“On the other hand, you have different fingers.”

On the phone with a wise woman this morning (hi, mom) I was reminded that things just are what they are. No need to get all worked up about it, results of choices, realities and uncertainties alike. They just are what they are. Kind of refreshing in the larger scheme of things in which we I constantly ascribe so much meaning to stuff that really just is what it is – no need for ridunculous reflective creation of relevance, because it could always be something else to someone else.

Sage advice fo’ sho’.

It’s like Steven Wright says: “On the other hand, you have different fingers.”

Depending on your position with regard to entanglement, interconnectedness, existentialism, the space-time continuum and such, the tendency towards “what if-ing” and establishing false causation will vary greatly. As for mental exercises: Fabulous. For much else: Um. Whatever. I like to do the thing where you go… “I am here because this happened, which only happened because this happened, which would have never happened if this hadn’t happened, which was a result of this happening, which in turn was caused by….” You get the point. Fun, yes.

But on the other hand…

My 9th graders read Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder this morning and then we had a discussion about the (literal and figurative) Butterfly Effect. I’ve talked about this before, and while I like to think I am an existentialist, sometimes a nihilist, often absurd(ist)… in reality, I constantly find myself faced with freakish synchronicity and bizarre continuity that can only be attributed to some larger interconnected existence. So, if you got through that sentence, that is my story and I am sticking to it. If you roll the proverbial ball down the hill, then yes, its course will be irrevocably altered by the smallest of deviant pebbles, rivulets, bugs and plants. However, if you reverse engineer the experiment there is no way to say with certainty what led to the deviations and so the discussion is pointless and circular (if not fun – depends what you are smoking doing.) Things are what they are. In some cases there are clear causes and effects, in others we turn to speculation for no other reason than future contextualizing (I think we call this “learning.”) It certainly takes a lot of retro pressure off to stop trying to pinpoint the exact moment at which you “stepped on butterfly” – really, who’s to say. I mean, yeah, like you are Marty McFly. You go back in time. You start messing things up (like by making all those sequels). You ignore the paradox of time travel. You make a mockery of quantum entanglement. You know what? Things were probably going to be pretty messed up for you anyhow. And when that ball rolls down the hill, who can irrefutably say that it didn’t end up in the exact same place it might have with no alterations. The journey is a little different, but can you categorically say the end point is?

Sure, the point may lie in the journey rather than then destination.

But on the other hand…

Eckles should have stayed on the path; that was the consensus of my class. [Though one student pointed out that his detour was warranted because he was freaking out in the face of a T-Rex.] Bradbury’s presentation of the revised future was subtle enough to be absolutely frightening. Little changes over time… slight deviations. And then – BLAM! Idiocracy.

But on the other hand,

….you may find different fingers.


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
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6 Responses to “On the other hand, you have different fingers.”

  1. astrozip says:

    Let me see if I can put this in a nut shell. You are saying that people worry to much about the outcome of their choices when in reality its mostly up to chance?
    Anywho, I loved your post.
    Browsing through some of your other stuff. Definitely got some interesting concepts. Blogrolling this on my site.

    • Amanda says:

      I think it’s more like evaluating things after the fact to establish causation and explanation is futile. I don’t think everything is up to chance, and I do think people should act consciously (and with conscience) -as much as possible, but having said that, how things turn out often depends on which “hand” you are looking at.

      And thanks… I am checking out your blog now!

  2. Amy says:

    I got through the sentance. BTW- this table means nothing… 🙂

  3. driss says:

    I have to disagree with you on the futility of examining causation and explanation, reason being of course that it does help to avoid future recurrences of unfortunate events. But yeah… people do tend to rush to post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning a little bit far too often.

    With regard to the Marty McFly situation, messing up the space-time continuum and french-braiding entanglement- Personally, i’m relieved that we can only travel through time at one constant speed, in one direction. Trying to do otherwise is kind of futile. You can look at things through the lens of the point or thrill being in the journey rather than the destination- but every event in that journey is a destination in and of itself. That film only touched on that briefly, on all the things in Marty’s “new, improved” 1985 (holy shit, the film goes back to the fifties as if it were thirty years ago, and now THAT date is almost equally as far back in time? i’m old.) that were changed as a result of his having altered the past. What if scores of different people were or were not born as a result of him doing XYZ, or if different sperm cells reached the goal and fretilised eggs as a result of people being earlier or later than before, etc etc… you know what i’m getting at.

    Eh. I guess i just ascribe a lot more to the idea of the butterfly effect than to random chance, of things happening and converging for a reason. “many miles away • there’s a shadow on the door • of a cottage on the shore • of a dark • scottish lake…”

  4. gubble says:

    What I first thought upon reading your post was just how atrociously these chaos theory stories translate onto film. I’ve never read “A Sound of Thunder” but I saw the movie; I tried my best to look past the god awful effects. “The Butterfly Effect” was just as profoundly stupid.

    Chaos theory seems pretty trendy to me now. What’s interesting is that I first stumbled upon it when I was doing an applied linguistics course in second language acquisition. It made some sense but while I know there are myriad factors that lead to indeterminable outcomes in non-linear systems, I hardly see the practicality of the theory in the long run.

    I got my first introduction to the “what-if” exercise when I read Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” which portrays a scenario in which the Allies lose World War II. Plenty of exercises in speculative history but in the end the author somehow concedes that neither outcome is any more or less probable than the other.

    Anyway, I’m just rambling here as an oblique way of saying how much I enjoyed reading your post. But while I can appreciate the pragmatism (and, depending on the context, fatalism) of the “things are what they are” reasoning, I can think of at least one thing I can trace back to “stepp[ing] on a butterfly.” Believe it or not, the very fact that I’m writing this here is an indication of that. If I hadn’t decided to take one particular language course in high school, it wouldn’t have ended up being my major for my BA, it wouldn’t have led me to do an MA in another province, it wouldn’t have led me to meet a significant other with whom I am now separated, it wouldn’t have led me to become withdrawn and start a blog to vent, it wouldn’t have led me to seek out other bloggers as some means of supportive human contact and hence wouldn’t have led me to your post (sorry to give an abridged version of my life story there; it probably ranks pretty high on your “who gives a fuck” meter). I know: what the hell are the chances that causality is that neat? I’m not the person to believe that things happen for some cosmic reason and you’re absolutely right: the course always seems obvious in retrospect and chances are I would’ve ended up where I am anyway.

    • Amanda says:

      I think things are what they are for me has more to do with not trying to assign undue meaning (significance may be a better word) to things (especially things that sort of make a person cringe… )

      But I like tracing the events back to the “butterfly” regardless of the logic/accuracy/necessity/reality of it. Glad the falling dominoes led you here. And I am a social scientist, which is a fancy way to say I am nosy, so I always like to hear people’s stories… =)

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