Sunday, May 11, 2003

Possibility Space and The Chopstick of Doom

If my artistic skills weren't completely atrophied, I could do a picture or animation. But, they are, so, picture this:

Take a string 15" long, and thumbtack it to a table in front of your left hand. Pick up the free end with your right hand and hold the string at a 45 degree angle. Then take a chopstick (originally a pencil, but The Chopstick of Doom has a nice ring to it) in your left hand; place it next to the thumbtack; then slide it along the table towards the right. The moving chopstick represents your life passing; the distance of the string from the table represents your possibilty space -- the things you can do with your life. As your life passes, your possibility space decreases. When the chopstick meets the end of the string, the string is on table. This is you on your deathbed, when you have only one possibility: you're going to die.

The change of course really isn't smooth. There are times in your life when you collapse many possibilities into a single future: when you decide where to go to college or who to marry; when you pick your major or career; when you start or change jobs.

Do you ever get chances to increase your possibility space? Yes, I think so. Mid-life career changes, divorce, moving to a new city -- these can all do it.

A bad mental trap I think it is easy to fall into is to dwell on the possibilities that you did not choose ("the path not taken"). Doing this evokes the bittersweet emotion, which can be pleasant. But, I think it is basically your death wish talking to you. I think about the past very little. I learn lessons or form theories based on experience that I fit into my worldview, then I forget the details and move on. We all live life in the Now, whether we like it or not. We can affect the future, so that is what we should focus on ("the future, the future"). The past is dead and gone, forget it.

I have learned that memories fade if you don't reinforce them by remembering them. After replaying a memory, you can now additionally remember yourself remembering the memory, and remembering remembering ... ad infinitum. All this burns it into your neurons. Refuse to think about an unpleasant memory, and it will fade (neuron activation potentials increase when the neuron is not fired frequently?).

I have always enjoyed the bittersweet emotion. Fall is my favorite time of year, everything dying :-> I think it has to do with genes for alcoholism, which I think give a tendency to depression and represent a death wish. I think I have moved past that tho.

The antebellum South (re "Gone with the Wind") was the essence of bittersweet. It was stately and beautiful, but it was rotten at the core with slavery. I think that The Band's self titled album "The Band" really had the Southern bittersweet thing down. Then you find out, Robbie Robertson is from Toronto and got his info on the South from reading Faulkner when he was a teenager! Still, one of my top 50 albums.

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