Articles tagged under owlphilosophy:

The Joy of Giving

Posted on Oct 18, 2013

Giving is receiving, and if you take you should also give. Really?

We've been told this a thousand times. Every charity, every parent, every teacher trying to teach us compassion and kindness.

But if it's really so great, if giving is the best way we receive, why do people who give nothing sometimes receive everything? We live in a time where those who do good don't always get paid, and those who get paid don't always do good.

Still, I think our teachers and parents are right: Giving is receiving, though probably not in the way you think.

Giving is a great joy. But if we give only to receive, when giving doesn't promise an immediate reward the only logical action is not to give.

Amidst compulsory service requirements and corporate social responsibilities, we should remember that you don't need a reason to help others. This line came from a video game character. Perhaps only a ficititious person could ever believe such an unreasonable thing.

Does altruism really exist? Economists have struggled with this for ages, for it flies in the face of an assumption central to modern economics - that people are completely rational and self-maximising.

One nobel-prize winning economist has this to tell us: Happiness comes from two distinct, separate parts of us - the remembering self, and the experiencing self.

While both bring us happiness, we place far too much priority on the experiencing self. The person who goes on an amazing holiday, where everything goes smoothly as planned, has his experience entirely ruined if things turn sour on the last day - maybe his flight gets delayed, or his plane seat was uncomfortable.

By contrast, the person who goes on a mediocre holiday, with ups and downs along the way, feels on a whole happier when the last day turns out fine.

Our current experiences can unjustifiably overshadow good memories. But how is this related to giving?

Supposed you're hungry, and you have a large cheeseburger in front of you. You want it, but your sister sitting next to you does too. You could eat it, and it'd be a great experience. But later you're hungry again, and the happiness you experienced from eating the burger vanishes.

Or you could give it to her. And you'd go hungry for the moment while you find something else to eat. The next time you're hungry, you remember that you give your sister that burger the last time, and you feel slightly proud of yourself for that. Next week, perhaps, when you're hungry again, you still remember what you did, and can still feel happy about it.

The things we do to make ourselves happy vanish the moment we feel sad again. But the things we do to make others happy - that time we returned a lost wallet, when we helped a friend pass his test, when we really made a difference in someone else's life - these moments last forever. Even if that person we helped feels sad right now, we can still feel happy recalling what we did.

Memories are what keeps us going through route marches, exams, and other stressful periods. Every time we give, we create another irreversible memory for our remembering self to keep.

In the end, giving is receiving, not because receiving is something which follows from giving, but because receiving is something naturally inherent in giving.

Why Sharing Will Save Us All

Posted on Jul 13, 2013

Let’s say you and your friend are arrested by the police. Neither of you have any idea what you did. Maybe it was that hilarious prank you pulled on your teacher two years ago. Either way, now both of you are kept in separate cells, and you have two options:

  1. Rat on your friend. Accuse him of doing everything. They promise you if you do this you’ll be let off scot free, whilst your friend gets 3 months in prison.
  2. Flatly deny everything and hope the police can’t charge you. Your lawyer says given the how little evidence the police have, you’d get 1 month max if neither of you rats on each other. He warns you though, if you don’t rat and he does, you’d be getting the short end of the stick with 3 months whilst your friend gets away scot-free.

Now you know your friend faces identical options. What would you do?

You’re not sure, but you happened to have a brilliant lawyer who also did a little bit of economics and game theory. To help you visualize what you should do, he draws this table, which shows the four different outcomes of this situation.

The choice is actually pretty simple. You don’t know what your friend will do, because he could be a total jerk on the inside. But regardless of what he does, you'd get a lighter sentence if you sold him out – you’d get 0 months if he denies, and 2 months if he rats, compared to 1 month if he denies and 3 months if he rats. Therefore, you have a dominant strategy to totally betray him – it makes perfect sense.

Your friend is no idiot either, and he realizes he should totally do the same. End of friendship and two months later, both of you are released from prison. But the situation could have been so much better if both of you were a little more bro-ish and simply not sold each other out. You would’ve just gotten 1 month each.

You and your friend are now the latest victims of the prisoner’s dilemma.

This theoretical situation actually has practical applications. Two companies in a duopoly can earn higher profits if they agree to set prices high. In this case, the companies can also choose to betray each other by lowering prices of their own goods to capture higher market shares. Is it possible to cooperate in reality, you ask? Well, if you are still paying a thousand dollars for Galaxies and iPhones, then yes.

We’re caught in such situations all the time, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always end up getting two months. That’s because, in theory, the prisoners' dilemma is simultaneous - both parties make a decision not knowing what the other would do, and because the situation occurs only once, you wouldn’t see any point of keeping your friendship in the face of a prison sentence.

In reality, however, parties can give signals to indicate their interest in cooperation. You could, for example, pass your friend a secret note telling him you’re going to deny. Or, better, call upon your underworld connections and threaten him with untold misery if he rats on you. Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea. Also, when the situation is repeated, several strategies can lead to cooperation, notably the Tit for Tat strategy.

Wait, so what has this borderline geek concept got to do with…

Why you should contribute to owlcove?

Let’s say a class has an upcoming test. Grades would be awarded as a bell curve. If the students don’t study, they’ll get their grades according to their ability anyway, without putting in effort. However, just as in the prisoner's dilemma, the students study for the test because that is their dominant strategy. In each student's perspective, studying always maximises their chances and yields the better result for them, regardless of what the others do.

Remarkably, students have actually managed to pull off cooperation, albeit in a slightly different test condition.

It’s not that you shouldn’t study. And we can't guarantee to improve your grades either, because there’s no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to things like results. (Yes, despite how tuition centres want you to think.) In a bell curve, grades can't go up for everyone.

Rather it’s about making it easier to do what you're doing and get what you’re getting. In that way, your lives become freer, so you can focus on your CCAs, competitions and commitments, have more family time, or simply pursue your hobbies, see more of the world.
At first thought, contributing notes seems to be at your own expense. Let's face it – as much as we are willing to help others, we need to take care of ourselves too.

The good news, however, is it doesn’t take much effort and time. All you need to do is upload some notes you would already be making, or contribute some thoughts and ideas.

A common doubt when it comes to this is whether the people you help will get better than you, overtake you, and stamp you down into the abyss of never-ending failure and doom. That is extremely unlikely, so don’t worry.

Firstly, your performance won’t drop simply because you help others. We ourselves studied together as a group, eventually doing better than we would have if we didn’t. Relative to each other though, we were pretty much the same. If my friend was better than me in Physics but worse in Math, he was still going to do at least as well as me in Physics and I was still going to do at least as well as him in Math. The truth is students are good at different subjects, and helping a weaker student isn't going to make him good at it suddenly. But it's going to make it less difficult and less challenging for him.

Secondly, when you help others, you help yourself too. Making notes and teaching others are good ways to revise and reinforce your own understanding. Just as soccer teams play friendlies, competition doesn't have to be destructive.

That’s how we did it. Let's say this concept has 4 steps of reasoning. Maybe it’s a math question. I know how to apply Step 1 and let x be this variable, but I'm stuck at Step 2. My friend understands Step 2 and helps me with it, but now he can't help me with Step 3 because he doesn't understand why x can be equated to y. Luckily, my tutor taught me this in class so we clear Step 3, and subsequently, Step 4, together.

It's like having two people instead of one solve a jigsaw puzzle. Too often, we are so engrossed in our own puzzles we don’t realise we are working on the same one.

Essentially, we are trying to extend the study group concept to encompass an entire community. So why hasn't this been done already? The fact is after graduating from one school, life only gets busier. Everyone who has graduated has his or her own grievances with the education system, but they wouldn’t have any reason to do anything about it because they’re out of it already.

That’s why it takes people who don’t mind doing the counterintuitive and illogical. To do things that seem to have no practical value other than perhaps it being good and the right thing to do.

On top of this, we want to make learning social and fun. When students want to study, you hear "deactivate Facebook" and "delete DotA". Obviously, studying is far from what anyone would call fun. We are missing out on how awesome it could be, and that makes us very unmotivated.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

julian, 10.25pm

I am Knowledge

Posted on Jun 17, 2013

I am eternal. I live in hearts and minds. I live in books. I live in Art. I live in museums, diaries, advertisements, experiences and memories. I am ubiquitous and unstoppable. You can create me, but once I live I am almost impossible to destroy. To deny me to is deny logic and to deny the truth.

I am powerful. I've built the past, permitted the present, and I will change the future. I liberate. I am the difference between schooling and education, wanderlust and wisdom. I empower minds and galvanise thoughts. I create.

I am meant to be shared. To the economists, I am unrivalled. Consuming me does not deplete me. I thrive in virality. I am the flame that sets a thousand others ablaze and burns ever brightly.

But I can also be wasted. I can be hidden and concealed. I can become selfish. I can be stolen, abused, manipulated and disfigured. I am a tool that can be used as a weapon. I can be denied from those who deserve me. I cannot be killed, but imprisonment for me is worse than death.

I am Knowledge. I am eternal, I am powerful. I am meant to be shared. I am power. And like all power I am meant to be put

To good use.

-jerrold, 12:33am

Minutes After Midnight

Posted on Jun 7, 2013

I feel like a parent.

Some nights I lie in bed unable to sleep. Thinking about so many things. What we could add to the site, what we’re doing right, what we should be doing, what we should stop doing.

Sometimes I get a great idea, and suddenly I’m up at 2am writing down my thoughts and bringing its entire concept into this world. I draw out how it will look, how it’ll tie in with the rest of the features, and, most importantly, how I think it’ll help.

Other times I start forming paragraphs in my head for articles that don’t have titles yet. Stories which haven’t gained enough traction in my mind for me to start writing, but persist nonetheless. And then I’m up again, writing these thoughts down in case I fall asleep and lose them to my dreams.

Some nights I don’t even go to sleep at all, till it’s very very late. I spend my time looking at the stats on our Facebook page, numbers which Google analytics gives me, and the number of views, recommends, and comments our articles get. After a while I refresh the page, as if my doing so would encourage the numbers to jump. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I feel happy nonetheless, a wanderer amidst this virtual landscape we’ve created.

Sometimes I go on a pilgrimage into the infrastructure of the site. I look at the lines and lines of variables, properties and syntax I’ve come to see as a completely different language. These characters are the building blocks of what we’ve created. The code – in more ways than one.

Mostly I see imperfections and make tweaks to the site which contribute all the more infinitesimally into making it as perfect as I can make it. A typo here, a broken link there. One starfish at a time I throw them back into the sea.

Is this what keeps all parents awake at night? Wondering, worrying, wishing for their children, their creations?  Is it obsession, or is it passion?

-jerrold, 1.24am

Why We Do What We Do

Posted on May 25, 2013

It’s about making a difference because you can. Because when you can do something that not everyone can, then you have the duty to do it. If you can see further, tell others where to go, and if you can run faster, help the rest move along. We’ve always progressed this way.

It’s about helping others because you should. Not for any particular reason because you don’t need a reason to help others. It’s just something you should do. There’s no need to prove it or reason it out. It’s a feeling innate in all of us.

It’s about helping yourself when you help others. Because when the entire community progresses, you do too. You’re part of this community. Even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter because you’ve made the lives of so many others better. And knowledge is not individual but collective. Now, more so than ever, projects, tasks, papers, facts and wisdom is being created on the collective scale by co-operation. Conflict and competition were once the faster ways to individual success, but that is not as obvious now.

It’s about proving yourself and proving to others that it can be done. Because when you have a vision and you build it from scratch by yourself, without the need for any external help, funding, approval or resources, you show others it’s not difficult to reach their goals. You show yourself you can do what you want to do. You show the world what possible means.

Most importantly, it’s about people. The people you work with to create something of value. The people you are trying to help. The people who support you. The people who don’t support you. Those who agree. Those who disagree. The people you inspire. At the heart of all this is the truth that you are trying to drive change, to make a positive dent in the universe and no matter what happens people will come out of this better. People will learn new skills. People will come up with new ideas. People will see it, learn about it, and react to it. People will build their own legacies. A ripple can create a tidal wave.

We made owlcove because we wanted to and we knew we could. Because we believe that it is time for education to change. Because we believe we can change it. Not by ourselves, but by creating and inspiring a community of others to believe it should and can be done. If a few friends with no prior experience and no institutionalised backing could decide to do something good together, and teach themselves the necessary design, programming, and writing skills to achieve their vision, surely someone else can do the same. The tools are all there, and it's up to us to make the most of them.

There is hope, and it lies in the good men who do something.

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