Posted in Life & Happiness

Elephant Riding

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt described the relationship between our rational and emotional minds as that of a person riding an elephant. The rational person can guide the elephant using reins, but if the elephant really wants to go a certain way, it will easily overpower the rider. Fighting against the elephant risks it throwing you off or going on a destructive rampage.

This analogy is helpful in making us understand that emotions are natural and powerful. Fighting against emotions (particularly strong, negative emotions) can be pointless and harmful. The best thing is to let yourself feel the emotion, so that it can resolve rather than build up.

This may sound defeatist, because it feels as if we cannot ever control our emotions and we are slaves to it. However, as the analogy points out, our thoughts are the riders atop our elephants of emotions.

Thoughts and perception lead to emotions, as emotions are typically a reaction to an internal or external stimulus. For example, if someone is rude to us, then we feel angry. If we have doubts or insecurities about ourselves, we feel anxious and sad. If we perceive ourselves to be loved, then we feel happy.

And there we have the secret to controlling our emotions. We cannot choose what we feel, but we can choose what to think. By changing the way we think about or perceive something, we can directly influence how often or how intensely we feel certain emotions.

Take road rage as a common example. It is so easy and automatic to think that someone cut in front of us, or going too slow, or too distracted because they are terrible people or stupid. This thought and perception makes us enraged and frustrated, creating stress and sometimes even making us engage in risky behaviour such as tailgating or aggressively overtaking. But if we try to think of it from their perspective, they may be an inexperienced driver, in a rush or having a horrible day. At the very least, we can think of the times we have done the same thing to other people unintentionally. This change of perspective helps us suffer less from our emotional outbursts and overall reduces our stresses.

Take anxiety as another case, where if we stop and think rationally, many of our worries and doubts can be settled. The problem is that because we give less attention to our thoughts, our emotions take over and drag us down into a negative spiral. When that happens, our emotions override our thoughts and we powerless, feeling that we have no control over either our emotions or thoughts.

To counteract this, we need to have a paradigm shift where we know that we have the power to think freely. When we feel an emotion that we do not like, then we can approach it with mindfulness by recognising that we are feeling the emotion, then trying to diagnose the problem. To do this, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What am I thinking?
  • Why am I choosing to think this?
  • How does this thought make me feel?

The point of these questions is to figure out what thought is making you feel that way so you can fix the thought rather than the emotion. Even if you can’t, it puts you in the habit of forming a link between thought and emotion, leading to a healthier connection to your feelings and giving you back some control over them.

Posted in Life & Happiness


You see an attractive person.
You think about approaching them to talk with them.
You toy with the idea of asking them out for a coffee.
You worry that they will be offended by your forwardness.
You feel certain that they would never say yes because you are unattractive.
You become sad that you will never find love and will die alone.
As all of these thoughts race through your head, the person walks past you and carries on with their day, oblivious to your internal torment.

This is a classic example of a negative thought spiral. Our brains are experts of association. But unfortunately, they are also experts of worrying. Evolution has trained us to be prepared for all emergencies with a state-of-the-art fight-or-flight system, which unfortunately is more useful for fleeing from lions than the stresses of modern life.

Because of our anxieties and stress, a fleeting, negative intrusive thought can spark a chain of negative thoughts, spiralling infinitely tighter and tighter as we catastrophise and despair.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to rescue yourself from a negative thought spiral.

The first is to recognise that you are in a spiral. A person walking down a spiral road may think that they are walking down a straight road, because they cannot see the bigger picture. This is why it is important to be mindful of your mental state. How are you feeling? What is making you feel this way? How are these feelings affecting your thoughts?

Sometimes, the sheer process of recognising a spiral lets you snap out of it. You may notice obvious rational answers to your anxiety. Perhaps your partner is not texting back because they are busy at work, not because they died in a fiery car crash.

Failing this, we can try grounding exercises. This is a classic distraction technique where by focussing and anchoring yourself on the present, you can escape the spiral.
This may range from simple breathing exercises, to more detailed mindfulness exercises such as the five senses meditation.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. Do not let the spiral be cruel to you. When the spiral tells you that you are worthless, correct them by telling yourself that you are worth it. Talk to yourself as you would to someone you love dearly. As important it is to have other people to rely on for compassion and love, it is so difficult to escape these spirals if we do not show ourselves compassion and love.

Contrary to what we have discussed, not all spirals are bad. To quote John Green:

“Spirals grow infinitely small the farther you follow them inward, but they also grow infinitely large the farther you follow them out.”

When you are mindful of your thoughts, you will notice the occasional positive thought spirals. For example, you may have a sudden thought that you might want to travel on your own. You might come up with a gift idea for a friend that you think they might appreciate, despite how cheesy it is. Sometimes, these thoughts become seeds that grow out into more elaborate ideas and plans.

These are the kinds of spirals you should listen to, as it is your subconscious prompting you to take action in your pursuit of happiness. As long as it does not harm you or others, you should follow these spirals outwards, as they may lead you to an infinitely wonderful place.

Posted in Life & Happiness

The Gift Of Flowers

Why do we give flowers to express our love for another person? Handwritten letters take effort and pouring out your heart, while diamonds represent eternity. Flowers on the other hand, are easy to acquire and will eventually wilt away. Of course, that is a rather cynical view. There are numerous reasons why people choose flowers as gifts.

Flowers have a language of their own, so choosing the right flower can mean all the difference for a person who has an interest in flowers. For example, red roses represent true love and passion, lilies represent innocence and purity, while lilacs represent memories of youth and your first love.

It is true that flowers are not permanent things, but they symbolise an aspect of love that is more important than “eternity”.
A flower wilts when it is not cared for. Flowers wilt when they are not given enough water or just left in stale water for days without changing the vase water. Every flower needs different kind of care, for example, an orchid may wilt if left in direct sunlight and should be kept in indirect light.

Relationships are inherently dynamic – if you do not pay enough attention to the other person and constantly care and make an effort, it will slowly wilt until it dries up into bitterness. In that regard, perhaps flowers are a better gift than diamonds to symbolise love, as it is a reminder how true love is not something you expect to always stay the same, but something that you have to work hard to maintain.

Or perhaps there is a simpler reason we give flowers to each other. They are simply beautiful to look at add a fresh aroma to the environment. At the most superficial level, a lovely bouquet of flowers is a pleasant thing to receive. Perhaps beyond all the metaphors and hidden meaning, all we wish to say is: “I want to put a smile on your face”.

Posted in Philosophy

Where The Wind Blows From

Wind is a funny thing. It is all around us and we know it is there from what it does. From how it rustles the leaves on a tree, how it feels against our cheeks, to even the destruction it causes through a storm. However, we never know where it comes from. Sure, we can point at the general direction, but we cannot pinpoint exactly what caused the wind and where it started.

Sometimes in life, a similar thing happens to our hearts as well. Sometimes we are smitten with a feeling or emotion. It may be a warm, breezy sensation that makes you feel happy, or it may be a whirlwind that makes you fall head over heels and feel absolutely helpless in the face of it. More often than not, we cannot find the exact reason or source for this. Even worse, sometimes we figure it out, but far too late.

Like the wind, you may never be able to find where those feelings are coming from, no matter how far you travel. But regardless, perhaps it’s not such a foolish thing to follow the wind. You may not find where it’s blowing from, but at least it will feel nice and keep you cool.


Posted in Psychology & Medicine


If you were walking along the street and found a bird lying on the ground, how would you react? You would probably poke the bird to see if it is alive. We have a peculiar habit since we are children of poking living things that we see for the first time. Through poking, we discover whether it is alive or dead, soft or hard, slimy or furry, docile or aggressive.

Prompting a reaction and observing the reaction is a surprisingly useful way of learning. In chemistry, we react an unknown substance with other chemicals to discover its identity. In medicine, we stimulate parts of the brain with electricity to discover what each part does. In physics, we build giant accelerator to crash particles together to find out their constituents and properties. If you fell into a cave so dark you cannot see even one foot ahead of you, the best way to find out if there is a wall or a hole or water ahead of you is throwing a rock in that direction.

This principle can be applied to psychology. To learn how people around you behave, provoke them. Human beings are extremely sensitive to stimuli and even when they consciously try to hide it, they will subconsciously react. If you keep (subtly) poking the person, you will soon be able to predict how they will react to something, what actions they will take, and you may even discover what is on their mind.

We cannot see the wind, but we can infer that it exists because the leaves blow. The best way to prove something that you cannot see inducing and looking for reactions.

Posted in Life & Happiness


What I am thinking,

What I want to say,

What I think I am saying,

What I say,

What you want to hear,

What you think you are hearing,

What you hear,

What you want to understand,

What you think you understand,

What you understand,

Because there are ten possibilities between what I think and what you understand, there is great difficulty in our communication.

But even so, we must try.

Posted in Philosophy, Special Long Essays

The Tree Of Possibilities

Author Bernard Werber (the inspiration for this Encyclopaedia) posited the following theory: if we could see the future, would we not actively build towards a better future? Imagine a tree soaring high into the sky, stretching countless branches in all directions. The many branches of the tree branch off into smaller branches, which branch into even more smaller branches. At the end of each branch, there hangs a leaf. This tree is not a normal tree; it is a Tree of Possibilities that represents the flow of time from the beginning of the universe to the distant future. Each split in a branch represents the creation of two different futures due to a choice or a change, while a leaf represents the final future created from the cumulative effects of these changes. Thus, the Tree of Possibilities is the ultimate crystal ball showing all the pasts that could have been and all the futures that can happen.

Of course the Tree of Possibilities is a fictional model created in our imaginations. But what if we could actually make this tree? First, we would create an organisation of the greatest scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, historians, philosophers, science fiction writers etcetera that represent the many fields of knowledge. These people are gathered in a location far from the reaches of governments and the media, where they can discuss without any interference. These specialists will debate over all sorts of topics, amalgamating their knowledge and intuition to generate a tree diagram as mentioned above. This is a diagram free from ethics, morals, laws, optimism, pessimism and individualism – the ultimate objective view of all possible futures that humanity and the Earth may face. The experts may agree with each other at times and disagree at times. There is ample possibility that their postulations are wrong. But none of these matter. The important point is not that the Tree is “accurate” or not, but that it is an extensive scenario database of all the paths humanity can walk on towards the future.

The Tree of Possibilities will have various conjectures such as: What if nuclear war broke out? What if artificial intelligence is perfected? What if chimpanzees reach the intelligence levels of human beings? What if we build cities on the Moon? However, the future is altered much more easily that you would think. Thus, there will also be branches representing much more trivial and ordinary (even bizarre) postulations as well: What if smoking is banned? What if the average age women gave birth is older? What if rhinoceroses were domesticated pets? What if pianos do not exist?

On analysing these numerous postulations, a branch bearing the leaf with the ideal future will be found. Ergo, we can choose to follow a path of least resistance, where all the choices we make will ultimately lead to that ideal future. Essentially, the Tree of Possibilities is a tool that is used to predict the future. However, it is not “fortune telling” as it is based on logic rather than magic and divinity to see into the future. The future the Tree tells is not a set “destiny”, but rather one “possibility”. Thus, instead of fearing the future like we do with fortunes, we would instead feel excitement over the potential of finding the ideal future. If the path we are currently on is fated to an unhappy ending, then we can simply jump onto a different path with the guidance of the Tree. Unlike fortune telling, which destroys all uncertainty and any other possibilities in the future, the Tree of Possibilities provides humanity with the greatest gift: dreams of a better future.

As you could imagine, the possibilities of the future are infinite so a drawn-out diagram of the Tree of Possibilities would take up extensive amounts of space. Ergo, the ideal form of the Tree of Possibilities would be a computer program. As computer programs only need sufficient storage space, it provides a perfect environment in which the Tree may grow. The program would generate a Tree based on the information provided by the scholars, drawing out each branch and leaf, while also calculating the effects of any action on each of the possible futures. If we further applied the engine used in chess programs to predict the next few moves, then we may be able to create a program that can calculate the ideal future and the path of least resistance for humanity.

My ideal future is this. There is an isolated island, far from any interference, with a large building. At the centre of this building, there lies a supercomputer running The Tree of Possibilities. The computer is surrounded by lecture theatres, conference rooms and residential areas. Thus, specialists of each field may come to stay and use their knowledge to water the Tree and foster it. This island will provide humanity with hopes and dreams, leading them towards the best possible future based on logic and imagination.

The Tree of Possibilities will radically change our day-to-day lives. One of the greatest weaknesses of human beings is the inability to see the long-term happiness and sacrificing it for short-term gain. However, if we were able to see precisely how our actions will affect the future, then would we not act differently? Armed with insight and foresight, people will understand what is best for the future, and instead of the current near-sighted attitude of only seeing the gain right before our eyes, they will act in the best interests of their children and grandchildren. Politicians will see how useless bickering over trifling issues is and instead focus on policies that take a while to show the effects (yet nonetheless important), such as environmental conservation. The Tree of Possibilities will help us make rational decisions to create a world that the future generation will be happy living in, without being swayed by emotions and selfish greed. And so, we will build towards a utopia.

The greatest weapon a person has is imagination that can build the future.

Posted in Philosophy

Curvy And Straight

A natural world is a world of curved lines while a man-made one is a world of straight lines.

Mountains, trees, valleys, rivers, rocks… all of these have curved edges.
Apartments, buildings, desks, cellphones… everything in a city has straight edges.

Those with life are curved and those that are dead are straight.
But whether it be a city or the countryside, a person is curved.

We are still nature.

Posted in History & Literature


If one was, for some twisted and malicious reason, wished to systematically destroy a culture, what would the first step be? Genocide? Brainwashing? The answer is destroying the native language.

Language is the skeleton that supports the culture of the people. It is an integral part of every culture that allows for effective communication of ideas and thoughts. Each language is tailor-made for a certain culture and best exhibits the culture’s character and ways. Language is one of the greatest inventions of mankind as it allowed for the preservation of thought. If you do not record thought into words, it may be distorted, warped or worse – be forgotten. Using words, one can pass on knowledge to others, even in the future. This is essentially what culture is: a collection of ideas and knowledge that we inherit from our predecessors.

As these thoughts were recorded in one language, there is bound to be some distortion during translation. We can often see examples of barriers in communication due to the inability to properly translate a word from one language to another. If you cannot describe an idea with words, it is extremely difficult to preserve the idea. Ergo, by destroying the language of the people and enforcing your own on them, you can mutilate or eradicate their culture over time. Of course, since language is a major part of the endemic culture, you have gotten off to a great start already. When the people lose their language, they become susceptible to being assimilated into another culture. Slowly, they talk and think like the oppressors until they lose all identity of their roots.

During the early 20th century when Imperial Japan was invading neighbouring countries, they used the exact same method to try and eliminate other cultures. They outlawed the native language and enforced the use of Japanese. To protect their cultural identity, Koreans (and other countries invaded by Japan) had to teach children in underground schools at the risk of torture or death. The preservation of the Korean language allowed the people to unite with strong patriotism, fuelling the resistance against the oppressors. Without the dedication of the people, who knows how much precious cultural heritage would have been lost forever.

When the people lose their language, they lose their voice. When people lose their voice, they lose their identity. When they lose their identity, they lose the fight.

Posted in Science & Nature

Buttered Cat Paradox

Cats always fall on their feet. Buttered toast always seems to fall buttered side down. So what would happen if we tied a buttered toast on a cat’s back and then dropped the cat? Would the cat land on its feet or would the toast land on its buttered side?
Or would we achieve perpetual motion and anti-gravity simultaneously as they cancel each other and never touch the ground?

Although the paradox is obviously a humorous thought experiment, there is some truth to the separate adages. 
Cats have a natural righting reflex that allows them to twist their upper body so that they land on their feet. This gracious manoeuvre is developed as a kitten and actually involves quite complex physics where the cat is able to turn around without changing their net angular momentum. Since cats have a small body and very light body weight, their terminal velocity (100km/h compared to a human’s 210km/h) when falling is much less and allows them to absorb the shock easily when landing. Furthermore, when falling cats naturally spread their limbs out to slow their fall as much as possible. All these factors let a cat land safely on its feet even if dropped from a high place. Ironically, the lower they are dropped from, the more likely that the cat would fall on its back.

The other side of the paradox is slightly more complicated. The adage that toast falls buttered side first is actually an example of how if something bad can happen, it will happen. However, physicists have discovered that toast is more likely to fall on its buttered side.
When toast falls off a plate, it is highly likely to tip as it hits the edge. This causes it to rotate as it begins to fall. There are two explanations on why the buttered side is more likely to be facing down. Firstly, butter adds weight to one side and heavier objects fall faster in the face of gravity. Secondly, using experimental data it has been found that toast only rotates about 180 degrees by the time it falls the height of the table or person from where it was dropped from. 

Despite it only being a tongue-in-cheek thought, one can only wonder how many scientists have made some toast, buttered it, tied it to a cat and dropped the cat off a ladder.