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Friday, February 23, 2024

Klaas is in Session

…On the day it happens, change any detail—no matter how seemingly insignificant—and you end up with a different child.I Suddenly, you have a daughter instead of a son, or vice versa—or just a different son or daughter. Siblings often diverge in unexpected ways, so any change in who is born will radically change your life—and the lives of countless others. But it’s not just the one day that a child is conceived that matters. Instead, amplify that contingency by every moment of your life. Each detail in the entire chain-link architecture of your lifetime had to be exactly as it was for the exact child who was born to be born. That’s true for you, for me, for everyone.

Yet again, the motivational posters have sold you short. “You’re one in a million!” they shout at you with uplifting glee. Try one in a hundred million, because that’s how many competitors, on average, your single-celled predecessor outswam to successfully become half of yourself.

You matter. That’s not self-help advice. It’s scientific truth. If someone else had been born instead of you—the unborn ghost whom you outcompeted in the existence sweepstakes—countless other people’s lives would be profoundly different, so our world would be different, too. The ripples of every life spread out, in unexpected ways, for eternity.

These are awe-inspiring truths. Yet, in modern life, many of us feel like easily replaced cogs in a vast, cold machine. As global corporations sprawl and we seek help from call centers rather than corner stores, many modern systems make us feel interchangeable. Workers robotically follow protocols, checklists, and scripts, engines of efficiency that strip us of our individuality. Humans begin to feel like robots who eat. It dehumanizes us. It doesn’t matter who turns the crank, so long as it gets turned.

But what if that dystopian viewpoint is completely wrong?

Let’s consider two opposite conceptions of how history works. In one vision of historical change, there’s the storybook reality: Change is ordered and structured. The convergent trajectory of events means that individuals come and go, but trends dominate. Where do the trends come from? We’re never explicitly told, only that the aggregation of humans has produced a path toward an inevitable outcome and we’d better prepare ourselves. The trend is destiny. History is written by unseen social forces, and the main characters are powerless to alter the plot.

On the opposite extreme, individuals reign supreme because the idiosyncratic behavior of a single person can reroute us all onto a different path. The logical extension of that viewpoint—rooted in chaos theory—means that every individual isn’t just capable of changing history. Rather, we are each changing history constantly, with every action—even every thought. Who is doing something can matter as much as what they’re doing. If that’s true, it would yield an empowering fact: it’s not just that everything you do matters, but also that it’s you, and not someone else, who’s doing it. Perhaps every one of us creates our own butterfly effect because each of us flaps our wings a little bit differently.

These two conceptions of change are fundamentally different. So, are we just along for the ride, or does each of us determine the destination?

Klaas, Brian. Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters (pp. 159-162). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
So, I'm into Chapter 9 of 13, and just have to share what I'm finding thus far. A totally fun read, much more edifying and enjoyable than the shitshow comprising our news this week. I gushed a la Fanboy on "Twitter" that "Chapter 6 was worth the entire cost." I meant it.

BTW, Brian has a Substack. I signed up. 50 bucks for a year.

I have my picks with Substack broadly (weak, limied formatting capabilities, like Medium), but Brian's Substack has a lot of cool stuff on it.
Interesting Brian Klaas presentation below.
Science Magazine has certainly been quite the book citation resource of late: "Flukes," "Countdown," and "Imagination."
Okeee-Dokeee, then.
Flukes, only Ch's 12 & 13 to go.
More to come ASAP.

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