Math Formula

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Think logically!

Some while ago, I reflected upon mantras and sayings, which often more or less accurately represent people's schools of thought. Not quite as severe, yet annoying at times, are platitudes. They tend to be not so deeply burned into our minds as mantras, but nevertheless sometimes their shortsightedness is striking.

One of the platitudes which made it to the olymp of particularly stupid platitudes is: Think logically!
What I find surprising about this statement is NOT that typically it is plainly wrong in the strictest meaning of the word logically. What I find surprising instead is that it reveals an extremely widespread misconception about how knowledge is obtained and applied. Let me elaborate.

While this statement has merit in certain situations (e.g., in a course on, guess what, logic), most frequently it is simply misused. A few examples:

  • When boiling noodles, do you put the salt into the water before it starts boiling or afterwards? Think logically!
  • How do you hang that picture? Think logically!
  • How do you calculate the area of a circle? Think logically!
Again, what I find irritating here is NOT the misusage of the word "logical" in the strictest meaning of the word. More than not, what the speaker really means is: "Apply your knowledge about the principles of our world onto that particular matter.". But even then, this statement does not make sense at all!
Most likely, asking that respective question about doing something does not only show a lack of understanding of the matter per se, but also about which questions to ask in order to come up with a solution.

Someone who already knows how to boil noodles might ask back further on: Think logically, how do water and salt react with each other (in chemical terms)? How will you level the picture after you hung it? Just look at that circle, how many square-units does it consist of?

All of these questions make perfect sense - in hindsight. Just as like the correct questions that lead to the ultimate answer to the initial question could be: What is the seeding point of noodles? Which material is picture made of? What is the square root of 2?

Obviously, none of these questions make sense in the context at hand. Yet, there is no way the initially asking person can possible know this; otherwise he would not ask at all!
Learning something is not only about the respective application, but also learning which questions to ask during application. 
Telling somebody to "think logically" gives him the impression of failing to realize something obvious. But the contrary is true - telling somebody to "think logically" reveals failure to realize how you yourself obtained that knowledge! 

Think logically! Remove that platitude out of your dictionary - your kids, classmates and colleagues will thank you for your nonviolent communication.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

3 Simple Steps To A Perfect Day

1) Ask yourself: For the next 30 minutes, do I want to do something I will remember, or will be remembered for?
2) Do something that is worth remembering, or being remembered for, for the next 29 minutes.
3) Take 1 minute to go back to 1)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Power Of Eating Alone - In Silence

Many people make big mental efforts during the morning shower. Not only do they make their daily schedule, but they also mentally prepare for meetings and make important decisions.
This doesn't come as a surprise, because for many people, the morning shower is one of the rare moments when they are truly with themselves and simply let their thoughts flow.

Afterwards, for the annoying morning commute, you either sleep (which, apart from drawing certain conclusions while dreaming, cannot quite be considered a very active activity) or you are exposed to some form of stimulation. Stupid morning shows on radio; plug in your headphones and your favorite band, on full volume of course; or if you are really motivated, read a book. That way or the other, you are not with yourself and your thoughts - and won't be during the whole day anymore.

Thus, let me ask you something: When was the last time you ate alone, at home and in true silence? That means no radio. No TV show. No computer. And of course, also not texting, reading, whatsoever at your ubiquitious pocket-computer.

Obviously, it is great to go for lunch with your family, have a barbecue with your friends, or a candlelight-dinner with your significant other. There are even books which recommend to never eat alone. Obviously, there is much to gain from such talks and events.

In fact, there was also a time I totally avoided eating alone. When I served national service at the Red Cross, I didn't feel very good mentally. In such moments, eating alone was quite counter-productive, because it triggered even more depressing and negative thoughts - I do totally recommend seeking for company in such occasions, and even the TV might make good company at times.

Most of the time, however, your subconscious is your biggest, unique treasure. You just need to open a door, instead of trying to constantly kill it with audio and video stimulations, in order to "let it out".

A perfect way of doing so is eating alone - in silence! Sounds ridiculous and / or boring? Give it a try, it comes for free and won't hurt!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dostoyevsky On Midlife Crisis

A few days ago, I posted a great example about how Dostoyevsky showed great insights into human nature, which are still perfectly valid today.

Here is another quote from "The Idiot":
Yet, he shall not find peace for the rest of his life! It's not at all a reassuring thought to him that he fulfilled his duties; on the contrary, there is even something provocative about it. He might think: "So that's what I wasted all my life on; that's what stopped me from inventing gun powder! Wouldn't it be for these obstacles, I would have definitely invented gun powder or discovered America, I don't know for sure which; but invented or discovered something I would have for sure!"
So, apparently that's how midlife crisis was described 140 years ago!

P.S.: As you might have guessed already, this quote is not from the official version. For whatever reason, this passage is not present in any of the English versions I could get my hands on, so I've translated it myself. In the German version, this is in the Chapter I of Part IV and reads as follows:
Er kann trotzdem sein ganzes Leben lang nicht zur seelischen Ruhe gelangen! Für ihn ist es keineswegs ein beruhigender, tröstlicher Gedanke, daß er seine menschlichen Pflichten so gut erfüllt hat; dieser Gedanke hat sogar im Gegenteil für ihn etwas Aufreizendes: »Also das ist es«, sagt er sich, »worauf ich mein ganzes Leben verwendet habe; das ist es, was mich an Händen und Füßen gebunden hat; das ist es, was mich gehindert hat, das Pulver zu erfinden! Wäre dieses Hindernis nicht gewesen, dann hätte ich vielleicht sicher entweder das Pulver erfunden oder Amerika entdeckt; ich weiß noch nicht genau, was; aber erfunden oder entdeckt hätte ich sicherlich etwas!«

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And Why Did You Go To Bosnia At All?

Ironically, even though I have spent two years in BiH now already, I haven't thought about covering that frequently asked question here on this blog. However, recently I ran into this very nice blog post from Snježana about foreigners in ex-Yugoslavia, so it crossed my mind to share my story as well.
In the light of Scott Hanselman, I will give the gift of my keystrokes not only to her, but to all of you.

So why did I go to Bosnia at all?
Some background about myself and my family first. My father's parents were "Danube Swabians" (Donauschwaben) who lived in Slavonia, in a small village some 40km from Osijek. Even though some of them did speak some Serbo-Croatian, their main language was some obscure dialect of German (with quite an undeniable Croatian influence). Also, culturally they rather perceived themselves and were perceived as "Germans in Slavonia".
By the end of the WW II, they had to escape from the partisans, and landed in Upper Austria.

As much as I was aware of that fact, it didn't really play a role in my childhood in the 90's. I had a rough picture were my ancestors had originated from, but I grew up as an Austrian child with Austrian dialect and Austrian habits. Also, I wasn't particularly interested into where exactly they had lived, how they had lived, and how they had ended up in Austria at all. Yet, in the very back of my mind some connection remained.

Studying in Vienna, I started working for a company which does business in Europe and beyond. For various reasons, I was quite open to the idea of working and living abroad as well.

First, that's what job advisors keep telling you - whatever you do, gain some experience abroad first! I think I never really understood the reason behind, and rather took it for some fancy bla-bla - until I realized that it does make a difference (which I will not go into now, though, but maybe in some "Bosnia-aftermath" which it is too early for now).

Second, I was fond of travelling even before; so why not extend the journey and stay somewhere even longer, say, two years? Obviously, the perspective that you get and the experience you gain is way more than on a typical weeks to month trip. Getting to know habits, language, people ...

Third, of course this was a great work opportunity as well. Taking responsibility for a big project and making nice money always comes handy.

So, yes, I was ready to go abroad. But why exactly Bosnia, then?

Well, simply because it happened. There arose this opportunity for this project in BiH, at a moment I was ready for it.
Thus, I cannot claim that living in BiH is what I have always dreamed of - but when the opportunity arose, I was more than ready to take it (or maybe the opportunity arose exactly because I was ready for it?), and I haven't regretted it a single moment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dreadful Crimes - At All Times?

"Dreadful crimes? But I can assure you that crimes just as dreadful, and probably more horrible, have occurred before our times, and at all times, and not only here in Russia, but everywhere else as well. And in my opinion it is not at all likely that such murders will cease to occur for a very long time to come. The only difference is that in former times there was less publicity, while now everyone talks and writes freely about such things--which fact gives the impression that such crimes have only now sprung into existence."

Who knows me a little bit (or follows this blog and therefore knows why I try to avoid news) might realize that this sounds quite a bit like me.

However, this is a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot", written in 1869.

150 years later, I cannot help being surprised about how accurate this is even today.

It makes me wonder, once again: Apart from us driving cars, exchanging messages within seconds online and eating Big Macs, what has substantially changed for society as a whole in the meantime?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Tragedy Of Public Spending In Six Sentences

Political leaders are supposed to give precise spending forecasts, even when the details of the projects to be approached are not yet known.

If a project budget is not fully used up, the politician is said to be a poor forecaster, and less money than actually needed will be allocated to her future projects. Thus, a project budget is always fully used.

If the forecasts are exceeded, the politician is said to be a poor forecaster as well, plus he has to struggle to get the additional funds needed. Thus, there is an incentive to make the initial forecast bigger than actually expected.

As there is no incentive to counter these increased costs, always more money is spent than actually needed.

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