Little Ironies

Not too long ago, I was telling a few people in my family this:

In the life of every cup in our family (and probably millions of other families in the world), the water it ever contained is much less than the water used to wash it clean.

It was an irony, to poke fun at the fact that my family is a little too clean sometimes – too clean for our economic good. Of course, the fact that I declared has environmental implication but that’s not so much my central concern. But then I realized our self-regulating nature of our environment is full of ironies. I learnt, from Jared Diamond that successful forest fire fighting in United States resulted in ever worsening forest fires in current times. I also realised, from Thomas Schelling that in a ski resort, increasing the speed at which the chairlift brings people up the hill would not shorten the queues lining up to wait for the chairlift ride – instead, it will lengthen them.

And according to the latest survey on the brain by The Economist, it appears that while we believe that emotions always prevent us from making rational decisions, it is emotions that helps us make decisions because a emotionless mind simply knows the pros and cons of things, without the necessary fear that turns it away from the cons and anticipation or joy that draws it towards the pros. As a result, decisions can hardly be made by an emotionless mind. Having explained this, I guess I should naturally help readers understand the other two ironies I raised.

Successful forest fire fighting produces dense forest because vegetation that’s the most flammable and the irritating understory of the forest remains in place when it would be naturally wiped out by forest fires. That natural selection process, having been disturbed by human’s kind fire fighting efforts, makes the forest that’s supposed to have trees resistant to flames left standing rather spaced apart changed the landscape to a dense, ‘bushy’ forest overgrown with understory – extremely vulnerable to forest fires. That’s supposed to be why the forest fires that came up lately are harder to suppress and spreads much faster – leading to more hotspots. One more irony, or rather paradox – people don’t want deforestation that is necessary to make forest more resistant to fire, believing that it disturbs nature and yet can’t believe the fire department is going to fight future fires by letting forests burn down by natural fires to strengthen the forests’ resistance to flames.

And yes, the ski resort irony. The chairlift in ski resorts are continuous and so if people going on to the chairlifts are climbing up in the same speed as when the chairlifts are slightly slower, it means that the chairs have to be spaced further apart to allow more time for the people to climb on (relative to the speed at which the chairlift operates). This would in turn result in less chairs overall for the people. Well, in the ski resort, assuming that visitors number do not change before and after the adjustment in speed, people can only be doing a few things – skiing down the hill, queuing to go up the chairlifts, on the chairlifts or slacking somewhere else. Since those slacking somewhere else do not affect our equation, let’s assume they are constant in number and since those skiing down the hill will not be taking the chairlifts any time soon so we’ll also leave them out. That leaves us with 2 groups of people left – if there’s less people sitting in chairlifts at any moment, doesn’t that mean that more people will be in the queue? By the way, I must reiterate the fact that I picked this up from ‘MicroMotive and MacroBehaviour’ by Thomas Schelling, the 2005 Nobel Prize Economist (he wrote the book in 1971 though). I admit I koped this example.

Ironies are getting kind of irritating because I realised that the purpose that is always attached to some happenings is defeated due tp resulting or peripheral effects when it’s ironic. Unfortunately, life itself may be so as well (remember the part about living to die?).

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