Have You Thought About (HYTA) how to study?


We generally approach studying the way a bull charges the red flag – blind, unthinking and unimaginative. More is equated with better. If you aren’t cramming, then you sure aren’t doing it right.

We have almost never given any thought about how to study. Like most traditions, religions and supernatural beliefs, we have rarely taken it upon ourselves to critically examine established methods of studying.

Teachers, along with our seniors and peers, are most unhelpful when giving us advice to study. If our education system is anything to go by, then lectures, remedial and more lectures must be paths to academic mastery.

Either that, or dispensing pages after pages of summarised notes, key points and drilling surely must yield something. It is almost like hurling darts at the board in pitch darkness. Surely if you keep trying, something will stick – there is a laughable desperation in that.

You have been there: spent a few days completely memorising and rereading a textbook, did reasonably well (or poorly) for the exam and in the subsequent week(s), everything you have memorised has gone the way of the dodo bird.

It is the aim of these posts to correct misconceptions of learning – how to study, rather than how much to study, is the vital point addressed here. The approaches to studying presented here goes against conventional advice – You will feel discomfort.

Continue: Correcting Misconceptions about Studying

Have you thought about (HYTA) the link between belief and behaviour? (Paris attack)


In wake of the Paris attack, the first words that come to our lips would be ‘ISIS’, ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ but such simplistic labeling would simply be a matter of convenience because the root of the issue goes far deeper than most governments or institutes care to address.

Most people have forgotten the numerous crusades and the inquisition of yore that were responsible for the heinous carnage, brutal persecution and the spectre of fear that swept across the lives of ordinary folks. And it was done in the name of Christianity, carried out by psychopaths who believed in the literal truth of the Bible.

Would you feel abject horror at torturing a human being as you crush their bones and flay their skin? Of course you would. But during the inquisition, the assigned torturers believed they were carrying out God’s work when they inflicted unbearable pain on their fellow human beings. Their reasoning went as such: Hell  is a place terrible beyond human comprehension so what pain they inflict on you now pales in comparison to your eternal suffering.

During the Paris attack, the “terrorists” shouted out “Allah hu Akbar” (“God is great”), a phrase that’s now acquainted with Islamic extremism, even as their guns mowed down innocent civilians who were relaxing during their night out.

This is not a comparison between Christianity and Islam, but the problem of belief. What does it say when your torturers believe they are doing you a great service (in forcing you to renounce your faith or convert) when they inflict blinding agony under exquisitely crafted instruments of torture? What does it say when ISIS believes the carnage they inflicted are sanctioned by God?

You will never be able to train solders in the same way ISIS extremists behaved. Not only did the extremists massacre unblinkingly and unflinchingly, they also were prepared for a fight to the death and when surrounded, blew themselves up to prevent capture. It’s in a sense, the ultimate soldier – the ability to carry out operational duties with no moral qualms and a sort of programmed self-termination.

We cannot live in pretense, that everything about faith is fine, or that faith is respectfully above any criticism. The unalterable truth is that your beliefs influence your behaviour. We have always known that, and given how monumentally powerful beliefs are, we need to subject them to more scrutiny, not unhelpful assumptions that we can leave them unquestioned.

To work towards the advancement of a society, we emphasise education. For economical flexibility, human rights and equality, we have allowed females to be recognised as equals. But to work towards a harmonised society, it is surprising that most people think we need religion to be moral and they couldn’t be more wrong.

Most religions are in no way inclusive. The general premise for most religions is an utter obedience to whatever god that is prescribed in their holy text(s), and whatever creation story that comes out of it. That most people believe a holy text is the word of a particular God they worship only divides mankind into tribal groups. If you believe in this God, then other Gods and worshipers are pretenders to the throne.

In Singapore, the government is quick to recognise the validity of all faiths – they don’t take a stand towards saying one faith is more authentic than the other. That’s quite a marvellous act of pretense as if all religions hold some degree of truth that needs to be heard. Yet, in both the Bible and the Quran, disbelief is equated with death or eternal damnation. Belief in one faith is mutually incompatible with another.

There is no harmony to be had between religions when they share conflicting creation stories, believe their own interpretations of reality are somehow sanctioned by God, and base their moral views and social structure on holy texts that contain ridiculously archaic principles that make no sense in a modern context. It’s a recipe for a poisoned mind because all the above are done with the whimsical allowance of no reference to any scientific evidence.

Religion is untestable, has not a single evidence in favour for what it preaches (as anyone in science knows, personal anecdotes don’t count), and yet makes claims larger than a Boeing plane about the reality of the world. Religion doesn’t train the mind to be sharp – it demands a surrender of your mind. And it is of dire importance that we recognise it.

Here’s President Obama’s speech in 2014, delivered after James Foley was murdered by a British Jihadist:

” ISIL (ISIS) speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. “

Such a statement reveals the pretense and ignorance that we safely hide behind. ISIS’ ideologies ARE Islamic. The Quran and Hadith do sanction various forms of punishments and killing, especially when it comes to leaving or defending the faith. Sure, the texts do mention the goodness of self-preservation or doing good, but they are uncommon comparatively speaking, and the loopholes that come with interpreting the texts are infinitely larger than a black hole.

When people are taught to accept untestable propositions, are unprepared in understanding what constitutes meaningful scientific evidence, and have little understanding of the greater and numerous fallacies the human mind is susceptible to, things can only get worse, and progress is discarded in favour of regression.

Because religion demands a surrender of the rational mind, a compartmentalisation of viewpoints, and a firm adherence to principles of the dark ages, we need a closer examination and honest admission of the various problems posed by religion. Sadly, such dialoguing in Singapore is rarely found, and the government, perhaps for practical convenience, is unlikely to ever take a stand in it, until the situation or world perception shifts.

We can pretend otherwise, sure. But can we afford to bleed away intellectual minds and sharp rationality in a modern world where it soon won’t be  hard to acquire weapons of mass destruction?

So have you thought about how your own beliefs influence your behaviour, or that of others?

Have you thought about (HYTA) how success and failure are never as simple as they seem?

Night & Day / Success & Failure

We are taught that ascending the ladder, rung by rung, is always a good thing – one should seek more knowledge; acquire more riches; accumulate more fame; accrue more academic certificates; stay ahead of the competition. More and more, and forward, are signs of progress, and other considerations are regressions.

But ascension comes at a cost, one that we rarely measure, and if we do, fail to calculate its totality. Up and above also means losing down and below – becoming in charge vests us with authority and respect, but we are slowly disconnected from humility; surfing on the coattails of success also means failure can no longer be a good teacher to us.

It is not that simple of course. Very often, our lives are threaded delicately with the people around us, a fragile interwoven mesh. As we breathe, so too do we affect the world. Your elevation in power can and will alienate your friends or cost you someone very dear. Success robs us of our sense of self within the community and blindfolds us to our own flaws. It is a ripple effect, never obvious and always subtle.

Conversely, states of failure, moments of despair and sessions of abject agony exist in our lives as a necessary mirror image to success, happiness or pleasure. It is because life is at times infinitely unbearable and unfair that we create our own sense of meaning by struggling against the impending tide of inequity. The worst moments are opportunities to transcend the odds, and when one has hit the bottom, there is comfort to be had in knowing you cannot fall further, so you may as well try.

When we celebrate success with joyful wariness and welcome despair with hopeful reluctance, only then can we perhaps say that we have truly grown – because when seen carefully, success and failure are cut from the same cloth.

So, have you thought about what success and failure mean?

Have you thought about (HYTA) what makes a good friend?

Friends Fox Prince

A long time ago, friends were simple and honest, by virtue of childish innocence – a playmate, a social buddy, a hopeful confidante. And we were happy. As our identities burgeoned in complexity, the people around us swelled with their own ambitions, desires and motives – just like ourselves. Friends then and friends now have never been more different.

We know it is not hard to make friends or to lose them. In an ocean of people, a sea of faces, an endless march of bodies, friends seem as common and stale as the bread we have for breakfast. That’s not entirely true of course. We do value something much more in the friends dearest to us – a sort of ephemeral quality, indescribable and cherished.

We sometimes think of friends as variations of our shadows – similar yet different enough. It is also true to say we expect friends to stick with us to the very end. And perhaps the scenario of a friend ending up in trouble with us may well be the picture we sometimes have or hope for. Yet what is it that lets one friend out the door and another in?

Not because they can listen or joke. But because they offer more than other mere acquaintances in our lives. Anyone can sympathise with us by saying what we want to hear. A good friend will sympathetically point out our flaws – because we have a tendency to neglect our own shortcomings – and make us feel better and worse at the same time.

Such a friend seeks to improve us, not impose. A good friend influences, not manipulates, offers growth, not stagnation and reveals hurtful honesty instead of well-intended lies. Such a person does not require courage, be excitable or partake in gossip. We are made to think, to reflect and to be a better person today rather than to wait for tomorrow.

But it is possible to entirely miss the mark too. It is not enough to look outwards. We can ourselves, at times, be poor friends. After all, our education has seen to it that we are manufactured to memorise, not empathise. We are superficially encouraged to make friends, but not taught to understand, scrutinise or appreciate.

But the first step is to at least start thinking.

So, have you thought about what a good friend (or being a friend) means to you?