A Warm Conversation with my Physician

I spent my week in a slight state of discomfort with some fairly intractable symptoms, so I decided to stop by my physician. I started off with the checkups: oxygen level, blood pressure, stuffs like that and soon my physician stepped in. We had a pretty short (and warm) conversation which started with what my science research interests are, followed by the main aim of the visit and it ended up with a question I get a lot:

Physician: So are you going to be a university professor or head up to the industry?

(Initially, I thought of giving a longer version of my pre-made answer but I decided to go for the shorter version, very politely.)

Me: I don’t know.

Physician: That’s fine, it’s fine. (With an assenting smile)

Me: You know, I see life more as thinking…

(Now with an even more pronounced assenting smile on his face, as if he knew exactly where I was going, he interjected)

Physician: I was an electrical engineer!

Teleogical Fallacy, Brazil versus Madagascar.

When I was 14 (and younger), I thought of life more as a soccer match between Brazil and Madagascar (very predictable) so like most kids, I had extremely rigid plans, with the exact age I will accomplish so and so, and do this and that — the edge bleeding precision in my predictions and plans are astounding, and you know the worse of all — some of these precise plans go as long as 20, 30 years!

Something strange began to happen, as I grew older, all my ‘plans’ began to fall apart (very quickly) I looked around me worried if I was the anomalous sample. I soon found out that life is more like thinking than like a soccer game between Brazil and Madagascar or, say, Eastern Samoa.

When you think, interesting things happen — you start up somewhere, and you would not be able to tell (specifically) where you will end up. I know of no such person who can predict the trajectory of his thinking.

And when I talk of thinking here is what I mean:

  • Nokia: Finland, 1865. Started off as a paper mill company
  • Nintendo: a playing card company
  • Berkshire Hathaway: textile manufacturer
  • Avon: Books
  • DuPont: Gun Powder
  • Colgate(the tooth paste I used this morning): once sold candles
  • Coca Cola: Something even weirder.

Friends, the list goes on.

Each time I meditate on my teenage days, I reject such intensive planning I engaged in, it’s pretty toxic: I assumed I know my preferences (preferences are best detected by experimentation NOT introspection, or even worse social pressure(following a friend, who is , most likely, following someone else who is completely blind)) as a result, I became mildly blind to optionality.

I tried quite a number of things out when I was a teenager — soccer and rap being the most prominent — still, I felt I should have done way more. So recently, I picked up writing (while still keeping my soccer option open, primarily because of the intense enjoyment I derive form it)

We can extend this entire idea cursorily to the Teleological fallacy — an idea that an object is in place to allow for the accomplishment of a certain purpose, when there are insufficient evidence for that purpose. Teleology comes from the Greek word teleo which means end result, simply, teleology attempt to explain things with respect to their end result, with such purpose being invoked by a being for that exact purpose (“because there is an end use for something, then it must be designed for a purpose”).

Here is an example of the fallacy — ‘The sun rises every morning because we need light in order to start the day.’ Clearly, we must have fitted our mornings to match up with when the sun rises not the other way around.

Nassim Taleb fits teleological fallacy into the idea of planning perfectly in his book Antifragile.

“…So let us call here the teleological fallacy the illusion that you know exactly where you are going , and that you knew exactly where you are going in the past, and that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were going”

For you to know where you are going, you need to know your preferences, and I repeat, preferences are best detected by experimentation NOT introspection or some sort of epiphany.

Glycosyltransferase in Caenorhabditis elegans.

After I left the clinic, I moved to the next task on my to do list — to get an hair cut after the nth month (where n is at least 0.8 of a Tzolki). I asked google for the closest barber’s shop, and took a very long walk to the barber’s shop.

To my unexpectant self, I landed in an elegant women hair salon (yet, another moral). Tired from the walk, I contemplated on what to do next, with a Chinese restaurant shinning right into my eyes, and an incessant borborygmi roaring from my stomach. I walked into the restaurant (yet another moral!).

There, I saw an old man (who look to have way too much energy his age could carry). I thought he would be interesting so I sat right next to him. He saw me holding a book — Yoruba Trickster tales by Oyekan Owomoyela . And he asked if I was Yoruba. “Yes I am” I said, turning to to make eye contacts as he took the first bite of his food. We spent 10 minutes talking about the Yoruba Culture, religion and it’s diffusion to the Americas.

The Book that Ignited the Discussion

He asked about what I was doing. “I work on glycosyltransferase in Caenorhabditis elegans, an enzyme that is involved in…” he began nodding (almost excessively) so I figured he knew exactly what I was talking about, which is quite in contrast with the lost faces I get each time I tell folks about what I do in the lab, so I paused.

“I had a double major in Biology and Chemistry in 1953” he said, as he licked his lips, savoring from what looks like a Gong Bao Chicken. “So what do you do now, if you don’t mind me asking” I asked, now I have my food right in front of me and ready to dig in. “I am a retired army officer and I teach languages” (yet another moral!)

Finally, the last evidence to support my claim: when I started writing this piece my plan was to write a 200 (and something) words essay — containing only the discussion with my physician and some philosophical bits (I decide to retain the initial title, to scream out the message ). Now, I end up with this longer version(1254 words?), and concluding with an evidence (this paragraph) to justify going against my initial plan, which is the whole pith of the essay.

Life is, indeed, like thinking.

PS: As I read the essay all over again, I think it might appear as though I oppose planning. No, I don’t. The important point is this: when you plan to take your next trip to the barbers shop, please don’t go to an isolated one, go to a big mall, preferably right in the middle of the city (the bigger, the more diverse, the better) but most importantly — with lots of Chinese restaurants.

PPS: 5bucksforcataract campaign — a crowdfunding campaign I launched about a month ago to raise funds for cataract surgery for cataract patients in South-Western Nigeria — is still on. You contribution is appreciated. Gracias!

(Photo Credit)

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