Be like water making its way
Through cracks. Do not be assertive
But adjust to the object,
And you shall find a way around
Or through it. If nothing within
You stays rigid, outward things
Will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless.
Shapeless, like water. If you put
Water into a cup, it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle,
And it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot,
It becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it
Can crash. Be water, my friend.
– Bruce Lee
In a parallel universe, I would have been an electrical engineer. I would have probably been an ok engineer, with a modest job, and a family of two children. I love the number two; it always strikes me as the perfect digit since everything exists in twos. Man – Woman; Day – Night; Life – Death. Up – Down; True – False. Well, almost everything, until one adds our love for complexity, and then, instead of the True – False dichotomy, you have half-truths, convenient truths, empirical truths. But I digress. Of course, I am not an electrical engineer, and neither will I be one. For a while, I also entertained the thought of being a nurse, and I even got admitted to a nursing school. My main motivator was my hate for how nurses in most hospitals in the country treat their patients. While some are compassionate and serve their patients well, a vast majority are ruthless, careless, and are in their jobs only for the monthly paycheck. The results of this attitude are devastating. Today, if the lack of affordable and accessible medical facilities doesn’t kill you during an emergency, you’ll probably die because the same team that is supposed to restore you to health will mishandle you. Thus, I wanted to be a nurse to contribute, in my small way, to improving the type of care that patients receive – from one that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of most of them and their families, to one that makes them maintain their dignity when they are in their most vulnerable state. But, again, I am not a nurse, and neither will I be one.
Instead, today, I am studying Computer Science. Why? Because I figured it gives me the best chance to apply myself across the many fields in which I have an interest. Now, the advantage of being a lover of knowledge is that you develop interests across multiple fields. In Finance, I am always fascinated by how the stock market works, why it works for some, and why it doesn’t for a majority of others. And based on this interest I met John C. Bogle, the creator of index funds. Then I stumbled upon Benjamin Graham, and his famous student – Warren Buffet. Through Buffet, I met his sidekick, Charlie Munger, who introduced me to the art of multidisciplinary thinking, and I felt at home. Munger advocates for taking the core principles of each subject – Psychology, Engineering, Mathematics, History, etc – and tying them up together to form a mental toolkit that lowers one’s chances of making errors significantly. His key goal is not to be right, but to reduce the errors that we often make. And they are many!
Based on this need to reduce errors, I stumbled upon Nasim Taleb, who advocates for optionality, which is akin to do not put your eggs in one basket. Instead, treat life as a barbell, with extreme risks on one side, benefits on the other, and operate in the middle of the two. In this way, one avoids being wiped out by both extremities, which ranges from over-optimism on the benefits side to black swan events – those risks people fail to recognize but that destroy them when they occur – on the other end of the barbell. Thus, from Taleb and Munger, I learned that our decision-making processes are hugely flawed and that, instead of seeking to be right as most of us do while weighing our options, we should, rather, try to not be wrong. Hence, the principle of inversion. As Munger put it, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so I’ll never go there.” And one way most of us will die is consuming poisonous foods, whose supply chains we cannot trace, and neither do we prepare them the right way. As a result, currently, one of the problems that is bothering me is thinking about ways that we can eat only appropriate foods and in the right portions. This brings me back to Computer Science, and together with a team, we are presently trying to figure out how we can utilize recommender systems to solve this problem. Since this is also a health-related issue, I feel content about solving it, as it will also enable me to reduce the number of people who pay a visit to our nurses.
Overall, I often think about David Forster Wallace’s speech, “This is Water,” which begins as thus:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
According to Wallace, the gist of the story is that “the most obvious realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” To me, this simply means that a lot of us live rigid and bounded lives that inhibit our ability to view the world as it truly is. Hence, we believe in false ideas such as having one true career path and we hold onto unbendable beliefs and principles even in the face of disconfirming evidence. For that reason, I advocate for being supple, and to never let go of our childlike curiosity and playfulness as it is in this way that we can utilize our full spectrum of abilities, both known and unknown since discovery is a never-ending journey.
Be water, my friend.
A Quote I am Thinking About
“Always be prepared to think that experts are stupid. They often are.” — Jane Jacobs