Thursday, February 2, 2012

The right answer....

A few days back, I was in a situation where there was a problem in my project team, and I had a choice to make- which would affect whether we would remain a team or not. It was the kind of complex situation anyone would hate getting into, because all the alternatives in front of you are equally good and bad. And I was thinking this through so much, with the desire to make the "right" choice. The choice that I wouldn't be guilty about later on. The choice where I would be fair to everyone concerned. And so on...
I was just wishing there would be someone in this world who would resolve that issue for me. Who would give me an answer- the "right" answer and with the reasons it was right.

It reminded me of the school days when- whenever you had a question, you could just  ask your mom/dad. And they would always have the right answer.. From why do aeroplanes fly to what should I do if my best friend stole my pencil. ("Tujh ko sab pata hai na ma"). And then the stage when I had an implicit blind belief in my teacher. If the teacher wrote a 'z' with a line across it, that was the only right way to do it. I remember having argued with my mother over such things (though I don't remember exactly what). But the idea was that the teacher ALWAYS had the right answer. And it was unthinkable that she could be wrong.
Of course, by the time I was in secondary, I realized that a lot of primary teachers had had no clue what they had been talking about (Especially with respect to some serious questions in science). But I thought that maybe "they" did not know, but somebody else did. Somebody else "should" know the right answer.
And then, the next biggest thing that happened was Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. I should say it almost shook the foundations of my beliefs. It had been fine that I (or we) did not know the right answer yet about a particular question. But how could it be fine that I can "never" know the right answer? And that was just the beginning. Suddenly, there were a riot of questions for which I did not know the right answer; and worse, nobody else did. From whether the universe is inherently random or deterministic, to whether our fates are predetermined or we have free will; from whether it is right to have mercy or to adhere to justice without ever pardoning, to whether it is important to achieve in life, or just be happy with what you get; from whether one has innate talents or whether you can be good at anything if you try hard enough, to whether it is better to marry someone who you would have power over or someone who would be better than you; from whether good begets good, to is there a God -- everyone of those questions had multiple answers. Different people had completely different arguments about them, each of them equally convincing and irrefutable- to the point where all I could answer was "I don't know".

There were times when I would wish that I could be as confident as some of my friends and believe that my answer alone was 100% right. But the more you rationalize and the more you look for evidence, you realize there is no single right answer. It is a "matter of opinion". And when I reached that point, I had to tell myself- "Welcome to adulthood!".
Where the world is no longer a concrete place where there are absolute truths, but a place where almost every important question is just a judgement. Or as one of my senior Intel colleagues put it- just a bet. Each of us is making a hundred different bets on different issues and hoping that "my answer is the right one". However, it might just not be. Tomorrow, we may be proven wrong. Or worse, we might never know we were wrong. And that we had wasted our whole life on a belief that was just a figment of someone else's imagination. It is a bit of an awe-inspiring prospect. The more you learn, the more you realize the less you know.

So why am I saying all this here? Two reasons.
One was because I keep encountering the idea of forcing someone to follow your beliefs. It is everywhere in India, and it is prevalent outside India as well. People talk about "hurting my sentiments" and "insulting my opinions" and so on, especially where it involves a religious belief. But it should be realized that it is a "belief" by definition, and not a fact. And nobody has any right to ask anybody else to change their mind or their actions just because they believe in something. This is manifest in so many issues and in so many ways, and people tend to forget that everyone has a right to his/her opinion, however stupid it may or may not be. As long as I alone suffer the consequences of my bet, nobody should care.
The other reason is because many times people ask me- how can you not believe in this or how could you say that? So, I had to tell them that most important questions have no right answer. At least as far as we know. That a lot of what I write in my blog is just my "bets" on different questions, which are purely a function of what I have learned in my life and the kind of person I am. And each of us has the freedom to bet on what we think is right. Nobody has a right to say that you are wrong in betting on this. I might have bet on the "wrong" answer, but I was not wrong in betting itself, because that's really what life is all about. About trying to answer questions, making mistakes sometimes and learning from them, making more mistakes and so on. It is just a long learning cycle, and as long as you don't repeat your mistakes, it doesn't matter. (In fact, you could believe that it doesn't matter either way!)

In my opinion, life is just an infinite loop that mankind is caught in. An optimization algorithm where we are trying to find the "right" answers. Maybe we shall just keep looping. Maybe we will get caught in local maxima. Or maybe it just doesn't matter at all. Nobody can ever tell. And that itself, is another bet, after all...

P.S: I know my previous post was about questions, and this one about answers. Purely a coincidence. And quite unintended! :)


  1. Liked this one "EPITHET : What is the meaning of life?? " and that "local maxima"....Looks like u r interested in using more technical terms in your blogs...:) anyway keep going...

  2. You never told what decision you took for your team??? Are you willing to reveal it?

    By the way, Life is not really infinite loop, as there is something like DEATH that exists. If you have life after death, then it might be an infinite loop with memory from previous birth flushed out completely.

    Do you wanna know the right answer? Not easy to know, but knock on your heart, for that moment, it might be the right one you had to choose. Its your choices which make you what you are today! Isnt it?

  3. @All: Thanks!
    @Appu: Yes, I think I just end up thinking in terms of technical terms- just a matter of habit I guess :D
    @ Smrithi: Maybe I will reveal it in my next post ;)
    And yes the life of an individual is a "finite" loop. But the life of mankind is (I hope so) infinite.. Anyway, my concern in that statement was more on the loop than the "infinite" part of it...
    For the last question- that is precisely my point. My point is your "heart" chooses an answer based on what it has learnt in its lifetime which is essentially a function of what environment you have been in, and also to some extent on your genetic history. But does that make your answer "right" in the absolute sense? I doubt it.. I feel there are definitely some questions for which we have 'bet's on what we think is the answer, but the right answer is, for the most part, un-knowable. Maybe I am just repeating stuff from my post, so I'd suggest read the post again :)


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