Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interesting passtimes

I heard that when Ricard Feynman was learning to paint, he used to visit a topless bar. (Presumably the building had a roof.) While there, unlike other people who drew the girls, he drew the the faces of the men watching the girls. He must have got some interesting portraits!

Taking a cue from this, I often amuse myself during conversations that  don't grip me by looking at the faces of the people who are listening rather than the people who are talking. I will think about how interested a person is in a conversation, whether he is just being polite, whether his mind is elsewhere etc. I can do this because after the initial flurry following my entry into the room, I generally become part of the decoration and no one will observe what I do. I guess my cover is blown now! I will sometimes listen with interest to tales of my exploits in ancient times that I was hearing for the first time. (I once heard that I was a Hindi pundit. I used to barely pass in the subject.)

If someone similarly tried to read my expressions, it would be an exercise in futility due to some stroke related quirks. Once a family friend, while taking my leave, told me that he will try to come the next day. He then hastily said that he will definitely come the next day. I wondered why he had suddenly changed his mind. Jaya told me that he had thought that I was about to cry while I had thought that I was giving a polite smile! Someone said that every communication is an act of interpretation. My communication is often misinterpreted.Interpreting the expressions of even normal people is tricky business and in my case it is even more difficult.

I use the 'Feynman manoevre' even while watching songs and other programs  on T.V. It is fun to watch the extras with funny expressions trying their best to keep up with the lead pair, the vague dance, the crowds assembled for the song gawking at the stars... This is a song in which there are a lot of extras who don't have anything much to do except smile, nod and clap occasionally.

I also like watching the biases that people commonly display. For eg., confirmation bias plays a major role in the reinforcement of religious ideas. People having similar ways of thinking keep exchanging similar stories  with each other and the superstitious beliefs of that particular tribe thrives in this echo chamber.  In Stumbling on Happiness,  Daniel Gilbert writes:
Our tendency to expose ourselves to information that supports our favoured conclusions is especially powerful when it comes to choosing the company we keep. You’ve probably noticed that with the exception of Wilt Chamberlian, nobody picks friends and lovers by random sampling.  On the contrary, we spend countless hours and countless dollars carefully arranging our lives to ensure that we are surrounded by people who like us, and people who are like us.
Once a person said that he did not believe in various superstitions that people had. (It is obligatory to first say that you don't believe in something before you say how you believe it.) Once he had to have an injection for some illness. When he saw the size of the needle he became nervous and prayed fervently, 'O Krishna! And you won't believe but I did not feel any pain.' There were nods of approval and 'I told you so' expressions from different quarters.

It is interesting to watch the easy familiarity that quickly develops among people who know the correct superstitious shibboleths. Even if you don’t know the members of a group, if you know the right passwords, establishing a rapport with them is easy.

1 comment:

  1. Echo chamber - wow! Powerful thought, simple words!

    ps: now I can guess why I like to visit your blog (no, not because I understand your science fundas)