A case for amoeboid boundaries

Kavipriya Adhinarayanan
4 min readSep 19, 2022


Unlike any other species on the planet, Homo Sapiens have the distinctive ability to communicate complex thoughts with one another, thanks to one of the significant byproducts of their cognitive development — language. The fact that we could come up with a finite system of symbols and syntaxes that allows us to communicate infinite possible messages with one another, is simply mind-boggling to me. Not to mention, the richness of our languages is only ever expanding with the increasing richness of human culture and intellect.

Have you ever taken a stroll in the forest by yourself, and experienced a feeling of calm and quiet serenity, as the solitude lets you feel connected to nature. Have you then tried to explain this complex feeling to another person. I usually fumble around for words when I try to explain this in any of the languages I know, but the German language can describe this complex feeling in just one word — Waldeinsamkeit. To put the richness of our languages even more in perspective, there are more than 7000 languages spoken in the world today, there are over a million words in the English language alone, and we keep adding about a thousand more words to it every year. While I quite often wonder about the efficacy of rich vocabulary in communication, today I wondered about the other side of the coin that I don’t see as often.

What was I saying again ?

It took just two words to trigger this train of thought in me — Optimism and Pessimism. Two words that are easily among the most oversimplified words we speak today. In their oversimplified colloquial version, they seem to mean:

Optimism: A tendency to think that everything will be fine eventually.

Pessimism: A tendency to think that nothing will ever be fine.

On the face of it, these two definitions might look like polar opposites, but on taking a deeper look one would realize that they are both actually quite similar in meaning. Both refer to a thought process that will lead to inaction. Quite understandably, no one would want to do something if the outcome is already determined, be it either desirable or undesirable. However, completely contrary to their colloquial definitions, optimism and pessimism are what determine how one would “act” in the face of adversity. If we were to forget these two words for a moment and simply try to describe the best way to deal with a difficult situation to not let it derail us, it might look something like this —

Identify and act upon what you can change about the situation and accept what you cannot change about it. Then mentally reframe the situation by identifying the opportunity in the difficulty.

Now, would this fit under optimism or pessimism? I think both. Identifying what you cannot change about the situation and accepting it for what it is, requires a certain degree of pessimism. Whereas, identifying the opportunity in the difficulty requires a certain degree of optimism. If optimism and pessimism were muscles, they would be like the quadriceps and the hamstrings that work together to help you move your legs. No matter how much strong your quadriceps are, you cannot run for long if you ignore to train your hamstrings, or the other way around. It is therefore pointless trying to pick one over the other.

Proliferation of vocabulary has led to what I like to refer to as “self-labelism” — a tendency to give ourselves a label, draw a small circle around us based on our limited understanding of that label, and refuse to look outside that circle, let alone step outside of it. For instance if you fall into a river, neither calling yourself an optimist and hoping for the best, nor calling yourself a pessimist and desponding will save you. On the other hand, looking for something to grab onto, kicking the water, shouting for help, or proactively learning how to swim might actually save you. You can give it whatever name you want.

While thinking about labels, it is worth asking — Is the label we give ourselves reflective of what we do, or is what we do consequential of the label we give ourselves? No matter what qualities we choose to associate ourselves with, be it optimism, pessimism, pragmatism, idealism, or a million other “-ism”, the truth is that we have to possess a good measure of Everything Everywhere All at Once*. So if at all you choose to draw a boundary around yourself, at least make it amoeboid — the boundary has got to keep moving and alter its shape all the time, just like the unicellular organism.

*This is not a plug for the movie of the same name, nor is this article related to the movie. But now that we are talking about it, I must say it is a good movie.



Kavipriya Adhinarayanan

Software Developer | Excessive Thinker | Unapologetically Me