Friday, March 15, 2013

Nourishing the brain

This is more of a personal entry, so that years down the line I can read about it and feel happy.

I talked to a close friend after a long time today. I am not a fan of long phone conversations, but this one was long because this wasn’t a typical “Hey what’s up? How are you? Okay gotta go, bye” call. For a change, despite our 3 hour time difference and schedule difference (he works now, needs to be in office at a certain time I guess, and I am a student, enjoying my spring break), we ended up having one of those long discussions about anything and everything. By the time we were done (the phone got disconnected once), it was a little close to three hours. Like I said, it is a long time to be talking to someone on the phone who is not your boyfriend. My jaws are still hurting as I type this.

So what did we talk about?

Everything and nothing.

He told me about the work he is doing in his team now. The codes he writes, the programs he makes, the testing he does.

He told me the difference between research and development.

I asked him if given a chance, he would do another PhD, in a totally different field. He said yes.

We talked about self-identity. I asked him if he sees himself solely as what he does professionally. I asked him if he was told to leave what he is doing and start something completely new (for example, being a chef), would he give it a thought? He said yes.

We talked about game theory and the decision making of people.

We talked about stable marriage problem (Google Gale and Shapley), and its mathematical derivations.

We talked about secretary problems (an optimal stopping theory).

We talked about the game theory scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

I told him about my book. Even sent him a chapter to read and give me feedback on.

We talked about why criminals act the way they do, and what could be going on in their brains to justify their actions.

We talked about the pros and cons of giving up a secure life and traveling round the world for a year. How would one get a visa? How would one withdraw money? Does one go looking for an ATM every week? How does one live out of a backpack for a year? The two dilemmas I would face are, one, I cannot pack fancy clothes, not too many, and two, I cannot bring back a souvenir, because all I have is a backpack. I wondered where does one do basic stuff like laundry and ironing clothes? He wondered how does one get over the language barrier?

We talked about the potential association between time difference and the failure of long distance relationships. People feel and talk differently at different times of the day. It makes sense, because when I call my mom at night (daytime for her), she is all energetic and busy, while when I call her in the morning (night for her), I am the energetic one while she is ready to crash. Clearly the dynamics are different.

I proposed the importance of feedback. Every employer that rejects you should tell you what was wrong with the application. Every time you have a breakup, there should be an opportunity for amicable conversation where your ex gives you feedback about where you screwed up. He had some good points about why my theory will not work.

He gave me anecdotal examples from his work, for example, how it is not necessary to know the different parts of your car to be able to drive one. It is enough to know where the steering, the brakes and the accelerator are, one does not need to master the engineering of a car for that.

We talked about the importance of introducing humor while answering socially awkward questions (for example, the classic question of when will you come back to India? Will you settle down in America? He replies that God and economics will decide).

We talked about how the concept of “cold feet right before marriage” did not apply to our parents generation. It is a luxury our generation affords.

He told me the importance of listening to your parents, because they are on top of a mountain with a better vantage point in life, given their experiences. I argued that with my parents, they are standing on top of an Indian mountain and I am climbing an American mountain. They don’t get my perspective since they have never been here. For example, they always ask me to “drive slow” when I am about to go on a trip, the basic assumption on their part being that slow equals to safe. If I was to drive at 30 mph on a freeway, I would be anything but safe.

We talked about the importance of doing things in life despite the uncertainty (for example, getting married while you are still in grad school in case you have a girlfriend, although you know now when will you graduate or where you will go next). Things happen around you to define your life, and then your life defines the world around you. It is a two way process.

He told me why he thinks the N (neutral) gear in a car is placed strategically between R and D. I told him why I think his rationale doesn’t make sense.

We talked about today (pie day, March 14th or 3.14), and why the Indian pie day should be on July 22nd (22/7). March 14th also happens to be Einstein’s birthday.

He told me about the short stories of Balai Chandra Mukhopadhyay and the novels of Amitav Ghosh. He loves both.

We talked about higher order thinking and lower order thinking, and how our strategies change in a board game when we practice more. I am a scrabble addict, I can and do play it for hours every day, and I kept rambling about why and how it challenges me to think in a more sophisticated way.

He told me that very few people know “baishey srabon” is the death anniversary of Tagore. I went off a tangent and said “baishey srabon” could be pie day too (22nd of monsoon), which means two great men from the same generation were born and died on the same day. Totally illogical, I know.

I told him about the two good movies I recently watched, Amores Perros and Maria Full of Grace.

He told me about the resources to learn Spanish.

I told him about the consequences of the fact that we don’t choose our parents, but we also live with the security that our parents will never breakup with us, as opposed to the dynamics with a potential relationship with a spouse.

We talked about the conversation between two people 10 years of age apart, both being the same person (for example, one is 30 years old and the other is the same person who is 40 years old).

We talked about everything and nothing. And the conversation went on and on.

I have missed having these totally impromptu, random conversations that do not have a script. The beauty of it was the impulsiveness, the unpredictability of it. We could have hung up in 30 minutes. We could have hung up within 3 minutes. Instead, we fuelled the discussion for 3 hours. I miss having a friend like this, someone who talks about the things I can identify with. Intellectual malnourishment is a serious disease that afflicts most of us. There are so few people around to intellectually stimulate us.

For me, the greatest suffocation comes from being in a room full of people who talk, but seldom talk about anything of use to me. Hardly anything stimulates my intellect. What ought to be a signal ends up being noise.

And on that note, we said good night. It was past 3 am for me. It made me so hungry, I had to go hunting for food in the kitchen. Hunger is always a good sign.

It was a great conversation. A really long time since I had one.



supreeth vattam said...

+1 to this post :) very well described :)

Richa said...

It was a pleasure reading your post:)

Could connect to most of the things and felt great to know, its not uncommon to crave for the joy of
sharing & discussing with your alikes ...

Akanksha said...

Very well put...
Discussing such intellectually stimulating stuff and jumping from one topic to another totally different one is actually a bliss, because food for thought is also one of the basic necessities for some of us.