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I started at my new job.

I would have liked to send a text to Adrien today, letting him know that I delivered on my promise to find a job that I was more excited about that I had made when I saw him in March. I would have loved to share my joy with him and have loved to entertain the possibility that I would work with him again once he got better.

But he is far away from me now. Miss you, buddy.

towards a better life for others

Just continuing some thoughts from last time when I was talking about some ideas for my personal philosophy.

I think one of the greatest mentalities that I had while growing up in a religious context was the thought that everything was part of God’s plan. And I think for me, that made me a relatively passive person growing up. Going into high school, I became a little more proactive as I tried to succeed within the high school environment. But it was really when I went to America and when I went to Brown, that I was shocked by the pro-activeness of Americans around me. The American arrogance was on display all the way from the classroom to the dance floor. And I think there are people who would criticize that kind of behavior, especially those from cultures in East Asia and the Middle East, where hierarchical and respectful/subservient cultures are still the norm. But for myself, it was a realization of how my passivity was not a good combination with my already mellow personality.

Around that time, I started having a parting with my religious upbringing. Looking back at writings deep in the older archives of this blog site and other pieces of writing from the time, I realize a lot of it was me wrestling with the idea that everything was part of God’s plan and purpose, the debate between free will and predetermination. 1

And I think the last four of five years have been a slow progression of a more proactive mentality in my life. Moving half way across the world for college, deciding that I wanted to study a field that no one in my family had any experience with, computer science, deciding that I wanted a career in computer science, being part of a non-profit that brought me to East Africa, moving again across the country after graduation to a new city, and now starting a new chapter at a startup.

Once I moved away from the idea that there was a life I was supposed to live, and instead moved towards the idea that life was what I wanted to make of it, a lot more options and choices became available to me. Once I gave up on the idea that there was a life I was supposed to have, it freed me from the fear of failing, which has given me a new desire to take on opportunities with unknown futures.

Once in a while, I get into a ‘how the heck did I end up here’ mode and start questioning all the choices I ended up making, and sort of look at it from a tabula rasa perspective. Even at my age, I think the socialization we acquire from media, from our peers and from our families can be stronger than we believe. So questioning some of these beliefs can yield interesting insights. Where did this notion of having a family and having two children come from? Where does this notion of finding a job that pays well come from?

But on the flip side, the sense of freedom has also presented me with more choices. Having choices are great but having all these choices have also made me deeply question my own existing decision making criteria because to make a choice you need to know what is it that you seek, and how you need to go about achieving it.

One consequence of believing in this notion of free will is that I felt like the possibilities of life expanded greatly but I also experienced a profound sense of lost. If there is in fact no plan, and in fact no purpose, that what are we all really living for? Why do we live and breath to make it to the next day? A personal journey is necessary from here for you to decide what is that you want to live for. Each is extremely personal and the conclusions we derive from are all different, which is what after all makes humanity so interesting.

That mental exercise that eventually led me to write this post and the previous one, thinking about how I want to measure success on my own terms, how I want to live my life, and how to get there.

I think my idea can be expressed very simply by a line I found for my last post ‘The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members’. Helping the weakest members of humanity is a goal I’ve decided to work towards. My idea is simple, which is to minimize the number of human-years that are lost to preventable causes, whether health, social or political in the most resource-efficient way possible.

The goal is kind of ridiculously broad and honestly not very useful at all, but I can’t really narrow it down for you right now. This goal has the difficulty of being incredibly difficult to measure. So the proxy I’ve decided to measure it is by the following activity. Opening up an issue of the most recent copy of the Economist and make sure that there isn’t something that can be done easily to help preserve the human potential that would be otherwise lost. ‘Done easily’ is a terribly vague word here as well but I can’t think of anything better right now.

I think the difficulty in staying true to this goal is finding the inspiration and the courage to keep going. I believe I am more afflicted by the tragedy that I observe than the admiration that I feel for individuals who have scarified to improve the world. So the difficulty moving forward will be able to tune into this emotion by connecting with a large group of people and their circumstances. Humans have the strange tragedy of being better at empathizing with individuals rather than groups, thus our fascination with storytelling, heroes, martyrs. It is individuals acts of heroism and courage that have inspired us, but how do we wire our brains to appreciate the small acts of heroism that many people commit each day? And how do we force our emotions to focus on the larger picture rather than the tragic stories we read? How do we become data-driven in the handling of our emotions?

Hopefully this post will act as a promise that I have made to my future self of the life I will lead.

1 And I think looking at the matter now, I used to have a dislike for religion in general. But now I’ve realized that my anger is directly towards organized religion and not the underlying faith. Organized religion just like any another institution of power, can and will be abused at some point. And the part I realized was that the people representing this institution do that represent the beliefs and convictions of all the followers, just as political parties. I think growing up I only met people in that practiced both, as one would in a church setting. I have nothing against anyone’s faith, except when it tries to dictate the actions and behaviors of others who are not part of that faith.

personal philosophy

In the wake of a friend’s passing, I have been examining my life recently, and realized that I don’t have a very clear personal philosophy that guides my choices. So I have an initial version here and was hoping the internet would give some comments.

At the core of my philosophy is the idea that if a person is born, the right to live should not be forcibly taken away from him. The choice to decide on the fate on one’s own life should be determined by the individual. We as a society should utilize a reasonable amount of resources to ensure that this right to live is not violated by other members of society, natural events, physical and mental illnesses and society itself.

There is an idea called the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and for me the goal of society should be to maximize the total number of people who reach the highest level on this hierarchy of needs using a simple formula. I have observed from personal experience that humans have a difficult time being empathetic, in particular in that we are unable to imagine negative emotions experienced by others if we are not directly observing that. Thus, my simple formula is that each successive level has a higher value than the previous one, and the total value is determined by the number of people on that level. But you can only count people on the level where there exists no person on the levels under. Or you can understand it simpy as :

The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members

I also believe in markets, in that there should be a reward mechanism for innovative work that drives down the cost of goods or services, but this idea is less important than the previous one for me. I don’t support economic activities that causes negative externalities.  In the case where further ‘improvements’ or cost savings would incur negative externalities, I believe that the government should intervene and impose regulations or become the service provider. As the standard of living increases, more and more services will become accepted necessities of life, thus the companies that previously offered these services for profit making will become subject to regulations and in essence transition to utility companies over time. Thus, the role of markets is essential in driving the initial cost down, but they will need to become more regulated over time.

mr lky

I started doing an impression of Mr Lee Kwan Yew after I came back from Singapore this past summer. I pretended to be a Singaporean taxicab driver Uncle (or Ungul if you’re from SG) explaining to a foreigner. “You know why Singapore people are so resilient. This is because our former prime minster Mr Lee Kwan Yew said in 1990, ‘Even from my sick bed, if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is wrong, ‘ (pause) ‘I WILL GET UP'” And most of the people from my parent’s generations crack up.

It sounds a little exaggerated but that is the Singapore that Mr Lee helped mold. All my friends from Singapore have this fiery resilience and backbone and this deep love for Singapore that Mr Lee deeply espoused. So I deeply appreciate what this man has done for the country and the people of Singapore.

RIP Mr Lee Kwan Yew

New Year and Birthday resolutions

I’ve realized that setting goals in life can be helpful in making us into better people. Following are some goals I’ve decided for upon this year and the people who inspired me. Sometimes, simply talking about things makes us accountable for them:

  • Health
    • Get to around 155lbs for weight and 15% body fat (Inspiration : all the fit people in SF)
      • march 2015 : 160lbs, 18%
      • june 2015 : 160lbs, 16-17%, not much progress on this front but i feel healthier
    • Run a 10k or even a half marathon by the end of 2015 (Inspiration : all the fit people in SF)
      • march 2015 : 6-7k comfortably
      • june 2015 : 10k in about 57/58 minutes (next goal : 10k in 50minutes)
  • Diet
    • Aim for at least 1 veggie meal a week, preferably 3 (Inspiration : KH)
      • march 2015 : sort of following
      • june 2015 : doing this one pretty comfortably actually. have a food diary on my calendar and i seem to be way surpassing this one.
    • Abstain from beef and lamb (Inspiration : KH)
      • march 2015 : sort of following
      • june 2015 : yea, either than an itch here or there, also seem to be doing well on this one. probably will eat a little of beef/lamb 1 meal of the week.
  • Hobbies
    • Read 12 books, around 1 per month (Inspiration : KH)
      • march 2015 : Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Issac Stephenson, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
      • june 2015 : reading 100 years of solitude, slower progress on this front
    • Learn to play at least one piano piece well
      • march 2015 : Playing Chopin’s Nocturne Opus. 9 No. 2
      • june 2015 : given up on this one for now
    • Engage in Side Projects (added may 2015)
      • june 2015 : Working on two side projects, mostly on the coding front but I realize I enjoy it

Should be “a hell of a guy” by the end of 2015? hahahha. Any other suggestions?

Personality: S*****y Explanation

Forgotten Blog Post Draft from 2015

read somewhere recently that I should write down my world view or some of the fundamental belief systems for future comparison purposes.

(note : just came off okcupid, where I caved in and made a dating profile. and also answered a ton of questions, which made me think that maybe personalities are a lot less complex than essays and words sometimes make them seem.)

Our personalities are derived products of our values and our behavior.

Each of our personalities is a combination of values and behaviors. On the surface, we only see actions. Some of those actions are result of conscious decisions on comparing how different actions best represent our values.   Those values are the result of different experiences and key facts. But those values also informed by observations about ourselves. A person with a naturally cheery outlook will have a harder time understand someone who suffers from depression. These values lead to behavior which in turn reinforce those same values, creating a cycle of increasing stubbornness and conviction through age.

That our values are a consequence of our experiences is a very fundamental fact that I believe in. Someone who has never seen understood war will never understand the world the same way as someone who has. One of the ideals during the enlightenment was of the rational self, that the self is this idealized concept that makes completely rational decisions based purely on logic. And if extrapolated to the extreme, it would mean that everyone would eventually arrive at the same conclusion if everyone’s reasoning was sound. I firmly reject that.

This is the way I reason about it. There’s a really interesting idea called consequentialism. ‘holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. ‘ (wikipedia) If you believe in that, then you can see how our judgement of many moral issues will change based on the experiences we’ve had. Now suppose another fact that our experiences form a normal distribution and it’s simply kind of random which experiences we get. we don’t choose our bodies, our families, our background but they pretty much come to define the way we are. And taking these two ideas together, you can reach this conclusion that our values are determined pretty randomly.

Not all moral stances have equal validity (which is something you have to believe in to hold any moral stance I suppose) but it is certainly worth at least wondering the question of what beliefs we may have that are formed/influenced by life experiences that we cannot control? In a very abstract way, I think there is an average case regarding each issue. By average case, I mean an experience that gave someone an insight into both the good and bad sides of a particular issue. For example : there is a case of abortion which allows us to see both the benefits and costs to abortion.

This I suppose is the fundamental question that motivates my interest in other people. In my opinion, honestly most people are alright. We all have our political differences but in the end, few of us want world war 3 and endless suffering. We all have particular ideals because we think they will lead to a better life.  And by this age, my personality is pretty much determined (at least I think) and so I wonder what specific experiences might have caused specific personality/value changes? This is why I like to meet people and hopefully through comparison understand what happened to me. It’s kind of like an experiment. the independent variable being a particular event in question, the dependent variable being our personalities, and so they hypothesis is how this one event in my life may have influenced it.

In other ways, it’s also a curiosity question. I really want to learn more about life, particularly through the lens of humans, see the range of human beings we are able to create, see the parallels between societies, groups, but also celebrate the diversity. Does it make you a better person? I’d like to think so. I think it broadens your horizon. It makes you more approachable, more understanding. In some ways, you could call it training your empathy. So yea, hopefully I’ll find out a little bit more about myself then.

I don’t know fully where this idea came from, but I think humans of new york was an inspiration.