What a week-and-a-half! Big Data in all its forms failed to accurately predict either the outcome of the US presidential race or the Indian government’s decision to demonetize 85% of currency in circulation. And as I have written about often in this column, more changes are under way, especially in the world of technology, and we continue to predict outcomes that range from Armageddon to Utopia.
The wisdom of the ages lays down the law of Cause and Effect, and it is expressed in the various teachings of the world as a profound truth. This truth has been twisted and used over time by philosophers, psychologists, priests, politicians and physicians who attempt to poison our minds and our thinking so that they can wrest control of our collective psyche by pointing to a path where we continue to be kept safely in our bubbles. Failing that, they turn to the scare tactics of what might happen to us were our bubbles suddenly to be popped, and profit on what our minds all know at a deep level, but are simply unwilling to accept: that our world ceaselessly changes, that our bubbles will pop, and that we will one day die. And even then, we refuse to accept that finality—our sense of self in this bubble is so strong that it wants to continue to manipulate this world from even beyond our graves, and so we act to minimize the probability of probate.
For today at least, I will leave the game of further prediction of mundane events to the better informed, who as we have seen, are frequently wrong. Having faced tumultuous changes in my own life, which nothing could have ever predicted, I am going to dwell instead on how the human mind can adapt to sudden change. This is not yet another tired diatribe on the ‘acceptance curve’ of denial, anger, acceptance, etc. It is a personal, visceral, account of what I had to turn to in order to deal with sudden change, when my bubble of comfort was popped, and I found myself alone and defenceless, having to make sense of gut-wrenching physical and psychological turmoil when diagnosed and treated for cancer many years ago—which I have now thankfully overcome. Staring death, that greatest of all changes, in the face, I had to learn how to cope.
In this column, I will share three techniques which I attempted to use. I have by no means perfected these techniques and practice them clumsily at best. I claim no pride of authorship here; I am writing about eternal truths which should help us, even if just as an opiate, make sense of it all—if only we develop the capacity to turn to them and reflect upon them in silence within.
The first thing I did was to try to understand the law of Cause and Effect which lays down that everything that happens in the Universe is in Balance—the First Truth. All the great teachings in the world have laid stress on this common underlying point of Balance. In fact, Balance is so all-pervading that Einstein said: “The scientist’s religious feeling takes the path of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of Natural Law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” This must therefore mean that every event that happens contributes to the balance of the whole; it is all one system, even though a single event within the system may seem utterly incomprehensible.
That means that the only intelligent thing to do when such turbulent change occurs is for us to sit back and realize that we are only to be witnesses to change, and to respond to it rather than to react to it—much like we would watch a movie unfold on the screen and laugh at the funny bits and cry at the sad bits, while always knowing that what is happening before our eyes is unreal. Modern quantum physics after Einstein also points us this way—it says that what occurs depends upon the observer, and not on what is observed. So, in effect, as a witness, I am free to choose my response, and therefore the reality I actually experience. This is the Second Truth. And it is this truth that I was attempting to point to in an earlier column on artificial intelligence—where I posited that all true cognition can happen only on this plane—a computer which is a soulless being is bereft of sentience, and as a result, can never be a witness to its own machinations; at best, it can only react in the manner its set of instructions tell it to—it can never respond. We, however, can.
Which then brings us to the third question: how do we respond? Is it from the same plane of fear and autonomic reaction for survival that the reptilian vestiges in our brain bring us back to each time? If so, we are back where we started; we have lost the ability to witness, and therefore to respond instead of to react. No, it is by developing some sort of personal understanding of the Balance that is larger than us, as described by Einstein, and then by going about using our free will in consonance with that Balance, and not in dissonance with it.
Hence, the Third Truth: dive in, and go with the flow.
Siddharth Pai is a world-renowned technology consultant who has personally led over $20 billion in complex, first-of-a-kind outsourcing transactions.