Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oiling the hinges

The other day, I was riding in the hot sun, on a deserted road, and as I approached an S-bend, I couldn't help but resist, leaning in low at the turns, even though I had decided not to do so. That's when it hit me : "I can, but should I?". There are a million situations where this question comes to my mind, sometimes I give heed to it, while most times I don't. Is it even in my powers to stop myself, I wonder. That's where Dr. Dan Ariely come in. Recently I read this book called Predictably Irrational written by him. I don't read non-fiction books that often, but there was something about this book that that caught my eye. I didn't really have a lot of time on my hands, and the fact that I had loads to write (more like copying actually, nothing involving much mental activity), inspired me to try out an audio book instead of the regular book. Honestly, I had always despised those who read/heard audio books, and considered it as a mean by which the lazy, got through with books that were forced onto them. Anyway, for me, this was the means of getting through with the book I had forced onto myself. I started of with the book, not thinking much of it, especially since wikipedia stated the genre of the book as Behavioral economics. But as the night became cold, and the pile of sheets I had left to write, diminished, I became more n more engrossed in the book, and with each break that I took from writing, which was based on the chapters of the book, ending, I gave the it some thought, and I was able to relate to a million incidents, where I had behaved irrationally, or even when people I knew acted this way, and then all of a sudden, it all made sense. So coming back to why I leaned in low, and took the turn at double the speed I ought to have, the answer is herding. Okay, I did tell you that it was a deserted road, and since there was no one around, how could I have queued up behind someone else, when I went in to take the turn. The fact, according to Dr. Ariely is that I am queuing up behind my own self. When the first time I went in low, it was only out of curiosity. The next time I thought that the last time wasn't that bad, in fact it was fun, why not do it again. And then there was no looking back. So you see, even though my decision was an irrational one, it was, to some, quite a predictable one. And the fact that I am aware of the mechanism of herding, does little to improve my chances of not behaving more rationally, as the author of the book has himself conceded having fallen victim to certain illogical behaviour, despite having prior knowledge to this flaw in the human nature. It is only in retrospect that we can clearly see the fallacy influencing our actions. Sadly, though the book does go into the detailed analysis of the widdershin nature of human behaviour, it is only restricted to the aspects influencing behavioural economics. So this incident occurred, which in my opinion was a little unreasonable. As I have already mentioned before, I ride an Enfield, and you all must probably be aware that Enfields are a little greedy when it comes to oil consumptions, and most of them are clumsy eaters, spilling more than consuming. So any way, I always keep a container of oil at home, just to occasionally fill her up. And yesterday, I noticed that a couple of the doors at home were squeaking. Since I knew that no one was going to get their hands dirty with oil, I took it upon myself to rid all doors of their squeak. Okay, I may have been a tad too generous with the oil, but at the end of the day all doors were mute. Sadly, my efforts went not only unappreciated, my parents seemed rather displeased by my actions. Apparently the doors became so free that the slightest breeze sent the door flying shut or open whatever be the direction of the gust. Even though I didn't didn't expect any appreciation, it did feel bad that my parents were not happy about it. And what is worse, is that I realised that I too do this with other people all the time. They say there are pleasure centers that get activated when one's work is appreciated. Are there displeasure centers too in the brain? Speaking of pleasure centers the other day a random guy (who looked atleast 45) who was with his wife in a car next to me, at a red light, rolled down his window, and said "You have a beautiful bike". Doesn't it feel great when someone you don't know, n will probably never meet again, complements you (or your beloved belongings in this case). That guy made me smile for atleast the next 5 minutes, if not more. Any way, reading this book made me realise, how my decisions have already been taken for me. Which reminds me what my Hindi tutor taught me, there is this phrase from the Mahabharat, n technically should also be in the Gita, which roughly translates to the happenings have occurred before they happen. Probably it was too profound a thought for me to have understood then, but I did finally get what it meant a while ago. Its like the actions we are going to perform are to a great extent depended on the ones that preceded it. And now this book only reinforces the statement. I would like to probe the decision making process a bit further, and would certainly be reading more books of this kind from now on.

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