Saturday, 5 May 2012

The centipede effect

The centipede was happy quite
Until a toad in fun
Said, 'Pray, which leg comes after which?'
This raised her mind to such a pitch
She lay distracted in a ditch
Considering how to run.

                                                 (from 'The Centipede's Dilemma')

The centipede was happily walking until the toad dragged her outside her body. For the first time in her life, she looked at her complex constitution in complete trepidation.

Of late, have you ever spent a day observing yourself from outside? The centipede story is only a fable, for only human beings possess the ability to observe themselves as distinct from the rest of the nature. But would we want to observe ourselves going through a regular day?

 If you are an average human being, then this is how you will follow yourself through the day - you get up at the same time every morning, give or take fifteen minutes; you finish your breakfast in a flash and then take off for your office. You get stuck in three traffic jams while rushing for office and you curse all those who dare to get out of the jams ahead of you. Surely you deserve to reach your workplace sooner than others. You arrive at your office and take your rightful place in your designated cubicle or cabin, depending on the number of years you have spent doing the same thing. And now you are ready to do the same thing for one more day. You laugh ten times at the ten jokes shared by your boss. You nod your head in complete appreciation of the strategic plan that has been shared with you. Then its time for your favorite activity of the day - lunch. You check out the menu of the canteen yet again and order the same sandwich. You eat with the same set of people. You ogle at the same female, who, you would like to think, always takes up a seat from where she can let you admire her. Over lunch you discuss the movies you watched during the weekend or plan to watch during the coming holidays. You reveal with great pride how you drove to this nice place, along with a group of adventurous friends, to catch a glimpse of the awesome sunset standing atop the amazing hillock. To your surpise, all others have been there too and they let you know that even the sunrise there is equally breathtaking. After the lunch, you demonstrate to your colleagues what a team player you are, by offering your unsolicited advice on how they should impress the boss. You then send a few emails in a row, thereby getting done with your deliverables for the day. Now you want to exit the workplace as soon as you can. But not before your fiercest rival leaves. Damn the man; he just hangs around to wave the boss goodbye when he leaves. You will never stoop down to such dirty tricks. From your moral high ground, you pity such talentless sycophants. Thankfully he leaves in an hour. So you leave too. Right before leaving you send that one email you had drafted right after lunch to your boss. It acts like a time stamp on your exit. So you are out of your office, and now on the way back you listen to DJ Frustration on the radio. Can anyone believe it, you again get stuck in three jams on the way back! We will not get into what happens after you reach home and before you sleep. We will assume that like your every act during the day, even this will be extraordinary.

If you indeed watch yourself like this, will it affect your regular day? Will you still be able to do the same thing, expecting different results? The centipede effect suggests that being too analytical can be a distraction to what comes naturally. What comes naturally to you? Whatever it is, don't analyze it. The centipede could not walk. You will not be able to work. Or live.

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