Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Random Thoughts on Randomness

I wasn't planning to post. In the wake of yesterday's horror story, I am reluctant to say anything, because most anything one says will sound trite, vicious, stupid, or agenda-driven. I suppose that's the point of a trauma: it shatters one's usual categories for interpreting and understanding reality, and we are left to reassemble the pieces of our narrative in more or less defective ways.

Leading up to the trauma (any trauma), Everything Makes Sense. Of course, it -- meaning life -- never really makes sense. Rather, we simply superimpose a grid of logic and predictability, which most of the time works. But trauma comes along and reminds us that our narrative grid is just a fairy tale.

On a more micro level, think of Tom Petty. I was reading this morning of how he was a tortured soul who struggled with an abusive childhood, insecurity, severe depression, a miserable marriage, heroin addiction, and alienation from his children.

Nevertheless, he apparently came through it all, and then BOOM! The worst sting of all, just when you least suspect it. Indeed, if Petty were conscious, he might well have said something like, "What's this?! This can't be! I battled my demons for decades and came out the other side of hell! You know, resurrected!"

That same cosmic BOOM is awaiting us all, no matter how many comforting stories we tell ourselves. And perhaps more often than not, it will be a Total Surprise, as it was for the victims in Las Vegas. Were they ready for it? What a stupid question! How many people have the luxury to meditate on their death every day, to keep it front and center, such that it is the Constant Companion? And even then.

People understandably don't like to ponder the randomness of it all. If our personal fairy tales are there to deny the power of chance, our collective ones attempt to do so in a more systematic way.

As to the latter, you might say that this approach tries to situate the random element in a higher order -- similar to how Thelonious Monk could take the sour note and integrate it into a deeper harmonic structure. That requires a large musical mind. The smaller mind will just hear the wrong note and not know what to do with it. It's just a mistake instead of an uppertunity.

I think it takes a wide and capacious soul to acknowledge the power of chance, which amounts to conceding our permanent and insurmountable ignorance.

Churchill for example, observes that "The longer one lives, the more one realizes that everything depends upon chance," and that "Chance, Fortune, Luck, Destiny, Fate, Providence" are but "different ways of expressing the same thing, to wit, that a man's own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external superior power":

If anyone will look back over the course of even ten years' experience, he will see that many incidents, utterly unimportant in themselves, have in fact governed the whole of his fortunes and career.

Especially in war, "Chance casts aside all veils and disguises and presents herself nakedly from moment to moment as the direct arbiter of all persons and events."

Churchill knows of what he writes. Examples from his life abound, but on one occasion during WWI, when stationed at the front, he was called to a pointless meeting that was ultimately canceled anyway. Five minutes after he grudgingly took off for it, a bomb landed in his trench.

What is one to think in the wake of such a near miss? Yes, "I was spared." But why? And by Whom? And why not the others? Etc. Churchill was aware of a "strong sensation that a hand had been stretched out to move me in the nick of time from a fatal spot." But he doesn't pretend to understand the nature of the Hand.

Can we control the Hand? No, of course not. The best we can hope to do is tip the scales. There is no 100%. I would compare it to the casino, where the odds are always tipped in favor of the house.

Indeed, the house -- Death -- always wins in the end. But perhaps we can do things to delay his triumph. I, for example, have type 1 diabetes. That's a big tilt in favor of the house. Therefore, I do everything I can to nudge it back in my direction, for example, taking medications to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol even lower than they already are, working out every day, avoiding stress, sleeping well, getting enough alcohol, etc.

But we can never actually see the state of the playing field. I'm trying to tip it in my favor, but there is no controlled experiment. You can do everything right, but things nevertheless can and will turn out wrong.

Perhaps in the end, the best we can do is place the randomness in a higher order, a la Monk. Is this an intellectual dodge? I don't think so; chance presumes predictability; randomness must be parasitic on order. Indeed, the only reason we can perceive chance is because of order. Otherwise the two would be indistinguishable.

Robert Spitzer writes that "Death and loss are intensely negative moments within an ultimately loving eternity."

In this context, our brief lives are "a time for choosing who we are and who we will become." Thus, "Death is significant for only one major reason -- to compel us to make the fundamental decisions that will define our eternal character."

We know when things go wrong. But we will never know how many times the angel of death has passed us by. No one can hear or see the countless bullets flying past as we navigate from one horizon to the other. There is one with our name on it, but that should only serve to keep our souls concentrated on that distant shore.

12 comments:

Van Harvey said...

Yep.

ted said...

Beautiful post.

EbonyRaptor said...

The randomness of tragedy hits us all at multiple points in our lives. Be it to ourselves, our loved ones, friends, community, country. We all have too many tragic stories to tell, but I will tell one that happened 2 weeks ago to the daughter of close friends - "Jessie". She is a 19 year old who made some poor decisions through her high school years, as so many do, but she had one thing that kept her grounded - horseback riding. Jessie has been riding since she was 4 and she's quite accomplished. I don't know the name of the event, but she took 1st prize in jumping at a pretty big local event. There's even talk she may be good enough to compete nationally.

One week after being Grand Champion, she was in a car accident. She sustained multiple fractures in both legs and arms. She almost died before the emergency crew cut cut her out of the wreck. She has had 7 surgeries in 14 days and more to come. The prognosis is she should be able to walk again after who knows how many more surgeries and physical therapy, but she will never ride again, at least not competitively. How this loss will affect Jessie emotionally and where her life's walk will go is to be determined.

Blink of an eye.

julie said...

No one can hear or see the countless bullets flying past as we navigate from one horizon to the other. There is one with our name on it, but that should only serve to keep our souls concentrated on that distant shore.

Amen.

Anonymous said...

From the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter IV, The Instruments of Good Works:

(47) To keep death before one's eyes daily.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Thanks, Bob.

JP said...

"Leading up to the trauma (any trauma), Everything Makes Sense. Of course, it -- meaning life -- never really makes sense. Rather, we simply superimpose a grid of logic and predictability, which most of the time works. But trauma comes along and reminds us that our narrative grid is just a fairy tale."

Well, there is an underlying grid of logic and predictability. There always is. The ultimate problem is the inability to see though the walls to in order to truly know "The Real Story." And narrative arcs are never the real story. Narrative arcs are frameworks kludged together that we tell ourselves because you have to have a story. There has to be *something* there. So you fill the blank spaces with various narrative dross and pretty lies. Sometimes you finally close the gap into knowledge. And sometimes, the truth truly is catastrophic.

The logic and predictability in this case is that in the time leading up to this event, the chance for catastrophic slaughter slowly rose from zero to 100% and nobody noticed. That's the way these things happen. That's the way they always happen.

Things do, in fact, "happen for a reason". Chance/chaos is *a reason*. Mental illness is *a reason*. Right action is *a reason* And naked evil is *a reason*. At the end of the day things *Always Make Sense* but you have to know *The Real Story*. Good luck finding the real story. Good luck finding the Akashic records. And if you do find them, good luck being able to read them.

And with respect to randomness and chance, it is best to remember that in order to create order you have to first have randomness and chance. Chaos is the ultimate source and precursor of order. Otherwise, we would run around stealing from each other. And just as in order to have something, you must first have nothing from which to make it.

But things like this create massive wounds and tears. Useless suffering, torment, and pain.

Gagdad Bob said...

To paraphrase Schuon, life is a tapestry of chance and necessity. Or geometry and music. Or law and freedom. Or compulsion and slack.

Gagdad Bob said...

--Chaos is the ultimate source and precursor of order.

I don't see how that can be the case, because the greater cannot come from the lesser. I would say that Order uses chaos to achieve higher integrations.

--Chance/chaos is *a reason*. Mental illness is *a reason*. Right action is *a reason* And naked evil is *a reason*.

I wonder. Mental illness and evil are privations -- ultimately the substance of nothing, so to speak. I was thinking about this yesterday, in the context of Freud's widely rejected positing of a "death instinct." Just because his theory is wrong, that doesn't mean the phenomena don't exist. There is indeed something in man that loves darkness, death, and destruction. What is it?


JP said...

"--Chaos is the ultimate source and precursor of order.

I don't see how that can be the case, because the greater cannot come from the lesser. I would say that Order uses chaos to achieve higher integrations."

That's true, the greater cannot come from the lesser. You have to have order prior to chaos in order for the chaos to have any value. However, order need *something* not-order to achieve higher integrations.

I think that your statement "would say that Order uses chaos to achieve higher integrations" is a better way of putting what I was trying to say.

Van Harvey said...

Gaghdad said "...There is indeed something in man that loves darkness, death, and destruction. What is it?"


Perhaps, ironically, a fear of falling. The path tho understanding, to truth, even to Slack, requires further integration, a leaning out over the edge of error to connect This True thing, with another... but what if, despite appearances, they don't go together? Then you fail, and risk falling. True, that failure might, eventually lead you to the True connection... but in the meantime, you fail, you Fall.

Scary.

Much easier to hold fast, grabbing what's within reach, and forcing them together. Sure, it's wrong, it's false, it's a Lie... but it's easy, and done without that lurching risk of falling.

And so, of course, you truly fall, at a moral rate of 32' per second, per second. But you do so without having to risk letting go of whay you've got.

Van Harvey said...

It's darkness, but it's safe, and enticing, and it breeds resentment of those leapers after Truth. KNOCK. THOSE. BASTARDS. DOWN.

I'm safe.

Wheeeee.....