image1 image2 image3


The math behind Taoism

Taoism is a way of life. It is a proponent of the natural order of things and of a balance between good and bad (and everything else that happens to us).

The idea is simple, yet profound. 

The Tao way is to not struggle to change the outcomes, situations and consequences. But, instead, to just flow like a river. If an obstacle turns up, simply find a path around it and continue to flow. If something falls in, don't stop to savour it, but just keep flowing, carrying it along with you, and depositing somewhere else along the path, until you eventually merge with the sea.

I've been reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow", where he introduces the concept of regression to the mean. The example he gives is of an army officer who believes that punishing poor performance leads spruces up the cadets and improves their performance the next time, while praising someone's performance makes them complacent and diminishes their performance the next time.

Daniel Kahneman argues (and proves) that this behaviour can be observed even if the officer refrains from doing anything at all in either situation - praise or punish. This is because of what he calls the regression to the mean. 

Every cadet has a mean (average) performance level and if they perform really well this time, law of averages states that their next performance is likely to be not as good. Similarly, if a cadet performs poorly this time, law of averages predicts that his next performance will be better. Hence, the praise or the punishment doled out by the officer is merely a correlation and not a causation. 

While reading this, I could not help but think how similar it was to the way of the Tao, where you take things as they come because if something was worse now, it is bound to get better the next time and if something was fantastic now, it is bound to become worse later. This is the balance in the way of the Tao. Anything we do might only be a correlation and not the causation of what happens next. So, the Tao way is to not do anything at all but to just keep moving.

And that balance is nothing but regression to the mean, mathematically speaking.

So there you have it, one of the fantastic concepts that I've come to admire and abide by, explained by an elegant mathematical formula.

Everything that happens is like a ripple in a pond. Depending on the size of the stone, the ripples can be large or small, last for a short time or long. But, they all peter out in the end. Without exception. And what will be left is the clear, still surface of the pond as it was before.

Share this: