When I was younger, my Dad would help me with difficult and complex math problems. Almost invariably, he would start out by saying “well, let’s draw a picture.” Then, piece by piece, we would translate the long word problem into a diagram or plot it out on an x/y coordinate. Soon enough, the visual representation of what had been a complex, boggling question helped me see what was there and where to go with the given data.
In life, I see the value in taking the time to understand each peice of a situation, even (perhaps, especially) the parts that don’t seem to make sense or come easily. Instead of “skimming the problem” and deciding that there are easier problems to work on, why not translate it into simpler terms? Instead of being overwhelmed, how about we start with what we do know? What variables are we looking at? What are we trying to solve for? “Let’s draw a picture.”
As we plot each point and connect the dots, we construct a tangible representation of how we are feeling or a situation we are faced with. Perhaps once we are able to see what we have been shoving to the side due to fear, apprehension or pure negligence, we can approach the problem with more certainty.
Now let’s suppose that we each have an equation for each of our lives. The structure and inputs of the equation can be constructed and produced by factors such as genetics, past choices, subconcious influences and so on. If the points on the line got there by some action of our own (or rather, because of our equation) surely we have the option of altering the equation to our favor? Take the image below for example. On the left in blue we see a line that is in standard y=mx+b form where m(-1) determines the slope and b(5) determines where it crosses the y-axis. As you can see by the line on the right whose slope is 1/2 and y-intercept is 2, just by changing what these variables slightly alters the line’s direction and appearance entirely. What if we try to isolate what is causing our downward, negative slope?
Of course, our lives are probably much more accurately represented by a line much more complex than a simple linear equation, but it is interesting to begin there just for starters.
The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make
complicated things simple. ~S. Gudder
- Example of Linear Equations
A constant push and pull of forces and rarely are moments of neutrality good. We want movement. Who really desires to stay where they are and how they are? Once stationary, everything else seems to be moving faster, like something to either run from or catch up to. Constant motion, a fight for survival, a playground for maneuvering, for understanding, and for mastery. In order to master the waves of life, experiences and choices, you must decide where you want to go, how you plan to do it, and how resourceful you are willing to be to get there.
Like a surfer who faces an ocean between the present and an end destination or dream, we must first understand the strength and capacity of the waves to overcome us. Respect. Respect for what the waves possess. Then, we must have a reason for why we are going out into that ocean–for play? For adrenaline? For exploration? For self-discovery? To prove something? And how long do we plan on staying out there? If longevity, integrity, and success are important to us, then the more we know about ourselves and about the ocean that goes before us, the better. Bravery. Courage. Tenacity. Unwavering sense of Purpose and Entitlement. Like one about to jump on the back of a wild horse, there must be an assurity and a perceptive intuition that connects the two energies. Life is a dance.
The great affair, the love affair with life,
is to live as variously as possible,
to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred,
climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day.Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding,
and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours,
life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.
It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery,
but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.
– Diane Ackerman
In psychologist Charles Fernyhough’s book Pieces of Light, he talks about the phenomena of recalling memories. “Without memories, we would be lost to ourselves, amnesiacs flailing around in a constant, unrelenting present. It is hard to imagine being able to hang on to your personal identity without a store of autobiographical memories. To attain the kind of consciousness we all enjoy, we probably rely on a capacity to make links between our past, present, and future selves. Memory shapes everything that our minds do. Our perceptions are funneled by information that we laid down in the past. Our thinking relies on short-term and long-term storage of information. As many artists have noted, memory underpins imagination. Creating new artistic and intellectual works depends critically on the reshaping of what has gone before. We need our memories, and we find ways of hanging on to them. According to the conventional ‘possession’ view of memory, we do that by filing them away in a kind of internal library, ready to be retrieved as soon as they are needed.”
According to Fernyhough, our brains revise memories every time we recall them. If there is a space missing in the memory, our minds fill the gap to what we think was there, without even realizing or noticing if what we are filling it with is accurate or if it is just a solution of “wishful” thinking. Fernyhough refers to this phenomenon as “reconstructive account of memory” and it can be highly unreliable. He says that “a memory is more like a habit, a process of constructing something from its parts, in similar but subtly changing ways each time, whenever the occasion arises.”
So, if our minds and our perceptions are largely dictated by what we recall/know about the past, wouldn’t this affect what we think about the future? For example, say we have a distant uncomfortable memory of a certain person from our pasts. Every time we think of this person or this memory, our minds revise and amplify the memory and it is cut and reshaped into a slightly different version of the original, spotty memory. If we are feeling nervous or trying to remember different specifics of the memory, we could embellish the original circumstance without even realizing it. We would then enter into any interaction with this person with trepidation, resentment, even anger. We would avoid the places where they were or get inexplicable anxiety when we are in an environment that cues memories of this person. What if this fear was needless? Shouldn’t we be sure to be as present and perceptive as possible so that nothing is lost in translation?
For practical application of this information, I would venture to propose that by similar unconscious mechanisms, we should be careful when we amplify or suppress different facets of our personality and tendencies. Let’s say we are obsessing over or replaying a certain negative characteristic about ourselves over and over again. Each time we focus on it, we risk amplifying it and thus giving it space to breed into something larger or potentially inaccurate. We should be careful what assumptions or characteristics we assign to ourselves because it can affect what we believe about our self-worth or purpose. If we blow certain negative aspects of ourselves out of proportion, we risk distorting our self-efficacy and ultimately our effectiveness as human beings.