Friday, 24 May 2013

How much thought do we apply?

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"In mob psychology, if there is success, everyone shares the fruit, if there is failure, the leader gets hanged"

Just the other day I was reading a very interesting book that spoke about how application of mind to do something beyond the mundane autopilot mode applies considerable stress on us. For example, an experienced driver doesn't require much thought while driving everyday to work. Not much thought is applied on when to brake and when to accelerate. Experience makes you do this automatically. Same goes for typing. I don't see which key is where, the only thing that comes to my mind is the word that I have to type and the word gets typed. However, considerable amount of strain comes when I have to multiply 43 x 76 or if I have to remember a couple of numbers in mind like 46.83 and 35.78 for some time (working memory)

It might seem obvious to some of you that activities such as mathematical calculations are not really natural while walking and driving are natural (or have become natural due to practice) and thus are not equal in terms of taxation. But what is more interesting is the fact that thought does not get applied in situations where it could have been easily applied, ergo creating easily avoidable messes.

A simple example was a sight I saw a couple of days back. I was driving back home and I was on a road that was quite wide but the parked vehicles on either side made it possible for only two vehicles to pass at a time - One in each direction. If a vehicle in my direction went to the other lane, he would be going head-on in front of the vehicle coming in the opposite direction. And then, in front of me, I beheld a spectacle that aroused mixed feelings in me, one of deep thought that makes me write this post and the other, a primal feeling of rage that urged me to get out of the car and bash in the skulls of the morons who I beheld in mixed feelings of amusement and anger.

Let me explain the situation. A bus was coming in the opposite direction, and there wasn't much space for the driver to come through because a hot-shot in my lane was partially in his way. The bus was waiting for the car to move out of his way so that he could continue his journey. The rest of us were patiently waiting in a single queue. The scene was obvious to anyone who saw it - A series of cars, one behind the other with no space between any two, waiting patiently for the erroneous car to make way, with the bus driver waiting. And then an auto-driver and a couple of two-wheelers, and a couple more autos and cars came in the other lane, passing by us and waiting in front of the bus.

It seemed stupid to me. But then it raises a question as to why they did that. It could mean one of the following.

  • They simply lack the ability to think ahead. They have no ability to predict
  • They can think ahead, they just don't care
An inability to think ahead, predict and forecast something that is this obvious is definitely very troubling. Many of you reading this might simply dismiss this as an impossibility. "Are you trying to say someone can't predict even this much? You are being crazy..." you might say. But it's true in some cases. I have seen uneducated people doing a lot of things that are obviously dumb to us. It could also be that they could predict it if they applied some thought, but then they might ignore it because it causes strain.

Strain while thinking is natural - Many times, I have put off solving some puzzles just because "I was not in the right mood" - as in, the strain (could seem minuscule when in the 'right' state of mind) is too much to bear when you are hungry or tired or preoccupied. In fact, according to a book I was reading, some judges refused parole to prisoners when their blood glucose dropped (hungry) much more often than when their blood glucose was high (had food). Food affects thinking...

However, this logic could be true for the first guy. Isn't it rather curious that all of them are doing the same? Is it possible that everyone is hungry? I believe this is where mob psychology takes over. Very few people are willing to take risks - they fear repercussions. But if someone is willing to take a risk, there are plenty to follow. A majority of people are followers, not leaders (Read about the Pareto Principle) and apparently people are willing to follow fools (explains not just this traffic thing but also elsewhere... like politics) if someone is willing to lead. The reason is - If there is success, everyone shares the fruit, if there is failure, the leader gets hanged.

In case of this particular case, nobody is going to go to each and every erring vehicle and admonish them. No. People would rather abuse the first guy for leading an army of fools. The rest of them have nothing to lose and everything to gain in case they succeed in going through.

On the other hand, probably they are thinking ahead and they don't care... This would mean that people are essentially selfish and are just focussing on their success and they don't care who they are stepping on in the process. As long as I am getting what I want, who cares about the rest, right? To each his own. The problem with this approach is, there is no 'overall progress'. Notice that this is not applicable just to traffic. If you are focussing only on yourself, this kind of growth is useless. If you are the only educated guy in a town full of uneducated people, your education has no value. People will simply not be capable of appreciating you.

A very interesting thing I have noticed is that people don't like to lose momentum while driving. They don't want to brake, they would rather instantaneously change direction. So a guy who was riding straight, on seeing a vehicle blocking his path will start drifting tangentially. In the process, other people whose path he is now blocking end up braking.

Clearly, I could go on and on and I am sure most of you are aware of the endless supply of stories and idiots on the road. But the purpose of this post was simply to say that behind the scenes of a mundane traffic jam, a lot of thought goes through - consciously or subconsciously... (or maybe no thought is applied - which explains a lot!)

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