Book Review- Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read. And I could relate even better because I work in the area of AI like the authors and many of the examples and the final case-study is from this area. Also it’s inspiring to see such deep insight coming from the tool they built called Picbreeder.

The core idea presented in the book is that “objectives” are unnecessary and rather a hinderance while solving “complex” problems. Objectives might be useful for simple problems where it is easy to chart out a path to the goal. However in case of more complex problems where the route to the goal is not known, objectives cause more harm than good.

Next, an alternate model is presented called the novelty search. It finds solutions based on how “interesting” the solution is rather than how close it is to an “objective”. The authors connect this idea to the stepping stones, which is a great analogy. They argue that a complex goal lies somewhere in a hazy lake with a very low visibility. It is difficult or impossible to reach a specific goal in this lake and an objective in this case is like a “broken compass”. However, it is much more relevant to explore the lake by finding new stepping stones based on novelty or interestingness and how many new stepping stones it can lead to. True success lies in exploring the space of the lake rather than trying to reach a specific imaginary point.

Finally, a variety of use-cases are discussed from education, innovation to evolution and AI where a novelty based approach makes more sense rather than an objective based approach.

This book presents an intriguing idea which can literally change the way we operate in life. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive but overall it drives the point. I highly recommend this book!

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Book Review: The Midnight Library

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The Midnight Library by
Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, it’s an amazing book with a very unique storyline!

In the beginning, it is a bit slow and glum, and I’m happy I didn’t leave the book at that point. Actually the story is just building up initially.

The lead of the story, Nora, is just tired of her life and her life is filled with regrets. On a particularly bad day when a lot of things turn out badly for her, she just loses hope and meaning to live and decides to take her own life.

However, there’s a twist and that’s where the book begins. Between life and death, she reaches a library, where there are infinite books where every book is a version of her life from the current point onwards. She can choose any book and try out a different life! And come back to the library when a particular life is too much for her and try another one.

This part makes an interesting read and we understand many aspects of Nora’s personality and life, like her dreams and ambitions, her family and friends, her personal and professional life. And while experiencing multiple Nora’s lives, even we have many lessons to learn on the way. It highlights the importance of following one’s dreams rather than someone else’s dreams. It shows that a life with name, fame or money might not always be how we thought it would be. Sometimes how small and insignificant things in our opinion, might turn out to be so important. It shows the importance of meaning, direction and hope in life. And finally, most importantly, that we are the sailors of our life and we can always change the direction where we are heading! We might not always get what we expected but we have the power to choose what we should do next.

The book has some nice lines, which are quote worthy, some of my favorites are:
* “Sometimes the only way to learn is to live.”
* “And there is no right way to play; there are many ways. In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything.”
* “If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you.”
* “In becoming everyone, you are becoming no one.”
* “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
* “We don’t have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite.”

Also, it has a great ending!

Overall, it’s a thought-provoking book which makes us ponder on our lives. Ofcourse it has some sadness and despair but it also highlights the transformative power of being oneself! It touches on #MentalHealthAwareness so well!

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Book Review: The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad GitaThe Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bhagavad Gita is like a guide book for successfully navigating through human life and achieving the highest goal of moksha. Its original verses are in Sanskrit which might be difficult to grasp for most of us and thus there are lot of its translations available from simple to complex, concise to detailed etc.

This translation by Eknath Easwaran is another classic (previously I have read his translation of The Upanishads and it is equally amazing!). He follows the following style throughout the book: he gives an overview of the chapter highlighting some of the key shlokas, describing deeper insights, connecting to other texts and summarising the chapter as a whole. In the next part, all the shlokas are translated in simple English which is easy to understand.

I think this is a nice book to get started on understanding and inculcating the lessons of The Bhagavad Gita. The shlokas are not explained in great detail but on the whole it gives a big picture by delivering the core message of each chapter. After reading this version and understanding the overall message, one can read more detailed translations of the The Bhagavad Gita, if interested. Also, it’s important to apply some of the learnings shared in The Bhagavad Gita in our own lives, and this book is definitely helps in imparting those key messages and action points.

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Book Review: Meditations

MeditationsMeditations by Marcus Aurelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book indeed is an insightful read!

It was on my books-to-read shelf since some time. I had another version of this book and it was a difficult read. I could not read it beyond a couple of chapters. Then I picked up the edition translated by Gregory Hays and this was a great read. Specially the long introduction in the beginning lays a nice foundation covering multiple aspects like Marcus Aurelius’s life, stoicism, as well as discussion about the contents and style of the book. This gives the reader an idea about what to expect ahead in the book.

Content wise the book is filled with learnings and lessons learnt by Marcus Aurelius. Although I don’t agree completely with his philosophy but most of the messages in the book are deep and thought-provoking. As mentioned in the Introduction, Marcus wrote this book for himself and it wasn’t to be published or read by others. And this is clearly reflected in the style of the book. Although the book has chapters, but it does not seem to have any logical separation of the content. Also some of the ideas keep repeating throughout the book. Probably, it throws light on things which Marcus frequently pondered upon. In my opinion, it might be interesting if all the thoughts can be arranged topic wise. Also it will make a nice calendar book with a message to ponder each day.

Some of my favourite lines from the book are:

  • “People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.”
  • “The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.”
  • “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
  • “If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”
  • “Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.”
  • “The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within.

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Maze & PhD

Imagine you are somewhere in a maze. And it’s dark. And all directions look almost the same. That’s how things are initially when one starts PhD.

And then when we discuss with our advisor, who knows a lot of intricacies of the maze and the way around it, one of the directions seems better and we start exploring that with a bit more confidence.

After some time (or days) again all directions look more or less similar, we are lost and feel as if we don’t know the way around. A chat with our advisor again, and things seem better and we pursue a direction that looks promising.

This process repeats. Again and again.

And gradually, we ourselves start getting to know some of the intricacies of some parts of the maze. We are not as confused exploring the way around the maze as we initially were. We know some parts of the maze so well that we can literally move around with our eyes closed!

There can be different metrics of success in a maze. Sometimes it is about finding a path out from some region of the maze. At other times, it is about finding something cool and interesting on the way in the maze itself. Not all explorations result in success (actually most don’t)! Most explorations end up in a dead-end!

These results about the interesting things we find around the maze as well as the routes we explored are the things which we share with others at conferences, and in more detail in journals. It’s our way of giving back and sharing our experience of our journey around our region of the maze.

It is good to have friends and peers who are in different stages in the maze. We can share our experiences around our regions of the maze with each other. We can help and motivate others when they feel stuck on a route. Together we can be pillars of support for one another!

The maze itself is not fixed, it keeps changing dynamically over time. And experts like our advisors can mostly predict how it will evolve in the long run. And thus sometimes things which worked in the past might not work in the future; at the same time, things which didn’t work in the past might now work due to the changes in the maze!

A comprehensive exam tests if one knows the basics of the maze and is capable to explore it around. It also tests if one is resilient against failures and is strong-willed to try again with the lessons learnt from the past failures.

Similarly, the state of the art exam is where one looks at other people who have navigated around the maze, the actions they took, the routes they explored and the outcomes they got based on it. Based on these learnings, we build upon and answer some new questions regarding some other parts of the maze or even regarding some existing regions which have been explored previously but the maze has changed since then.

Different mazes have different levels of popularity. Some mazes are so popular that there is a lot of buzz and hustle-bustle around. In these mazes, many people are interested in the new results, however, it is hard to do some novel work. Also, in such mazes, there is a tendency of peer-pressure such that people are pulled in the direction which others are moving towards. On the other hand, some other mazes are not as crowded. There may not be as many people around who can appreciate new findings and results, but that doesn’t mean that these mazes should not be explored. After all, to each his own!

Different domains have different types of maze. Each has its own specifics and intricacies. Mostly we are free to choose the kind of maze we want to explore and try to become experts in. And accordingly, we choose an advisor who can help us in the process. Ideally, an advisor is not just someone who is an expert of a specific kind of maze but also someone whose personality gels with ours.

At the end of our PhD, we pen down the whole journey around the maze, with the experiences we had around the maze, the lessons we learnt, the successes (and failures) we experienced on the way, and that’s our thesis!

And we not just become an expert in some part of the maze, we also discover ourself and our own capabilities and strengths in the process. Once someone has a PhD, the person is expected to explore and find the way around any part of the maze. That’s because it’s not just about knowing the maze well enough, but the capability to navigate in any part of the maze!

Happy exploration around the maze!

IC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/devolve/14324394240/in/photostream/

“Newer us” meets “Older us”

Sometimes we leave behind some places and move on,
To find new lands and to learn different things,
But we don’t leave like the person we came,
We have been transformed,
By the people, the place and the experiences.

A part of us, decides to stay back…
And, everytime when we go back,
The newer us meets the older us,
And both of them, talk with each other,
As there are a lot of things to catch up on…
The newer us shares the news of the outside world,
As well as the newer lessons learnt and experiences gained,
And the older us turns nostalgic and reminisces of the old times,
It also tells how the place has transformed since the time we left,

And after this discussion, the combined us,
Starts to think if the newer us is better or the older us?
But the truth is that neither is better in itself,
It is the combined us with the combined knowledge and experiences,
Which turns out to be wiser…

And then when the time comes to leave that place again,
The older us decides to stay back, a bit wiser
And the newer us thinks back of the good old days…
Both will be back from where they came and where the belong,
But both have transformed a lot in the process,

And the place where it all happened, feels like home…
And its people, like family…
And the knowledge gained, priceless…

Life as an N-ary Tree

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Our life is like an n-ary tree.

Each node of n-ary tree can have n or fewer child nodes. In case of our life, every decision point is a node and all possible options or choices which can be made at that decision point are its child nodes. For example: a career choice is a node, which may have various child nodes or options like engineering, medicine, journalism, law etc. Similarly, it can also have minor day to day decision nodes like restaurants to have dinner at and in this case various possible restaurants will be it’s child nodes. Thus this design can handle all types of decisions and its choices as it’s children.

Also if a same decision is to be made at multiple times in one’s life, then in each case it will be a new instance with same or different choices as children. For example one may wish to make a career change multiple times in life and each time there will be a new decision point with new children.

Thus there are no back-links or backtracking possible in our n-ary tree of life. “Life is a one way and forward is the way to go!” After a choice has been made about a decision, it’s a line in stone, which can never be changed. We can always learn from the choices made in past but we can never undo or delete our choices. NEVER. One has to live with the decisions made in the past. It’s good to learn lessons and make better decisions in future.

Next, lets have a look at the traversal strategy of the n-ary tree of life. Only Depth First Search (DFS) is available. It means that we need to make a decision from all the choices. Breadth First Search (BFS) in which case all the options are explored to the paths they lead and then making an informed decision is not available. For example: It would have been great if we could try multiple career choices for a while and then make a final decision. But it is not so. Every decision is final in the n-ary tree of life and it also has its consequences on the choices available and the decisions which can be made in future. In this case “wisdom” is to make the best possible decision from all available choices based on our limited knowledge of choices and it’s repercussions.

Every choice has a pay-off or value associated with it. It is not known to us but again we can make a guess about it based on our “wisdom”. The basic strategy is to choose the path of life which has the maximum pay-off. However given that life offers only Depth First Search and that too without backtracking, it’s really difficult although not impossible to find it. Some of the paths may be close to best, some worst and some mediocre.

Also as in case of n-ary trees, greedy strategy may not be the best possible strategy. Firstly it’s not possible to find the best choice out of all available choices. And secondly even if the best choice is made, the current best choice may not necessarily be on the best or good paths of life. Similarly, sometimes even a low-paying current choice may actually lie of the better paths of life. Thus we should not to get disheartened by the current low pay-off choice as it may possibly lie on on of the better paths. Always have hope of making better choices in future which lead to better paths.

So actually, our life is not about the road not taken, it’s about the decisions made at every decision point in our life. We are the controllers of our n-ary trees of life. It’s always in our hands to make a decision out of all available choices. Let’s be brave to accept and face the decisions we have taken in past. More importantly, let’s gain the wisdom, to take the right decisions in our lives which maximizes the overall pay-off and leads to the best possible path in life.

P.S. –

Killa: Movie Review

Killa (a fort) is the story of a 11 year old boy, Chinmay. Its a story about learning things by oneself. Its a story about facing challenges. Its a story about losing one’s father. Its a story about the beautiful mom-son bond. Its a story about relocating. Its a story about making friends. Its a story about growing up. Its a story about learning to live life!

This movie has been shot in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, India. The cinematography is awesome! The endless rains. The fort. Moss growing in the crevasses of the fort walls. Lush green surroundings.

The roaring sea. A lighthouse! Pools filled to the brim with cool blue water. Fishes and crabs. Coconut trees. It has been captured  in such a beautiful way, that i am sure you will feel like visiting this place.

Chinmay is a young, introvert boy who has recently lost his father and has to relocate to a village due to transfer of his mother’s government job. The movie depicts how he adapts to changes in his life both outside and within. The mother and son relationship is brilliantly played by both the actors. Many a times they need not say a word, their expressions are sufficient to know how they are feeling and what they want to convey to the audience.. Although they can’t exactly share their problems with each other, but they understand and support one another.

Another thing which i liked about the movie is that not each and every detail is presented to the user. The blocks are arranged just so that a person can understand the flow of the movie and connect the dots.

It brings back the growing up days of childhood. The nostalgia.. Times spent with friends. Cycle races. Exams in schools. Crushes. Fights and patching up among friends. The happiness of new school bag and books. Endless games with friends. Getting drenched in rain. And lot more!

Its a great movie. The performance of all members of the cast is brilliant. The cinamatography is amazing. The plot is nice and touching. Great music. Also, its available with English subtitles, so people not knowing Marathi can enjoy as well.

I just loved the poem which beautifully describes the plot of the movie. Although its best read in Marathi, however even the English translation is good.

The Sea bore an array of perils
A mighty storm ambushed the lone sailor
The sail snapped, the nails unhooked
The sailor persisted, unfazed by what lay ahead
Luckless, the knots of skill turned loose
He stood there alone, the storm slapped its noose
A life lived in benevolence will not let faith wither
He overcame fear and the storm lulled into slither
Courage of the universe, regathers in a single moment
A hundred arm’s strength regains, as the memory of mother returns

Deep, Isn’t it? 🙂

One year in the “Real” World

Today marks the completion of one full year in the “real” world for me. I mean since the time i can remember, i was busy with academics… pre-school, school, graduation, post graduation… I was used to my academic life. And its obvious, if we do something for so long then it becomes a habit, a routine, a way of life.

But exactly one year ago, it all came to an end (for now 😉 ). On this day, one year ago, masters convocation was celebrated, graduate degrees were awarded, caps were thrown high in the sky and then suddenly it was time to change… It was not a gradual change. It was a drastic change. Today we were students and tomorrow professionals. It was almost like throwing a fish which had always stayed in the small protective bowl into the huge ocean.  It was known long before, that this would happen, but then, knowing and finally experiencing is a lot different!

This change brought a lot of changes in life… From casual/informal clothes to formals, from night-outs to waking up early, from group studies to group meeting, from classroom to boardroom, from meeting friends daily to meeting them after a lot of planning, from daily chit-chat with friends to infrequent messages on Watsapp, from random project groups to random people in office teams, from grades and spi to ratings, from stipend to salary, from profs and deans to bosses and managers, from parties with friends to team lunches and outings, from walks in college to chai breaks in office, from project meetings to office calls, from daily attendance to filling time-sheet, from real classes to classes and trainings online, from reading 1-2 papers in a semester to reading 1 paper every week. Things have changed, yet they have remained  same…

Life has changed. It was bound to happen. This one year has been like a roller coaster for me! Full of up and downs. More appropriately, downs and ups (in the correct sequence). Faced worse times.. Understood the importance of the area and type of work which i wanted to do, the hard way. Worked hard to bring the change… I am happy, atleast later on, things changed for good for me. In this one year, i have met so many people.. Colleagues and friends. Learnt to handle difficult people and then met some of the the most humble and down to earth people.  Learnt many new cool things! Discovered myself in ways, i myself didn’t know. Understood things i like, things i value. Discovered and worked in areas which i find interesting. Met people, whom i can look up to. “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” ~P.B. Shelly I am happy that for me, spring came when i could wait no more 🙂

I am nostalgic about the previous part of my life. But i am also happy to have experienced the change. It has made me a lot more mature. It has shown me that one needs to put in lots of efforts to fulfil one’s dreams. Also funnily and strangely, its more satisfying to learn life lessons the hard way. I also learnt, that it helps if one knows what one wants. And with what intensity. What things are we ready to give up, in order to get the things we want? Probably, then its easy to take decisions in life. This year has taught me how to prioritize the things that matter the most to me.

Change can be both good and bad,
A person may be both happy and sad.
Its best to learn something new everyday,
Striving ahead, no matter what others say.
Life is not a race, to win or compete,
But to follow one’s dreams, however offbeat.
Creating new music and silencing the din.
Balancing between angels & demons within.

Hoping for happier times ahead, with new lessons and new challenges! 🙂

Road of Life

One may wish a road to go on and on,
And to keep moving ahead smoothly,
Singing all the way along,
Enjoying every moment spent,
But in reality, life is different,
Road is unpredictable and ever-changing,
Having both smooth and bumpy patches,
It may be lined with green shady forests,
And sometimes it may be dry, hot and dusty,
Or slippery after the heavy rains,
It may be a fast multi-lane highway,
Or just a steep narrow pathway.
There are no maps or GPS to guide,
Just stride forward or enjoy the ride.

Sometimes a road may diverge into multiple roads,
Whether you like it or not,
Whether you want it or not,
It is the time to make a choice,
To stand at the cross-roads and decide,
To choose one road and reject others aside,
This decision however hard needs to be made,
Turning back is not an option,
Moving ahead is the only solution.

The current choice may affect the choices ahead,
Opening new ways and closing some doors,
This may further complicate the decision,
But this is the way how things are,
So think coolly and take your time,
Ask others, read the signboards,
And then just choose the road which seems best,
Opt for the one which your instinct tells you,
Past experiences and lessons may help,
But then nothing is guaranteed anyway,
The decision has to be taken,
However risky and insecure it may be,
Hoping for the best ahead.

One may sometimes regret past decisions,
But remember it was the best road that you had chosen,
So instead of repenting on past choices,
Foresee and listen to inner voices,
One may recall roads traveled in past,
And dream of the roads ahead,
But then one can just move along the road,
Enjoying and learning from each moment spent,
If you are lucky, the road may connect to your dream road,
Till then, don’t stop, anticipate & just move ahead.

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