What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment — Kazuho Ishiguro, Remains Of The Day
Don’t explain your philosophy, embody it — Epictetus
The reality is that all of us live in a bubble. We are proverbial frogs in a pond. The environment around us can force us to think about the rest of the world from the vantage point we are currently in. Often, that means we define our own selves as the center of the universe. We view the world only from ‘a’ perspective and not from multiple perspectives. However, changing and constantly shifting our perspective can help us understand the relative insignificance of our actions to a larger universe. At the same time, looking at the world from multiple vantage points can help us understand what a more meaningful utilization of our finite time on this planet can be.
This article provides three different vectors (i.e. time, space and matter) along which we can model our mindset. The idea is to help readers change their perspective towards business in particular and towards their personal lives in general. It also provides references to books and forums that readers can utilize to start thinking of the world in a different way. Of course, I don’t claim to be a master of changing perspectives. I am merely sharing the lessons I learnt by constantly uprooting my life at periodic intervals. I hope my readers find these lessons helpful too.
Last week, I faced a very difficult task. My ex-boss was feeling depressed. She was pre-occupied with the consequences of a mistake she had made while at work. I was trying to find the right words to console her. It then struck me — I could change her vantage point and by doing so, her perspective on life. So, I mustered up my courage and said : ‘don’t worry, we are not solving for the future of the human race’. Before I could begin my next sentence, she started laughing. She realized what an amazing relief a change in perspective can bring to a tortured soul. I have used this trick quite often since then with the same result. Although this simple solution may not mean a lot, it has helped me bring a smile on many a face. It reminds me of John Milton’s Paradise Lost each time — the mind is a place of its own, it can make heaven out of hell and hell out of heaven. Therefore, the next time you want to feel like a new person, just change your vantage point.
The Vantage Point
A vantage point is defined a place or position affording a good view of something. When you continuously look at the world from the same vantage point i.e. at home and at work by watching similar movies, reading similar books and regrouping with the same group of friends, the world can seem very monochromatic and dull. It is no surprise then that many of us feel down and depressed. We have been living in the same bubble every day. Not all of us have the luxury to travel often. Therefore, one of the most quickest ways to reprogram your mind and change your perspective on life is to go out of your comfort zone and try one new experience everyday. Believe you me, it doesn’t have to be an expensive excercise. You can begin with the latest piece of news and then read up on both the opposing arguments on the topic i.e. for and against the topic being discussed. Switching your vantage point between both extremes can not only help you become more balanced and informed. More importantly, it can leave you with a sense of renewed enthusiasm. Similarly, listening to a different genre of music, reading a book espousing a radically different point of view and watching a foreign language movie are all simple ploys to change your point of view. Try to shock yourself everday.
Most people confuse the words ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ with Steve Jobs. In fact, Steve Jobs took the words from a book called The Whole Earth Catalog compiled by Stewart Brand. Stewart is an icon in many respects. He helped me reshape my own perspective on life by shifting my vantage point on the time horizon.
One of the most interesting thing about Stewart, besides The Whole Earth Catalog, is a foundation that he runs. The Long Now Foundation — a foundation that fosters long term thinking. By long term, I mean really long term think 10,000 years. Granted, for most people, 10,000 years is immaterial. That, however, is precisely my point. One of the reasons we feel depressed is because we think we are the center of the universe. Now, imagine, what if someone told you — over a long enough time horizon, none of us matter. On a scale of time that stretches as long as 10,000 years or more, even the greatest thinkers don’t matter. Of course, I am not advocating the fact that none of our actions are important. What I am saying is ‘when you change the scale of time, you can stop worrying about things that you think are worrisome’.
If you want to discover how our own notion of time is wrong, read Carlo Rovelli’s book ‘The Order of Time’. In it, Carlo-an Italian born physicist explains why the nature of time itself is a big mystery. In other words, we don’t understand time as well as we think we do.
The final point on the vector of time I want to leave you with is the fact that the most important journey that you can take over time is the journey inside. Perhaps, it is very hard to find good commentary on self actualization. However, as you age, the most important journey you can embark is to discover what a gift human consciousness truly is. It is the ultimate difference between Artificial Intelligence and humans — our ability to discover the real purpose of life.
First, let me give you an example of why our journey to gain knowledge has only just begun. Think about the biggest mystery the physical universe offers us — it is a type of matter physicists call ‘Dark Matter’. Dark matter is a type of matter that doesn’t interact with the electromagnetic spectrum i.e. it does not absorb, reflect or emit light and is therefore “dark” or unseen. Today, dark matter is what scientists call “hypothesized matter” . Therefore, it is both believable and unbelievable. The biggest evidence comes from observing galaxies and hypothesizing that there is some (dark) matter that has a gravitational effect on visible matter. Dark Matter is thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. Dark matter and dark energy are two conundrums that will put the finiteness of human knowledge in perspective. If you are a businessman used to staring at MS Excel spreadsheets to discern patterns from numbers, think about what you are missing by not combining the statistics with actual conversations with your clients. There will always come a point where gathering more data will have diminishing marginal utility — your gut will tell you when you reach that point.
Second, when 85% of the matter in the universe is a conundrum, why do we struggle with an internal bias that says ‘we know it all’. In fact, the moment we acknowledge we don’t know much, that admission opens us to infinite possibilities and a universe of new knowledge. Once again, if we change our vantage point and look at a problem from a multiple dimensions, we will understand the completeness of a problem.
Lastly, think about our knowledge at the sub-atomic level. Again, not much. The biggest proof is the fact that we have only begun our journey to understand the quantum universe or the universe at the sub-atomic level. Quantum computing is only beginning to become commercial. Our knowledge of matter both at the scale of the external universe and at the sub-atomic level is so small that we have just begun to understand the physical universe let alone the metaphysical realm.
The closest we have come to a theory of everything is a controversial theoretical framework called ‘String Theory’. String theory is only one of the candidates of a theory of everything. There are other theories that attempt to offer a unified explanation of the universe around us — a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forcesand forms of matter. However, we are not there yet. We are yet to agree upon a universal theory that binds the physical universe.
Secondly, think about the space between our ears-the most complex machine we will ever own i.e. the human brain. There is a set of followers of a discipline called ‘mysterianism’ that believe that we will never be able to truly understand human consciousness. Perhaps, thats because we may have to change our vantage point and look at the world from a metaphysical and not a physical perspective.
Thirdly, while I am not a physicist or a neurologist, I know enough to know we don’t know much about anything. As technologies such as Artificial Intelligence exponentially increase our capacity to discern the universe around us, our constant ignorance is what propels the journey forward.
The three vectors I chose i.e. time, matter and space are just different vantage points of looking at the world around us. There are countless others. However, my two primary objectives behind choosing to explain the world using these vectors was to provide you succor from the mundane and to inspire you to think much bigger than the cocoon you are in. I urge all of you to stretch your imagination to infinity everyday. Otherwise, we are captives of our own mental prisons.
The Essence of Being Human
First, I wrote this article to help you shift your perspective of what you think is significant. One of the beauties of changing your perspective on the relative importance of things is that it can gift you a stillness and happiness unlike any other. Given a long enough time horizon, we realize that the journey has just begun. At the end of the day, barring our own families, there is always time to re-assess what we think is important. If not, we can spend our waking lives chasing things that don’t matter when looked at from a different vantage point.
Second, it is at once simple and difficult to explain true spirituality. Perhaps, the simplest definition of spirituality is to truly live for others. On a practical level, that means serving your colleagues at work (including your superiors), serving clients in a business and serving humanity if you are a teacher. All said and done, the real journey, which is always central, internal and timeless, is the journey inside.
Lastly, I believe that the advancements in computing including the most disruptive technologies such as AI and quantum computing will eventually free us to pursue something truly meaningful — a journey to understand our own selves. At peak Artificial General Intelligence, our movement on a spectrum of vantage points will point us to a common truth.
A truth that not only binds us together but also frees us all from the burden of what we mistakenly think is consequential.