Self-Deception and Cognitive Dissonance

Can you hold two completely opposing or conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time and still be in peace. Not a chance. Human mind needs a resolution of conflicting points of view to maintain equilibrium. Otherwise it will be under tension. This is true of important existential issues as well as trivial day-to-day issues. To take a trivial issue first, consider our current political discourse. People who supported PM Modi after he took over as PM go all out to defend him even on an issue like demonetization which is hardly defensible. When you already have a mental picture of Modi as a pragmatic PM, you cannot entertain another conflicting idea of the same man taking politically motivated decisions. How does the mind resolve this conflict? It will ignore all facts of the case and defend someone who cannot be defended. Likewise, people who supported AAP in the beginning have every reason to feel disgruntled later based on his performance. However, they resolve the conflict in their minds by inventing new meanings to his actions. Basic point here is that the human mind can function in peace only when opposing points of view are resolved. If this happens without a proper inquiry this is self-deception?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state where two conflicting thoughts trouble the mind. This is often resolved by self-deception.
In a way one buys peace, however temporarily. Let me give an everyday example. Traditionally we are all conditioned from childhood to believe in God. But then as we grow up, our education makes us doubt this belief. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. I went through this phase. Every time  I went to a temple, my doubting mind which is educated would tell me: “Can’t you see how you and many others are wasting time in the name of a blind faith?. At the same time if I skipped any ritual enjoined by religion or  tradition, my innocent mind would quip: “Hey, you’re missing out on something important in life. Don’t be misguided by your science education”. The resolution came late  in my life after setting up a proper inquiry into all issues. Now whatever I do, I do with clarity and awareness. The point I’m trying to make is very simple. Can we resolve conflicts without self-deception? If we can’t, we end up leading lives without any direction. To resolve conflicts, we need to set up an inquiry and study all points of view objectively. The inquiry, in the particular example cited above, can either lead one to becoming an atheist or a firm believer. It may be right or wrong. But at least the internal conflict is resolved and one lives in peace and without cognitive dissonance.

Here are a few more interesting, if trivial, examples of self-deception and Cognitive dissonance in our daily lives. Let us say that our dietician convinces us to take a low-fat, low-carb diet. But then when we see a spread of yummy cakes and ice creams on a table in a wedding party, our mind is in a state of conflict or dissonance. How do we resolve it? We eat it anyway and justify that saying things like: “We live only once. Let us live it up. In any case, exceptional violations of diet rules should not matter”. This is a classic example of post hoc rationalisation. That is, you do a forbidden act and then find ways of justifying the act.

The other day I was reading an article on American history (after the 2nd world war) which provided the following interesting case of post hoc rationalization: Franklin Roosevelt, after the second world war, uprooted hundreds of Japanese Americans based on a mere suspicion that they would indulge in sabotage. Having committed the atrocities, a govt spokesperson says: the very fact no sabotage has taken place strongly justified the action against them.

Here’s a trivial example of post hoc rationalization: let us say you have missed your favourite music concert you wanted to attend badly. After the event is over, you will perhaps look for every bit of news which will minimise your disappointment. For instance, you will be pleased to hear someone say: “The artist was not in his elements this time….. Also, there was a big traffic jam on the route to the concert hall and it’s good you didn’t attempt to go”. And finally an irrefutable philosophical justification will ensue: “Whatever happens is for the good”.

After all, human mind, in spite of evolution over millions of years, still has several limitations. Let us accept that the human mind is still a work in progress. But an awareness of its limitations helps us to recognise instances of self-deception at least on serious existential issues and take corrective actions.


Published in: on April 22, 2017 at 4:05 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

When your Memory lets you down……

I’m told we spend 33% of our life time on sleep. To that I would like to add that we spend another 10% on searching for spectacles, Cell phones, keys or trying to recollect some name etc. The other day, I spent nearly 15 minutes to find out where I misplaced my specs only to find it is nicely kept hidden from my view on my cot underneath a neatly folded bed sheet. I could clearly recall keeping it safely on the cot. But little did I realize that I folded my bed sheet and threw it precisely where my specs lay. What a precise throw it was! If only I played cricket, I would have run out several batsmen with a throw like that.

I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone in this. The problem of recollecting name of a familiar face or of recollecting a well-known phone number seems to exist among people of my age group. The badly needed info is for ever on the tip of the tongue as though glued to it with an all-powerful adhesive! The problem with memory is that we sometimes remember things that never occurred. Mark Twain puts it humorously thus: “When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened”. One hopes one doesn’t reach that state! (If this quotation is not Mark Twain’s you can blame it on my memory lapse!)

My sister who is passionate about Carnatic music has the same problem. We often discuss concerts on phone. In the midst of a serious discussion, at times, her thought process gets affected just because she cannot recall the name of a particular Raga which she is quite familiar with. If it happens to be an important raga of the concert, she would really get upset with her failing memory. I’m in no great position to help her because my capacity to recall ragas is no better. This is not surprising considering that there are 72 main Ragas and hundreds of derivatives. I have experienced this problem during some music concerts, especially with ”Raga maligai” where the musician would render a dozen ragas in quick succession. Before I could figure out the name of one Raga, he would move to another and yet another and so on. I would, for ever, try to catch up with the musician. This is sometimes frustrating because we might  miss the beauty of the Raga Maligai itself while struggling to recall the Raga. Often, the problem is not of identifying a Raga but one of recall. Some musicians, helpfully, announce the Raga names, even as they sing, to end suspense among the audience. I have now decided to sit back and enjoy the music without bothering to identify the Raga. I totally agree with Shakespeare who exclaimed: “what’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

I can never forget my ”mama thatha”(my father’s maternal uncle) fumbling with names in cricket in his late sixties. I was a child then and he was a great cricket enthusiast. We owe our knowledge and interest in cricket to him. We learnt from him all the nuances of the game like leg spin, off-spin, swing bowling, field positions, batting techniques etc. However, he always used to get confused between Bapu Nadkarni and Manjrekar. (Old-timers like me would be familiar with these legendery names). While recalling some great matches of 1960s, he would confidently say: The way Nadkarni batted was unbelievable or you should have seen Manjrekar bowling those wonderful maiden overs non-stop etc. We used to have fun correcting him.(For those of you who may not know these players of 1960s, Nadkarni was a great bowler while Manjrekar was a great batsman!)

A friend of mine tells me that learning Sanskrit grammar (Panini’s grammar) is a great help in improving one’s memory. I’m seriously considering taking such a course since it will come in handy in my study of Vedanta as well.

By the way, human memory is a serious subject of scientific research all over the world. Memory evolved over a few million years as a necessity for fitness and survival of the caveman. Our ancestors needed to remember their predators and their locations well in order to survive. Therefore, even now our memory rarely fails when it comes to remembering anything which affects our survival. Obviously, misplacing one’s specs or forgetting the name of a Raga do not fall in that category!





Published in: on December 10, 2016 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Neuroscience behind Donald Trump’s Victory

Rage, anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, insecurity, alienation – anyone of these emotions by itself is enough to make one extremely irrational. But if one is possessed by all these at once and is asked to take a big decision, the outcome is bound to be catastrophic as we have seen in the behaviour of voters in the recent elections in the US. Neuroscience and neuroscientists explain it all beautifully. A neuro scientist from the university of Maryland, Dr Douglas Fields says that  while everyone is dismayed at the outcome of the elections, neuroscientists are not. Let us see how.

Human brain has a circuitry for reasoning which is also the centre of awareness and consciousness. This is known as the brain’s cerebral cortex.This can reason out and help in taking rational decisions. However it has limited capabilities in terms of memory and analysis. For instance, we can hold no more than 7 digits at a time in our working memory. This limitation puts us at a disadvantage when faced with a complex set of factors for decision-making (By the way, this raises the question whether humans deserve the name Homo sapiens – the wise ones?).

The complexity of decision-making often arises from that part of our brain which produces emotions. An emotion is just a feeling. The part of the brain which houses a host of emotions is called our limbic system. The cerebral cortex is  the centre of awareness while the limbic system is meant for generating emotions. For an emotion to be produced, you need a thought which is produced in the cerebral cortex. In the context of the elections, the cerebral cortex  creates a thought which divides citizens into two categories – ‘us’ and ”them”. ‘Us’ in this case could be our religion or race or our jobs. ‘Them’ are the Muslims, Asians etc. This division created by the thought communicates with our limbic system and generates all the negative emotions that I mentioned in the beginning. Fear and panic caused by terrorism, insecurity and alienation caused by the prospect of losing jobs to Asians, uncertainties due to a non-functioning government – all these emotions are too complex to be handled by the rational part of our brain. Under such conditions, there comes a privileged billionaire who appeals to these raw emotions and promises to take good care of their concerns. The mass hysteria falls for it and votes for him. Rational minds such as those of the pollsters, the media, elite and the intellectual class cannot comprehend, much less digest the happenings.

As the poet philosopher Leonard Cohen said: “There’s a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in”. Let us look at the happenings in that light.


Published in: on November 13, 2016 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Unlearning Our History Lessons

Ashoka the great, Nepolean the great, Alexander the great, Samudragupta the great and not to forget the great Khan of  the Mangol empire Chengiz Khan- what is common among these?  Each one of them was a great warrior who killed and decimated his enemies. But Ashoka had one more distinction for his claim to glory. As all of us studied in our school texts, he became a Budhist after the bloody Kalinga war and became a pacifist overnight seeing his own brutality. But is this narrative of history true? This is now being questioned by Sanjeev Sanyal, a best selling author. He says after Bindusara’s death, Ashoka killed Bindusara’s son and crown prince in Pataliputra. He also killed all but one of his 99 half brothers and in fact became a Budhist for political reasons a few years before the Kalinga war. His conversion to Budhism was related to the politics of succession and had nothing to do with the Kalinga war. Even after the Kalinga war, where about 100,000 people were killed, Ashoka was not repentant. He went on to kill his religious adversaries like Jains and Ajivikas. Thus he was a mere usurper who became an emperor by violence and went on to expand his empire through bloody wars. He was also cruel with people following other faiths and like all bad kings tried to plant false evidence through inscriptions in distant places to counter his reputation for cruelty.

If all this is true, then, does Ashoka now become an Antihero? Can we now denounce him as Ashoka, the cruel(Chandashoka). If so, what will we do with Ashoka Chakra which adorns our national flag?

Somehow our historians accept emperors fighting wars and expanding their empires and declare them as great. However, they cannot accept a usurper to the throne as a hero. Wars were always glorified by historians. A ruler is expected to keep expanding his empire and historians would thrust greatness on them. We have come a long way from an era where one’s greatness is evaluated by the number of wars fought and won. No one can get away today saying – I came, I saw, I conquered, like the great Julius Caesar did. However, one can certainly get away saying – I came, I saw and as I was looking on innocently, someone attacked me and I counter attacked and killed him. However, in today’s world economic imperialism has replaced political imperialism. The logic of Julius Caesar is perfectly acceptable in building Business empires. Businessmen have to either grow or perish. And when they grow it’s okay to kill a thousand competitors!

Talking of violence and wars, the evolutionay psychologist Steven Pinker describes, in one of his books, how the standards of violence have changed over time. Even as  recently as the early 20th century, a hereditary member of the British House of lords complained: PM Lloyd George had created new lords solely because they were self-made millionaires. When asked, how did his ancestors become a lord, he replied: with the battle-axe, sir, with the battle-axe!

Shakespeare, echoing the values of his time, says in one of his dramas: You ought not to mix up murder with war.. It’s puzzling that it’s wicked to kill one person but glorious to kill a thousand.


Published in: on August 14, 2016 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Spontaneity in Action 

Did you hear about this interesting stuff about IIT JEE. Way back in 1990s, there was this  simple question on arithmetic: 1+1=? The options were: 2, 11, 22, none of the above. Most of the students preferred not to attempt the question as they were scared of negative marking for a wrong answer. Why did so many guys miss the obvious? The answer is not far to seek. Many must have felt: There’s something more to the question than what meets the eye. A simple sum such as 1+1 cannot find its place in an exam like IIT, JEE.

 The story maybe apocryphal but one should not miss its moral. We tend to complicate our lives and miss the obvious and simple solutions.  An important consequence is that we lose Spontaneity in our actions making our lives dull, boring and devoid of any excitement.

Talking of spontaneity,  let me narrate my recent  experience with my grand-daughter. She was admonished and taken to task by both her mom and grandma obviously for being terribly mischievous. She was all tears when She found me relaxing on the sofa. She came running to me and buried her face in my  lap. empathizing with her misery, I told her matter-of-factly: Oh dear, whatever happened to you? Ah, I know, your mom and your Patti(grandma)got angry and scolded you. Right? She nodded in agreement and looked at me expecting to express my support to her. I consoled her and said reassuringly:”My dear little one, from now on, if  anyone hurts you, do not hesitate to come to me. I will keep you company and play with you “. Instantly her spirits perked up. She displayed her affection by hugging me tightly with a warm smile.That is spontaneity in action. When she was in mental pain, she was completely absorbed in that emotion and when she was consoled, she showed her love and affection without any inhibition. Having got over her agony she was again ready for her next round of mischievous acts. No brooding over the past at all like adults.

Interestingly, we lose that spontaneity when we grow up. How does it happen? The word tomorrow is the culprit, I suppose. Think of tomorrow and one gets into the psychological world of one’s ambitions , targets, plans, the fear of not achieving or under-achieving, the fear of losing money or property if one is wealthy,  the thoughts of retaining one’s name and fame if one is a celebrity, the fear of losing health if one is healthy and the fear of death if one is aged  etc – the list is indeed endless.

The solution lies in relearning to live in the present which is a life of spontaneity. Plan, by all means, for tomorrow. However, do not get bogged down by fears and  insecurities of tomorrow. These are not real. Present is the only reality and if we fully live in the present the future will take care of itself.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Of Terrible twos and Violence

The psychologist Tremblay says that violent behaviour is in-built in humans. We are all hard-wired for aggression and violence. The question is: when does it first surface. He says one can see tell-tale signs of aggression  in a child itself indicating it is innate. Tremblay perhaps exaggerates when he says that if children do not kill each other it’s because we do not give them access to knives and guns.

I can attest to the aggressive behaviour of children from my experience with my grand-daughter. She is passing through what is aptly termed as terrible twos. This is the most difficult and the most enjoyable period of bringing up a child. She is defiant, mischievous, full of energy, confident, fearless, joyful, fun-loving, pleased with simple things but absolutely demanding at times.

There are times when she has to have her way come what may. If the phone rings, for instance, she has the first right to lift the phone and say hello. For some reason if anyone violates this unwritten law, he or she does it at her own peril! She will do everything in her power (which is indeed immense)to make you regret your action. A couple of days back, I witnessed one such scene and her grand-mother had to make amends by calling up again and giving the little one the exclusive honour of speaking gibberish after her initial hello.

I have been at the receiving end of her aggression and violence on several occasions. If I am lying down on the bed and see her anywhere nearby, I would always take the precaution of sleeping in a defensive posture to protect myself from the little one as she is known to make unannounced long jumps with me as the target. It’s interesting as to how the kids suddenly turn aggressive and violent as they cross 2 years of age. It’s equally puzzling as to how they learn to stop being violent once they pass this stage.

Social psychologists tell us that if children stop being aggressive as they age, it’s because of the recognition that the others can also inflict pain in retaliation. But then there are other ways of satisfying the craving. As someone said: I do not kill people but enjoy reading obituaries nevertheless.

In a sample survey conducted by scientists in an US university, 80 to 90% of people surveyed confessed to having homicidal fantasies at some point in their lives. The scientists surmised that the remaining 10% perhaps lied! What a revelation! This message is captured nicely in a book titled: Bad people do what good people dream of.

We may not exhibit aggression in our daily lives, but most of us would love to read about stories of violence in news papers. It’s for the same reason we also like ghastly stories and movies depicting Nazi atrocities or terrorists’ attacks. An uneventful day of reportage in a news paper is never as interesting as the one packed with stories of violence. If any violence is committed anywhere, there is a natural craving for information on the detailed descriptions of how and why.

Hard-wiring for aggression is not surprising if one considers our evolutionary past. Our ancestors had to endure so much of violence in their lives that they could not possibly have lived without the craving for information on how violence was committed.

One may wonder whether there is any scientific evidence for this theory of innate aggression. Yes, there is. Interestingly, several studies by neuroscientists have confirmed the existence of what is known as a Rage Circuit in our brain ( Will write more on this in another blog).

All this does not mean that we are doomed as a species. On the brighter side,  evolutionary psychology also points out that our minds are also wired for several positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, love, joy, altruism. That is the beauty of creation –  the bad & the ugly is always balanced by the good. And the struggle goes on.


Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Are our Children Smarter than Us?

The answer is an unambiguous Yes. I’m sure none of the parents or grandparents reading this post will dispute this. If anyone needs a proof consider the following: If you want to buy a smart phone, a MP3 or a computer, whom do you consult? Of course your son or daughter or nephew or niece. Having bought a gadget, whom do you consult for setting it up and training you on how to use the same? The answer is not very different again. If you get stuck up while using it, who helps you? The answer is the same again. As for me, I always tend to postpone buying the next version of a smart phone or iPad purely because I find myself wasting a lot of time understanding the new gadget.

While this may be known to us intuitively, a scientific study was made by James  Flynn who compared IQ test scores of different generations over the past 100 years. His findings are presented in his book “What is Intelligence” published in 2007. In one typical study, the IQ- scores of  two large groups of Dutch people were assessed with a 30-year gap. The IQ distributions indicated that the mean IQ-scores on the test had increased by 21 points (the Flynn effect) per generation (30-year gap).

It’s important to mention here that the ability to answer questions related to factual knowledge based on experiential learning has not changed over the years. For instance, questions related to geography or history have shown more or less similar scores over the generations. What has really contributed to higher IQ score is the vastly improved capabilities for abstract reasoning. Flynn, for instance, gives the example of a question ‘What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?’ A modern respondent might say they are both mammals, an abstract answer (an a priori answer, which depends only on the meanings of the words ‘dog’ and ‘rabbit’ ), whereas someone belonging to early 20th century might have said that humans catch rabbits with dogs (a concrete, or a posteriori answer, which depended on what happened to be the case at that time).

Abstract reasoning requires an ability to identify patterns among different abstract shapes or numbers or objects where irrelevant and distracting material is often presented. The presence of irrelevant or distracting material or information can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions. Abstract reasoning tests measure a candidate’s ability to change track, critically evaluate and generate hypotheses as they progress through the test. Abstract reasoning involves flexible thinking, creativity, judgment, and logical problem solving. In contrast , concrete reasoning depends upon facts, events etc.

Flynn accounts for the increase in abstract reasoning capabilities to increased exposure to many types of visual media. From pictures in print media to movies to television to video games to computers, each successive generation has been exposed to richer optical displays than the one before and may have become more adept at visual analysis. Mass education in Science & Technology is another important factor contributing to one’s capabilities in abstract reasoning and logic.

The so called Flynn effect has stunning implications. For instance, if a typical person  today were to time-travel to 1910, he would be smarter than 98% of his or her contemporaries. To put it more jarringly, if a guy belonging to 1910 were to  time-travel to the modern-day world, his IQ  score would be no more than 70 which is considered to be a border-line case of mental retardation. This is not to say that people living in the past were close to being mentally retarded. Far from it. They had intelligence appropriate to their living conditions and needs.

Well, today’s teens need not go overboard on these findings, for, it’s a matter of time before the present teens may be considered below par in IQ – perhaps about 100 years from now!

Published in: on July 11, 2016 at 12:43 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Adam Smith and Vedantik Self

Here is an unintentionally comical epitaph of a soldier of mid-5th century CE in Greece: “This memorial is set over the body of a very good man. Pythian, from Megara, slew seven men and broke off seven spear points in their bodies…………….This man, who saved three Athenian regiments….having brought sorrow to no one among all men who dwell on earth, went down to the underworld felicitated in the eyes of all”.

With the above example, Peter Singer, a well-known philosopher of this century points out that until a couple of thousand years ago, our moral circle was limited to city-states meaning that the qualification for goodness is to protect the citizens one’s city by slaying men living in the neighbouring cities! In Greece, it was Plato who for the first time advocated the principle of expanding the moral circle beyond a city to the country. He insisted that a Greek should extend his goodness to other Greeks living within Greece. Peter Singer argues that we have come a long way since then in extending our moral circle. He attributes this to literacy and the age of reason. While, it sounds good as a theory, it is perhaps not borne out by facts. To take a recent example, Chennai floods brought together all Chennaites living across the globe. Overwhelming support was extended by Chennaites living in  all corners of the world – a great example of total loyalty within the narrow circle of Chennaites. However, I wonder how many Chennaites bothered to help out when Uttarakhand suffered a huge calamity of large-scale destruction due to land slides and floods in 2013.

Adam Smith, the Scottish moral philosopher of 18th century, in his theory of Moral sentiments, makes a similar point. He asks us to imagine a scenario like this: Let us say a big calamity like a severe earth quake strikes China killing a million people and you are a complete stranger to China. How would you react? He answers saying that one would perhaps feel very sad for a while after hearing about the calamity and then get back to work on the following day as though nothing had happened. In today’s world, one would perhaps go a step further and write out a cheque for the victims and then forget about the whole thing. On the other hand, Smith asks, what would one do if an accident were to happen and one cuts his finger. Smith surmises that the same guy would keep brooding over it for several days and would find it difficult to get it out of his mind.

Are we humans condemned to be selfish all the time? No, says Adam Smith. He explains this with another example. He asks us to imagine another scenario wherein you have a choice of either protecting your little finger or killing a million Chinese. He says we would most certainly choose the former. No sane person would refuse to sacrifice his little finger for the sake of saving a million Chinese lives. He attributes this to an inner voice or a neutral spectator within. To quote: “It’s not the feeble spark of benevolence ……. counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It’s a stronger power , a more forcible motive that exerts itself on such occasions. It’s principle, conscience the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct…………..It’s from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves….and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected by the eye of this impartial spectator. It’s he who shows us the propriety of generosity………; the propriety of resigning the greatest interest of our own for the yet greater interests of others and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves”.

These are very interesting lines coming from Adam Smith. He concludes his discussions on an optimistic note invoking an inner spectator! Isn’t this thesis close to what Vedanta refers to as Sakshi within. Vedanta goes a step further to state that the Sakshi within is universal. Sakshi which is Consciousness is understood by Vedantins as the non-dual reality which illumines everything else.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 12:55 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,


Fatty meal today and high Cholesterol tomorrow; High calorie filled desserts everyday and diabetes later; High Caffeine drinks everyday and sleeplessness in the long run; Sedentary life today and obesity tomorrow, Hatred, Anger & jealousy today and unhappy relationships for ever, no discipline of savings and poor retired life – the list of such instances of lack of self-control is indeed endless! One common feature in all this is our preference for instant gratification over long-term interests of health or wealth. In the language of economics this is known as deep discounting of future. In layman’s terms it means that we do not value our future as much as our present. This is not surprising since we have merely inherited these traits from our cave dwelling ancestors who had an uncertain future. Clearly, then, if we learn to value our future as much as our present, it should help us develop self-control.

Acting on our urges is the enemy of self-control. This is because urges and self-control are governed by different parts of the human brain. Urges leading to instantaneous gratification arise in our limbic system (which is the centre of emotions) while self-control is controlled by the frontal cortex which is the centre of awareness. In a sense, self-control may be thought of as a tug of war between the limbic system and the frontal cortex of the human brain.

Our understanding of self-control dates back to Greek mythology. It has an interesting reference to what is known as a siren song. The expression Siren Song refers to an attraction which is hard to resist but which, if heeded, will lead to a tragic conclusion.  According to Greek mythology, the  sirens were beautiful yet dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sea sailors to destruction by their sweet song. The sailors, on hearing the intoxicating siren song, would lose control of the ship and cause fatal shipwrecks on the rocky coast.  In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odyssey, escaped the danger of the siren song by plugging the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf to the Sirens. Odysseus himself wanted to hear their song but had himself tied to the mast so that he would not be able to steer the ship off its course. Psychologists call this as the Odyssean or Ullyssean technique for self-control.

We may or may not be aware of Odyssean technique but don’t we use it everyday? Of course, we do, when we try to avoid shopping at a departmental store on an empty stomach or when we keep the alarm clock beyond our arms’ reach to avoid turning it off and going back to sleep when it rings or when we conveniently forget to replenish stocks of biscuits or chocolates or any junk food at home to make sure that we do not binge on calorie-rich unhealthy foods.

It’s a paradox that one part of ourselves wants us to keep trim, fit & healthy whereas the other part encourages us to act on our urges and temptations.

New year resolutions people take in public are another attempt at achieving self-control, though with poor results. It’s a way of putting our reputation at stake if we didn’t stick to it. What about signing contracts and submitting ourselves to rules? Interestingly, psychologists have a weird explanation for this.  According to them, these are not tactics to defeat someone else, but tactics to defeat the darker parts of ourselves.

Here is my little story on how I kicked my coffee or tea addiction(almost). I tried this simple mind game. Think of coffee or tea as no more than a sugary liquid devoid of any flavour just when it’s time to drink coffee. To support this thought, bring to your mind the memory of a bad coffee drink you had in the past, like in a train journey for instance. This was supposed to wean the mind away from the thought drinking coffee or tea.  Believe it or not, this technique worked reasonably well. In a sense, this is a way of  cheating the mind! I figured out later psychologists have a jargon for this. This technique is called Cognitive reframing!

Psychologists have discovered a few other techniques for self-control – physical exercise, taking nutritious food, picking up new skills, using non-preferred hand for everyday tasks like brushing teeth etc.

Psychologists keep discovering new techniques. But I think the more lasting solutions are to be found in Gita Chapter 13 which has a detailed discussion on values. The message is: Have values and more importantly have value for those values.



Published in: on June 19, 2016 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,