Friday, March 5, 2010

Uncertain Destiny

Financial markets, it is said, abhor uncertainty. Put another way, stock markets tend to suffer their worst falls not due to some terrible event, but rather in anticipation of a future occurrence where specifics remain unknown. This, of course, is due to the fact that humans tend to overestimate the impact of future events (both good and bad). Indeed, studies have shown that people who lose their sight, or both their legs, or some other "critical" function deemed "necessary" by most of us, tend to generally adapt quite well to their new state of affairs. Conversely, the positive effect of things we expect to make us happy (new job, big house, beautiful wife) tend to wear off must faster than we expect (again, as we adapt to our new reality).

In short, reality is relative. Thus, many people remain unhappy despite the fact that large swaths of humanity today live better than the most powerful king a few hundred years ago. The fact that we have central heat, and air conditioning, and unimaginably plentiful food supplies is simply not all that impressive when our neighbor has a new boat...

But this is not really the path we want to follow today. Instead, we have been thinking about uncertainty as it relates to our own destiny. The ultimate destiny is well known, of course (even if we take extreme measures to avoid acknowledging this fact), but the timing remains uncertain. But what if it were not?

Consider, for the sake of argument, that the maximum human lifespan has been conclusively proven to be 50 years. While people can die before reaching 50, no one survives past this age. Society, therefore, is organized a bit differently. People who fall ill in their late 40s, for example, generally reject expensive and involved treatments, instead opting for smaller measures that simply make them more comfortable. Moreover, there is little grief for those who die at or near 50--after all, they lived as long as possible!

Indeed, 49th birthday parties are generally lavish affairs where people celebrate their achievement of this penultimate milestone. Time Magazine interviewed someone on the day before his 50th birthday and asked if he were afraid. "Of what?" he answered. "I know what is coming, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I made peace with my destiny many years ago."

Often, when we see stories about terminally ill patients, the patients themselves have come to terms with the inevitability of their own death (even as family members have not). The knowledge that death will come soon, in other words, forces one to confront death as real (as opposed to some abstract concept). No need to save for retirement! No need to worry about next week's party! Promotion? What promotion?!?

Hmm...sounds like a pretty good way to live. Pity it's only available to those with a finite lifespan...


  1. This. Right now. This is your life.


  2. Hello,

    I always love to read your post. But i wonder how you ignored E.m. Cioran. Recently i read " Height of despair", a wonderful book explaining the the absurd realities of human life.


  3. Nice new fresh hell, Rick.

    Doesn't it suck that there's nothing really new about it, even though it's on your fresh new blog?

    I've discovered a new hobby: looking up quotes by authors I like but haven't made much time to read when I'm baffled for something to say:

    "Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acid stains you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren't lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live."

    That's by Dorothea Parker.
    But I'm just somebody on the internet.
    It's possible I'm wrong.

  4. That's Dorothy Parker (not Dorothea).

    My favorite Dottie quip? When someone asked why she hadn't met a deadline at the New Yorker, she quipped, "I was too fucking busy, or vice versa."

  5. I'm wrong and right both. That's incoherent, but not a joke.

    Sorry for the volume of the acidity. Here's an excuse: I think there's something about the combination of anonymity and important subjects that really encourages holy wars over nothing.

    I think everybody who's put some effort into this blog, particularly both it's founders, are admirable at the least for the commitment they've shown to what they've said.

    There's a lot of thought on these pages.

    Too much thought? Who cares.

    --Some guy in California.

    I wrote a handful of the posts as Anonymous, and the Mysterious Mel posts from the page before.

  6. Oh, and thanks for the D.P. story, other Anonymous person. I'm always making typos.

  7. Rick, heck of a last sentence man. That was something. I loved that part.

    I'd still love to get some thoughts on this some time (its a quote from a prior comment of mine):
    “I honestly think (even in its purest form and without being a secret play for immortality) that a few people can get genuine CURRENT utility out of contributing to something they love which will outlive them.” And we get that utility merely because this too taps into some instinct we have from natural selection. This is a subtle point, but I think its real. There is a way to live in the moment, purely, aware that life is temporary and without Meaning, yet unselfishly building something for the future, not because it Matters, but because sometimes that's just what we are, what we do.

    M Mel, no probs because you're right that there's rarely anything new, but these things take repeating huh? One thing I've noticed about Rick, he's damned hard to insult. Here, watch this: “Hey Rick, you're ugly and stupid!”

    Also, yea, I love to think, and hence I love a place where people don't mind things being thought through. Thanks mucho for supporting that mode.

    On the other hand, sometimes its pretty simple. I just am this thing that I am. There's nothing else to say.


  8. Thank you Arthur, and thanks ya'll. Truth indeterminate, and I need some sleep. It may take me a while to get enough perspective on the last week or so that I'll feel like posting, but I'll be around.

    I keep coming back here because I really like this blog.

    --M Mel

  9. Nevermore

    --A Raven

  10. I'm a very stubborn person. Stubborn in a funny way. I make lines in my mental sand, don't announce them to the world, and then I'm surprised when people cross them.

    What is new here is the shiny new blog, as well as all the writing. But how is it possible that anybody could ever seriously be worried about a raven?

    --M Mel

  11. I am now the same age as my mother when she died...brings home my mortality...if she died, so could I...not going to yet though, teehee...

  12. Sysyphus: The Video Game. There's just two buttons. One says "push." The other says "Let it go."

    I really have no idea where this crap comes from.


  13. Sorry, Judy. I somehow ignored your post when I posted that snippet of bitterness.

  14. SO, Judy. This blog page is pretty much meaningless now. This band was cool in their early days, when nobody knew who they were.

    You should think about calling a friend?


  15. So I donated 100 pounds (what is that in Dollars?) to a charity today. If anybody ever reads this blog, maybe you could just do something good instead of worrying about yourself.

    ...Try it. Just for the change.

    --Mysterious Melvin, a pretty good dude.

  16. Anonymous...I haven't been reading too long...but finding it very interesting...have often thought about the GB lifestyle...dirt floor hut on the beach or anywhere...haven't been able to get there yet...maybe someday...have not embraced the absurd thing...understand it, but haven't been able to live it...maybe when I'm the matriarch and everyone else can take care of themselves...

    Nice thing is the pay for the fellow behind you in the the grocery...anywhere...