a different feel to life. If the real-world focus, interpretation and alignment are heavier, there would likely be a different feel.

Fix the mix

Each of us may be somewhat different in our mix of imagination and groundedness. Where do you think you are? Do you think you can turn the knob a bit this side or that? Maybe the imagination hurts more in certain contexts. Then you turn it to “low". In some other contexts, maybe dial it up. It's your call.


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