Maxim 8: A fish is the last to acknowledge the existence of water.

“The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.”
~ Alan Watts
Let’s set the scene.

There are fish. They swim in a fishbowl full of water. They swim back and forth while interacting with each other.

There is a person observing the fishes and wondering if the fishes consciously realizes they are in water and whether they understand the importance of water to their very survival.

That’s the framed scene in question that we are thinking about today. It is not important to determine if the fishes do realize that, only that we have now created this analogy in our minds.

Based on my understanding and reading, this analog appears to originate from a translation of a African proverb. Another origin is from the works of academics and writers, most famously written by the late David Foster Wallace.

While you may then argue that fish do not have the same cognitive capability, intellectual know-how and self-awareness to even ponder about their situation, it provides a suitable analogy for us to then channel towards people in turn.

Now, let’s bring our attention to people and frame it as such.

There is a crowd of people going about their day-to-day business. Most of which would lead ordinary lives and be ordinary people. Many of which would perhaps realize and acknowledge the situation, premise and reality of which they live in but will more likely than not, will never question it.

Here, people live their lives in invisible societal or cultural bubbles. In cross-cultural management studies and teachings, lecturers and academicians like to normally cite about cultural bubbles in which people of one society live in. This phenomena becomes very visible (at the very least, people become self-aware of it) when.. people from a different culture experience a different culture altogether. In that, cross-cultural managers are actually recommended to learn more about their own culture so they can understand what differentiates their own society’s culture from others. To put it metaphorically, get a fish to develop a taste for differentiating different waters. Even in the same general culture or society, there are different sub-cultures due to regional differences.

While there are no qualms with the good virtues that a society practices, it is the flaws and behaviours that we now draw our attention to. It is these things that require changing.

Interestingly, the behaviours of people can be quite ironic. Unlike the fishes, human beings possess the potential to develop intellectual acumen, self-consciousness and the reasoning required to understand the bubble they are in.

In fact, some people may sometimes be consciously aware of it. However, few people have the force of will, discipline, intellectual prowess and humility or even audacity to have the the self-awareness to realize and analyze themselves in this invisible bubble. As it stands, people would more likely submit themselves to societal and cultural norms because they believe the importance of the majority precedes the importance of the individual. If not that, they would be following their unconscious instinctive nature found in humanity’s ancestors.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Now that we realize this, we would think that after knowing the said phenomena, we would be positioned to inform people about it so society would change for the better. Let’s not kid ourselves. It won’t happen.

In a perfect world where people have the intellectual self-awareness to reflect and understand themselves alongside the society they live in, this would be a piece of cake. However, we don’t live in that world and people can be horribly irrational, even me. Pointing that out would make people even more adamant to not change as it has been internalized by themselves. The best way to make people realize it is to indeed point it out but make them question it themselves, while pointing them in the right direction from time to time.

To end, all we can do is show them the way and its their decision whether or not they are willing to explore that open path. Most importantly, it is to we ourselves that we should realize this, be aware of it and consciously strive to change ourselves for the better, whether or not it aligns with the norms of our society. Lastly, become an exemplar that makes people want to follow you, thus inciting the very change we perhaps were hoping for.

Till the next time.

For further reading:

Maxim 6: Everything has a beginning and end.

For all the greatness that humanity can do, that doesn’t mean that very greatness would indeed last forever. Only time and eternity are companions of forever.

This poem best expresses this notion..

Horace Smith’s “Ozymandias”

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place

History has shown time and time again the rise and fall of human civilizations long past  from their dawn, their peak in their golden age and the embers of their fire in its twilight.

This then teaches us an important lesson. That nothing lasts forever. As such, we must cherish and use the good of what we do have now especially while it lasts. Besides, the second best thing we can hope for is to preserve or prolong that which we want to last. One example is the warmth and vitality of youth as even that energy will diminish over the passage of time.

Some ways to immortalize or at least preserve that which we hold dear is through mediums. One of my motivations of writing this is to preserve the knowledge, experience and wisdom acquired over the years for not only my referral and sharing with the world, but to ensure I leave behind a legacy, no matter what it might be. At least then, I will have something that will mark my passing into the unknown beyond, by which people will remember me and gain an understanding of what I have gone through.

“A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
~ Max Planck

Nevertheless, I digress that falls and ends are bad. Rather, they are merely what they are. As such, it is up to us to see the good or bad of everything including ends. While ends are sometimes seen as something bad, ends actually precipitate new beginnings that promises unknown glories and achievements of events and people yet to come.

Besides, endings are found in the conclusions of books, movies and more. Similarly applicable for them and for life itself, without an end, everything becomes stagnant and prevents renewal as the status quo remains undisputed. It is like what Max Planck attempts to carry across through his quote. While the context of it differs, the essence remains understandable in what I’m attempting to convey.

To aptly end this, I leave here a quote by Senaca..

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
~ Seneca

Maxim 4: Everything is Judged by its Appearance; What is Unseen counts for Nothing.

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.

~ Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power)

Appearance is everything. It is what it is. It is how people instinctively and naturally behave. You may have seen it when people judge the value and worth of a product or services merely by what they can just see rather than fully evaluating it. This could be through presentation, packaging, advertisements, events, spokesperson and more.

“People care much more for how things look than how things are.”
― Donna Lynn Hope

Have you ever wondered, why is appearance or the illusion or perception of appearance so important to people even though appearances can be misleading or even deceiving?

There is one possibility from reading about a branch of psychology  called “Evolutionary  Psychology” that I think and feel is relevant here.

Science Daily defines it as:

“A theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection.”

The basis of evolutionary psychology lies with our ancestors. During humanity’s earliest societies, one might ask, how would early humans judge something or someone? Through our five senses and in my opinion, the most important sense is sight.

For instance, say two groups from two different tribes met each other. At the time, humans did not have verbal or written languages. So, how would early humans know if the other group had cordial or hostile intentions? Through observing body language and whatever else they can see. This can also include the clothes worn and how ornamental it was. This may seem overly obvious to most of us, but we always need reminding time and time again, appearance counts for nearly everything.

Based on the above,  one group could denote who the leader of the other group was and vice-versa. They could also denote the difference between a tribal leader or a tribal shaman. As this trait become evermore valuable, evolution allowed this trait to be retained till today. However, while evolution may have encouraged humanity’s survival, it can also have adverse and harmful side effects.

One example is the Coolidge Effect whereby humans would feel more arousal for new mates rather than old mates. The Coolidge Effect can be seen when males watch pornography. Due to the never ending images of different and beautiful women, its no wonder addiction in men can happen. While this trait may have been useful in ensuring men procreate with women before the Internet, this trait can be abused too.

Its the same with appearance, as judging the situation, person or item as they are based on what we actually see can be plain deceptive. Packaging on products can make a sub-standard product seem like a premium product. Clothes can make an ordinary man appear to be larger than life. Promotions and ads can make a service seem so much more valuable, thus making us perceive it has higher value.

Three more reasons we’re susceptible to our perceptions of appearance are due to:

  • The theory of bounded rationality states that humans are incapable of processing all the information needed to make well-informed decisions and instead take the most important information from what is available at the time to inform their decision.
  • Inclination towards emotions whereby most people would rather behave emotionally than think logically or rationally as it is instinctive and easier to do.
  • Cognitive bias whereby whenever something interferes with our belief system or ego, people would rather be blind and ignore whatever it is that tries to disrupt our internal frame of mind than to be objective about it and think clearly.

“Appearances are often deceiving.”
~ Aesop

Considering the above, thus we must balance the duality of using appearances to our advantage and to be careful with appearances to avoid being exploited or deceived. Create yourself to seem larger than life and you will have the world at your fingertips. Meanwhile, by being objective and remember that appearances must be a reflection of substance and value, we can avoid deception and trickery. Only then can we determine is valuable and what isn’t.

Till next time.