The other day I was running through a park nearby my house, and I stopped and looked at a Cow chewing on some grass. The cow was staring into space chewing away, from my perspective, not seeming to give much of a fuck about anything, including the grass in its mouth (some of which was falling out as she chewed). The cow certainly didn’t appear to be worrying about what was going to happen to her tomorrow or fretting over decisions made in her past. From my vantage point, it was difficult for me to envisage the cow thinking much of anything really. Certainly, I found it hard to believe the cow could be thinking something like, “geez I really hope I get to stay in this paddock tomorrow because the grass is so green and lush here…”
That sounds fucking retarded doesn’t it?
Well, that’s kind of how I am.
If I was that cow, that’s exactly what I’d be thinking…
Because I have this in-built desire to know everything is going to turn out alright. To know the lush green grass I’m eating right now will still be here tomorrow. A constant and pervasive craving for certainty.
Something I realised while looking at the cow chewing away appearing to not really give a fuck was that this must be a fundamentally human dilemma…
Now, despite the fact I have a love affair with words more serious than the Royal Wedding, my brain is actually wired to deal in numbers. Specifically, probabilities. Yep, you know, like percentages and shit. They give me a hard on. 74%, 32.4%, 23.7%, 99%, 3%, 4.8%… better stop rattling these off, I’m getting too aroused. Okay one more… 37.6%. Fuck.. Too far. Pass me a towel?
Probabilities are how I attempt to interpret and make sense of the all-too-often confusing AF world around me. In my quest for certainty, I endeavour to use information at hand to conjure up internal calculations. In other words, if I decide to go with decision Y, what are the probabilities of outcomes A, B, C, D, or F?
Just the other day I was having a conversation with my Dad about something inherently uncertain I’m doing and I said to him,
“You know Dad, I just wish I could calculate a probability of success. Put a number on it. Any number. 75%. 35%. 80%. 20%. Anything. I’d just like to know. If I had this knowledge, regardless of what the probability happened to be, I could plough on with unbounded enthusiasm and confidence, comfortable in the knowledge I was making a bad decision (because I’m an idiot) or a good decision (because I’m an idiot).”
And he said, “Tough titties, you can’t. Best you can do is buckle up sonny-boy.”
Well, he didn’t actually say that specifically, but it was something along those lines. Or, at least, that’s what I heard… Regardless, Dad was onto something I reckon.
Life is fundamentally uncertain!
Life seems to me a lot like the greatest Baseball pitcher in the world, constantly throwing the most hell-bending wicked-ass curve-balls you’ve ever seen. Shit that’s impossible to hit. You’d think that after a time, you might begin to understand the different types of curve-balls the pitcher’s throwing, and because of this you might even begin to think you can predict what’s coming… aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s right about the same time the ball catches on fire. Hard to see that shit coming.
This really messes with your ability to calculate probabilities in life… you might have seen a thousand curve balls thrown your way, but all of this experience facing wicked ass non-fire curve-balls still isn’t going to prepare you for when the ball catches on fire!
Point is, calculating probabilities in life is fucking hard. Some might even say impossible. For example, can you accurately calculate the probabilities of the following:
- That your relationship will last over the long-term;
- That taking a new job will be more fulfilling than your current;
- That more money will make you happier;
- That writing a novel will be a waste of time;
- That travelling to that off-the-beaten-track destination will result in your untimely death, horrid life-altering disfigurement, or magical life-changing discovery;
- That the offspring of a Chicken and a Fish would be able to breathe underwater;
- That we are living in the Matrix;
- That you would survive a Zombie Apocalypse;
- That the Kardashian’s are aliens.
(If you can… can you give me your answers to the last 4? Asking for a friend).
You may have gotten to the point where you’re able to calculate the probability of the pitcher (Life) throwing a wicked ass curve ball at you at 72%, but I’d say it’s a safe assumption the probability of the ball catching on fire bamboozling the fuck-knuckle out of you is fairly high…
In this way we can see probabilities don’t really work when it comes to life, except in one instance: the probability of you not knowing what the fuck is going to happen next. That one’s high.
Because life is fundamentally UNCERTAIN.
We can analyse the information, come up with our best assumptions, calculate probabilities, but at a certain point, we quite simply have to take risks. Jump on into the uncertainty.
And this can kind of suck the fat kumara. Because jumping into uncertainty is fucking terrifying! I like to compare it to jumping off a cliff – you don’t know what the fuck is going to happen after you jump – you know you’ll fall, but that’s literally about it.
Once you’ve jumped, you’ve probably lost your bearings, may have shat your pants, vomited on your sweater (Mum’s spaghetti), and be crying because (a) wind in your eyes, shit in your pants, or (b) because you’re scared… this is a shitty time (pardon the pun) to be asked to start calculating probabilities, but it’s also exactly when you need to…
Personally, I find I’m continuously recalculating probabilities, which is a real pain in the ass. Can I not just make a decision and have everything work out and live happily ever after in a land of Unicorns and butterflies like in the Disney movies??
But why the fuck not??
Because life is fundamentally UNCERTAIN.
I’ve found that as I grow, new information reveals itself to me, which if I’m receptive to (read as: not having my head in the sand), sometimes possesses the power to change my perspectives. As I learn new shit, this new shit ends up fucking with my old already established shit. Or in other words, the ball comes screaming toward me, I’m expecting it to be a curve ball but then it catches on fire and I’m all like “what the actual fuck, you can’t do that!!!”, and the pitcher (Life) is all like “motherfucker, I just did”…
That’s difficult to deal with.
Funnily enough, I think I actually prefer jumping into uncertainty to the alternative. This is not to say I don’t cling to the cliff’s edge for waaaaay too long before jumping as the uncertainty involved in jumping off, of doing something different, makes me want to shit my pants. But eventually, I’ll jump (read as: one-handed dangle-fall…).
Because this seems to be the best way to grow, and I don’t much like the alternative which is:
- Staying in that job we hate.
- Staying in that unfulfilling relationship.
- Not travelling to that place.
- Not following our heart.
- Not taking that risk.
Dangle-Fall (do something) –> Collect data/information –> Calculate effect –> Dangle-Fall (do something) –> Collect data/information –> Calculate effect
There’s only one constant here: movement!
“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving” – Albert Einstein
The best we can do is keep moving!
Re-calculate and adjust as you go, but in all honesty at all times in-between you will be being carried along by a viciously strong undercurrent of uncertainty threatening to rip your togs right off… NOT an easily calculable stream of certain probabilities.
I’ve got a white ass, so the thought of getting out of the water bare-butt embarrasses me, which has me pondering, how can I get greater certainty in life?
Don’t know. But, given how hard it is to calculate probabilities, I reckon that might be the wrong question to be asking.
A better one is this: how can we better embrace the inherent uncertainty of life?
That’s a real Grade-A Dooze-a-Roozy.
Because none of us likes to feel uncertain. It’s an uncomfortable feeling not knowing what’s going to happen. I wonder though, perhaps if you can learn to sit with it, to embrace it, maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe if you’re capable of this, when the ball catches on fire, instead of running away in terror or screaming at the injustice, you’re able to simply see it and say “damn, I haven’t seen that shit before”… then after you’ve taken the time to process what you’ve seen, maybe you decide to figure out how to get your hands on a flame-retardant bat.
Re-calculate. Adjust. Breathe.
There’s no such thing as “Happily Ever After… “.
Attempting to eliminate uncertainty from life seems a rather pointless, and ultimately fruitless endeavour to me. Like trying to eliminate Orange from Oranges.
Perhaps instead it’s best to focus our efforts on embracing the uncertainty?
You know, I just don’t know.