Disproportion may be a great resource in solving critical problems
We expect all things around us to be in proportion. The room where we sleep should not be too high or too low for maintaining our sleeping comfort. The road we walk on should be of same level all the way. These comfortable ranges are in proportion to our human body size and all normal human movement aspects.
The mobiles that we use have increased continuously in size, but after a while changed its name to Tab, not mobile anymore. In any case the limiting size is the smallest laptop. You would find today that most of the smartphones are of nearly similar sizes. The factor deciding the normal range of size of mobiles is nothing other than size of our palms.
This class of proportion relates to individual things. The sizes of all things that we use during our daily lives have finally stabilized to their optimum sizes in relation to how we use them. The tables are of standard height. The pen that I am writing with is of a standard length.
Just examine all possible things that you are familiar with. Usually in everything you would find a familiar proportion.
Moving one step further, if we consider composite objects, we would have proportions again. Just as the nib will have a certain expected proportion to the whole length of the pen, a car will have similar proportions between its engine size and the size of the car.
A laptop screen may be small or wide, but it will surely be in proportion to the size of the laptop itself.
Nature is more thorough in maintaining its proportions. In nature though proportions are embedded deeper, as nature took a longer time to arrive at these optimum proportions for various living or non-living things it cradles.
The height of the trees to its girth at the base, the size of a seed in an orange to the size of the orange or the amount of blood that an average human would have to the size of the human will all follow certain proportions.
The seed can never be larger than fruit itself.
Proportions need measurement
To be able to say that something is in proportion to another thing, basically we need to compare. It may be duration of time, length of a sleeping room or the size of a seed. Elaborate measurement systems aid us in understanding the proportions. This is the area of metrics.
But when we judge proportions personally, we don’t actually measure. Rather we estimate.
Problem solving skill of estimation
Estimating skill is one of the most fundamental problem solving skills in us. Without it we may not be able to take a single step forward in many of the problem situations. Conversely with a strongly developed estimating ability, we may be able to sense that something is wrong at a certain problem situation, and strive to take suitable actions to rectify the situation immediately.
There are ways to improve our basic problem solving estimation skills from inherited and automatically acquired levels.
The inherent and acquired estimation abilities in us
Two of the important estimating abilities in us are – estimation of time and length or size. But there are many subtle inherent estimation abilities in us that we may not be aware of at all. These are reflexive or acquired automatically through experience.
All humans have an internal biological clock which ticks on in sync with environment and daily routines till it is severely disturbed by some external event such as flying across continents to a different time zone with a large separation of reference times.
Here comes the critical factor of judgmental estimation – the degree of disproportion. We won’t be able to differentiate easily between the sizes of two ants, but for anyone it would be a cakewalk to differentiate between the sizes of a mouse and an elephant.
Whenever degree of disproportion is significant, our alert mechanisms come into play, and we become aware of the abnormality in dimension, tangible (in size) or intangible (in length of time).
This is disproportion and embodied in the problem solving Principle of disproportion,
Identify a significant disproportion in any important element of the problem environment, and analyze the reasons behind it to use the disproportion itself as a valuable resource for solving the problem.
The significance of disproportion though may not be only in terms of quantity, it may very well be in the nature or quality of the disproportion.
Old idioms and proverbs expressing abnormal disproportion
Over generations, based on our experience we have come to express the abnormal disproportion in various ways. In our part of the world the most forceful expression we find is,
বারো হাত কাঁকুড়ের তেরো হাত বীচি
This is in Bengali and in crude translation it means a thirteen feet seed in a twelve feet melon.
The nearest such idioms that we find in English are, in some places,
Use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Or in some other places,
Shoot a canon to kill a fly.
These idioms in English are though action oriented, possibly in keeping with the ways of the users of the language.
Whatever the orientation of an idiom or proverb is, these whole lot of idioms and proverbs signify valuable truths or usable rules borne out of long experiences. And significantly these, if embedded in us from our childhood, will give us an invaluable resource of real life problem solving rules.
When in serious danger the reflexive sense of disproportions may be activated
This is the way of mind. It has got its own methods and at all times tries to protect the container, that is, the living body. When in extreme danger or totally cornered, an ability hidden deep down, of which you were totally unaware, suddenly becomes active and leads you towards the solution.
We recommend though,
Conscious nurturing of estimating abilities and use of sense of disproportion in varieties of dimensions.
Case story - Lost in the forest
That was mid-seventies, early September. Rains had stopped. Dark clouds cleared. Sun shone all day. One fine day during a period of no study pressure, seven friends boarded a train to Daltongunge—destination Betla forests and beyond.
At Daltongunge, stay at Betla forest was arranged, a jeep ride assured and best of all, after Betla a permission for two days' stay in a lonely PWD bungalow just outside Betla reserve forest at Garu also achieved.
Refreshed by the rest at Daltongunge, they started for Betla and after happy two days at Betla, they boarded a bus towards Garu!
It was morning. Mild sun and blue rain washed sky. All of them were on top of the bus, singing; moving through moderately dense forests on both sides and open skies overhead.
Suddenly faint roar of rushing water could be heard on the right side of the road. Without any warning, the bus turned right and the wheels rolled on the surface of a bridge across the till now hidden river. Angry muddy waves roared on down below. After the rains river Koel was in full flow and a beauty.
Eyes looked up from the water below to the scene ahead. Breath stopped. Low hill after hill all around standing still in a blue haze; green blue hills as far as the eye could gaze—nothing else—no sign of human habitation anywhere. Shockingly beautiful—never to be erased from memory.
In a few minutes, on the right of the now narrow road stood the small building with three rooms—a modest abode. They got down from the roof of the bus, took down their luggage and stepped on to the small path leading to the rest house.
The midday meal in the nearby village was simple but fulfilling. While resting on the charpoys after the meal, stories were told. An old man casually mentioned an elephant trampling two men in the rice fields only two days back. Oh yes, these jungles are full of elephants, he confirmed.
Those seven were learned young men from a big city. Among many important pieces of knowledge they had also learned about the large animal called elephant; all of them had seen elephants in the zoo of their city and had even read stories about elephants.
Here now, they were soaking themselves in the primitive world around, enjoying its unexpected beauty. Elephants trampling people! Oh well, it happened quite a while ago. Now it is sun filled bluish hazy day; a lone eagle circling high above. They could see the thick green wall of the dense forest on the other side of the river Koel, beckoning. Koel formed a boundary of the Betla forest. The progress of forest was abruptly stopped by Koel. This side of the river had only open fields and low hills.
They just had to cross the bridge and be inside the deep forest; those days the forest was still dense. They came here only to be near to this forest, to be inside the greens, to be one with the nature.
Befriending a forest guard they got up. The modestly uniformed confident looking guard assured them his company for a walk in the forest after an hour of rest.
A stroll in the forest
After a bit of post-lunch rest as scheduled the forest guard arrived and the friends immediately got up and in no time were on their way. The guard told stories about his experience. For more than four years he was roaming these forests, doing his routine duties. He knew the trees, the narrow trails and the wider pathways like the back of his palm. All felt secure in the knowledge that they were with a man for whom the forest is a playground. In this quiet confidence, the forest lost all its dangers. It was transformed to a park, a bit wild, but still a park for them—literally.
They were in casual dress. It would only be a stroll in the park, maybe for one or two hours and no civilization around to constrain them in any way. This was freedom in the midst of untainted nature.
Crossing the bridge, they turned right, away from the bus route and entered the forest. Soon they were on a comfortable wide stretch devoid of trees to walk on. Long ago this stretch must have been cleared up as a Jeep road by cutting off the trees and clearing the undergrowth. It was as good as a road for them. The surface of the stretch had become covered again by grass and young undergrowth that couldn’t pose much difficulty to walking. Only a little later though, the guide stopped abruptly on the left side of the road and pointed to a very narrow trail into the wall of the forest. They took up the trail and had to bend down to move through the overhanging branches of trees.
Unlike Betla, the forest was very thick in this area. The tall trees jostled against each other. Thick undergrowth covered the forest floor. The guide told them in a hushed voice that the trail belonged to animals. On this trail, only animals moved. They felt a touch of danger. They were on an animal trail! They might meet one any moment; so romantic! The guide could read their mind and comforted them, “No danger now. Deer, boars and other small animals only move on this path; and now no animal would be around.” His assurance was not really needed; they were supremely happy and couldn’t imagine at all any animal bothering them.
The path tortuously went on into the thick forest through green walls of trees and undergrowth on both sides. They went on chattering happily but in subdued tones. After all, they were on an animal trail, bothersome or not, they were not eager to meet any animal now. A heavy downpour started without any warning. They huddled together under a large tree and got drenched to the skin. Rain stopped and sun came out again. Walk started.
Moving together this way with close friends and a man knowing the paths was deep pleasure. Hours passed. They had totally forgotten about the elephants.
The guide finally stopped, looked up at the sky and alerted them, “Soon it will be dark, let us turn back.”
It was journey back to the civilization now. Chattering started again—the group of friends was totally relaxed, perhaps the guard also was. They walked on the trail with more assurance. Quickly the end of the narrow trail was reached. The group stepped out on the wide grass covered forest road and turned towards their temporary home across the bridge on river Koel. Evening was descending.
On the way back
The day was ending. Forest walk was over and it was now on the way back to the small three roomed brick building across the roaring river Koel.
The guide walked in front—silent vigilant responsible leader. They followed him without any thought or worries in their minds. A wonderful forest walk had just ended. They still carried those pleasurable moments of walking along the narrow animal trail head down in a single file with a faint tingling of apprehension of danger deeper into the heart of the forest. A feeling of well-being permeated them. They chattered, laughed and walked with relaxed quick aimless steps towards the assurance of warm cozy lighted rooms in the midst of darkness all around.
They felt as if they were the only living beings in the world. The whole jungle the sky the river all belonged to them. It was a wonderful feeling.
They didn't notice when the guide had increased his pace. They followed him without any thought. Time had no meaning for them. Darkness fell some time back. The powerful torch held forward by the guide created a spreading beam of light that quickly merged with darkness in front and on two sides. He moved silently, with stolid determined steps forward.
I walked with a slightly disconnected mind. I watched the clumps of darkness around and on the path ahead; tried to hear chance animal calls. It would have been so nice to hear a wild animal call while walking in the night forest.
The first sense of odd
Like all things, sameness change, new situation arises. I noticed first that we were walking too long. My internal clock alerted me.
I had an idea of the time we had taken to reach the fork from the bridge on Koel from where we took the animal trail. I felt more or less sure that now on our return path we were walking much too long after coming out of the fork from inside the forest.
I called out to the guard and stopped him. All of us stopped. I told him my concern and tried to explain with not much of a concrete proof that we were walking too long after coming out on the wide stretch leading to the bridge. “By now we should surely have reached the bridge”, I told him. The guard patiently listened to me and with just a shake of his head turned round. He was the leader.
But this brief halt changed the mood of the group. Our pace increased and voice lowered; words spoken fewer. We were apprehensive—not really afraid, but somehow the group felt something was wrong. A faint whiff of danger blew in.
For conviction more than one proof needed
I was by then very restless. I was sure that a great mistake had been committed, but I didn't know how it happened and still more important, I had no proof. Suddenly the guard veered a little from his straight walk avoiding something on his path. We also saw it soon. A large pile of elephant dung still smoking lay on our path. That was the time fear swooped down on us. But we had no option but to follow the hapless guard onward ahead. I was sure the guard also understood his mistake but couldn't believe it.
Unmistakable proof – the second odd
Then suddenly, I got the clinching proof. The realization came to me all of a sudden. In a flash.
While coming from the bridge into the jungle along wide stretch of this path, I remembered that the ground rose in a mild slope gradually upwards. And now after a few hours of walking, the ground was still rising upwards. Without any hesitation I ordered the guard to stop and then explained.
While coming into the forest, the ground rise was very mild and I didn’t notice it consciously. In this case, on the way back my senses expected the ground to slope downwards. The discrepancy was so subtle it couldn’t have been recognized consciously. This was not a case of large disproportion. Nevertheless it was the most significant disproportion under the situation – kind of sun rising in the west. The degree was not significant but the nature was.
The detection of the discrepancy came out of primitive sensory analysis that supposedly all humans have and not out of conscious thinking. That is our last resort in a crunch. Nevertheless the pressure of continuous search for the second proof perhaps threw up the crucial disproportion from the depths of the mind.
To this day I remember his face in the light and shadow of his torch when he heard me through. He was a dark skinned man. When I finished, all color drained, his face was literally ashen white. He understood, I understood and all of us understood.
On the way back when we came out of the deeper forest onto the wide path leading to the bridge, our friend the guard had taken a left turn instead of a right and led us for more than an hour in exactly the opposite direction deeper into the night forest away from the bridge.
We huddled together in the middle of the stretch and the guard ran from tree to tree with his torch, examining the white markings that perhaps he himself had made on the tree trunks as a part of his work. Within a few minutes he finally convinced himself. He could recognize the trees.
He walked towards us; to his credit he admitted his mistake to us, tried to comfort us and told us not to run or talk loudly. We were to follow him silently, fast but not running. In this dark wet forest running may bring danger.
We turned back and then started our very long half run towards safety. We were at least one and half hours deep into the forest away from the bridge. It was nearly eight in the night. And only two days ago two men were trampled by the elephants near the village across the bridge, outside not even inside this jungle where the elephants live.
The after lunch story now took shape. Large elephants stood in front on two sides and also behind waiting for us. On any moment some of them may charge and trample us. Didn’t we know so many stories of how deadly elephants are!
Every large bush in front formed a suspicious shadow till we came abreast and went past it. Our young hearts continued beating. Temporary insanity gripped a few of the group. Terror reigned supreme. It spread far and wide, deep and near. It seeped in and enveloped our soul.
The torchlight now dim in front swayed on and on forward. Hoping against hope we looked ahead with strained eyes for the sign of the bridge. Interminable minute after endless minute ticked away inside our heads. Won’t this torture ever end!
At last, after the longest stretch of hopeless time for each of us, the bridge lay ahead. On a near run we stepped on to the bridge, the jungle lay behind. Still we looked back frequently. The elephant could also step on the bridge like us!
Bridge ended, road started. Only a small distance away stood our three roomed safety. The gate opened hurriedly, the last few yards to the room and at last into the room. Oh we are saved, still alive!
The small building had three rooms. All of us slept in one room that night.
Next morning we woke up late. It was a slow morning. At noon we boarded the lone bus honking along an empty road back towards civilization and home.
Postscript: Later in life most of the group had developed a strong affinity to the forests - human psyche is mysterious!