A common set of questions we get asked are: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What do you do?” and “Can you tell me more about yourself?”. These questions are essentially asking how we identify ourselves and what kind of identity do we want in the future.
If you were asked “who are you?”, how would you reply? Many people would identify with their occupation, such as a doctor, musician, software developer or actor. Some people define themselves by their relationship, such as a mother of two. Another common source of identity is your accomplishments and success, such as celebrities, a popular author or world-class athlete.
But what happens when our identity is shaken? For example, what if you identify as an author who published an immensely popular, critically-acclaimed book, but you can’t write a book good enough to follow it up? What if you are the best swordsman in the realm and you lose your hand? What if you identify as a mother, but your children are now grown up and have left you in an empty nest?
The problem with hinging our identity on one thing is that it makes us vulnerable to having an identity crisis when that thing will inevitably change.
Life has a tendency to be unpredictable and can easily throw the rug from under our feet at any minute. If this happens and all of our proverbial eggs are in one basket, it leads to a devastating blow to our sense of self-worth. Focussing our identity around one factor of our life would be as silly as investing all of our money in a single stock.
To solve this issue, we should treat our identity like any other investment: diversify your identity.
You are not “just a(n)” anything, because you are so much more complicated and multi-faceted than that. You can be a lawyer who also makes pottery and is a loving wife. You can be a mother who is also an amateur pianist that cooks well and is passionate about photography. You can be a successful internet celebrity who also happens to be an avid member of a board game community and loves playing tennis with his flatmates in the weekends.
The trick here is to find different sources for your identity. Identify yourself not only with your job and success, but also with your relationships and passions. Be mindful that most things in life are transient, whether by choice or not. That way, when we are forced to give up a part of who we are, our identity will still hold its shape so that it can heal with time, to form an even more complex and interesting identity.
How many people do you need in a room until there are two people with the same birthdays? The pigeonhole principle dictates that (excluding February 29) since there are 365 birthdays, 366 people in a room would guarantee two people sharing birthdays. However, this is only the number needed to absolutely guarantee a pairing. Using a neat statistical trick known as the birthday problem (or birthday paradox), we can find that a much smaller number is needed to solve the problem.
Let us assume that every birthday is equally possible (in real life, some birthdays are more common than others). If there are 30 people in the room, Person 1 has a chance of sharing a birthday with each of the other 29 people (possible pairs). Person 2 can be paired with 28 people (since they have already been “paired” to 1), Person 3 with 27 people and so forth. Therefore, the number of chances are: 29 + 28 + 27+ … + 1. Using Gauss’s handy addition trick, the total number is (29 + 1) x 29/2 = 435. We can see already that although the total number of individuals is only 30, the total number of pairs already exceeds 365. Since the probability of having a certain birthday is 1/365, it is likely that it would occur when you have so many possible chances.
Using statistical analysis, it can be found that when there are 23 people, the odds of there being a match surpasses 50%, making it more likely that two people share a birthday than not. By 70 people, the probability of a match grows to 99.9%. Therefore, with only 19% of the number required by the pigeonhole principle, the birthday problem can say with 99.9% certainty that there will be two people sharing a birthday.
Mirrors are perhaps one of the most useful yet underrated inventions that we use every day. From shaving in the morning to fixing make-up during lunch, the modern man or woman will use a mirror (or some other reflective surface) at least once a day. Mirrors show us an accurate reflection of the world that we cannot see. We can only look forwards and need a mirror to reflect light going the opposite way to see behind us or – more importantly – ourselves. To do this, a mirror must directly reflect every photon (particles that make up light) at exactly the right angle so the image is not distorted. If the mirror is not completely flat or perfectly polished, light will not be reflected at the exact angle and we will see a distorted image – much like looking into a mirror at the circus. Therefore, one could say that a perfectly flat, clean mirror is absolutely honest, as it will reflect exactly as it sees.
However, this statement is not entirely true as what you see in the mirror is a mirror image of reality. This may seem trivial, but it has significant consequences. This is most obvious when you hold a book up to a mirror. Without training, it is very difficult to read something that is mirrored. This is why Leonardo da Vinci wrote his notes in mirror image. This phenomenon of something becoming completely different is also seen in chemistry. Because of the way molecules are arranged, it is possible to have a property called chirality – where two molecules with the same elemental composition are built in the mirror image of one another. Essentially, it is as if the molecule can be either left- or right-handed. It turns out that even if the composition is the same, two molecules of different chirality (called enantiomers) can act completely differently. This effect may be as simple as changing the way a liquid polarises light to making a drug completely inert or even toxic. For example, the amino acid carvone that gives the spearmint taste only tastes like spearmint if it is L-carvone (“left-handed”), whereas D-carvone (“right-handed”) is tasteless despite having the same molecular formula.
Since the topic of chirality is rather technical and hard to understand, let us move on to the field of literature. One of the best examples of how mirrors can completely change something is seen in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Lewis Carroll understood the significance of mirror images in chemistry and wrote this novel to portray how quirky and strange a “mirror world” may be. Through the Looking Glass is a sequel to the famous book Alice in Wonderland and describes a world that is the mirror image of Wonderland. Carroll cleverly wrote the first book so that it would be the opposite of the first book. The first book starts outdoors, is set in the summer, uses changes in size as a plot device and focuses on the theme of trump cards. The second book starts indoors, is set in the winter, uses changes in direction as a plot device and draws on the theme of chess. There are even characters such as Hatta and Haigha who are the mirror images of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare from the previous book. Although they are very similar, they are just not the same and hence Alice does not recognise them. Perhaps the line that best shows Carroll’s understanding of the dangers of mirror worlds is this: “Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink”.
The field of psychology is also heavily interested in mirrors. It is a well-known fact that our brains recognise the purpose of mirrors. If you put a mirror in front of someone, you know that the person will examine themselves, groom themselves or simply make funny poses. A simple experiment shows how used to mirrors we are. If you angle two mirrors at right angles and fit a transparent sheet of glass in front of the two to make a prism shape, the image you see through the glass is a reflection that is not mirrored. Because it is not mirrored, you can hold up a book to it and still read it fine. This is known as a non-reflecting mirror. An interesting experiment shows that if you make people use this kind of mirror, they become incredibly confused as they are too used to using a mirror image to see themselves. Even though the reflection they see is a “truer” image, because their brain automatically flips the mirrored image, they become uncoordinated and keep moving their hands in the opposite direction.
As mentioned at the start, mirrors are a human invention. Although reflection occurs in nature, such as on a clear surface of water, animals generally are incapable of using mirrors. This is such a universal fact that animal psychologists use a mirror test to determine whether a specie of animal is self-aware or not. The test is done by showing an animal a mirror. Most animals will see their reflection and automatically believe that it is another animal, as they are incapable of thinking that it is a reflection of themselves. Hence, they will try to threaten, attack or flee from the image they see. But if you show a higher-order animal such as an ape or dolphin a mirror, they will start to groom themselves as they realize that the mirror is simply showing themselves.
This is what sets us apart from animals. Not only are we capable of recognizing ourselves in a mirror, but we have the ability to go one step further and reflect on ourselves using the mirror of our minds. Some people may take a look at the person in this mirror and be content with who they are. But some will gaze into the mirror and, much like the animals in the mirror test experiments, see a completely different person they do not recognise. This may cause disappointment, frustration or even disgust as we realize that we are not who we think we are or aspire to be. Then again, sometimes you will gaze into the mirror and see a person that has strengths such as courage – a person you could be if you realized your true potential. The most frightening realisation would be to discover that there is no one in the mirror.
Lastly, we could consider the mirror of behaviour. Goethe said that “behaviour is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image”. The corollary to this is that human beings read behaviour to try and interpret another person’s character. One can use this to greatly improve the relationship and connection with another person. Mirroring is the act of subtly copying the other person’s behaviour to build rapport– where an empathic bridge is constructed between two people. Rapport is particularly useful in jobs that involve earning the trust of strangers in a short time, such as in healthcare or business. By matching the other person’s body language, such as posture or actions like taking a sip of water, the other person will open up more easily to you. The same applies to verbal and emotional mirroring where you subtly reuse the words the other person spoke and reflect their emotions such as excitement. Obviously, one must be subtle with mirroring as a direct imitation will appear mocking and strange. If you are able to subtly copy their behaviour, the other person’s subconscious mind will be tricked into thinking that you are similar in character and trust you more. This skill is extremely useful in improving your interpersonal and social skills.
A mirror is a paradoxical object that is absolutely honest yet relatively deceitful. Reflections in the mirror are true yet completely different. If you take a peek into the mirror of your mind, perhaps you will see the person you think you are now or the person you could be in a mirror world. If you are happy with what you see, then cherish that and be proud of who you are. Otherwise, you can always do what Alice did and jump through the looking-glass to find an alternate you – the best you that you can be.
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, there is a scene where the Red Queen says to Alice: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”. Essentially, it means to spend all the effort you can just to keep the status quo. In life, there are so many times when it seems like you’re frantically running just to realise that no progress has been made. Interestingly, the same rule is seen in biology and evolution.
The simple rule of natural selection is that the best adapted species wins. Unfortunately, this means that no matter how well you are doing in the environment, as soon as another species becomes better adapted to a new change, you become the lesser species and eventually destroyed. To prevent this, a species must continuously evolve and adapt just to stay in the same position. Nature despises stagnancy and loves progress. For example, a predator always strives to evolve to better catch the prey while the prey evolves to avoid the predator. This cat-and-mouse arms race allows for continuous evolution and ever-improving fitness. This is the Red Queen’s Hypothesis.
A fascinating extension of the hypothesis is that it may be a cause for having sex. Sex is one of the most intuitive inventions of Mother Nature that allows for massive genetic variation. The Red Queen Hypothesis has been used to suggest that this may have evolved to speed up the process of evolution so that hosts could beat parasites in the ongoing arms race. The greatest act of love may simply be a mechanism for us to stay competent in this ever-changing world.
Roses are the most common flowers used in modern society to profess one’s love. However, many people do not know the true meaning behind each flower. For example, every colour has a different meaning for roses.
Red rose: true love, passion
White rose: eternal love, innocence
Black rose: death, farewell
Yellow rose: friendship, jealousy, betrayal
Pink rose: grace, gratitude, youth
Mix of red and white roses: unity
As seen from above, a rose can mean love, friendship or even separation. It is also important to note that roses are traditionally given as a bouquet of one, six, dozen or any multiple of six. The following is a list of common flowers and what they symbolise:
Acacia: secret love
Bellflower: thinking of you
Cherry blossoms: beautiful mind, purity
Chrysanthemum: peace, love, mourning (used in funerals)
Cosmos: forever, devotion
Daffodil: Chivalry, respect, unrequited love
Daisies: innocence, modesty, beauty
Edelweiss: memories of an important person
Hibiscus: rare beauty
Lavender: silence, devotion
Lilac: memories of youth, first love
Lily: innocence, chastity, purity
Magnolia: unrequited love
Pansies: memories of love
Tulip: declaration of love (red), hopeless love (yellow), broken heart (white)
Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali. No crime or punishment without a previous penal law.
This is the backbone of modern criminal law, stating that the law defines what a crime is, and without the law, there can be no crime. Ergo, a crime in the past cannot be punished with the law of the present.
The principle has allowed for many loopholes where past crimes went unpunished as they were not subjected to new laws. An example is The Homicide Act of 1957 in English law, which never gave a statutory definition of murder. This led to no less than six appeals challenging the definition, using it as a defence. It also protects criminals by allowing them to use a defence (e.g. provocation) even after it is outlawed, as long as the crime was committed before the law came in place.
If Wonderland’s legal system was based around nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege, then the King of Hearts would not have been able to impose his Rule #42: “all persons more than a mile high must leave the court immediately”, as he created the rule after Alice ate the mushrooms and grew in size.
“As mad as a hatter” – this is a well-known English idiom, particularly famous after Lewis Carroll created the Mad Hatter character in his work Alice in Wonderland. However, what is less known is the fact that this idiom is based on actual events.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, hatters used mercury to treat felt (traditionally made from rabbit fur or the more luxurious beaver fur). Unfortunately, mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal, which causes severe damage in the human body. In the case of mercury poisoning (also known as Minamata disease or the Mad Hatter disease), it infiltrates neurons to cause severe neurological symptoms. For example, it can impair vision and hearing, cause paresthesia (pins and needles), anxiety, depression, tremors and hallucinations. The famous physicist, Isaac Newton, also suffered from Mad Hatter disease.
Another mad character from Alice in Wonderland is the March Hare. As one may deduce from his name, he is modelled after a normal hare. The reason why the March Hare is mad is that March is around the time when rabbits enter their mating season, and male hares are in heat. They then have only one thing in mind: sex.
Maybe, as the Cheshire Cat explains, “we’re all mad down here”.
As an important character in the book Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat is infamous for his non-sensical and strange questions and answers. But his words also carry a very strong philosophical message. For example, when asked by Alice, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” he replies:
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where-” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “-so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
This directly applies to life: if you keep walking without giving up, you will eventually end up somewhere. Even if you are lost and without direction, life will, without a doubt, take you somewhere as long as there is hope. However, it also points out how it’s much more useful and time-conserving to know the destination you want to reach, also known as a “goal”.
Additionally, the Cat is well-known for his ear-to-ear grin, thus the term “grinning like a Cheshire Cat”. The origin of this cat is most likely from Cheshire, England, where cheese made from there were molded into the shape of a grinning cat.
There is a disease called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. This causes patients to suffer massive migraines, while suffering visual hallucinations that alter their perception of what they see. For example, they see objects as bigger or smaller than what they actually are, or even see them as upside-down. Because of this, people who have experienced this syndrome say that it was like living in a fairy tale. There is no known cure, but it is often temporary and will one day disappear like magic.
When you fall in love, the other person’s weaknesses seem smaller, their strengths seem bigger, and sometimes they turn your world upside-down. So is love like living in a fairy tale, or like suffering a disease?.
This riddle was first posed by Lewis Carroll in his famous work, Alice in Wonderland, asked by the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter asks this riddle in his nonsensical character, stating that he does not know the answer either. In fact, the book never reveals what the answer to the riddle is.
Perplexed, many readers wrote to Carroll as to the answer of this puzzle. After receiving so many enquiries, Carroll wrote in the preface of his next book that the riddle was thought of without the answer in mind, meaning that he did not know the commonality between the two either. However, he did suggest an answer that:
“Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (note that “nevar” is “raven” “put with the wrong end in front”)
Knowing that this riddle was never created with an answer, scholars have attempted to solve this riddle themselves ever since. There have been many proposed answers, such as “they both stand on sticks”, “they both come with inky quills” and the most famous “because Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both” (see The Raven). There have also been nonsensical answers (thus answering to the nonsensical nature of the riddle) such as “because there is a B in both and an N in neither”.
However, perhaps the best answer, as with all works by both Carroll and Poe, is that “you can baffle billions with both”.