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Straight Line Theory.

Way back in my college mathematics days I came up with a simple yet highly philosophical theory about people’s motivations, goals and the direction that they take to get them. I came up with it initially when tackling the problem of parking somewhere, and the seemingly strange way people would attempt to park as to avoid walking too far. The idea came from the basic mathematical principle that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. Take the example we have below, a typical car park with the destination labelled:

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Now, the typical behaviour observed in this kind of situation is for the first row (1-1 through 1-6) to fill up first, as they are perceived as being the closest to the destination. However, this is not the case, if we draw in a circle originating from the center of the goal we’ll see the direct straight line distances between the spots and destination, shown thusly:

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The distance to the destination is actually about the same for 2-1 and 1-3, however most people would only take into account one dimension when thinking about the shortest path to their goal, and 1-3 looks much more attractive then 2-1.

This theory applies to almost any endeavour that someone may undertake during their lifetime. The quickest path to your goal is always the one with the smallest amount of deviations from the path. You’ll notice people who don’t reach their goals are often distracted from their desired path easily, and instead end up taking a wobbly path to their goal instead of heading straight for it. I’ve known quite a lot of people who are very successful despite their experience in a field and when questioned about it the response is always the same: “I knew what I wanted to do and I just went for it”.

I thought about this idea constantly for a long time and I ended up asking myself, do mathematicians lead significantly different lives to “normal” people? The question is inheritly flawed, as all of us lead decidedly different lives from what anyone could call normal, and I’m sure we all have different definitions of what a normal life entails. Rather, I came to the conclusion that depending on what your passion is in your life your perspective will change because of it. I’m an IT engineer and as that all my problems get framed in terms of technology and processes. Someone who is say a nutritionist will frame their view around keeping their mind and body healthy and so on. It’s an extrapolation on that old saying, when all you have is a hammer all your problems look like nails.

So, whatever you do in your life look for the straight line. Keep your eye fixed firmly on the goal and start walking directly for it, you’ll be suprised how quickly you can achieve something when you don’t let other distractions get in the way.

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  1. Certainly our world views are deeply shaped by the professions and attributes we are used to in the world. Indeed there is an entire theory of ‘Constructivism’ within politics noting that it is the social construction of reality that contributes more to how we experience and understand situations than any quantifiable determinants.

    And as a Political Scientist I see the world very much in terms of power relationships. Thats my field, thats it’s essence. Though what will pickle your noodle is if this is because I’ve been educated to think like that, or I understand and enjoy politics because I already think like that?

  2. “Though what will pickle your noodle is if this is because I’ve been educated to think like that, or I understand and enjoy politics because I already think like that?”

    That question is unimportant as it does not affect what you are currently doing. Whilst understanding motives is one of the prime areas of importance in politics it is also improtant to choose the right motives to question.

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