Your Brain: Your Garden

brain-gardenMy son likes to watch Mr. Bean, which is a little worrisome for me, as I do not believe in ‘harmless  and silly fun’. While good humor and puns certainly  stimulate your brain-cells (aka neurons), I think that part of the reason people are amused by Mr. Bean, Charlie Chaplin (or any of the  situation comedy heroes who are typically getting into trouble because of their stupidity) is because watching such shows offers them comfort and relief in the knowledge that some other person can be dumber than themselves – and the feeling of having a relatively higher intelligence is enough to boost their self-esteem and actually make them laugh.

The above is just an unproven personal theory, and since I’m not a psychologist by trade, so I will probably not bother to research this idea any further, but that doesn’t stop me from telling my son that “If you watch too much Mr. Bean, your brain will slowly shrink into a pea-brain and you will start acting like Mr. Bean”. I believe it is fair, since he also knows that his brain grows and expands whenever he reads or plays games, so that he can balance the Mr. Bean silliness with some reading or games.

It seems that I am not that far away from the truth, as this recent neuroscience study from Leicester University suggests that we tend to dedicate whole neurons in our brains to a celebrity or even a fictional character. The study involved showing pictures of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Oprah Winfrey to test subjects, and detecting the neurons that were fired! After this calibration, it is possible to tell whether a person is looking at a picture of Jennifer Aniston or of Halle Berry simply by monitoring their brain cells.

This phenomenon must have a lot of applications  in the Neuromarketing and the Psy-Ops markets, and is definitely the basis for  celebrity sponsorships and endorsements, but more importantly, it has implications within our own relatively ordinary daily lives. The next time you sit in front of the TV for a few hours of entertainment, or decide to watch a movie, you might want to assess whether the neuron-to-entertainment-value trade-off is worth it for you before giving away a few more precious neurons in your brain. Of course, if you don’t intend to use all those extra neurons, then you don’t really need to watch what you are watching.

So what kind of neurons are you growing in your brain, and what kind of stuff is your head filled with?  If you can spare a few, please stare at my avatar for 3 minutes without blinking 🙂


Are you bored? Do you have ٰnothing to doٰ? I salute you!
You, my friend, are a buddha-in-the-making.
Actually, you are better than Buddha. Buddha he did not have instantaneous access to the all the information in the world in the form of Internet, he did not have a phone to call friends, or a TV to watch the sufferings of the world. He did not have a few thousand mp3s to listen to, no million blogs to read and certainly did not have a billion webpages available for him no billion topics to learn about or a gazillion topics. He had no Youtube, no Facebook, no Twitter, no live cameras, no online discussions. All he had was a tree to sit under and mediate, and yet he had difficulty emptying his mind of all thoughts.

A bored Buddha
A bored Buddha

You, on the other hand, have access to all of the above worldly distractions, and then some. This is why your boredom is an absolutely amazing feat in self-control and concentration – something to be really proud of!
More and more people are seeing the light and converting into boredom monks like you. You should get in touch with them and start a group blog, and if you can share the secret of achieving that zero-hour-workday state of mind, please do share, I can use some tips. Thank you for your time.

Lahore Bloggers Meetup 2008

A few hours ago, I came back from the Lahore Bloggers’ Meetup, held at LUMS today. Before I lose the motivation, and since I feel very guilty about being called a blogger with my posting frequency (1 post a month or so – that’s bad) – here’s my impression of what I consider the highlights of the event…

The event was publicized completely online, Facebook and Twitter created most of the buzz, and it was arranged in only 3-4 days. Yet, more than a hundred people showed up!

Many questions were raised and insights were shared – which will probably be shared on other blogs (the kind that have daily posts). What was noticeable to me was the energy-level (which was really high), the crowd (which was very diverse, with people ranging from 9 to 59) and the sense of ‘belonging’ and community that probably translated itself from the virtual world to the real world without much loss. So there were no hesitations in introductions and starting conversations – after all, most of us already knew each other.

Ironically, there was no internet, as the LUMS wifi was down and the backups that people had were not working either, but I think that was actually part of the reason of the event’s success, as most of the bloggers with laptops would have been typing away to cover it live otherwise, and the interactive sessions would have suffered (but that’s my personal opinion). So the lack of network probably resulted in a lot more networking than would have been possible otherwise.

I met more than a dozen friends for the first time, missed meeting many more (see you next time people and tweeple). I was told that I sound younger online but look older in person (which is a HUGE compliment for me), met most of the Lahore Metblogs team (yes, I have managed to write a couple of posts there, and so, qualify as an LMB member). Badar Khushnood did a fabulous job of organizing the event and moderating the discussions.

Though much of Badar’s focus was to inform the attendants who do not blog on how to start blogging as a serious source of income, Hassan Mubarik of LMB made a good point when he said that the original spirit of blogging was to say what you want to say rather than saying what other people want to hear, and making money out of it. As far as this (personal) blog of mine is concerned, I would totally agree with Hassan and applaud him for bringing up this important distinction for the record.

The tea session went on well beyond the 1 hour or so that it was probably originally intended to last, as people were so deep in discussions and networking that many were reluctant to leave. Many ideas were floated, and I am sure that many future partnerships were made in that short span of time.

I was a long-needed event, and I hope more events like this one would soon follow.

(This has been one of the fastest posts that I have ever written, so there’s hope for me as a blogger yet)

Hope is a Pain-Killer

Osama of tagged me on FaceBook to describe a metaphor that I would use for ‘hope’. I would have shied away from such an invitation, but since Osama’s objective is to “get people talking” (and hopefully, thinking and doing as a consequence), so I’ll bite and dump my thoughts on ‘hope’ here, but first, the disclaimer.

Disclaimer: These are my own raw and twisted ideas – unresearched, unrefined and uninfluenced by anything Obama (or Osama). I know Obama’s campaign revolves around Hope, but I have deliberately missed his speeches, though his book is in my reading queue.

My personal metaphor for hope:

Hope is a Pain-Killer

At its most basic level, I think hope serves as a harmless ‘filler’ between an action and its consequence. A pool player shoots and hopes that he makes the shot and wins the game. A poker player bluffs and hopes his bluff is not called. A professor teaches and hopes that his students change the world for the better. People doing their thing and then hoping their efforts are fruitful. This is what I call ‘positive hope‘ – a positive force and a good thing in any shape and size. It is still present and available around us in small doses, though very rare.

The rest of this post is about a couple of other flavors, shades and variants that hope comes in, variants that we sometimes mistake for this ‘positive hope’.

Opposite to the ‘positive hope’ is the ‘fantastic hope‘, which is actually a wish in disguise. It is the hope of a negligent student to get an A in the final exam, or the hope of an obese person to look slimmer without exercise. This kind of hope is responsible for selling miracle cures and forms the basis of many marketing campaigns. It is still hope, but the important thing missing is ‘action’, and that lack is something to watch out for.

There are millions of people in the world who have not touched a cricket (or baseball) bat or kicked a football in years, and yet they sit hypnotized in front of their large screen plasma TVs for hours to watch a match, or even go abroad to watch a whole game series if they can afford it. They root for their favorite teams (or their home country), wear the merchandise, talk for hours about the permutations and combinations, and passionately argue, fight or kill to defend the honor of “their” team… and to let corporations sell them “stuff”. They do it every other day, and they do it most of their lives. This is the most abundant form of hope that I see all around me, every day. I call it ‘cotton-candy hope‘.

We read about about how Romans used theater, arenas and gladiators as an energy outlet for their warriors in times of peace – I think that somehow, over the centuries, arts, games and sports have all devolved from a useful tool to keep the “warriors” alert and healthy into factories for hope-generating scenarios, and even though the “war” has changed its form, we have degenerated into hope-addicts. We hope our team wins, we hope the hero of the movie breaks out of the prison, we hope team X beats team Y and changes the standings table so that our team gets to play in the finals. We hope, and we hope because it feels good and because it generates a warm and fuzzy feeling in primitive parts of our brain, especially when our hopes are fulfilled.


Sometimes we amplify the effect of our hopes by putting up personal bets on ‘our’ teams, and experience small hits of joy when we win those bets. Some of us get so addicted that they start hitting casinos in the pursuit of hope – hope that starts from the time we insert a coin into the slot machine and lasts until the time the symbols come to a stop. This is the kind of hope that conditions us until we become the experts of ‘fantastic hope‘ – whenever things go wrong, we start ‘hoping’ them to get fixed by a miracle or some divine intervention, without any action to back it up. As we sink deeper, we wonder about all that is wrong with the world that we live in, and that gives us a reason for further hope.

Just like heroine, a painkiller that has turned into an illegal drug due to abuse, we get addicted to hope to the point where we start hoping that our hopes will materialize into solutions. Instead of using it as a relief from a headache, we start taking the hope painkiller as a panacea to all our problems, and instead of thinking of hope as an after-effect of action, we start idolizing it as the action itself.

Some people may define ‘hope’ as the opposite of fear, despair or a defeatist attitude, which is true too, but just as fear is the mind-killer, hope for its own sake is usually a progress-killer, almost as counterproductive as these negative emotions.

If we really need to select an emotional response to our circumstances and situation, we should try a bit of rage – there is a higher probability of (controlled) rage breaking the inertia and inciting us into action. Once we gain enough momentum through our actions, perhaps we will be able to switch to autopilot and let hope guide us from the backseat.

Hi, I am Sohaib

I should have asked this question many months ago, but better late than never.

Who are you? Why do you come here? Do you subscribe to the RSS feed, or does Google bring you here against your will? Do I know you from the offline world? Do we have something in common?

I have intentionally disabled comments on this post. Please leave a comment on the “Who are You?” page instead, that I have made just for you.