There’s a little secret in this piece somewhere. But we will get to that later.

For now, to more important things.

The first paragraph of Guruji’s first Prologue from His first book, If Truth Be Told, reads:

“We are a rather strange species if you ask me…Our capacity to be selfless is as immense as our potential to be selfish.” 

In what is an upfront reference to the duality of human behavior, at the heart of Guruji’s words above, is a question we often grapple with: What is it that makes our same selves compassionate one day and rude the other? How is it that our same beings can be both rational and delusional, in any given month? If the inner universe that resides within us is infinite, what makes us tap to that side of the universe that makes us better one day, and worse the other? If we are the same being, how and why do we embrace such duality, marked by stark differences on both ends of the spectrum?

Much has been written about these themes above for it is a question that, at some level, all of us seek an answer to. The duality of existence is a vast body of knowledge, and in contributing to this cornucopia of research, I thought we could perhaps turn to the humble mathematical principles of probability to shed some more light.

So, here’s a short detour to the world of probabilities, minus any of the mathematical jargon, lest it evoke stressful memories of class 9 and 10, which if you are like me, and would like to avoid at all costs:

  • Put simply, a probability is the likelihood for a said event to occur. The higher the probability, the greater the likelihood the said event will occur. On the contrary, the lower the probability, the lesser the likelihood the said event will occur.
  • As an example, if someone says that there’s a high probability for it to rain tomorrow, she/he is suggesting that it is more likely than not that it will rain tomorrow. In case you want to go slightly deeper, some more here

Now there are 2 kinds of probabilities that are pertinent to us, and for the purpose of this piece, narrowed in their definitions below:

  • Conditioned Probabilities: As the name suggests, such probabilities are conditioned by the past – a said event is more or less likely to happen because of some other event that took place in the past
  • Independent Probabilities: And again, as the name suggests, such probabilities are independent in nature – a said event is no more or no less likely to happen because of something else that took place in the past. It stands firmly on its own.

Because conditioned and independent probabilities are key to our assessment of the duality of human existence, as always, let’s turn to our favorite sport for some inspiration. Two examples from the cricketing world below to further delineate these concepts:

  • Let’s consider a batswoman who has been going through an amazing run for the last 6 consecutive matches. In her press conference before the big final, she says the following: “I am going to ride my current form and ensure that my performance in the final is similar to my performance over the last 6 games.” Now, what is she doing here? She is in effect building a narrative on the edifice of conditioned probabilities – because she has played exceptionally well in the last 6 games, she is confident that she will also play well in the 7th and final game
  • Now let’s consider another scenario. A batswoman from the opposing team has been going through a torrid run for the last 6 consecutive matches. In the same press conference before the big final, she takes a different stance: “I am going to walk out tomorrow unaffected by how I have played in the last 6 games. Every game is a new game for me just like every day is a new day.” What has she done differently? She has instead, created a narrative on the edifice of independent probabilities – unaffected by her prior form, she wants to approach the final as a new day and a new opportunity to win for her team

At this juncture, let’s circle back to our original goal and see how conditioned and independent probabilities offer a glimpse into the mechanics of duality. As humans, it is our constant pursuit to construct narratives to make sense of our place in the world around us. A significant part of building these internal narratives is crisp storytelling – stories that we tell ourselves, which in turn, shape these narratives.

How do we create crisp stories for ourselves? My sense is, for long, we have used the conditioned and independent probability frameworks to effectively create simplistic stories for ourselves: a) Feeling low at work? It’s because of things that have been going on at home for the last few weeks (conditioned probabilistic framework) b) Been low at work for a while feeling extremely energetic today? Why? It’s your birthday and today offers a fresh new start, where the past does not matter as much (independent probabilistic framework).

And here’s where it gets interesting. In constructing such internal stories, we often find ourselves rationalizing for not only how we feel but also how we behave: a) I was selfish today because people have been mean to me through the week (conditioned probabilistic framework) b) I was selfless today as it’s the right thing to do, and it doesn’t matter how people have dealt with me in the past (independent probabilistic framework).

This gets to the heart of duality. It’s the same individual above but she/he decides to be selfless or selfish based on her conditioned or independent outlook towards her behavior at that point in time. Internalizing this probabilistic approach towards our duality can also help us manufacture more positive outcomes, one decision at a time: create a story conditioned in the past, when there’s something good in the past that you want to carry forward to the present; create a story predicated in the present when you just want to let go, and start anew.

This is easier said than done, of course, and assumes substantial agency on our part, for decisions, big and small, that we take. And here’s the secret: perhaps the end goal of effectively using the probabilistic framework is to eliminate the reason behind this piece in the first place: duality, which, eventually gives way to a calm, well-defined, singularity of thought and approach. But that’s for another day 🙂

Also, here’s the real secret: Circling back to how we started, Guruji’s first paragraph from the prologue of His first book can be interpreted in so many different ways – a probabilistic driven lens is just one of them. His writings don’t just cater to a wide variety of people but also appeals to the same person, across varying states of mind and levels of consciousness. And this is just an example from a paragraph of a book! Spread that over Guruji’s multiple books and bi-monthly blog posts – how lucky are we to have access to all of this!

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Kunal Lunawat

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