The core conflict that forms the basis of stress in my mind is the desire to have control over the world and the reality that I do not have control over it. My actions only influence the world but do not control it.

This problem arises from the difference between how the world appears to function and how it actually functions for all practical purposes. The mind is trained to look at the world as a deterministic process since that’s what it appears to be. If we know all the variables and their relationship with each other, we can control the causes to achieve the desired effect (e.g. study to get good marks). However, the world actually functions as a stochastic process [1]; we do not know all the variables and their relationships. So, we can at most have an expectation of outcomes since multiple outcomes have non-zero probability.

The mind is constantly struggling with this tension among the true nature of the world (i.e. deterministic), the practical nature of the world (i.e. stochastic) and the convenient view of the world (i.e. deterministic). The world is deterministic and it is convenient to see it as deterministic but for all practical purposes, its behavior is stochastic. This is a hard problem to solve. In a way, the world is deterministic and stochastic at the same time. How do we interact with a world like that?

A software development project serves as a good illustration for this tension. We believe that knowing all moving parts of a project will help us finish it in time and it’s true (i.e. deterministic). We admit that we don’t know all the variables that will impact the project e.g. a key engineer falls sick 2 days before the deadline (i.e. stochastic). But we model the project with fixed scope, resource and time. We try our best to keep it that way by constantly reviewing and tweaking the project (i.e. deterministic).

Even for an area of human endeavor where we show great maturity in accepting and embracing the underlying uncertainties, we get stressed out when those uncertainties disrupt the desired outcomes.

While it is easy to have an intellectual appreciation of this situation, dealing with it poses a few practical problems.

First problem is that of being emotionally invested in some outcomes wherein I do want some things more than others. Different groups of people have found comfort in different solutions. Vedantic philosophy argues that “All this is verily Maya”. Since “this” is also Maya and “that” is also Maya, it doesn’t matter whether it is “this” or “that”. The religion defers it to the God’s will. The God being the invisible hand represents all the variables that introduce uncertainty in our stochastic process. And then some other people could explain it in their own unique way.

Solving the problem of being emotionally invested gives rise to another practical problem. If I am ok with anything and everything, what do I do? Consider this situation: I am ok to watch a movie whether it is good or bad; I am also ok if I don’t watch a movie; I am equally ok if I just go fall into a well and never come out again. With such a state of mind, how do I evolve, be better and more competent, help people or even have a hot chocolate sundae ice cream?

Final problem is even more fundamental and is related to social interaction. What language do I use in my thinking and expression? How do I say “see you at 9am”? Since the world is not deterministic anymore, what meaning can I attach to the “see you at 9am” statement? If the other person is also anchored in stochastic view of the world, it would be fine since we implicitly infer the same thing. But how do I now interact with a person who is anchored in deterministic view of the world? Am I being dishonest if my communication means something to me but something else to the other person?

This last problem is an extremely hard problem to solve. When living with people who have a deterministic view of the world, each of my statement about what I’ll do and not do becomes a commitment that I must try and meet. Basically, they have now dragged me into the deterministic view of the world.

Getting rid of the stress is also full of stress. There is a specific outcome that I am trying to achieve but I have no control over it. It is one of the hardest outcome that I am trying to achieve; I am supposed to have maximum control over it because it’s all in my head and yet I have least control over it because the deterministic world view is programmed in those parts of my brain that are not easily accessible to me.


[1] In a deterministic system, an action leads to a fixed outcome. In a stochastic system, an action can lead to different outcomes that have different probabilities.