Day 72: The Power of Logic (How to Change the World Part 2)

I have two stories to tell. All of which speak to one central theme: The power of logic is limitless. Let’s begin.

One: Hot Pot

One afternoon I checked myself into a restaurant serving buffet lunch. It’s a traditional-styled Chinese hot-pot. For those who have no idea what a hot pot is, it’s a traditional Asian cooking method. They call it huoguo in China, shabu-shabu in Japan, and suki in Thailand. The differences between these are not that noticeable and mostly due to the ingredients particular to the certain geographical location.

So, the one that I was eating was suki since it was in Bangkok. There’s a pot of simmering broth in the middle of the table, and around which are plates of meat and vegetables. All you have to do is to dip them into the broth and cook them. It’s the best meal to be consumed with a lot of people: Because of the sharing nature of the meal, the more people is the merrier. There’re many styles of hot-pot meals. My favorite is the Chongqing-styled, in which the broth consists mainly of Sichuan peppercorns and other mouth-numbing ingredients. It’s the spiciest of all (and yes, spicy food is good for you according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health).

Unfortunately, I was in Bangkok so the broth was not Chongqing-styled but rather typical chicken broth (which wasn’t the problem because I had a bowl of chili and pepper sauce in front of me).

I was at the restaurant alone that day.

It was on a weekday which might explain why there weren’t so many people there; hence, I was receiving all the attention from the waiters and waitresses who would have to do the work in bringing whatever I was ordering to my table so that I could dump them into my pot to cook and then eat.

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One of the first and finest hot pot meals I had in China. This picture was taken before the pot had arrived at the table. In this picture, the late Prof. Stanford Anderson, my mentor at MIT, and his wife Nancy Royal and my colleagues Li Xiangning, Ge Wengun, Jenn Tran, Stephe Hsu, and Tim Campos. Circa 2007.

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A typical Chongqing-styled hot pot, AKA my favorite food in the world!

Ok, enough about the hot-pot. What happened next was just overwhelmingly puzzling. Starting from around noon to 4pm I didn’t leave my seat at that restaurant. I was constantly eating, eating, and eating. The waiters and waitresses had to keep bringing me food.

“One more plate of squids, please,”

“More bok-choy (Chinese cabbage),”

“Yes, I would like more broth, please,”

“Can I have more chili sauce?”

“Two more plates of beef and lamp, please,”

“One more glass of Coke here,”

“A seafood platter followed by a bowl of udon (Japanese thick noodle).”

No matter how many plates were put in front of me, I would slowly but steadily take whatever were in those plates, dipped them slowly and gently in the boiling broth with my chopsticks, pulled them out of the boiling broth once cooked, dipped them gently in the super-spicy garlic pepper sauce that I had made for myself by mixing four types of sauces on top of a pile of minced garlic, and then put them in my mouth so that I could chew, swallow, and let them eventually run down my throat thanks to the force of gravity. The waiters and waitresses were amazed by how much I could consume, although I must not be the first customer whom they had seen to be eating this much given that the restaurant was, alas, serving a buffet lunch. After 4 hours had passed, I was still eating. Crossing into the 5th hour, I still felt as though I hadn’t had enough food. Because the waiters and waitresses had always taken the empty plates away right after I had finished them, I did not have a physical evidence of how much food I had consumed: By my own estimates, it must have been at least 10 kilograms already (more than 20 pounds). But I still felt as though I could eat more.

What happened to me?

That was when the logic kicked it. I stopped eating and started thinking. “Wait a minute, I have never eaten this much before….and why am I still not full after 4 hours of eating constantly, and alone?” It’s said to be true that you could eat much more when you’re eating with friends and family but that wasn’t the case there.

How much can a person really eat in a meal, especially someone with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) like myself (which was 23.5 at the time; those whose BMI are over 25 are those considered heavy)?

I began to think deeply. The waiters and waitresses were not surprised after five minutes of my not pausing. They were, nonetheless, still there standing in the distance and in the corner looking at me, who was then the only customer in the restaurant. I suspected that they would like to be ready in the case I would like more food to be served, or to get a check. The deeper I think, the more I felt as though “nothing was making any sense” and for the following reasons:

  1. In general, I don’t eat that much. I like to eat, but I don’t eat that much. I am not a foodie. I just enjoy eating to live and not living to eat, which has always been the main reason why I don’t usually do well at a buffet. My body just can’t take that much food — and why was I eating so much today?;
  2. It didn’t make sense for a restaurant to allow me to stay and eat for as long as I pleased. Wouldn’t it be more sensible for the restaurant to restrict the amount of time one could sit down to consume food to 1-2 hours maximum? It’s been almost 5 hours and I must have eaten half of whatever they had in the entire restaurant already!;
  3. How did I get here? It’s a weekday and I had a job, what on earth was I doing in a buffet restaurant  in the middle of the day, by myself, eating like that?
  4. This doesn’t make any sense!!!!

That’s the moment I woke up.

Yes, I woke up from the dream. Surrounding me was nothing but a bunch of pillows my legs. The thickest pillow was lying on my stomach with my hands embracing it from below. I hadn’t had food for dinner the day before so I must have gone to bed with an empty stomach. It’s not logical to be a human who could eat without being full, and to continue to be in that state knowing that which is not real.

Hence, I woke up from my dream by the power of logic.

Two: Cigarettes

I had quit smoking almost 4 years ago now — after about 5 years of being a chain smoker.

I didn’t start smoking until I had finished my first master’s degree, during which I had been bombarded with many problems in love, life, and work. It’s to the point that I had decided to join the “smoking corner club” at work in order to find understanding friends with whom I could share my difficulties, and through our collective one-cigarette-every-hour rituals that I could spend time thinking more carefully about my situation thanks to the rhythmic breathing that the act of smoking gave me (if you don’t breath rhythmically when smoking you’ll choke). I was addicted to not only the taste of the cigarettes (“nicotine sort of helped clear my mind,” I felt then) but also the effect that whatever substances inside of the cigarettes had done to me, and, most importantly I think, the sense of community among the fellow chain smokers that I had acquired through becoming one of them.

Growing up, I had asthma. I remember well the instances during which my mother had to carry me to the emergency room because I had a hard time breathing. Smoking cigarettes, needless to say, only made it worse. My body, furthermore, simply absorbed every negative effect of smoking. I lost so much weight over those 5 years of smoking, to the point that everyone thought I was perpetually sick. I had bad breath. I had bad teeth. I lost a lot of hair and that small amount of hair that I still had left smelled bad almost all the time because of the smell from smoking. I caught a cold very easily and I had contracted flu quite frequently. When I got sick, my body recovered very slow. I also became an alcoholic because, as one European classmate at Oxford who introduced me to drinking and smoking said to me, “nothing feels better than when you’re drinkin’ and smokin’, mate.” I had become a very unattractive person because I would need to smoke almost every half an hour or less. I could not pay attention to a long lecture. A long meeting — and a long flight — from which I could not leave was nothing but a nightmare. What’s the worst? Well, my sexual pleasure also massively deteriorated. I might never have been a “superman” in terms of sex but after I became addicted to smoking I had become, simply, sloppy. I could feel that I had become much less, and almost zero, active in terms of sexuality. Although I didn’t have a complete erectile dysfunction (must have been close though), I recognized that my sexual pleasure was extremely short not matter how wonderful the woman with whom I was engaging in the intercourse was. With what was happening with my manhood of which I had always been proud, I felt that this wasn’t just the decay of the mind but the decay of the soul, altogether.

Was the only two pleasure I got from smoking? 

Funny enough, even after two master’s degrees from two of the world’s top universities in hand, I still thought that it was worth it.

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The year was 2009 and I was in the UK. I was holding a cigarette in my right hand and a lighter on the left. I got sick all the time because I wasn’t able to come to terms with myself on why I was still smoking. My weight was about 50 kilograms at the time and for someone my height, I could only look sick.

It wasn’t the case that I didn’t try to quit smoking. I had tried many times and I had used many methods, such as chewing both normal and nicotine gum, reducing the amount, exercising, etc. I tried every possible method. I even consulted a medical service at then my university to help me with the problem. I would quit for a day or two and I would return to smoking again in no time. The worst part of it was when my father unexpectedly passed away in 2010.

Even though I knew that what killed him, partly, was cigarettes that he smoked in a large amount during the first two quarters of his adulthood, I still couldn’t let go of cigarettes. Ironically, as a person who always told others that my father was the person I loved the most, I couldn’t let go of what killed him.

The year was 2012 and I was in Beijing then for a summer language program. I was smoking a local cigarette called Panda at the window of my room on the 13th floor of a foreign student dormitory. Cigarettes, of course, weren’t permitted anywhere in the building but I was smoking them every day anyway because I was a chain smoker.

Then I had a moment. I remember that I was sitting at the bottom frame of that small window to the large and open empty field below. I was reading a self-help book and was inspired by every word of it. As I was looking the ashes falling down to the ground below, I had an epiphany: “What am I doing?” It was that moment that I was able to come to terms with myself: I suddenly realized that in order to do those great things in the self-help book I was reading, I would first need a healthy body.

“And why am I smoking this thing?”

“It doesn’t even feel good.”

That was the moment that the power of logic kicked in which helped me realized that the reasons I had been coughing every since I landed in Beijing might due to both my excessive smoking and the rising level of air pollution. “Yes, I have been coughing every day — in the class and outside of the class — I am feeling so disgusted by myself!” Finally, “I couldn’t even breath properly because of the air pollution, why am I smoking this shit??”

It’s simply not logical for me to still be smoking.

And that was it. I stopped smoking half way and threw that cigarette away — together with the rest of the pack. In that moment, I didn’t think about the future (as in, I wouldn’t have a healthy life 10 years from now I’d still be smoking then) or the past (as in, it’s what killed my father). I was just thinking about the present: “Why am I doing this illogical thing?” I never return to smoking ever again after that incident. That was the moment I realized that I must have been a rational thinker. The power of will didn’t help me quit smoking (I tried and failed) but the power of reason and logic did.

It’s not logical to want to live a good life and continue to smoke.

That said, am I missing smoking? Yes, I always have a dream about myself smoking with friends. So, if dreams represent my subconscious as Sigmund Freud believes, I must not have been so happy with quitting cigarettes. That said, I wouldn’t mind my dreams being my “smoking room.”

So, what’s the moral of these two stories?

I believe that it has to do with the way we human beings need to think for ourselves, in the present, about how we would like to live our life. We have the gift (or the curse depending on how you look at it) to be able to exercise our ability to think, rationalize, reason, and make a logical decision. The key is to use that ability. The power of logic has changed my life. These two stories are just examples of many stories that I have regarding how I had removed bad habits from my life, how I restrained myself from plunging into the wilderness of auto-piloting attitude (especially when it comes to sexual desire), how I turned problems into critical tests for myself, and how I saw opportunities in the challenges with which I had faced, to name just a few. If I can do it, you can do it too. Believe it or not, we all have the ability to use logic to live a better life.

Here’re the 4 key takeaways:

  1. Sometimes the will alone cannot save you from yourself, but the power of logically will;

  2. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

  3. One encountering a problem that gives you sense that there is a deeply embedded sense of cognitive dissonance (i.e., you know that it is not right but you’d still want to do it), do take a step back, instead of move forward, and carefully scrutinize the problem. This is along the same line as Malcolm Gladwell’s suggestion when facing a problem of auto-acceleration when driving in his podcast which I highly recommend to everyone;

  4. As mentioned in my last post on communication, the attempt to change the world must begin with ourselves. We can do it by putting the dignity of being a human being at the center of your logical processing, as in, we are thinking human beings who possess the ability to think for ourselves  — hence, use logic to think for ourselves.

In the first story, I got out of my dream by exercising my logical thinking. In the second story, I use the same logic to confine my self-destructive behavior to the dream so that it would not affect my corporeal life.

 

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Upon a suggestion of a wonderful person I recently had the pleasure of getting to know from the land where its hot pot is most delicious, I tried this personality test and found out that I am indeed a logician! (surprise, surprise!)

 

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