Posted in Life & Happiness

Hanlon’s Razor

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

This concept has been around since the dawn of time, with many astute, wise people noting that more likely than not, people cause harm not because they wish to, but because they are human.

In 1774, Goethe wrote in his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther:

“Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.”

The more popular, simplified saying at the beginning is now called Hanlon’s Razor and it summarises human behaviour concisely and poetically.

Firstly, it emphasises that people (including us) are stupid. We are flawed creatures. Sure, we may have very capable brains, but we are also hamstrung by psychological biases, manipulation, instincts and impulses. We know that we should exercise, but instead we find ourselves binging TV. We know that we should not lash out at our partner, but we find ourselves reacting to our emotions instead of being proactive. More often than not, we make mistakes and poor decisions not because we are bad people, but because we are human.

Secondly, it shows that we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their actions. This is known as special pleading. By our very nature, we are egocentric. We think that the world revolves around us and we play an important role in the narrative of those around us. This means that when someone wrongs us, we can take it as a personal attack against us. How dare your coworker give you sass when they must know how burnt out you are from work? How could your spouse not understand your emotional needs right away? Why would the universe do this to us?

But if we take a step back and change our perspective, we might realise that everyone else lives in their own egocentric world. Each person has their own insecurities, hardships and flaws.

The girl who forgot your coffee order may be severely depressed, affecting her concentration. Your boss may have snapped at you this morning because his marriage is in trouble and he is not sleeping well. Your boyfriend may have insulted you not to hurt your feelings, but because they misunderstood you, they phrased something wrong, or just simply that they are not emotionally intelligent.

If you replace “stupidity” with any other imperfect human characteristic such as laziness, stress, distractedness, ignorance or misunderstanding, then the world suddenly appears to be a different place. People seem less evil and life seems a little less unfair.

Lastly, it reminds us that sometimes, things happen for no particular reason. Because people are imperfect and the world runs on chaos and probability, we may be subjected to adversities that appear unjust and unfair.

It’s not because you are worthless or because someone is out to get you: bad things – horrible things – happen without rhyme or reason. The fact that something bad happened is no judgement of your character or a sign from the universe; that’s just life.

Next time you are wronged, try to stop and think before you immediately react with anger and frustration: if you were in the other person’s shoes, what intention or mistake might have caused this? Have you ever done something similar, such as accidentally cutting in line or spilling a secret through human error, not malicious intent? If you assumed the best intention, what might explain this person’s actions?

If you give people the benefit of the doubt, the world becomes a slightly less stressful place to live in.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Cakelet

If you are feeling lazy but want a decent, filling, wholesome breakfast or brunch, try making a cakelet – a cross between a pancake and an omelet. By combining the two, the recipe becomes surprisingly easier, resulting in a savoury, fluffy, tasty meal.

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
2 tablespoon plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt

  1. Whisk the eggs until they are completely combined with no whites floating around
  2. Add the flour, baking powder, cheese and salt to the egg and whisk it lightly altogether
  3. Melt the butter in a small skillet (about 8″ in diameter) at medium heat
  4. Pour in the batter
  5. Once you see tiny bubbles starting to form and the mix starts to firm, flip the cakelet like a pancake
  6. Cook the other side for 2 minutes, until both sides are golden and it springs back when you poke the top
  7. Serve it any way you want it: the cakelet goes well with either sweet toppings such as jam or relish, or savoury toppings such as hummus, roasted tomatoes or bacon

If you find that the cakelet is too heavy, feel free to cut back on the amount of butter and cheese used. It is a very forgiving recipe that can be whipped up with little ingredients and minimal preparation, unlike a pancake or an omelet.

Photo courtesy of Bon Appetit’s Basically

Original recipe from Bon Appetit’s Basically: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/cakelet

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Fork Theory

The Spoon Theory discusses our reserve for the amount of positive energy we have to give away, until we run out, crash and burn. This is a useful analogy describing the “fuel” we have to cope with life’s demands, but does not address the “damage” that we accumulate on a day-to-day basis.

The Fork Theory is an eloquent, complementary theory to the Spoon Theory to visualise the effect of stress and annoyances on our mental health on a day-to-day basis.

Unlike spoons which we give away from a collection throughout the course of a day, forks are negative experiences and events that we accumulate over the day. We are stabbed with various forks day-by-day. Some are tiny, such as stepping on a Lego block or finding out that you’re out of milk. Some are giant pitchforks, such as finding out that your partner is cheating on you or being diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Whatever the size of the fork may be, the damage from each fork accumulates until you reach a personal threshold.

Much like running out of spoons, when we are stabbed by the last fork that breaks our threshold, we stop functioning normally. This may manifest as breaking down in tears, a rage-filled tantrum or engaging in self-destructive behaviour.

From the perspective of those around us, it may seem as if we are being triggered by the smallest thing, such as seemingly breaking down because a jar won’t open. But forks are invisible to others; only we can see and feel their effects. Therefore, no one can truly know how many forks a person has had to endure before they cannot take any more forks.

The Fork Theory helps us understand (others and ourselves) why we can be so reactive or sensitive at times. As much as we try to be proactive instead of reactive, there will be days when a small annoyance, such as our partner forgetting something insignificant or a slight delay, can set us off down a spiral of anxiety, depression and frustration. It is important to know that the reaction is likely to the total accumulation of forks, rather than to the final, individual fork.

Ergo, the way we should address forks is to remove as many forks as possible to reduce the burden on our mental health. We all know that smaller forks are easier to deal with than larger forks. It is much easier resolving your hunger or cleaning the room than paying off your mortgage or attending therapy to heal old traumas. By clearing away the small forks wherever we can, we create more room and emotional capacity to handle the tougher, more painful forks, while giving us a buffer for any new forks headed our way.

For example, let’s say your partner comes home from work and you tell them that you would like to talk to them about a financial issue that you two are facing currently. Your partner acknowledges you, but also proceeds to head directly to the kitchen to eat a sandwich. You are perplexed by this action: are they blatantly trying to ignore you, or suggesting that you and the household’s finances are a lower priority than a mere sandwich?

If we apply the Fork Theory, we may react less angrily. Perhaps our partner is exhausted from work and starving because they missed their lunch, while already being stressed from the economy being down. We have just stabbed them with a large fork that is financial stress, so our partner may be taking a completely healthy, rational step to remove a smaller fork such as satisfying their hunger, so that they have a greater reserve to deal with the new fork, preventing a threshold being breached and causing a breakdown.

If the Spoon Theory teaches us that we must be mindful of how much reserve we have left to give out, the Fork Theory teaches us how to better manage our woes so that we can survive each day, while facing new challenges that life throws our way.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Spoon Theory

In 2003, a woman by the name of Christine Miserandino coined the Spoon Theory to explain what it is like living with a chronic medical condition to her friend. When asked by her friend what it is like to live with lupus (an autoimmune condition resulting in various symptoms such as joint pains, fatigue and rashes), she gathered twelve spoons and handed it to her friend.

Miserandino explained to her friend that the spoons represented units of energy. Doing tasks – whether they be simple or complex, fun or a chore – used up spoons.

Getting dressed in the morning? That’s a spoon. Catching up with a friend in the afternoon? That’s another spoon. Cooking a proper meal for dinner? That might even take up two spoons. Even the simplest task such as doing dishes or taking a shower uses up energy.

When all of the spoons are used up, you don’t know what will happen, but you do know that you won’t be able to do anything else. To make it safely to the end of the day, you must carefully ration your spoons so that you have at least one spoon left by the time you get to sleep in your bed.

Most healthy people have a much larger pool of spoons to start the day with: large enough that they can reliably do pretty much all of the things they want to do throughout the day, then replenish the spent spoons through sleep and rest. But for people with chronic conditions such as lupus or depression, they live with a constant awareness of the limited supply of spoons that they have, along with the crushing fatigue and lack of motivation that awaits when the spoons run out.

You never know when you’ll have a sudden need for more spoons: you might get acutely sick, a friend may need emotional support, your relationship may become strained. Ergo, not only do you have to ration the spoons for a typical day, but you need a rainy day reserve of spoons.

Of course, the Spoon Theory is not only helpful for understanding what it is like to live with a chronic condition (or being a “spoonie” as some people would say), but it also helps us understand what our own reserves are when we are reasonably well.

No matter how healthy and well-adjusted we may be, life will indubitably challenge us with various demands. We will have to expend physical and emotional energy to keep up, whether it be going to work to pay bills, supporting our loved ones through tough times, or even doing enjoyable things such as indulging our passions.

There will no doubt be a day when we run out of spoons and we find ourselves unable to do anything, even if it’s as easy as getting out of bed in the morning.

By knowing about the Spoon Theory, we can always be mindful of how many spoons we have left and have the wisdom to keep a spare spoon in our pockets for that particularly tough day.

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Posted in Philosophy

The Art Of Persuasion

Sophists were ancient Greek teachers who taught the art of persuading people. This could be for personal use, such as convincing someone to help you with something, or to influence a large group of people, such as in politics. The art of finding the best way to persuade someone is known as rhetoric.

It is interesting to see that the art of persuasion has always been an important skill for human beings since ancient times. We are social creatures with psychological biases, so knowing how to influence other people to help push your agenda forward can be critical in putting yourself one step ahead.

The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote a clear, defining treatise of rhetoric in his book, simply titled Rhetoric, or Ars Rhetorica in Latin. In this book, he summarised the core of rhetoric as three principles: logos, pathos and ethos. Any good orator should be able to rely on all three of these to persuade their audience.

Logos is the appeal to logical reasoning. It is the rational, factual facet of your argument.
Pathos is the appeal to your audience’s emotion. It is the passionate, heartfelt way you present your argument.
Ethos is the appeal to your character. It is an establishment of why people should believe what you have to say, based on your moral character and history.

Out of all of these, which is most important? Some say logos is most important, because cold, hard facts should be used to determine the resolution of a debate. Some feel pathos is most important, because people are more likely to be swayed by emotion and passion as we have a tendency to be influenced too much by our monkey brain.

However, Aristotle claimed that the most important principle is ethos. You can make up facts and you can put on a performance to abuse the power of emotions. But ethos is hard to obtain: you have to live life nobly and honourably, guided by a moral compass. People have a tendency to trust the words of a virtuous person much more than someone who has a history of lying, cheating and in general, morally bankrupt.

Simply put, the secret to being persuasive is not the words you speak or the impassioned way that you deliver them, but your credibility.

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Posted in Science & Nature

Airplane Game

You are cordially invited to a game that lets you earn money very easily. The game works like this:

  1. You pay $1000 to be recruited as a passenger to a plane.
  2. There are 8 passengers, managed by 4 crew members, who have 2 co-pilots above them, co-ordinated by a captain at the top.
  3. Everytime the “plane” is filled with 8 passengers, the captain retires and is paid out $8000.
  4. When the captain retires, the plane is split into two planes and everyone else is promoted one step higher (co-pilots each become a captain, crew become co-pilots, passengers become co-pilots).
  5. When each plane fills with 8 new patients, the captain of each plane gets paid out $8000 and retires.

This seems like a very easy way to earn money. Where else could you invest money and guarantee a 700% return, only needing to recruit 7 new people into the game?

The problem with the airplane game is that it is a classic example of a pyramid scheme. At first glance, it seems that the payout of $8000 is guaranteed because it seems that the promotions will keep coming.

But if you look at the mathematics, 8 people need to participate before the first player wins. 16 people have to participate for the second player to win. 80 people have to participate for the tenth person to win. If you are the one-thousandth person to join the game, you need a total number of 8000 people to be playing the game before you are paid out. At the end of the game, 87.5% of people playing will have lost money because they will never be paid out.

This is how simple exponential growth can result in a very real fraud, resulting in thousands of people losing their hard-earned money.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Reactive Versus Proactive

The world functions on a cause-and-effect basis, where actions result in reactions. A relevant example for us is how a stimulus will prompt us to respond with an emotion. The stimulus could be physical, such as a hug making us feel loved or pain making us sad, or situational, such as feeling frustrated and angry when things do not go as planned. Our monkey brains are wired to rely on emotional reactions to guide our behaviour.

Emotional reactions can be useful as they are very fast and powerful. Fear activates the fight-or-flight response, letting us flee from danger or prepare us to fight. Disgust teaches us to avoid things that cause us to become unwell. Happiness and love give us energy to carry on through hard times.

However, as powerful as they can be, emotional reactions can also be deleterious. Being overly reactive makes us slaves to our emotions or can result in unhealthy behaviours. For example, reacting with rage, frustration and hysteria builds stress and makes us toxic to people around us. Our monkey brains were crucial to our survival as a species in prehistoric times, but in the modern world, it can cause more harm than good.

The problem with being reactive is that we are not acting, but being acted upon. When we are reactive, we cannot control our response or use rational thinking to solve problems. Instead, we are controlled by circumstances and conditions.

So how can we combat our tendencies to be reactive? The answer is to be proactive instead of reactive. Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

The secret to being proactive is understanding that between the stimulus and our response, we have the freedom to choose how we react.

Being proactive is an effective strategy in many aspects of life. Proactivity allows us to plan ahead and prepare for stress and challenges, letting us cope better when hardships strike. In sports and competitive games (or war), the concept of “offence is the best defence” is a fundamental tactic. One of the key concepts of resuscitation is having a plan and preparing for the worst, so that you are not caught off guard when the unexpected happens. This kind of preparedness and flexibility allow us to navigate through this uncertain, ever-changing world.

In a world full of hot takes where we are expected to respond immediately to everything from messages to tweets to headlines, pausing to think in that little space between stimulus and response allows us to access the power of higher order thinking, while letting us be calmer in anxiety-provoking situations. Overall, it helps reduce the stress and frustrations that build up in the background as we constantly encounter unpredictable changes that affect our lives, letting us be more present and content.

There are many ways to train ourselves in utilising this space to take back control of how we respond.

The first step, as mentioned above, is being aware and mindful. What emotion are you starting to feel, why might you be feeling it and do you think your reaction is justified?

Next, determine whether you have the power to change the situation, to remove or weaken the stimulus. Can you remove yourself from the situation? Can you break the vicious cycle by taking a time-out, or change your approach or perspective? Remember that our brains can easily magnify the perception of a threat, distorting our objective view of reality. If possible, take action to modulate the stimulus or your perception of it, so you don’t react as strongly.

If not, then shift your focus to how you can optimise and de-escalate the situation. Think of the consequences of your reaction, if there are any alternate ways to defuse your reaction, if you can think of a positive side or a silver lining, or if there is anything else you can do to help yourself. Instead of thinking “why is this happening to me?“, try to reframe it as “how can I solve this situation?“.

If you find that the fiery emotional reaction is still building despite this, then draw from the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer and accept that there are things outside of your control. Focussing on what you have control over and accepting that you cannot control everything empowers you to take charge of the situation. This lets you be the agent of your own response and story. Meditation is another powerful tool that helps train this approach to facing a problem.

Failing all of that, it is okay to respond with emotion. After all, we are only human and emotions are part of what makes us human. The important part is that you took action and you chose to feel that emotion, instead of being acted upon by the emotion. Indulge in catharsis and let your emotions out. Sometimes, the drunk elephant that is your emotional side just needs to vent and that is a perfectly healthy thing to do (in moderate amounts).

Don’t waste emotional energy to reactivity: be proactive and empower yourself.

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Posted in Science & Nature

Exponential Growth

Imagine that you have won a strange lottery where they give you two options of payment: they can either pay you one million dollars up front, or they can pay you one cent on the first day, then double the amount you have every day for a month (i.e. 1 cent on day 1, 2 cents on day 2 etc.). Which would you choose?

It may seem obvious that the $1 million up front is far better than accumulating a few cents every day. But by the end of the month (day 31), you would actually have accumulated $5.37 million. How did this happen?

The secret to this extraordinary increase is the power of exponential growth. If you double a number constantly at a regular interval, it grows at a staggering rate. Let us look at the above example again.

On day 1, you have 1 cent. By day 10, you already have 2(10-1) = $5.12. Now we can see that instead of mere cents, we are gaining $5 in one day.
By day 15, you have $163.84. Now the doubling nets you another $163.
By day 20, you suddenly have $10,485.76.
We pass $1 million at day 28 where we have $1.34 million.
Day 29 you have $2.68 million and you can see how we end up with $5.37 million – over five times the amount we would have received compared to the first option.

This shows the sheer power of doubling. It is an important principle to grasp as we see exponential growth all around us in life. Nuclear chain reactions undergo exponential growth to power nuclear reactors. Positive feedback in speakers undergoes doubling amplification, resulting in the sharp screeching sounds. Compound interest follows exponential growth, allowing investments to give substantial returns over time (or result in crushing debt). Bacteria divide in two each time, resulting in a rapid population boom.

Understanding exponential growth also helps us make sense of scary situations such as pandemics. Viral infections are spread from one person to multiple people, represented by a basic reproduction number (R0). In the case of the COVID-19 (2019 coronavirus) pandemic, the R0 was between 2 and 3, meaning that left unchecked, the number of infected individuals would essentially double every few days.

Although this seems obvious, if you didn’t know about exponential growth, it would be terrifying to hear that one day you have 8 cases in a country, but in a fortnight, there are over 1000 cases, with each day presenting increasing numbers of newly infected patients. The media preys on this effect by providing anxiety-inducing headlines. But in reality, the headlines might as well read: “virus continues spreading in predictable exponential fashion“.

Another strength of knowing about exponential growth in a pandemic is that it lets us predict what would happen without any intervention. The number of cases would explode in a matter of weeks, resulting in catastrophic numbers of unwell people taken off the workforce, accompanied by mass casualties. Hospitals would be completely overrun, crippling the nation’s healthcare system and resulting in even more deaths as the infection runs rampant.

Therefore, efforts to reduce the spread of the virus through social distancing and effective quarantining are vital to reduce the rate of exponential growth, flattening the curve and making the number of cases more manageable for the healthcare system to deal with.

File:Covid-19-curves-graphic-social-v3.gif
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Posted in Science & Nature

Endling

Extinction is when there are no more members of a given species left. Countless species have come and gone throughout history, such as the dinosaurs. We are currently going through the most recent episode of mass extinction where a vast number of species are being wiped out from the face of the Earth. The cause of this mass extinction is us.

So-called the Anthropocene Extinction, modern humans have been responsible for the extinction of millions of species over the course of our history. This ranges from the death of megafauna such as the woolly mammoth, to the extermination of the dodo on Mauritius, to the imminent extinction of the Northern white rhinoceros (with only two female rhinos surviving). This is the result of over-hunting, climate change, habitat destruction and predator and disease introduction.

Because of the sheer number of extinctions caused and threatened by us, we have also observed many hauntingly depressing stories of identifying the last member of a species. For example, we know that the last passenger pigeon named Martha died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The last Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) named Benjamin died in 1936, neglected in a zoo. These poor creatures who are the last of their kind are called endlings.

A particularly sad endling story is that of a Hawaiian bird species known as the Kaua’i ʻōʻō. They are an extinct species of honeyeater bird that could be identified by their strikingly rich, golden yellow leg feathers. The Kaua’i ʻōʻō were also famous for their flute-like duet songs sang between lifelong mating pairs.

The Kaua’i ʻōʻō became threatened as mosquitoes were introduced to the island of Kaua’i by sailors. The mosquitoes transmitted deadly diseases which decimated the population. To escape the mosquitoes, the birds retreated to higher ground. However, the Kaua’i ʻōʻō were cavity nesters, meaning that they made nests in tree hollows, which are found in fewer numbers at high altitudes. This meant that the birds failed to find nesting grounds and their numbers dwindled further.

The last mating pair was last observed in 1981. Despite ornithologists attempting desperately to protect this pair, they could not locate the female after a devastating hurricane struck the island in 1982. Several years later, ornithologist Jim Jacobi was surveying the Alaka’i reserve when he heard the unmistakable call of the Kaua’i ʻōʻō. He quickly used his tape recorder to record the Kaua’i ʻōʻō’s call. When he replayed the tape to the group, he noticed to his surprise that the male Kaua’i ʻōʻō had flown back towards them. He stared in wonder, then realised: the bird had returned because he had thought it heard another bird calling him; a call it hadn’t heard in however long.

We can still listen to this recording of the Kaua’i ʻōʻō endling. We can hear the clear lack of its duet partner’s call – a deafening silence symbolising the death of a species.

The saddest part of this story is knowing that even though we may never know their name or how their call sounds, countless endlings have died a lonely, quiet death all around the world, marking a full stop to their species’ epic narrative.

You can hear the Kaua’i ʻōʻō endling’s call here:

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Posted in Science & Nature

Centre Of The Universe

We often meet people who act as if they are at the centre of the universe. These egocentric people behave as if they are the most important people in the world and that their words and actions are more meaningful than they actually are, while assuming that they play an important role in other people’s lives. This is a common belief in children who are still learning to differentiate the world and other people from their own minds, but in adults, it is almost pathological.

Speaking of which, where is the centre of the universe?

In ancient times, the concept of “universe” was very different. Many cultures imagined the universe as consisting of the Earth where we lived, plus the heavens and the underworld (often supposedly where the good and bad end up after death respectively). These worlds would be connected by a central axis mundi, or world axis. An example of this is the mighty Yggdrasil, the World Tree, found in Norse mythology. It is said to be a gigantic tree that connects the Nine Worlds and is the centre of all life.

As the science of astronomy developed, we realised that we are not at the centre of the universe. Geocentrism – the model where Earth is at the centre of the world with the Sun, Moon and planets orbiting it – eventually gave way to heliocentrism – the modern model where the Solar System orbits around the Sun.

It took brave scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei challenging the Church and Aristotelian science establishments to show that our understanding of the universe was wrong, despite pressure and punishment. Through scientific observation and inquiry, it was shown that we are not at the centre of the world, but the Sun is.

But as we discovered more about the heavens, we realised that the universe is far vaster than the Solar System. With the advent of the Big Bang Theory, we realised that the universe is expanding, with every object moving away from each other in all directions. This is an extremely difficult concept to visualise, but because the universe is expanding infinitely in all directions, it technically has no centre.

On a final note, the concept of the universe being infinite may not be relevant to us because we cannot observe the infinite universe. Instead, we often talk about the Observable Universe, which is the portion of the universe that we can physically observe with our eyes, telescopes and other instruments. The centre of the observable universe, like anything observable, is the observer.

Therefore, in some sense of the phrase, you are technically at the centre of the universe.

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