Twyman’s law

Twyman’s law states that any data or figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong.

Sounds unbelievable, isn’t it? 

But, it’s true. I saw this in action recently and wanted to share that story with you.

In June, we ran a test on our homepage and while I was looking at conversion rate by segments, I noticed that users from Windows had a 400% higher signup rate for VWO free trial as compared to users using Mac OS X.  

Now, that’s baffling and our team spent a good deal of time trying to understand why was that happening. Someone in marketing hypothesized that perhaps Mac OS X users have a better design aesthetic and our homepage wasn’t appealing to them. Was it true? ...  Read the entire post →

The three levels of Hindu philosophy

1/ The first level related to the metaphysical and spiritual domain.

It says that Brahman is all that exists and our material world (Maya) comes from ignorance.

The Brahman is not a God. It is beyond any quality – it isn’t intelligent, good or bad. It just is.

2/ It also suggests that if we strip away all ignorance, we will discover that the self – the atman – is one and the same thing as the Brahman.

At its core, this level denies the duality of subject and object and says they both are the same. ...  Read the entire post →

Welcome to India: a land where passion comes to die

I’ve lived in India all my life, and I’m not proud of my people. But I’m not giving up.

Here’s why.

Reality check for 1/7th of the world’s population

We Indians are 1.2 billion people on Earth. Yes, many of us are still extremely poor. But a lot of us in that fat middle and upper class have means beyond survival. Hundreds of millions of us have disposable incomes, we have weekends for ourselves when we go to movies and eat expensive popcorn. Yes, we have cars and ACs. Heck, now we even have Netflix, iPhones and Macbooks.

One would imagine that multiple hundreds of millions of this middle class will at least have a million passionate people. Or at least a hundred thousand people who aim for perfection in their chosen field. Or maybe ten thousand people who aim at being absolute best in the world. A thousand people who have dedicated their lives to making that tiny dent in the universe? How about just a hundred people who the world looks upto? Or just one person who will change the course of human history?

How many Indians come into your mind who have actually defined mankind’s potential?

Zero – that’s what we’re proud of

Consider India’s performance:

  • Nobel prize winners from India in last 100 years: 5
  • Indian Olympics medal tally this year: 2
  • Global brands from India: 0
  • Michelin star restaurants: 0
  • Top indian university: not in top 100 globally
  •  ...  Read the entire post →

    What is money?

    Being a CEO and founder of a startup, I’ve been concerned with money in a variety of contexts. A company exists to make money and indeed that was one of the drivers in the days of starting Wingify. I wanted to make money by myself and was pretty happy when people paid for the first version of VWO. I remember my goal was to make roughly USD 1000 (equivalent of the last monthly salary I had drawn at my employer). VWO ended up making me multiple times my initial goal.

    Last month at Wingify, we hit a million dollars of recurring revenue. I’m very happy that the team has been able to achieve this milestone, especially because we’re entirely bootstrapped and haven’t raised any outside investment. There has been a lot of enthusiasm about the million-dollar-a-month figure, and all Wingifighters are pumped up to convert the ‘m’ into a ‘b’. Amidst all this, I want to take a moment to reflect on what really is money.

    Is billion dollars enough money? How about a trillion dollars?

    This question sounds strange because common sense immediately tells us: ‘of course, a trillion dollars is a big amount’. Imagine all the things one could buy with a trillion dollars – islands, space ships and perhaps even Switzerland. It’s indeed a lot of money.

    Money, lots of it
    Money, lots of it. Photo by Tom Simpson

    Let’s pause for a moment and think how fascinating it is that the world will let you buy stuff and anything else you want just because your conversion rate optimization platform and website push notifications system exist. I realize that I’m stretching the point a bit, but hang on with me for a moment.

    What amazes me is this: if you had a billion dollars, you’d most probably never have a physical sensation of that money. You can’t keep it in your drawer, you can’t hold it, you can’t physically posses it. In fact, it is very likely that your billion dollars don’t even exist. Nobody has it. US Fed (as of 2016) says $1.46 trillion of cash is in circulation, while debt in US is more than $19 trillion (as of 2016). If everyone in US decides to physically possess the money they have, they will fall short of more than $17 trillion.

    What’s happening here?

    Ultimately,

    Money is a promise that in future you will be able to claim the equivalent of value that you’ve created today

    Who makes this promise? The government (but any mutually trusted 3rd party can do that; like in case of bitcoins where people put trust in blockchain).

    Why we need a future promise in terms of money?

    We require the idea of money because of two reasons:

    • Simple barter works where I make shoes and you make wheat. We exchange those objects and each one of us is happy. However, money is needed because a single individual is typically able to create far more value than s/he can consume personally. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created far more value in the world with the PageRank algorithm than their personal lifetime wheat and food requirements. Money is required for a fair exchange of value.
    • Simple barter may also work when I have a need for shoes right now and I’m willing to give you wheat. But what if I had a blockbuster wheat production this season, but don’t really want equivalent-value 10 pairs of shoes? In such cases, money is needed to store the value so the possessor is able to utilize it in future for something else.

    Where does money derive its worth? Why is 1 dollar same for everyone?

    One way to answer this question is to ask: ‘when does the other person decide to give you one dollar’. You get one dollar from others when you provide one dollar of value to them. Seems cyclical, but it isn’t. Imagine that you have a roadside stand with a banner that says: ‘Stuff for $1’. First, you put out a piece of crumbled paper on that stand and wait for customers. People come and go, they notice, but nobody buys. You wonder why is that so. After all, $1 is not a lot of money. You get frustrated and are just about to throw the crumbled paper into the trash before you spot an art collector running towards you with a $100 bill. She begs you to sell this piece of art to her and you, amazed, say why not. Being generous, you ask her if he wants 2 more crumbled papers free with that and he immediately backs off and asks you to sign an agreement that you will never make any more crumbled papers.

    All this amazes you. Nobody wanted to pay $1 for a crumbled paper, but before you almost gave up, someone came up and bought it for $100. Not just that, she said she won’t buy it unless you promise not to create any more crumbled papers.

    1921 Rolls Royce for $1. Any takers? Photo from FrankDale
    1921 Rolls Royce for $1. Any takers? Photo from FrankDale

    You then put out your second item for the $1 sale – this is your vintage 1921 model Rolls Royce. It’s the only one remaining in the world as the company has stopped making them. The minute you put keys + car’s photo on the stand, you see a rush of people, each with a dollar bill in hand trying to buy the car from you. Such a huge rush of people makes you anxious and you decide to go inside and catch a breath (and drink some lemonade). By the time you come back, you see someone offering you $10,000 for something you wanted to sell for $1. Before you knew, BBC covers this and you get an offer of $1 million from an unknown source. You had a thing for lots of zeros, so you immediately take the offer and hand over the keys.

    What just happened? Why did someone gave you a million dollars when you actually wanted to just sell it for $1?

    Why did the world make Wingify a million-dollars-a-month company when all I wanted to make was $1000?

    The answer lies in this: money is a proxy for how much value you create for other humans

    Money, be it a dollar, a million, billion or trillion dollars, is ultimately a proxy for amount of value you are creating in the world.

    Someone decides to hand you X units of money because you provide them with X units of value. It’s as simple as that.

    Watch the video on how economic machine works. I promise it’ll be the best 30 minutes you will spend today

    How is additional money created?

    In most cases, economies are zero-sum games. You get $100 for doing a job, you spend $90 on pizzas, video games and movies and put $10 in your bank. The $90 that you spent is someone else’s income (which they further spent, so no new money is created in a transaction), and $10 that you put in your bank is lent to someone who must give back $11 to the bank. If the economy was just limited to $100, where does this extra $1 in the come from?

    What I’m talking about here is not money-as-cash (which is easy to create – just print additional money). Here, I’m talking about money-as-value. If most economic transactions are just exchange of value, where does additional value come from? The answer lies in the question: the additional money-as-value is created in the world when additional value is created in the world.

    Economic growth happens when more of human needs are satisfied
    Economic growth happens when more of human needs are satisfied. Chart from Economist

    Let me give you an example. Suppose that in pre-Industrial age, you are in a sweater manufacturing business, making sweaters by hand and are the only one selling sweaters in the town. The maximum you are able to make are 10 sweaters a day, putting in $5 worth of wool and sell them for $10 each, making your daily profit of $50. Your limited capacity means that you are able to sell sweaters only to a limited number of people in your town. Some of them are able to buy, the others are left wanting. This inability to serve more people frustrates you because your money making potential is limited and you really want to see more people wearing your sweaters. So you set out to invent a machine to make sweaters.

    After years of toiling on the part time, you see success – finally a machine that can make 100 sweaters in a day. You take a loan to get more wool and start producing sweaters. You are cautious first and only make 20 sweaters on day 1. Much to your surprise, even though you have 20 sweaters to sell, you are still only able to sell 10. People who didn’t buy tell you that while they’d love to buy sweaters, they have already spent all their savings on stuff they are used to paying for. They simply don’t have additional money to buy your sweaters. Next day you figure out that if you sell sweaters at a cheaper price, say $8, selling 20 of them will still make you a total of $60 daily profit – more than what you made before.

    You slash your price to $8 and this is when value is created. People who had $10 budgets for your sweaters buy it for $8 and spend the remaining $2 on stuff that other people are selling. After buying all the stuff that they are used to buying, the other people now have an additional $2 to spend and in 4 days each one of them is able to buy your sweater. You give some part of $60 daily profit as interest to the loan you took but are still left with more daily profit than what you had before ($50). You have more money, your people in town are able to afford more sweaters. When everybody wins, it’s not a zero sum game and additional money-as-value is created in the world.

    Money is created when you are able to satisfy more (or equivalent) of human needs while using equivalent (or less) resources and time. The freed up resources and time is then used to do other stuff that people value.

    In other words, productivity drives economic growth. People value a lot of things – efficiency, leisure time, finding mates, being engrossed, mastering a skill. Satisfying all those needs using lesser resources than before (through technology, innovative policies, newly discovered resources) is how additional value is created.

    Startups are in the business of creating value for others

    Today’s startups are a world apart from the simple theoretical barter system of economy. The dot com hype of 1999 sent startups to stratosphere, where many of them IPOed and made lots of money for their founders and investors. Then they came crashing down and destroyed $5 trillion of value.

    So, what does it mean to destroy $5 trillion? Didn’t that money go somewhere? Even if a founder got rich before her company crashed, she must have gained the money to spend somewhere – real estate, vacations, champagnes and so on. If money went back in the system, how exactly did value get destroyed? As Warren Buffet explains in this article, “value is destroyed by any business that makes losses in its lifetime”. Taking to the extreme, for example, if I start a business where the whole proposition is to pay employees for sitting idle, I’m destroying value. That’s because if my business didn’t exist, those employees would have been employed elsewhere, would have still gotten paid (so they can buy stuff) AND would have been creating something of value for other people. By not making people create something of value, I’m destroying value. They’re consuming but not giving back. This means inefficient businesses destroy value. Flop movies destroy value. Bad plans destroy value. Irrational exuberance destroys value.

    In other words, a startup is in the business of creating value. Full stop.

    If you are an entrepreneur and all that reading about exotic business models (aka Zenefits) or loss-making growth (aka most public SaaS companies) or hoped-for-advertising profits (aka Twitter) overwhelms and confuses you, take a deep breath and simply think about the fundamentals: are those startups better at creating value for a group of humans than anyone else in the world? How large is the group of humans who benefit? And by value, you clarify: are they in a business of creating something that other people want.

    To reiterate, I’ll quote Paul Graham from his essay “How to make wealth“:

    ‘Wealth (value) is not the same thing as money. Wealth is the fundamental thing. Wealth is stuff we want: food, clothes, houses, cars, gadgets, travel to interesting places, and so on. (To create wealth), you just have to do something people want.’ ~ Paul Graham

    Closing thoughts: on future

    I’ve been thinking about future of startups or economy in general. If we fast forward a 1000 years, how will our economy look like? Will we have the concept of money? There are two points worth exploring. The first one is that all the technological progress means that poverty is reducing everywhere and because of increased automation and productivity,

    people’s needs are increasingly fulfilled using less cost and resources ...  Read the entire post →

    What Philosophy should be about?

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading two books recently. ‘How much is enough‘, the first one, is a sensible attack on money for money’s sake and the absurdity of it. The second one, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘ is a classic that I read for the second time. This time it became clear to me that the book on many levels was talking about the an ugly outcome of single-minded urbanization. It also questions the apparent superiority of intellect over aesthetics. Of course, the two books are about much more than what I’m describing here but the underlying thread was common – both books urged considering mankind’s total quality of experience, rather than just material wealth or technological / scientific progress.

    The idea of rationality holding supreme power to describe the universe is a very strong one and has actually lead to a lot of progress in recent centuries in terms of increased lifespan and other comforts. However, does this mean that in terms of stacking order Science is the end answer to everything? The two books inspired me to try approaching this from a first principles perspective.

    So I asked myself where should all human inquiry begin?

    In other words.

    What philosophy should be about?

    We now know that humans are a type of mammal, organisms evolved just like any other we find on Earth. Every now and then since the recorded history, man (a human) has gradually dethroned himself from being the centre of the universe to now a collection of biological cells capable of thought. Every time a Copernican revolution happened in Science, humans got closer to their primate family.

    It’s both scientifically proven and commonly observed that much of our behaviour is animal-like. We eat, we reproduce, we play, we take care of young ones. We do pretty much that all biological creatures exist for – passing on genetic information to the next generation.

    Since the biological nature of humans is an undeniable fact and impacts us in a very personal way, I believe that is what all philosophies should take as a given. Biological nature of humans should be an axiom. No matter how much theorising is done in Philosophy, one can’t wish away the biologicalness of humans. A lot of our wants, drives and even what’s right and what’s wrong comes from our biologically derived behaviour. So a student of Philosophy should have a very good grasp of subjects such as evolution, animal behaviour, psychology, and even genetics. Without a thorough understanding of how evolution and nature has shaped humans and their wants, all the talks about morals, values, aesthetics and politics would be wishful thinking. Biology is to philosophy what physics is to chemistry. If an experiment shows that humans tend to make irrational choices, one can’t theorise the supremacy of rational choices over what choices actually get made. In other words, in terms of usefulness – which is what Philosophy should be bothered with – intellectual truth is subordinate to human nature and that is what all Philosophies should take as a given.

    However, human nature can be shaped.

    The fantastic unique ability of humans for elaborate communication and exchange of thoughts makes us different from the rest of biological creatures. Avoidance of suffering is programmed into us (and all other creatures) through evolution. The drive for survival and food lead a creature into suffering-minimizing mode. The drive for reproduction and sex lead it to happiness-maximizing mode. All creatures including humans are programmed to minimise suffering and maximize happiness.

    The only way for all biological creatures apart from humans to maximize survival and reproduction is through unconscious, programmed genetic evolution over generations. Humans are special in that regard. In addition to genetic record, we can record our experiences in oral and written form and teach the same generation on how to minimize suffering and maximize happiness — the drives that evolution wants us to optimize for.

    I think this basic drive towards well being (where suffering is minimal and happiness is maximized) is what Pirsig refers to as Quality in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We can pass our experiences, experiments and thoughts to others in order to collectively achieve a high Quality life.

    I believe that’s what human inquiry should be about – provided that we’re a biological creature, what should we do in order to lead a good life, a life with maximum well-being, a happy and satisfactory life.

    The nature of goodness needs elaboration. Goodness for biological creatures relates to their survival and reproduction. Sure, evolution had made our brain seek goodness and rewards it with dopamine whenever it is achieved and punishes it with pain whenever it’s not. However, an argument could be made that if humans succeed in isolating pure consciousness that is unencumbered from biological constraints, what would that consciousness do (or seek)? What would a Philosophy for pure consciousness look like. I doubt we can ever isolate pure consciousness or that it exists but let’s assume it as a thought experiment. This is akin to making a computer which exhibits signs of consciousness. What would such a pure consciousness do?

    Suppose there are then multiple such pure consciousness, multiple metaphysical entities. Since we don’t know what such pure consciousness would be bothered about let’s assume that different entities exhibit different behaviours. Some randomly drift. Some dissipate. Some replicate and spread. Interestingly, given multiple varieties of entities, eventually only the entities that replicate and spread will remain and dominate others in the population. In other words, we can hazard a guess that another evolution may kickstart for this hypothetical scenario and that evolution will also lead the dominating consciousness to seek some sort of goodness. The nature of that goodness is uncertain, but in my opinion there’s a tantalising possibility of a universal state that is preferable than other states. In the world of pure consciousness, such metaphysical entities will philosophize on how to achieve that good state.

    Hence, given the underlying nature of the beings or entities, Philosophy should really be concerned about maximizing well-being, goodness or whatever else it is called in respective contexts.

    Why is there anything at all?

    We humans have cognizance of the universe and unlike other creatures we can’t help but wonder why is there a universe in the first place. Why anything exists at all? The fact that there is something rather than nothing and we don’t know why proves that there is a gap in our understanding and experience. Science and rationality cannot be expected to answer the why question. They answer what and how.

    No matter how much scientists say that the question of why anything exists is meaningless or impractical, the void always nags and points to limitations of science. Perhaps that void can only be filled with a direct (spiritual?) experience and not through intellectual understanding?

    Since the void nags and reduces well being for many (including me), Philosophy should also aim at taking a stab at how such a void can be filled. Perhaps the answer is arts, poetry, morality or beauty. I’m not sure what it is but any valid Philosophy should attempt to provide a total satisfaction – including these nagging questions.

    In summary, if you have to begin an inquiry, here’s where you could begin:

    Given that human is a biological creature, a product of evolution, what can we do to maximize well being. Bonus points for answering why anything exists at all?

    You can then derive answers as to why you sometimes feel enslaved by modern urban life, what is the nature of morality, how much money is enough, is democracy the right form of government and many such questions like that from time to time.

    How increased automation could lead to a happier and more egalitarian society

    First, watch this video titled ‘Humans Need Not Apply’.

    Now answer this question: =&0=&

    The scenario of nobody having a job might seem fancy and theoretical at first, but it’s becoming more realistic with each passing day. Google, Uber, BMW, and a lot of other organizations are on track to release self driving vehicles as soon as next year. And as the video demonstrates so beautifully, this is not just happening to the transportation industry. Automation will impact every sphere of human activity – be it creative, mechanical, cognitive or managerial.

    We live in a world of machine learning, APIs, exponentially improving technology, billion dollar disruptions. A lot of such innovations are about making humans redundant.

    What will millions of jobless people do?

    Taking transportation as an example again, as self-driving cars become commonplace we will rapidly have millions of jobless drivers who are unskilled. As manual labor gets replaced with automation and machines, such unskilled people would find it increasingly difficult find other jobs. Even if they get skilled, gradually automation will reduce the number of jobs available for skilled people. I concur with the video that this wave of people with no jobs will swell into a huge tsunami. Are governments prepared to handle this? In the short term, this will have a very real impact of worsening standard of living for a lot of people. They simply wouldn’t have any money to pay for even basic stuff.

    What governments need to do?
    Automation leads to concentration of wealth into certain corporations and individuals. A single innovation in automation by a specific company or individual can replace thousands and millions of jobs. Where income earlier used to go to many people doing the job, now the same (somewhat reduced) income will go to one company that developed that specific automation. This concentration of wealth will be sharper because of the network effects (the winner takes it all) and rich getting richer. Consider how Google is using technology to swell its cash reserves and revenues quarter after quarter. If earlier many thousands of cartographers used to get paid to map cities, now Google can just pay for fuel and have its self-driving car + maps software to automatically generate city maps at a detail no human cartographer can match.

    Governments will eventually realize the irony of companies like Apple and Google having billions in cash reserves while millions being jobless due to no fault of their own and being unable to afford basic amenities of life. Governments could realize this fact by themselves or protests, activism or even vandalism can make them wake up to this fact.

    Higher taxation and “Citizen wage”
    As wealth gap increases (more so due to automation concentrating wealth in some hands), governments will have to step in to rectify the situation. I side with the (semi-popular) view of higher corporate and individual taxation. The taxes that are collected from wealthy firms will go back to individual citizens as a wage just for existing. Consider citizen wage like a basic income that everyone gets from the government. This re-distribution of wealth from wealthy corporations to individuals will be justified because lack of jobs is a situation that corporations created. Poverty is not a choice people opt for.

    Will higher taxes stifle innovation?
    The main argument about capitalism is that it promotes innovation. The lure of money leads people to compete, innovate and provide better services. If taxes are high, why would any corporation care to bring new products in the market? If a government guarantees a good standard of living to everyone for free, why would anyone do anything? Won’t this lead to a lazy, complacent society?

    I doubt that people will get lazy. Individuals drive corporations and individuals are typically driven much more by non-monetary factors like satisfaction and having an impact on society. Think Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Larry Page – are they doing this for money or they’re doing this for their own satisfaction? Imagine if everyone is satisfied with a basic standard of living, won’t people come together and still innovate because they like innovating? In fact, if we take money out of the equation and have some other metric to track individual and societal progress, it may increase overall happiness and accelerate the pace of innovation because everyone will be guaranteed a decent standard of living, so people can do what they’re best at without worrying about how they’re going to pay for dinner. Think of all the poets who are forced to drive taxis.

    Co-operation between countries
    Countries are increasingly interdependent for their economies. Outsourcing of services and manufacturing has left many countries dependent on exports. What would happen when automation causes some countries to become self sufficient? Take India’s scenario – millions of young engineers are dependent on outsourcing of IT services and BPO, both of which are easy targets for automation. This would lead to disproportionate job losses in India. Same would happen to China if manufacturing cost due to automation gets cheaper than the human labor.

    Even if one country recognises the inevitability of automation and gives its citizens a wage for existing, other governments might not be in agreement and their citizens will suffer (due to automation-led job losses). I’m not sure if any outside government would be concerned about loss of jobs in India due to automation. India would have to tackle this problem by itself. This tackling could happen in two ways: one is to recognise that automation is real and is here to stay. This means establishing “citizen wage” (just like other governments are doing). The other way for government would be to shut its door to all “imported” automation. This is a very real possibility – there are potentially hundreds of millions of jobs stake and some countries (like India) that are very labour driven could succumb to this. This “banning” of automation will make some countries go backward, become more and more inefficient and less productive, while other countries march forward, becoming more and more productive.

    We will reach there

    Automation is a strong force and I think the possibility of most human jobs getting automated is very real. This would lead to citizen wage, where people will work whatever they feel interested in, rather than being forced to work in order to survive. However, in the interim, as pointed out in this reddit thread, there will be chaos. In some countries, it might take vandalism and violence to drive home the point. Others might just handle this very smoothly. A perfect outcome requires individuals, corporations and governments work together and admit that basic human survival is at stake.

    The real use of money is to buy freedom

    As the founder of a profitable software company, I happen to make more money than most office-goers of my age. There’s no shame or pride in admitting that. I don’t dislike money. Having quite a bit of it is simply a fact. Though there must be many thousands of people who have enormously more money than me, I consider myself lucky to have more than I need right now.

    However, more than the money, what fascinates me is the nature of money, its ubiquity and how our behavior gets unknowingly influenced by it.

    The insecurities attached with the money

    I have grown up in a typical middle-class household where one is rightly nurtured into not being extravagant. I was taught to value money (which I thoroughly appreciate). Even though, in my childhood, I always got whatever I wanted, the truth is that I never wanted big, expensive toys. That attitude has lingered on to the present day. Now I know what matters and what doesn’t. I firmly believe that material possessions may end up owning my life rather than I owning them. I would certainly be not happier if the entire day I worry about my new scratch-less Porsche, my next investment or whether my portfolio is currently showing positive or negative returns.

    A life spent mostly hoarding money and possessions is a wasted life

    Keeping the things you own in a good condition and actively managing and cleaning them is one aspect. The other aspect is the constant worry of losing it all.

    Isn’t it funny that one first works hard to earn some money, and then worries constantly about not having it anymore? This insecurity keeps even the richest people actively working to make even more money, while they sweat away their only life, working extremely hard while deprioritizing their friends / families (which of course they will regret at their deathbeds). All this hard work is for the future, though. When will this future arrive, they don’t know. With enough money in the bank, they will feel safe. Except that rarely anyone defines “enough” and no body ever is really safe. A bus could run over you tomorrow, and no amount money could save you if you were destined to die.

    It’s true that having money is a good thing, and that if you happen to afford good (and probably expensive) medical treatment, chances of you surviving a crash might be higher. However, I can bet that this life-saving amount would be much lesser than what most people aspire for to “save”. And there’s always medical and disability insurance to take care of this scenario.

    Then why do we run after money?

    I feel there is an irrational attraction which humans have for security. They are inherent afraid of their mortality and subconsciously or otherwise, will do anything that assures them of a meaningful, comfortable existence. Money is perhaps the best proxy for this permanence that we desire. It might also be related to our evolutionary instinct of hoarding food for the rainy days. Better to have more food than less food, right?

    Luxury lifestyle and the hedonic adaptation

    People who make a lot of money too soon such as entrepreneurs or lottery winners usually end up increasing their standard of living. Consider how going to expensive restaurants, watching movies on a bigger TVs, or moving into a larger home would make you happy only for a while. After that initial rush, it’s back to normal. This is called hedonic adaptation and I’m sure as we reflect, we can see that this adaptation has happened many times with us, yet we keep falling into its trap.

    Some might argue that even the initial rush is worth all the money, but there are many unintended side affects of significantly changing your standard of living. You end up not hanging out with your friends that often because they won’t go into that expensive restaurant. You end up spending a lot of time managing whatever things you’ve bought. You end up feeling bad about yourself because now your comparison is with houses much bigger than yours. But worst of all is that you end up feeling out-of-place at all the places that your earlier avatar once considered luxury, say an economy class airline ticket to Europe because now you prefer traveling business class.

    Isn’t it ironic that just because you’re used to a better standard of life, you’ve suddenly excluded so many potential joy-bearing experiences? Sadly, some people never experience this non-correlation between money and happiness, and they end up dedicating their lives to making money while they could have had been much more happy chasing experiences. Money in the bank has rarely given anyone any happiness. All it has given is a false sense of security.

    Is money such a bad deal? ...  Read the entire post →

    Life as a question with no answers

    The meaninglessness grips him by the throat at any moment of the day. Not caring about where he is and with whom is he, like a ferocious, prowling predator, the feeling arrives unannounced, rips apart his flesh and leaves him half-eaten, bleeding with not blood but streams of shameless, naked guilt. The guilt of meaningless existence.

    He has been found caught in a swirling pool of this feeling at all sorts of places where the expected state of mind is one of the common moods such as joy, sadness, anticipation, reflection, or tens of others that people keep talking about. Instead, multiple times a day, what he feels is a sharp confusion followed by an invisible, choking paranoia that he’s going to die one day, and nobody really, truly, deeply cares about his existence. And why should they? They have their own lives to bother with.

    Of course, he was not born with this feeling. His first memory is a sweet one; it’s about clutching a two-rupee note, while spiritedly darting towards the candy shop in the neighborhood. He distinctly remembers the sky that breezy day to be a little grey, the kind he prefers. And he also remembers his favorite orange candies which were cheap and abundant, and how they were wrapped in a white paper cover making each candy resemble a well-ironed bow tie. In those days, each kid had its hands full of them. A single rupee could fetch ten of such candies. He remembers how sucking on those candies seemed to have given him infinite bliss, as if the sweet liquid gushing out of it was hallucinogenic. At that innocent moment in his past life, he was perhaps in a childish trance. Or so, that is how he prefers to remember it.

    Today, this memory – and many other similar ones where only the happy parts are remembered, not the boring ones – evokes two simultaneous, yet diametrically opposite emotions. When he reflects on the memory, he feels immensely proud of having lived through such a wonderful time, of being born as a human capable of having such memories (and not a simple-minded cockroach, leech or a snail), of being lucky enough to be able to afford this memory (and not having perished as a poor, destitute and malnourished kid). This feeling of airy joy fills his lungs and leaves him with a relaxed sigh of being alive, and giddies him up about the capacity of future to gift him many more such times. But before long, his sweet stillness is pierced by the painfully clear thought of his own death in future, and how that certain event would render his entire life (and all its associated memories) meaningless. In fact, he feels that his future death, in a way, renders his life and his actions meaningless today, not some distant tomorrow. It’s because one day his death will surely arrive and that day would be just like any other day. Today could be it. Any day that brings him death would be today on that specific day. Days are never special, he thinks. The only subject that occupies a man on his deathbed is his own death.

    At such moments, for the briefest of moments, he catches a glimpse of his own flood of thoughts inside the vast ocean of constantly turbulent mind. Truth be told, it makes him proud and amused that mind is able to accommodate the existence of happiness and dejection at the same time. Isn’t that interesting? Though, sadly, this pride of holding mixed emotions doesn’t help in resolving the unease about the questions that have no answers.

    Ironically, what brings him relief from these semi-frequent bouts of dejection about death is the thought that he’s going to die in future. His constant contemplation on death has inevitably made an impression on his intuition, further strengthening his resolve that one’s short life on this planet, even though meaningless, should never be sad. Happiness and exhilaration is what he seeks (and often gets). No doubt, even on a happy day, like everyone else, he would get faint, fleeting feelings of guilt and sadness, but he likes to imagine that unlike others he just carries on with the happy feelings while leaving behind the sad ones to rot. He has no hang ups about the past, and at will, he’s able to erase all negative feelings of guilt, shame, sadness and anxiety. Once he told a friend that the constant awareness of death brings genuine happiness. He also jokingly referred himself to be an Ăśbermensch. His friend didn’t care.

    He doesn’t know whether he should qualify it as a sad feeling, but one feeling that he constantly runs away from is that dreaded time when his mind is completely blank and the time around him shamelessly hangs on the wall, refusing to march forward. Yes, he feels boredom quite sharply and the possibility of it makes him tremble from the inside. Why can’t he just relax and enjoy the endless time, you may ask him. Try getting an answer from a depressed, suicidal person and you’ll get your answer on his behalf.

    Even though he does not hate life, he would have been perfectly at peace if he were never born. It isn’t as if he prefers not to exist, it’s just that existence doesn’t matter to him. The question of life is moot. Meaningful life is an oxymoron. This indifference might seem cruel or pompous, depending if you love him or not, but that’s what the truth is and he’s unable to change it. Multiple times, he has tried shouting at the sky, demanding the universe some sort of an answer, but he has never got one.

    Now, he has given up shouting. He isn’t tired of shouting; only that, now he feels he should be occupied with things that make him happy. Today, he has his memories that he treasures, a life that is a source of happiness and clarity of what life is about and why one must enjoy it at all costs.

    Existential drivel

    The problem with us humans is that we want everything to happen today. The reason we are so impatient is because tomorrow is really a bet that we’re uncertain to win. Whether we will be alive to see tomorrow unfold or not, we cannot say for sure. That’s why we want all the love, excitement, significance and exhilaration to arrive one after the other without many breaks. In fact, sleep or exhaustion often feels a guilt-ridden letdown to an over-anxious mind. Why sleep when you could be living, for it is uncertain that you will wake up tomorrow.

    It’s funny though how this emotional want for right now and the thin sorrow of not being able to make the best out of the limited time we have conflicts directly with the vivid realization that time shouldn’t matter at all precisely because death is a certainty and all these moments that one so desperately wants to capture for the eternity will fade with oneself. The sun will explode, the universe will become a nothing once again.

    I guess the only resolution of this irritating, recurrent conflict is constant reiteration of the fact that even though life is meaningless, one has to make the best of it. Or, maybe not! What you make of life really does not matter. But it is certainly unavoidable that life has to be lived and why not! It’s a chance to become a small part of the mysterious phenomena of the universe being there at all without any purpose whatsoever. If the universe doesn’t care about its existence, why should we?

    Why do I then care about writing this piece at all? I could have avoided it and my life, the universe and everything else between it would have been as absurd with or without my words.

    But if not for vomiting these attention-hogging thoughts of mine, how else would I put my overanxious mind to sleep? It’s all for that sleep, where the absurdity ends but so does the fun too!

    On being okay with boredom

    Imagine a usual Wednesday evening. A week earlier, there was a similar Wednesday evening, and of course, next week, there will be another Wednesday evening. These Wednesday evenings never stop arriving and all of them look essentially the same. Wednesday evenings are insignificant, boring chunks of time that you cannot avoid.

    Finishing his work a little early, he comes home tired, mechanically changes into nightclothes, eats a tasteless dinner, and, on the dinner table, engages in a forced chitchat with his wife. As he opens and closes his mouth to utter careless words, he keenly feels the insignificance of the talk because all the significant conversations have already been done in the past. All that is remaining to talk about is trivial curiosities about food, work, travel and other miscellaneous stuff. He forces himself to think of something interesting, but nothing worthwhile strikes his listless mind. He believes he loves his beautiful wife and usually the same chitchat gives him a warm, fuzzy feeling and makes him happy, but today does not seem to be one such joyful day. Today, he is utterly bored.

    He is bored because this Wednesday is an unimportant day. The hate for Monday has subsided and the excitement for a Saturday hasn’t arrived yet. Wednesday is just a large expanse of time that has to be filled with something substantial. He feels the weight of being happy at this particular moment.

    The pressure to do something meaningful is immense because any day in the future he might die. He’s scared of death so he wants to feel relevant while he is still alive. He wants his every moment to count for something special. He wants magical, larger-than-life days.

    Unfortunately, Wednesday is not magical. It’s dull and he knows that quite vividly. While his wife is cleaning the dining table, he drifts towards his room and realizes that the monotony of this evening is killing him. But he has no energy left to rebel against the dullness that is crawling besides him into the room. He is a silent observer to his own life, watching time swoosh by every second, day-after-day, Wednesday-after-Wednesday, year-after-year, death-after-death. He asks himself: what’s the point of it all. He waits for an answer but all he hears back is some distorted, incoherent echoes.

    Because this empty, dejected Wednesday evening makes him aware of the passage of time so vividly, he fears living through it. Time is unnaturally slow today. He desperately wants to run away to somewhere else, but where should he go? He wants to escape, but he also knows that time runs at the same discolored pace everywhere. No matter where he is, he knows that life will always keep pushing such boring, never-ending Wednesdays at him. One day, even if he finds Shangri-La, he knows he will get bored there too. What is he going to do then? Escape again? Escape to where? There really is no running away.

    So, what should he do now?

    He tries to distract himself by watching silly kitten videos followed by dejected scan on Facebook where everyone else has an awesome life. These trivial activities fail to lift his mood. His room is dark, he is laying on his stomach with his nose plunged inside the pillow. With his body numb, mouth dry, and eyes unfocused, he probably just wants to sleep early.

    Most people grasp the true meaninglessness of who they are and what the universe is up to on a day like this Wednesday evening. When boredom strikes, the desperation to end it is immense. Since his boredom is so deep and real, he cannot hope to escape it with shallow distractions. Half amused, half depressed, he thinks he has no choice but to either kill himself or learn to be comfortable inside his own skin, while fully being aware of the absurdity of being so. Really, he has to be either distracted and happy, or bored and real. He cannot expect to be real and happy at the same time. It’s logically impossible.

    ***

    Interestingly enough, boredom never lingers on. A magical Saturday evening appears once again and he is happy as a duck once again, totally forgetting how dreadful that Wednesday evening was. Thank god he’s human.