Chances Are

It was Wednesday morning and I was driving along one of the back roads in order to avoid the rush hour traffic on the highway.  All of a sudden I sighted some movement out of the corner of my right eye.  There, ahead of me, was a deer that was rushing towards the road.  I stepped on the brakes, but quickly realized that chances of avoiding the animal were small.  As the car slowed down, and as I braced myself for impact, the deer jumped across the road and crashed into the windshield.  Amazingly the glass did not break.  The deer was thrown forward on to the road in front of me.  As I stopped the car, and cars began to line up behind me, it thrashed around on the road in a panic, as if its limbs were broken.  I feared the worst, but much to my amazement the deer eventually got up and ran back up the hill from which it had come to stop and stare at me.  I paused for another moment and then drove on.  Nothing happened to the car.

Our area is full of deer and crashes between vehicles and these animals happen often, but this was a first for me.  I always thought that this kind of an  experience would be unavoidable if I lived in the area long enough, and now it has happened.  If one believed in the fates, it is possible that you would conclude that now that you have had this one crash, the chances of having another one is reduced.  But the laws of probability in this case would lead you to conclude otherwise.  Each crash event is independent.  So nothing has changed as far as the chances of my hitting a deer in the future – not unless I do something radical to change the circumstances, like for example, moving to a place where there are less deer.  We all live with the probabilities of different kinds of disastrous events happening to us in whatever environment we happen to live in.  Such is life.  One does probably try to avoid thinking about the fact that the probability of dying is unity!

A few weeks earlier, while driving on the high speed lane of the beltway and slowing down for stopped traffic in front of me, my car was hit from behind by a Jeep Wrangler driven by a 19 year old with a provisional license.  The girl had been tailgating us and we had been observing her driving apprehensively through the rear view mirror.  Luckily I was able to anticipate what was about to happen and adjust my braking accordingly, while at the same time the young girl reacted as needed and managed to slow down before it was too late, so that the effect of the impact was minimized. Nothing disastrous happened and the girl got off with a talking-to. Events like this happen not infrequently where we live and we live with the probabilities.

A few days ago, while running down one of the trails in the local park, I happened to plant my foot awkwardly and twist it.  Most of the time, when something like this happens, I just get back in step, and I feel no ill-effect in my ankle because the muscles are quite strong from all the running I do.  This time was different.  My momentum took me downhill and off the trail and I crashed into some plants and underbrush beside the trail while trying to keep my balance. I managed to stop without falling. I was shaken up for a few seconds but my ankle was fine.  I got back on to the trail and went my merry way, in a little bit of a shock.  This could have been a disastrous episode.  Now, this was not simply a case of the laws of probability catching up.  I need to be more careful!

Is it all about luck, or is it the human element  that plays the most significant role in what happens to you?  I do not think I am superstitious, but think I will stay on my toes and try to be more careful about things.  And, NO, I do not have a death wish!

Incomprehensible

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For some reason, as I get older, the logic of the human condition appears to me to be more and more absurd. It seems to me that we exist in a system of our own making that makes less and less sense. As might be expected, we tend to fall into the rhythm of an existence which is primarily defined by the environment around us. Such an existence is most often being followed by people around us, and so we are comfortable with it. In existing in this state some of what we do is based on habit, some of it is just following what others do, and some is based on what other people impress on us as being an essential element in our way of life and the way we are supposed to behave as humans. But, while all of this could give us some sense of direction and comfort, and also create an environment where each one can experience his or her own state of being, and a way of living, most of this framework is created completely by the hands of humans, by history, by the vision of a few folks, by technology, and in many cases, just by circumstances. It tends to create a situation where one can go with the flow and you do not have to make an effort to think.

Most people think they know “the truth” and apply that “truth” universally. It takes too much effort to get out of such a mindset. In most cases it is because we are completely immersed in their situation of today, accepting the culture and the social wisdom of the day in our experiences of the world without even thinking. But this has to be a false sense of being. While we might believe in some basic truths while living here in the US, the basic truths could actually look very different for a person living in another culture and in another country. Put another way, we live in the circumstances that we are placed in today and accept it as a “fundamental” truth, not even stopping to think that our fundamental truth is actually different from some other person’s fundamental truth, and not even stopping to consider whether a fundamental truth is really that fundamental.   We get trapped in the ego of our own experiences and think that we know everything, and we strongly believe that we are in the right. Propaganda works very well under such circumstances because we are unable to recognize a different kind of reality.

Then there is the concept of the society, an attempt for people to live together as little pieces of a larger social organism. As it becomes bigger, the organism becomes more complex. This complexity is partly possible because of technology, one of the products of “human intelligence”. But, as was mentioned to me recently by somebody wise, technology perhaps has the ability to be helpful, but does not provide the solutions to the problems of the world unless used properly. It is true that more and more humans are able to live together and become more “efficient” and “capable” because of the tools that technology provides, but at what cost.   We always find more ways to compete and be destructive using any new technology. We almost always find ways to exploit the systems in place for ourselves. Inequalities always seem to increase, and people are still hungry and lack in basic needs.  This effect is multiplied many times as you expand your vision from the limits of your own small community to the expanse of the whole world. In spite of belonging to a social organism, with many connections, people seem to be primarily on the lookout for themselves, while at the same time our ability to contemplate the bigger picture of the world we live in seems to fade further and further away and even become non-existent. We are on a course of positive feedback that seems to create more real problems even as it tries to address issues and advance humanity. This process will eventually result in destruction, even if the uncontrollable forces of the universe do not get us to that point first. We are stuck on a road to some unknown place.

I am not convinced that what we humans are about on this earth is actually a good thing. We are managing to increase our footprint on the planet in many ways, but there is no real objective for the whole exercise.  Should the extension of knowledge and the use of technology always have an objective of trying to extend what we are able to do, and also trying to control more and more of our surroundings? We can tend to be blatantly destructive in many of our actions even when we think we are doing what is right for the big picture, and we can also blind ourselves to certain aspects of this big picture. What is our ultimate goal? Are we trying to leave the world a better place than when we arrived? Are we trying to better the lives of people of the world? Are we trying to better the lives of people just around us? Or are we only thinking about ourselves?

Under the circumstances it seems that the best most of us can do is to just try to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in and follow the crowd for the most part. That is understandable. But it would be a shame if we do not also think for ourselves and act accordingly. And it would be a mistake to think that we have all the answers for things other than our own, immediate, condition. And I think it would also be a mistake for us to think that we are not ourselves contributing to the problems of the world in our own way by following the crowd.