“Who am I?” We were grappling with this ultimate question in Wadi Rum Desert. My answer was: I’m the penguin’s desert بطريق الصحراء. This started out as a joke, but upon reflection, I think I’m going to seriously adopt it as my symbol.
How does this symbol fit me?
Fetching fish is research. The desert is a place where a writer can find inspiration and discipline away from the distractions of modern-day life. As a logophile, I can connect with the heritage of the wordsmith Bedouins, for they are masters of the word.
The harshness of the desert stirs me to be steadfast in pursuing the truth. It stands in juxtaposition with the friendly playful nature of the penguin. The odd animal’s pace is heavy and somewhat hesitant.
The whole scene captures my fascination with paradox!
*to address the elephant in the room: I shaved my head as I was asking a friend to do something crazy so the suggestion was shaving my head. It’s a very uncharacteristic style for me.
I already posted a shorter version of this on LinkedIn. This has more authors and names of books as it’s not restricted by space such as LinkedIn posts.
Your books shaped my thought! If you’re mentioned here, I wanted to thank you. Your book (and in some cases, books) left an imprint on my brain and heart. Perhaps I’ll get the chance to elaborate more on how you influenced me through one-on-one correspondence (or a blog post), but I just wanted to acknowledge you in this small way.
Top authors who nourished me with their books over the years (This is the more work-related list) .
This is to prove that I’m not using fancy phrases with no reason; It’s all calculated my friends (though I love fancy phrases and I might be guilty of that sometimes!).
Back in the days, I hated contractions. I abhorred them regardless if they were only seeming contradictions or actual ones. They made me very uneasy. And the failed harmonization attempts made me cringe. I needed neat clear logical answers. My need for cognitive closure was high.
Over the years, alongside this repulsion , I noticed an odd attraction towards those contradictions and paradoxes. Something in me was very intrigued, finding myself gravitating towards them over and over again. In a strange way, both sentiments thrive in me today, and maybe always had.
When I encounter or sense a dialectic, I feel pressure to resolve it either by finding a harmonization or by identifying it indeed as a contradiction (calling a spade a spade). That stress, while uneasy, is in it and of itself is a sign of the beautiful fascination that paradox exercises on me.
I’ll give an example; the issue that made me think of the title “paradoxically paradoxical” to begin with. The people who make it to leadership positions tend to be aggressive, selfish and egotistical.
An impressionistic rough hypothesis: Those who are selfless, easing-going and want to accommodate others tend not to seek leadership positions. However, people governed by this leadership will benefit from a selfless altruistic leader. And here in lies the paradox; good leadership is altruistic leadership but altruistic people don’t tend to seek leadership. After we understand this paradox, we are better able to improve the situation: Devise a system that appoints leaders who do not take initiative in pursuing power or search for leaders who possess the rare combination of selflessness and strength; seeking power as a means not an end.
This paradox explains why the status quo is not very good. Now, we can find a better solution like searching for leaders who possess the rare combination of seeking power and altruism or building a system that appoints only leaders who do not seek power nor positions.
The second point is that by examining a paradox, we can improve our situations.
It’s a goldmine for improvement and powerful insight. And there-in lies the ultimate paradox: my greatest source of unease is my greatest source of joy; paradoxes. Devoting my life to contemplating them might be the most fruitful endeavor. That is meta-paradoxical. Pursuing paradoxes is particularly productive. It’s then might be more fruitful to focus on what “doesn’t make sense” than what does make sense.
I was flustered/ disenchanted by the lack of progress in life. There seems to be a lot of knowledge and hard work but often, the improvement that we want does not happen even with the best resources. I felt that the system was somehow stuck in gear.
These paradoxes gave an explanation to that.
They were responsible for jamming the system. The good news was that if we understood those paradoxes, then we can unlock the system paving the way for the long-awaited progress.
I became much more interested in things that “didn’t feel right”, counter-intuitive or “insane” ideas. After all, the “normal” way was the status-quo way and I wasn’t satisfied with that. Are you?
So what do I do now when I get this feeling of “this doesn’t make sense”, “there’s something off” “there’s a contradiction”? Instead of sweeping the issue under the rug or acquiescing to cognitive dissonance, I scratch that itch. I get excited by the smell of the paradox since, there, bottlenecks are cleared and major breakthroughs are made.
The same principle applies to behavioral economics. Rational economics assumes that the person is completely rational. Behavioral economics focuses on our irrationality. The wonderful thing about focusing so much on our systematic cognitive mistakes, is that this means that we can improve and improve a lot without paying much in return. Dan Ariely says “(I)t can be rather depressing to realize that we all continually make irrational decisions in our personal, professional and social lives. But there is a silver lining: the fact that we make mistakes also means that there are ways to improve our decisions —- and therefore that there are opportunities for free lunches…. One of the main differences between standard and behavioral economics involves this concept of ‘free lunches.’ According to the assumptions of standard economics, all human decisions are rational and informed …. As a consequence, economic theory asserts that there are no free lunches — if there aware any, someone would have already found them and extracted all their value… behavioral economists, on the other hand, believe that people are susceptible to …(multiple)… forms of irrationality… The good news is that these mistakes also provide opportunities for improvement. If we all make systematic mistakes in our decisions, then why not develop new strategies, tools, and methods to help us make better decisions and improve our overall well-being? That’s exactly the meaning of free lunches from the perspective of behavioral economics ….” ( Predicatbly irrational, 319-320).
The most exciting phrase in Science is ….. “That’s funny”
Complexity scientist, Samuel Arbesman, said something to a similar effect (Listen to Podcast Interview with him, minute 6-8, 11-13). He focuses on odd, anomalous issues he encounters to gain a better understanding of a topic he’s studying. This often happens when something “doesn’t fit in”. This is a lens that allows him to unlock previously hidden information echoing Isaac Aismov’s quote ““The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not, ‘Eureka! I’ve found it,’ but, ‘That’s funny!’”.
I think I good slogan for the blog would be “Embrace the Cringe”. Do you like it?
Time and again people, especially my family, told me “You can’t boil the ocean, Hashem!”. This is an expression that means you can’t turn every stone. It’s an attempt to tone down my perfectionist perseverant pursuit for whatever it is I’m searching for. They have a point! My research ,even for trivial things, can become too obsessive and consuming. However, some places and life tracks reward boiling the ocean; parts of the ocean that is.
The juxtaposition between water and fire, cold and hot captures my fascination with paradoxes and dialectics.
When fact is stranger than Fiction: Bizarre facts
There are underwater volcanoes! That’s a fact! But at the same time, it’s not something you see every day. It’s mind blowing especially if you’re looking at it. The picture has the intrigue of the fictional world but actually belongs to the factual world. This is what I want to write about. I want my reader to be blown away by the facts.
The Crazy Photographers
As I was searching for an ocean lava picture, I read some of the back stories of how these photos were taken. I felt a certain affinity with the photographers. I wouldn’t do what they did in terms of putting my life in danger for a photo ;however, the extent that they went to provide the world with something so specific and unique is something that speaks to me deeply. Their end product is not an average run-of-the-mill photo that we see every day. It’s not redundant. I admire people who lose their minds pursuing for their careers.
 See especially the photos taken by Selway and Kale Link . If the reporting is accurate, then their end result would be a category of its own, the first fruits.