Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on thoughts

I normally think and discuss with friends, or acquaintances, or anyone who will listen/speak. But owing to a bit of staying at home for the last few days, all ideas I get are forgotten before I get the chance to discuss them. This means no great discussions, and no additional ideas. Additional ideas are the ones I thrive on. Might as well call them derived or (mentally) copy-pasted ones :-)

Watching a few other bloggers, I decided to start writing a diary thingy. I got the content for my last post (movies and all) from around 2 days of diary entries on movies and video games. This post comes from a few more days of thought. I don't know how accurate it will feel, because it hasn't been tested with discussions, so to speak.

By the way, word for the day: maybe.

What exactly are thoughts?

Nothing in and of themselves. Thoughts are simply signals from the brain, to some body organ(s) or (for the purposes of this post) to itself.

Let us say there are two kinds of thoughts: voluntary and involuntary. Feeling hungry is involuntary, but actually getting up and cooking something requires voluntary thought. It is borderline voluntary, but it is voluntary in my opinion.

We human beings have been blessed with the ability to let our brains communicate with themselves. This means that instead of just eating, sleeping, excreting and otherwise surviving, we think about ourselves and our surroundings, both physical and in time.

That is not to say that it is only humans who think. Dogs and cats too feel things like affection and anger, but I do not think that they can think at our level.

Thoughts and our quality of life

How we evaluate the quality, or level of our lives depends on the kinds of thoughts that we have. Two people in the same situation might think drastically different things about themselves. A bank robber now in prison might think of his bad luck. Another bank robber in prison might consider himself lucky because at least he is alive. Not the best example, but hopefully good enough.

I had problems thinking about this before, but then I thought about so many people in rather developed countries who still face depression. They do not have any scarcity, but still feel unfulfilled.

How highly we think of ourselves and our situations depends on who or what we compare ourselves with. As a not-even-amateur actor, I can compare myself with a friend who simply cannot lie, or with the Amitabh Bacchan. In which case do you think I will be happier?

I am not forcing everyone to just stop thinking about improving and all, but that you will face disappointment if you want everything to be perfect. Especially when perfection means different things for different people. And no matter what we do, our lives are a work in progress all the time. 

The biggest curse

As I maybe mentioned before, we humans are thinking beings. As such, what we think matters a lot to us. So, the biggest curse anyone can have in this world is not being able to think what they want.

Looks like a silly statement, but it is true. We like to think of good things. We like to feel good. But a lot of times, reality tries to convince us otherwise. Maybe this is why ageing hurts. At 23, I definitely want to be a child. Or at least a teenager anyway :-)

When a poor, malnourished child is hungry, it hurts him/her because he/she would rather be playing or doing something else at least. When a handicapped person feels bad for not being able to play some sport, it is because they want to feel the rush and enjoyment of playing, not the helplessness of their condition.

Maybe this is why choice, or the what-if nature of our minds boggles us. Also, maybe this is why many doctors who deal with problems of the mind would rather have their patients stay as they are. 

The good part about the curse

I don't know what you think about it, but the best thing about being emotionally fucked up is knowing that someday you will be able to laugh at it. We all have had the time in our childhoods when we were sick, and thought we were gonna die. This has to happen because our minds can only see so far, like you can only see a few tens of metres ahead with the help of your car headlights at night. The silly part is, at times of crisis, it is foggy so your visibility gets greatly reduced.

Everyone has only one brain, and it has limited capacity, so it can only process so much information. When a lot of that information is emotional or otherwise disappointment, it becomes really hard to focus on the good parts or at least trying to improve the situation. Maybe this is why emotions like love and anger are said to make us weak, or at least distracted.

Needless to say, having a clear mind is one of the best feelings in the world. Thinking that one has everything and needs nothing more, at least in the current moment is a state of mind that we should get more and more into. The question is, how? The answer eludes us. Too damn bad.

The need for constant (positive) reinforcement

Since we live in the real worldTM, it is obvious we come across more bad than good, or at least more superficial/needless than useful. And since our minds are nothing but reflections of what we see and feel, it is obvious that we tend to focus more on the bad than the good.

Instead of keeping up with this vicious cycle, I think it is better to constantly remind ourselves about the good in our lives. No matter what it is. The local team winning a game, a friend's phone call after a few months, or the neighbor who always smiles. 

In addition, it is also great to visualize things from a positive perspective. Thankfully, this is a situation in which the Anna Karenina principle is useful. You can fuck up a presentation or meeting in infinite ways, but the way to get it right, at least while visualizing is to believe in yourself and think that you are going to do it with confidence and grace, or whatever it is that these silly MBA-types do.

Maybe this is why sportspersons and performing artists and military people practice so much. After doing something over and over and over and over again, it kind of becomes second nature, that is, implied reinforcement in the belief that you are going to pull it off no matter what.

Not only ourselves, but we need and get reinforcement from others too. In fact, I will go as far as saying that positive reinforcement and the need for it is what makes us social beings. In most of the world's cultures, young people are supposed to seek blessings from elders. In a way, this is just a way of letting the elder and more experienced person reinforcing in you the fact that what you are doing is right in their opinion.

Another kind of reinforcement

I read somewhere about it being customary in the British army to tell new recruits to keep a watch on their seniors, and select one senior without telling anyone who that is. Then, whenever in a real time situation involving a decision and clueless-ness at the same time, the new recruit has to think what his/her favorite senior would do and the end result is more likely to be better.

Maybe this is why young people are encouraged to pick role models, and perspective role models, like movie stars and sportspersons are encouraged to keep their shit together. My personal opinion is kind of different, because I do not have a role model as such, and I think most people don't. Also, maybe this is why we believe in God. God is a kind of inbuilt good/bad filter for out thoughts and actions. I am not a non-believer, but I think this is the relevance of God in our lives. 

This kind of thinking, that is, thinking what someone else would do in certain situations can save your life, and more importantly, save your mind. I can't give any examples right now, but suffice it to say that whenever faced with an unknown situation, the best thing shy of being able to ask someone for help/guidance is thinking what they would do if they were in our place.

Spread it all around

The thing about all good things is that they normally increase when spread. This positive reinforcement crap is no different. Just like commenting on other people's blogs and then watching new, mostly encouraging comments on yours.

So, next time you get the chance, make sure you compliment your family members, neighbors, coworkers, the next person in the train. Ok, maybe not the next person in the train.

One more thing I would add is that you crying over your situation only makes you look silly. People are not interested in some idiot who just laments about life. One way around it is to focus only on the good parts, but another, way better way is to have a laugh at your situation. Have you read Jon Varga's blog? Or John Gray's blog? A few days back, Gray made his scerlosis problem seem funny. So funny that I initially thought it was a kind of joke. If you cannot do that, then at least try looking and narrating it from a third person perspective.

Taking the edge off

What is it that makes us feel pressure whenever we start something? Most would call it a fear of failure. What is this fear thingy? It is nothing but our insecurity regarding losing something that we have. That something is normally our self-esteem or pride (or the fear of letting someone down), and sometimes something physical like money or some bonus or a raise. Mostly, these two things are linked because, for example, people realize their self worth only in proportion to their performance at a silly office.

Assuming that you have nothing to lose really takes the edge off. Or, in most real situations, thinking what is the worst that can happen, can work wonders too. Our fears are mostly amplified versions of the worst of the results of the permutations-and-combinations games that our brains play. Thankfully, around 99.999999% of people reading this are not bomb squad specialists :-)

The best part of having a nothing-to-lose mentality is that it makes you less vulnerable to your self-imposed limitations.


This is all for today. Hope it was worth the read.

Do you have any thoughts on thoughts?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to watch movies

So, the title should have been something like How "I" watch movies, but.. whatever.

I don't watch a lot of movies, so the onus is on watching only the good ones, and in the best manner possible :-)

Where to watch movies?

I try not to go to a cinema/theater/multiplex etc., because I am lazy, and because I am a miser. But when friends and family put too much pressure, I have to oblige, with lawyer-like conditions. An example: No more movies for this year. On an average, I go to the movies twice a year, once with family and once with some friends.

There are two options then. Either download via torrents or watch movies part by part on youtube. Torrents are kind of illegal in most parts of the world, including India. The thing about youtube is that movies normally have too many parts, and the bad video quality. But movies are things involving emotions and comedy, and the occasional thrills and action. What the hell has video quality to do with that?

Also, number 1 rule of doing something illegal: don't blog about it. If you got the idea, good.

Going with the only-good-ones logic, any movies that I go to have to be really, really good. Mostly great reviews or recommendations are required. The last one I watched was Jolly LLB, with my brother and a cousin, only because of the very different idea.

A problem with this approach is that I miss movies that are not purely commercial, but why the hell should I care? People are free to recommend good documentaries too. But my friends mostly fail me on this.

One more problem comes around when a movie is highly recommended by many people, and it fails to live up to my expectations.

Why I can't enjoy most movies?

First of all, remember what a movie is: just a simple story. A video game is a movie too, but it lets you play a character. So, making movies and video games, and of course writing books is a kind of story telling. Yes, I know, sweeping generalizations and all.

Almost all movies come in a simple plot style. There's a backstory, a plot-changing event and then the reaction to that. For example, in Kung Fu Panda, the backstory is the dream that Po has about fighting with the 5 masters against a wolf (and alligator?) army. The plot-changing event was when Master Oogway selected Po as the dragon master. And the rest of the movie followed in reaction to that. Maybe this is the reason why movies that don't follow any chronological order of events seem fun to me sometimes (don't remember the word for that)

The thing about this approach of story telling is that in addition to being boring, it can take some time before the plot-changing event occurs. And people get bored in that time. People leave the theater, switch channels etc., you get the idea.

Some movies are very different in this regard, in that they do the plot so well that people just can't leave. Like the Dark Knight.

Another thing is that sometimes you don't really need the backstory. For example, not many people get bored watching sports movies. Reason: if someone is watching a sports movie, they are pretty interested in it to be let off by initial boredom. It will take some really twisted and intentionally bad sports movie to make people dislike it. Or I am too much of a sports movie fan. :-)

The premise here is this: if a movie can fit in a backstory and the plot-changing event within the first 20 minutes, there is a high probability people are gonna like it.

Is there a law against writing content matching the headings?

If you are wondering about the part titled Why I can't enjoy most movies, you are probably right. Thing is, I always keep on looking for inconsistencies in the plot, the characters, the props, the smallest of things basically. This makes me enjoy it less.

Another thing is the tendency to predict the next scene, the next action, the next dialogue etc. Especially if I am made to watch someone else's favorite movie or series.

Two great KK-esque movie viewing anti-patterns

So, some movies are _dumb_as_shit_. And surely you can't spend two hours or even more on such stuff. I am sharing two remedies here, since there are two 'k's in KK :-)

First, in case of movies that are too boring to watch, but too interesting to leave, what works best is watching for 15-20 minutes (or until you establish the previously written precondition), and then reading the plot summary on wikipedia or imdb. This is what happened when I tried to watch Green Street Hooligans 2. When there was no football for more than an hour, and no going to matches or anything like the previous part, I was left with no option but to look at my great friend wikipedia. Sometimes uncyclopedia helps too.

Another case when this approach works really well is when you need to watch really emotional movies. I have never been able to watch Mother India beyond the scene when the hero (Raj Kumar) tries picking up his mother's load, but realizes he is an amputee.

The second approach is to watch a movie for 5 minutes, then skip 20 minutes, then again for 5 minutes, rinse and repeat. Then trying to predict what happened is fun. Works really well with movies like Dabang and Yamla Pagla Deewana.

Please feel free to recommend any movies etc.