Home – 42M

Directionality (and the usual mindfuckery)

You can’t unscramble scrambled eggs. And that’s why directionality matters.

It’s a simple property. Alas, we often neglect it and make blatant mistakes.

Three aspects and examples

Metaphors coming soon, but first the super-condensed notation for the nerds:

  1. We can go from A to B or from B to A, but one takes more effort.
  2. We can only go from A to B, but we can’t go from B to A.
  3. We can do A to get B, or do B to get A – or both.

And now screw letters, let’s drown in words instead!

1. Bidirectionality

Swimming against the tide is harder than going with the flow.

This is perhaps the easiest manifestation of directionality.

Still, it makes for a beautiful concept on its own. There’s a whole lot to think about taking the Path of least resistance in one’s life.

Sometimes it makes sense to put up resistence. It can be the right thing to do. Quite paradoxically, it can even be the path of least resistance itself.

Other times, the tide would be too strong. We could only slow down the inevitable. It may be wiser to surrender, and let the flow carry us.

2. Unidirectionality

We can jump off a cliff into the sea, but not the other way round.

In the previous example, reversing course was mostly doable – it just required effort. In this case, no amount of effort will let us defy gravity.

Similarly, we experience the passage of time only in one direction. There is no undoing, no unseeing, no unscrambling. We should know this much intuitively.

And yet, many times we seem to forget that opportunity knocks but once.

3. Causality

Do we work to live, or do we live to work?

Ok, this is just a rethorical question (I hope).

But the line between cause and effect can be thin and blurry.

In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb uses the direction of the causal arrow to show how education is a byproduct (rather than a source) of wealth.

Sexy science

Speaking of arrows: do you remember vectors?

They can be useful to model the first example:

Tide    You
-->  +  --->  =  ----->  (smooth sailing)
-->  +  <---  =  <-      (swimming upstream)
-->  +  <-    =  ->      (carried by the tide)

In the second example, there is no you.

I mean, you can do nothing to oppose the direction of gravity or time.

(If I’m wrong here, please let me know how you do it. Sounds like fun!)

Lastly, let’s dive into the realm of logic (and philosophy, if you wish).

The causal arrow represents a logical implication.

Interestingly, this arrow can also go both ways at the same time.

Understanding implication is not sufficient, nor necessary – but it can be fun.

I am such a nerd, and I spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of stuff.

You do you. But misunderstanding the (practical) implications of the (logical) implication may turn out to be costly. Forewarned is forearmed.

Open questions?