Falling (In Love?)

Falling in Love, what a bizarre phrase

I romanticize the idea of romantic love. I have never felt it before, but I’ve watched The Notebook a handful of times already, which is essentially the equivalent of saying I have a LinkedIn certificate on love.

Falling in Love. I romanticize the “love” part, but in reality, the “falling” part has taken up much of my attention.

When I find something I enjoy – a passion project, an idea, a thought I want to ponder and explore – I am in suspension. Falling. I experience a dreadful uncertainty and I suspend in the air, yet so full of potential and freedom. Uncertain of where I will land. A certain destination that I hope will be a better place and make me a better person. I don’t finish every project I fall in love with – but I am often very good at jumping out of the plane – sometimes unsure if I remembered to pack a single parachute when you’re supposed to bring two. This year I’ve jumped out of a few planes. Notably, one plane where I hope to fall into an extremely fit and healthy body.

I am not in love. I am falling. I am constantly falling – towards a fabricated fantasy that I’ve created based on books, poems, movies, and Bruno Major songs that inspire me to continue falling.

What I’ve realized through the years is that the most important destination – the destination I am falling towards and one that I hope I land on – is self-love. As cliché as it sounds, you have to love yourself 100%, more than 100%, before you find more elsewhere.

And so I may be falling. I hope the destination I land on is kind and warm like I always dreamed of. But, meanwhile, as I suspend in the air, I will enjoy the view, and continue working on myself: mind, body, and soul. And I will work on getting to a point in my life where I always have two parachutes. And if I ever forget, thankfully, I have the power of philosophical fabrication, with a little magic, to create parachutes on the go.

Learning how to cry and time travel.

I was walking on the familiar uneven pavement streets which I called home for the past three months, with an oat milk latte in one hand and a banana loaf in the other, with Clare de Lune on my Airpods playing on repeat, as I made my way to my final 1-on-1 boxing session at Cambridge. I noticed I was crying…

It’s happening again. This is my fourth time studying abroad. I cried when I left Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. And now Cambridge.

The sudden realization that this might very well be my last time getting the latte + loaf combo at my go-to cafe, Espresso Lane, individually run by this very kind gentleman who taught me bits of British culture during my stay. He gave me my final order today for free, for being a good customer. He deserves all the happiness in the world.

In a weird and “totally not” psychopathic way, I enjoy crying. I often do it alone because of a deep-rooted childhood experience when I was told boys shouldn’t cry. Anyways, the experience makes me realize that I am alive, making me aware of my body and the bizarre concept of emotions, and tears are the product. Weird.

My tears are a result of nostalgia and sorrow for having to say goodbye, mixed with the happiness that I was able to go through these experiences.

At my boxing session, my coach made sure to give me a great final workout. I ended up doing 16 boxing rounds, and 200 burpees in total in between the rounds. He also made sure to get a good final head and body jab to remind me of this great quote:

“Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face.” I might have a video of me getting hit – I will look to post that one day.

If you’re reading this, I want to thank you. I have always felt a weird ambivalence toward advertising my blog because frankly, this blog started as a personal diary of sorts and on most occasions can contain some of the most vulnerable parts of my life. That ambivalence is immediately expelled when I realize that the type of people who make the effort to read my mundane writing is also the type of people I care about and appreciate being in my circle.

I want to share with you a life philosophy I’ve been trying to apply to my life as I combat the dramatic emotions I have about saying goodbye to the past. Read on further and I will teach you how to time travel.

Well, not actual time travel. But let’s say you could time travel. And you are forced to use it every day. At the end of every day, you are forced to re-live that same day largely the same way. You do the same things, with a small nuance: the second time you re-live that day, you pause and notice the tiny, infinite beauties of life. The pavement you are walking on was made by someone potentially hundreds of years ago. Their work has impacted so many. Notice the beautiful architecture, and the little homes, and the people (overview effect). The clouds shifting. The hum of life. Feel your breath. Feel your heart. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself how powerful you are. With extra dramatic effect, listen to Claire de Lune. It is my favorite classical piece, by far, and I’ve never had the same experience as I do with this song. It makes me feel so much emotion, both anguish, and joy.

Unfortunately, we can’t do real-time travel. But I want you to just try this technique because I have felt it is so liberating. Pretend that the days that so quickly pass by us as it has in the recent years, pretend that you specifically time-traveled back to this day to re-live. Allow yourself to feel your emotions pour through. Your heartbeat. This is what it feels like to be alive, and to be in the moment.

I’m not sure if this off-brand time travel technique will cure my nostalgic depression, but I think it will help me live in the moment more and not be too sad about the past. Because, well, I specifically traveled back in time to re-live today. And I am so happy that I am here.

Thank you for coming to my Ted-Talk and for indulging my dramatic overthinking. There are over 7 billion people in this world, and it always feels good to be heard.

Setting Myself up for Failure, The Overview Effect, and Creating Memories

When you are on a fast-moving train and you pass another train at a station, there is no way for the human mind to cognize whether the other train is moving in the opposite direction or is sitting still.

Everything is a blur passing by.

It is often a brief moment in time where you are uncertain of your own place in the universe — and uncertain of what the external world is like. For a brief moment, you lose your spatial awareness.
A passing moment

Flying on an airplane is a surreal experience, being suspended up in the air, looking down at people, cars, houses on the ground, all so minuscule in comparison. It puts into perspective both how inconsequential we are to the grand scheme of the universe, but also a hauntingly realization that each spec, each dot, is an individual life — a person who is the unique sum of a permutation of experiences. I am one of those dots on the Earth. Do you ever look up when an airplane is flying across, and wonder how many people are looking back down at you?

The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts when viewing the Earth from outer space. It is generally explained as the experience of seeing from a personal perspective the fragile reality of our world, hanging in the black void of space. I wonder how many people on Earth are looking back up towards those astronauts. I have to imagine that those astronauts viewing the world from outer space, who feel the overview effect, must come to some philosophical epiphany about their own life as well. I imagine that epiphany to be motivating, inspiring, and overwhelming.

To a lesser degree, I believe the overview effect can be applied to many aspects of one’s life – these passing moments, a blur in memory.

I am a gross overthinker and will dramatize the smallest things. My internal monologue won’t shut up. I replay 5, 10, 15 different scenarios before every event. Somehow I miss all of those scenarios despite having theoretically infinite guesses.

I’ve just submitted my econometrics exam and my philosophy dissertation which I spent 3 months working on. 8000 words, 20 pages. Sent. Am I satisfied with it? Likely not. But even if not, I need to learn to be. But even this soon will be a passing moment. I will still forever cherish my time here at Cambridge.

I have a tendency to set myself up for failure. Perhaps it is because I am afraid of what success might look like. Perhaps I am afraid of failure itself, so I never truly “shoot my shot.” I don’t want to regret not having done something in my life. I deeply cherish memories and relationships. I am so constantly depressed by my nostalgia for the past. Perhaps this just means I need to start looking forward more, rather than backward.

What a weird thing memories are. What a fascinating concept the overview effect has on understanding one’s own reality.

The paradox of choice – the illusion of perfection

Ever since I could remember I’ve always liked only one flavour of Lay’s potato chips: the original. The classic yellow bag which contained at a minimum of 50% air was my go-to bag of chips. I didn’t care for all the new flavours the brand was producing.
The other day I went to the grocery store and realized they didn’t sell Lays in the UK. Blasphemy. I looked on the shelf and was completely overwhelmed by the choices.

I invested in a stock in 2020 where I ended up 20x my return in a year, only to then feel bad for not somehow magically catching on to the craze of Gamestop. I constantly have to remind myself that my investment was based on research and rational decision making, whereas Gamestop was an incredibly unique, and otherwise, completely random spike in value that made a few people very wealthy.

My 5th-grade teacher always told me “never let good enough be good enough.” I was actually very thankful for him as a teacher because he always pushed me to be a better student – I was lackadaisical, and I think both of us knew that I could put in more effort.

When I used to blog every day, I did it on the deep-rooted acceptance that many of my submissions would be poorly written posts.
I am afraid of submitting “send” on my dissertation. 20 pages, 8000 words, 3 months of work. I nevertheless have to submit it, even though it can always get better.

The illusion of perfection, the paradox of choice, paralysis of analysis—whatever you want to call it—the psychological condition where you incessantly ask yourself: is this good enough?
At times I’ve begun hitting the wall. Better is never enough. Enough is not enough. There is always something else. This is not healthy.

On social media, there is an adage where people like to say “There will always be an Asian kid better than you.” I grew up both fearing that person and expecting to be that person. I am at a balance of feeling young with potential but underaccomplished; that I have a lot of time yet I am behind. I look back at old videos, old memories, old blog posts and reminisce about a life that wasn’t so serious and stressful.

At these times I feel nostalgic that my life is going by so quickly. I can only accept that there is more happiness along the journey I am going on – and accepting that I made the right choice – and that Lays will continue selling their original classic flavour.

Limits of knowledge

My philosophy dissertation is an 8000-word essay (that’s roughly 20 pages, single-spaced) that I’ve spent 3 months working on. As I approach the tail end of my time at Cambridge University, I’ve changed my dissertation thesis conclusion at nearly every draft. I began with conclusion “X”, then I completely changed my thesis to be conclusion “not X.” Now, it looks like I’ll essentially be submitting an essay arguing for X + Y.

Knowledge is a daunting thing to seek. The more I learn, the more I become hauntingly aware of the limits to my knowledge. It goes back to my sense of imposter syndrome.

There is the process of base information – surface-level learning. This stage is very dangerous because if you accept this surface-level information every time, you easily subject yourself to influences. There is no wisdom. The genuine process of learning is challenging your initial beliefs – unlearning and then relearning – and then rechallenging the new set of beliefs. And that’s what I’ve been doing with my education here at Cambridge – pushing the limits of my knowledge.

I’ve never been more intellectually challenged in the field of philosophy as in my short time here at Cambridge. I am excited to formally organize my thoughts and submit my dissertation – a culmination of the work I’ve done the past 3 months. In this home stretch, I hope I can produce quality work that I am proud of. Because, as scary as learning can be sometimes, it’s also rewarding, enticing, and addictive.

I am so happy I went on this journey.

Sonder: the realization that everyone has a story

I’m in Edinburgh this week and decided to watch the Beauty & the Beast musical by myself today.

In the programme I searched up the names of the actors and the actresses. Belle was played by Courtney Stapleton, an LGBTQ+ Black actress. I was happy to see her success. Also, I found it unique watching a musical where you could tell everyone had a slight different UK accent of some sort (distinctly non-NA). Though I’m sure some of the accents were more purposefully accentuated.

I sat in the directors VIP box – to my right there was a family with a young daughter dressed in a yellow Belle dress. She had to tiptoe over the balcony to get a good view. It was adorable. I wondered what she liked about Belle.

As the show ended, a flood of students in uniform excited the theatre led by students. I thought of my past school activities and how fun they were – being a young innocent kid, watching a musical on a Wednesday afternoon.

As I walked the streets of Edinburgh looking for food, I stood looking in at a Japanese Ramen shop. It was packed. Two older ladies walked by me and gestured towards the restaurant, asking whether they should try this “Chinese” restaurant. I felt a little saddened that she didn’t have the life experience to distinguish the two types of cuisine.

I saw a father and her daughter walking around, putting up signs of their missing cat. The daughter gripping the picture of the cat, the father holding a roll of tape. The father said something, a European language, which all I knew was not French. Actually, I caught a quick glance of a flag on his jacket, which I assumed was Spain. I felt a little saddened that I didn’t have the life experience to distinguish the language they were speaking. I hope they find their cat.

The privilege of being able to travel and experience global perspectives cannot be overstated.

This feeling does not exist in the English dictionary, but fortunately John Koenig invented one

Sonder: the realization that everyone has a story

How Jazz Music can make you a better boxer

I first started boxing and Muay Thai back in Singapore. I trained with Muay Thai world champion Nong-O Gaiyanhadao.

Now that I’ve finally gotten off my mother’s couch and back in school, I picked up boxing again while at Cambridge. And, although I am very well still a rookie, I did my first light sparring session this week and learned an interesting point in how music can make me a better boxer.

When it comes to boxing combinations, my trainer has taught me it’s not so simple as 1-2-3 punch. There is a methodical rhythm to it, and I’ve been able to relate this to my past studies in music and particularly jazz music.

Musical sheet compositions are usually written in a set time signature, 4/4 is the most basic and rudimentary, meaning FOUR quarter notes per “bar” of notes. The denominator dictates the value of the note, while the numerator dictates how many of that note. So 3/4 means three-quarter notes. 7/8 means seven eighth notes, 6/8 means six eighth notes, and so forth. The time signature, along with the tempo (speed of the song) dictates the rhythm.

But if you are boxing off a predictable “time signature,” you become an easy target. Predictable is good in classical music – while note so good in a fight. That’s why the rhythm you might learn in jazz music is important in boxing – the rhythm changes, adapts, stops and goes, and sometimes, there’s no discernable “time signature” at all. There is a lot of improvisation, especially when it’s your turn for jazz solos, with many “rest” notes. In music, the short pauses and silence in between can create dramatic effects.

And so, in boxing, it isn’t as simple as throwing your 1-2-3 combo punch every time. You take turns, trading with your opponent, but if you dictate the rhythm, you can win. So 1-2-3 can instead become 1-dodge-2 -3. Instead of throwing three punches in a row, you adapt, put in rest notes for yourself to dodge or block, feinting, changing your time signature rhythm entirely to throw off your opponent.

And the best part about music and boxing: it’s really fun when you get in the “zone” and flow with your rhythm that you create

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety of Friendships
In high school, I was a theatre kid. Every year I had to not only perform in front of my peers during class, depending on what we were studying (film, theatre, movement, mime, etc) but I also acted in the annual productions our school put on.
I can distinctly remember the moments before going on stage. The anxiety of waiting in the side wings, waiting for your cue, as you rehearse the lines and movements over and over in your head. If you mess up the entrance, then everything else feels shattered. The first line breaks the ice, and it has to be perfect.
Despite being the theatre kid, the magician, the public speaker, I still considered myself nervous and had symptoms of performance anxiety.
In my senior year, I somehow managed to perform for The VIew in New York City. Not on live television, just at the end of the taping, in front of the audience and hosts. My hands and legs were shaking so much, I remember my friend grabbing me and telling me to calm down. Her intentions were nice, but her advice certainly did not do the trick.
Performance anxiety is always a hurdle for me – but it has, not that I can recall, ever stopped me from actually performing. Do you know why?
Because the anxiety, for me, always occurs before I actually have to perform. Everything happens before I physically land on stage. It’s a big hurdle, to say the least. But once I’ve leapt over, what happens on stage feels very natural. I’m in the zone. This is my stage, literally. I command it.
The times I have anxiety on stage is when I feel like there’s something left to be desired for my preparation. It doesn’t happen often, but I know the feeling of not being in the zone. When a performance feels unnatural, it feels too much like a “performance” and unironically ruins the allure of the show.
I have performance anxiety with relationships sometimes. When I catch myself “performing” to fit in – to show the fun, exciting, magic performing, outgoing person. I can do it. I can be social. But it’s all really a performance.
I’m much rather be curled up in my bed, watching a video about the Nobel Prize Winners of Economics in their contributions to Labour Productivity with increased Minimum Wages and Causal relationships. That example might be too specific, and it’s because that’s quite literally what I left the Halloween party being held in the living room of my apartment to do. I guess the great part about having a party at your house is that you have the benefit of leaving whenever you want.
Performance Anxiety in relationships makes it unnatural. It shouldn’t be a performance – but we so often have an idea of what we want to convey to the outside world. Do I want to be the smart person who knows things – the trivia guy? Or the person who is rowdy, I can drink a lot, I’m spontaneous, exciting. Maybe you want people to think you’re sociable, or the nice person, or the funny guy.
I want people to have a good impression of me, so I put on a performance. If you get the first line wrong, your image is shattered.
But the image I’m trying to preserve is never the real me. At least, not at a college party. Large group socialising is not who I am. Performance anxiety persists because I feel like a fraud – like pretending I am enjoying myself, because, that’s what you’re supposed to do at a party. But that image is one I am okay with shattering.

Theories of Value and how to measure Value

I’m profoundly curious about what makes things in our world valuable.

According to philosopher Immanuel Kant, there are generally two “worlds” we can speak of, that is, the external world of human experiences (Kant calls this the phenomenal world); contrastingly, there is also the noumenal world, or “things in themselves,” or intelligible world. Side note: there can certainly be other “worlds,” as well as other types of knowledge besides empirical knowledge and noumenal knowledge.

I want to strictly talk about the external world right now – the noumenal world is too vast and difficult for me to comprehend in a short blog post – and surely, Kant admits himself, is rather difficult if not impossible to discern with pure reason.

The external world is what we know as empirical reality. This is where science lives. Physics – not metaphysics – can be proven, experimented with, and discerned with data. Only once you have mastered physics, can you study beyond physics – the metaphysics – as Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted.

So how do we describe ‘value’ in this external world of human experiences?

Let’s talk for example the famous water-diamond paradox of value. Let’s assume a 500-ml bottle of water and a 24-karat diamond.

In the rich western world, we have mutually agreed that diamonds have high value. (Well perhaps mutually agreed-upon may be the wrong language – I certainly wouldn’t want to discredit decades of savvy marketing and psychological warfare in convincing the general population of the value of this rock). However, as a general population, it would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize the value of a diamond – if not for personally valuing it, then recognizing its value on the ‘market’ IE selling it to someone else for a quick buck.

Now, in the market economy, we can objectively declare this 24-karat diamond to be more ‘valuable’ than a 500-ml bottle of water. Yet, some context can be easily applied here: what if you are planning a trip to the Sahara desert, a solo trek across the dunes? I would be shocked if you packed a bag of diamonds rather than several bottles of water. A dehydrated, stranded individual in the desert would value that bottle of water as equivalent to life – surely that is priceless.

This scenario we’ve painted suggests that value, at least to some degree, requires context. And I would suggest precisely this. But my frustration here is that if value requires context, then how do we discern between objective value and contextual value?

In economics, intrinsic value is considered objectively measurable – if you were, say, wanting to measure the intrinsic value of Microsoft stock, you could technically calculate its net present value by using historical growth and dividend data, inflation rates, interest rates, etc. Of course, there are still some certain assumptions you might have to make, such as constant growth vs linear growth vs. exponential growth, and the assumption of no Black Swan events in the near future (like the panorama 19…) I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of it but in one of my calculations (purposely in the plural, because there are other calculations), Microsoft stock should range from roughly $100-180 based on intrinsic value, with a best-case scenario of $250. As of October 10th, 2021, Microsoft stock is trading at $300. Why?

That’s because the stock market is not strictly a mathematical game – it is a war ground for financial chaos, psychological warfare, and profound uncertainty. When sentiment is confident, and people are overzealous to make money, they buy and prices go up. When things look grim, and blood is on the streets, the stock markets will bleed red. The reason I mention the stock market is because I want to emphasise that intrinsic objective value is not the only way we value things – humans are not strictly rational objectively measuring deciding agents.

So now we have given some criteria on value. How we value things depends on context, as the water-diamond paradox shows. A physical polaroid picture of your dog becomes much more valuable to you, personally, when your best friend passes away. That picture becomes astronomically more valuable when all your digital pictures of them disappear, and that polaroid is the last remaining.

The stock market example showed us that value isn’t just objectively measured – yes, we do have fancy theorems for measuring objective value with math, but not everyone adheres to it, and I would suggest most people don’t even know compeltely how these objective measurable theories work (myself included) if they even know that they exist. This extra value away from the intrinsically measured value in Microsoft stock is extrinsic, or, I will call irrational/hopeful value. People don’t buy Microsoft stock at $300 without hoping, mostly irrationally, that it’s worth more than $300.

  1. Contextual value
  2. Objective/Intrinsic Value
  3. Extrinsic/Hopeful Value

Now, bear with me, because this is where things get a little abstract and confusing. Philosophers have their own definition of intrinsic value, and it is loosely defined as “things in themselves as a final end.” Everything else that isn’t a final end, as in a means to an end, is not intrinsically valuable.

Things for their own sake are what we should consider valuable. This usually excludes things like money and materialism. Instead, it includes abstract ends: happiness, beauty, beatitude, truth, love, the sublime, friendship, peace.
In the external world, it becomes incredibly hard to describe to one another why we value things. Why is this friendship valuable? Why is a rising/setting sun beautiful? Who dictates these values? And how do we go about measuring them? It might be a futile endeavour to do so, but that result is unsatisfying to the economist who wants to measure decision making.

Ultimately I don’t know the answers to all these questions; there are so many different theories of value, and I only proposed a primer on a few. What I do want to suggest, if you ended up reading this far, is to start questioning how you personally value things in your human experience. If we being to ask ourselves why we do the things we do, and what ultimate good, or end, that we consider intrinsically valuable according to the philosophers, then maybe we can start figuring out what type of life we want to live.

What my Cold taught me about [my] Gods

What my Cold taught me about [my] Gods

Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend 10 hours in the library every day for the past 3 days as I’ve been suffering from a cold and bedridden in my dorm room – ordering in food and self-isolating from my friends on the off-chance that I have the Canon-19. It’s nothing serious and I’m taking the important precautions. But oh, how the Cambridge libraries call for my return. Hopefully it will be swift. But here is a blog post in the meanwhile.

Palmar grasp reflex refers to the primitive instinct found in infant humans and most primates. It refers to when we reflexively grasp onto objects in our hands – we naturally flex our fingers to hold on, holding on to life, for hope someone is there to take care of us.

For those fortunate enough to have parents be present in their childhood, you know what it feels like to be sick as a kid: your mother tucks you in, feeds you some medicine you can’t even pronounce the names of, and nurses you back to health. I distinctly remember my mother feeding me this steaming hot ginger chicken soup, an old Chinese traditional remedy, that made me sweat away the poisons of the illness. At the very least, it acted as a placebo, and I drank away expecting it to cure me.

As a child, anytime we ran into troubles, from a small (or large) scrape on the knee from playing on the playground, to doing your math homework, and yes, when you get a cold, we would naturally go to our parents. They would know what to do. 

If you grew up in a non-religious household (and maybe even in a religious household), you might share the same unconscious realization as a kid: our parents are Gods.

Somehow, someway, my mother would solve any problem that I didn’t know how to solve nor had the experience yet to tackle. She knew more than me. She was bigger, stronger, smarter, and wiser. She knew how to make ginger soup! She was unstoppable.

I had a natural, and unconscious, dependency. It was ingrained in my mind to call my mother in dire situations. I have vivid memories practicing reciting her phone number, 604-xxx-xxxx like a little song, dating back to when I was 5. 

Then university came along. Suddenly I went from seeing my mother every day to the occasional text. I had to be reminded of this drastic lifestyle shift again last month when I returned to my studies, after being home for over a year due to the panorama.

However, although the persona you created that your parents can do anything is an unconscious manifestation, eventually, you have to consciously come to the realization that your parents are not Gods, and that they do not have the answer nor guidance for every path you want to take. If I wanted to go to school in the states, I had to do my own research, self-study for the SAT and AP exams, following in the footsteps of others I’ve seen. A career in law, academia, finance? Or perhaps traveling the world, to countries and cities they’ve never even heard of? Thankfully we have Google, but still, these are daunting, individual ventures.

The realization that my mother doesn’t have the answer to everything is a sudden disappointment, but a necessary one to forge my own path where the onus lies on me.

Certainly, there were times I was internally frustrated with my parents for not having the answers I so desperately wanted from them to help guide me in my high school studies, to university life, to my chronic health issues. But I think I’ve largely come to terms with them, or at the very least, I’m aware of their origin and irrationality. The struggles and frustrations and uncertainties of my life are vastly different from that of my mother’s, and although I can always depend on her to support me with love. So maybe my mother can’t teach me how to play Scar in the Lion King, but she may have other experiences or stories I can learn from. She isn’t a God who knows how to solve all my problems. I don’t believe in Gods. 

My mother is not a God – she’s much cooler, because she can make chicken ginger soup.

Like most of my blog posts, this one is inspired by my studies in philosophy, and particularly of a podcast by Stephen West “Philosophize This” on Kant, Episode 7.