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drunkard’s search

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the metaphor of “searching under the lamppost” (observational bias called “streetlight effect” or “drunkard’s search”) 1 to a friend of mine to support my point that we tend to look for answers in the most obvious place. Later I read that it has a good explanation from a perspective of neuroscience. The state of single-mindedness is another form of stress, and while it shares some traits with the “flow state” and could be productive and pleasant, it can hardly be called an optimal state of mind.

There are two impressions of the “streetlight effect.” The main one is that I’m placing my professional inquiry into yoga on hold. It started with a realization that postural Yoga was an incidental “invention,” a by-product of a collaboration of Englishmen and Hindu fitness entrepreneurs2, and not necessarily an inherent to the ageless wisdom. And while I understand that Yoga, a hundred years old or a thousand, is still one of the best mind-body practices that exist, the reputation of the “Yoga Studies” sank deeply for me. From one point of view, it offers an opportunity. If someone has “invented yoga” less than 100 years ago, why shouldn’t I commit to creating something faster, cheaper, and better? And this is where I discerned that if I like wearing hats, I don’t have to become “mad as a hatter”3 and invest all my time and energy into launching a hat shop. As stretched as this metaphoric summing-up may sound, I could simply enjoy “wearing hats,” converting the insights and health benefits into more profitable and sustainable business models. In other words, I may utilize transcendental experiences into a skill-set of attaining diverse kinds of results to do a completely different work.

Secondly, the “searching under streetlight” impression implies that “single-mindedness,” as I see it now, may resemble madness quite a bit. I learned well in my life that nothing is as passing as a passion, nothing is as permanent as something temporary, and nothing is as untenable as something that feels irresistible.

  1. A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is” (Wikipedia)↩︎

  2. “Erlösung ohne Erlöser,” Der Spiegel, July 2013↩︎

  3. The phrase “mad as a hatter,” used to describe someone who’s crazy or prone to unpredictable behavior, didn’t originate with Lewis Carroll’s novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that features an eccentric character called the Hatter, who’s referred to in the story as “mad.” Instead, the expression is linked to the hat-making industry and mercury poisoning. In the 18th and 19th centuries, industrial workers used a toxic substance, mercury nitrate, as part of the process of turning the fur of small animals into felt for hats ↩︎↩︎