Thinking About Thinking - 2020

The Laws of Nature and the Laws of the Creature

By Balaji Prasad

“When you're counting alibis and not apples, one plus one equals none." ~ Margaret Millar

“1 + 1 = 2!" The old one said with gravitas.

“But it doesn't always need to be so!?" the young one beseeched, imploringly.

“The sun always rises in the East. And it sets in the West. Always!" asserted the older man. “It never does it the other way around. Ever!!" he said, stressing every syllable with an air of finality.

“But sometimes, I have heard people from far-north places say that it is different where they are. There is almost not an East and a West. So could it not be the case that it is not so today, here?" The child urged.

“I have not been that far North," the wizened one said. “But in any case we are here, and that is what matters. The sun will not listen to us, son."

Nature is cruel

The leaves fall in the autumn, and leave the trees bare and shivering. They feel the cruel hand of nature. But it is worse than that. The young zebra strays from its wooded shelter out into the open, basking in the warm sun of the savannah, oblivious to hungry eyes that greedily scan and devour its young and beautiful form. And then, swiftly. Even gracefully, one might grudgingly say, were it not for the savagery of the young lions, as they hunt and pin the hapless prey down, settling down for the feast that has come so opportunely, after days and days of famine and forced fasting.

“Yes, my child, nature can be cruel. The sun will rise in the East. And the savage beasts will prey on the sweet and tender ones. That is the order of things."

“But man, he is different, no?"

“Maybe," said the sage, stroking his chin, “Maybe. But the difference may make man even more cruel, if you want to use that label."

“How so? We are intelligent, we reason, we think, we imagine and we are aware of ourselves and others. Are we not?"

Man is part and parcel of nature

“Just as the sun rises in the East and will always do so, man is part of the thing that he seeks to distance himself from. We will always be who we are, at a very fundamental level."

“But surely we are not just animals!?" said the young one, with almost an air of indignation.

“Oh, I don't know if I would say that so easily. We may come from the same stock as the lions and vultures do. We may just be a tad more sophisticated, if you want to call it that. Or it may be that we act in certain ways, while camouflaging our intents with words and ideas that blur things."

“Are you saying that we are duplicitous? Surely, man is better than that!?"

“That's the trouble, child: words! And, framing. When we use fancy words like 'duplicitous' it conjures up connotations that we have gotten habituated to, and it invokes things in us that rebel and make it difficult for us to deal with things the way they are, rather than the way we would like them to be."

I wanted, so my mind got haunted

“Are you saying that my want makes me see things differently?" the youngster demanded, hands on hip.

“If you really want it badly, yes. That is more likely than not. That you will warp reality to fit your imagination, rather than pouring your imagination only into a container capable of holding it." “Imagination goes everywhere," he continued, “and to places that reality can never go. It is useful to know what is inside you, and what is outside, and that it is rarely the same, only similar."

“But don't we always want something or the other? So if what you say were true, then our imagination would be supplanting real things all the time. That sounds preposterous!" said the youth, animatedly.

“True, my child. It does sound preposterous. But it's a bit like Alice in Wonderland. The things you see are not what they seem to be, and the things that you don't see may seem preposterous. It may, indeed, be because your want is like the magic mushroom that Alice indulged in. Don't eat it!"

“How do you not want anything!?"

“You can't. Living means wanting some things. Some would prefer to say 'needs', but we don't need to be too particular, because we are never really particular, except in words. Anyway, it's not that wanting is inherently a detrimental thing. It is just that when you want something too much, it can cause you to get a little logicky.

You start to rationalize. You invoke your creativity and imagination. You turn black into white, and make the sun rise in the West. You score a win over reality. And that is never a good thing. Because you have to live in the reality. And it can feel, yes, cruel, if you really want to call it that."

“So 1 + 1 can never be anything other than 2?"

“No, it cannot. But you have to be careful that you see only the real one-plus-ones as one-plus-ones: things that are like laws of nature, not laws of the creature.

Laws of nature are few and far between. If you happen to see one, hold on to it for dear life, plug your ears and shut out the noise that muddies it."


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