Posts Tagged ‘chance’

Centered Gull

Monday, July 16th, 2018

gull capture

Gull Capture photo by Todd

In the novel I’m writing, one of my characters says, “I don’t believe in luck.” She doesn’t explain why she doesn’t believe in luck, but by the time I wrote those words down, I was several hundred hours into writing the novel and I understood why she didn’t believe in luck. Or why she didn’t think she believed in luck.

But the thing about luck is similar to the thing about love. Is there an indisputable definition of luck? By that I mean, what exactly is luck? Are we talking about fate? Karma? Random chance? My character doesn’t believe in luck, but she does believe in karma, or her definition of karma, which may be different than your definition of karma or the Dalai Lama’s definition of karma.

The difference between karma and luck is tricky because the two ideas can be easily conflated, as in “we make our own luck,” which might be a definition of karma.

Maybe what my character meant by luck was dumb luck, which would be luck we haven’t made ourselves, but luck that simply befalls us. Pure chance. But if there is no such thing as luck, then what seems to simply befall us may actually be the result of karma or something else.

I had an experience recently that was captured in the photo I posted at the beginning of this article. If the photo of which I speak is not attached to the version of this article you’re reading, I will tell you it is a photo of a rock outcropping on the coast a couple miles south of Mendocino, an outcropping that becomes a little island at high tide. The day is sunny, the water deeply blue, and in the sky above the iconic outcropping, perfectly centered, is a sea gull winging swiftly by.

Now here’s the thing. When I stopped to photograph the outcropping and the ocean and the sky, I was in no hurry. Yet something made me hurriedly fumble my little camera out of my pocket. And I distinctly remember thinking, “Why am I hurriedly fumbling my camera out of my pocket? This is weird. What’s going on?” I remember not having a solid grip on the camera as my hand swung up and framed the outcropping and my finger grazed the shutter button before I was consciously ready to take the picture, which is something I never do because I prefer sharply-focused pictures to blurry pictures and I like being conscious of what I’m aiming at when I depress the shutter button.

But this time, everything I never do was done, seemingly involuntarily, as if I was being used by the unseen forces of the universe as a kind of robot Mars Rover to take the picture, only I wasn’t on Mars; I was on earth a couple miles south of Mendocino.

When I got home and downloaded the day’s photos from my camera onto my computer, here was the picture of the outcropping and the ocean and the sky, the only photo of the outcropping I took that day, and in the center of the photo was a gull winging swiftly by. I did not crop the photo. The gull centered himself at the moment the shutter clicked, and he was going mighty fast, the gull. I know he was going mighty fast because when he winged by during that spastic picture-taking moment, I was barely aware of something flying by. Only when I saw the picture on my computer screen did I learn of the perfectly centered gull.

Was that luck? Karma? Fate? The hand of God? The tentacle of a minor deity? And why me? Why that picture?

One answer might be that this frantic fumbling picture-taking resulted in this portrait of a gull and the outcropping and the ocean and the sky so I would be sufficiently moved by both the photo and the experience of taking the photo that I would write about what happened and share my writing so that you or someone else would read about this unusual moment and be moved to do something that causes ripples in the time space continuum and accomplishes something or many things the Universe wants accomplished.

Another answer might be: life is a series of random experiences signifying nothing but what some humans (me) egoistically want to imbue with a deeper meaning that isn’t really there.

Buckminster Fuller wrote extensively about precession, which he defined as the right-angled unintentional effects of a direct action. He has two favorite examples of precession, one involving dropping a stone into a still pond, the other a bee probing a flower to get nectar.

The direct action of dropping the stone into a still pond results in the expected result of a concussive splash. The precessional unintentional effects of dropping the stone into a pond are ripples caused by the initial impact of the stone. Bucky assumed the dropper of the stone was after the splash and not the ripples, or maybe Bucky wasn’t concerned about the dropper’s intentions because this is such a neato illustration of the right-angled effects of an intended action.

The direct action of the bee probing the flower to get nectar results in the bee getting nectar, and the precessional effect of the bee probing the flower is that the flower gets pollinated. Bucky assumed the bee didn’t know or care about pollination and just wanted that nectar. Not being a bee, I don’t know if that’s true. In any case, the action of going after nectar does result in pollination, which ultimately results in more flowers, fruit, and life as we know it on earth.

Precession, however, doesn’t obviously explain why I acted so uncharacteristically when I snapped the picture of the centered gull, but it might explain the effects of my sharing this article, though I will never know what most of those effects are, if there are any.

Even if you, for instance, were moved by this article to take a picture of the view out your window and snapped the shutter just as a rabbit hopped by, a species of rabbit thought to be extinct, and you not only became famous for the picture and thus your life was changed forever, but proof of the existence of this incredibly rare rabbit resulted in a huge swath of land being saved from rapacious developers, and you told me about this, I still would never know about the thousands of other events that might spring, directly or indirectly, from people reading this article and seeing the photo of the centered gull.

Or maybe there won’t be any precessional effects from this article. Maybe this is but fleeting evidence of one human’s attempt to communicate thoughts and feelings that sprang from his experience of taking a picture of a gull centered in the sky above a coastal outcropping.

Only time will tell; and when time does tell, who knows if anyone will be listening; and if someone is listening, will they understand what time is saying?

Recent Studies Show

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 billion and $140 billion in Federal, State, and local taxes. And let us not forget the Social Security system. Recent studies show that undocumented workers sustain the Social Security system with as much as $7 billion a year. Let me repeat that: $7 billion a year.” Luis Gutierrez

Which seems to contradict…

“The Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigrants cost the United States taxpayer about $10 billion a year. A large part of that expense stems from the babies born each year to illegal immigrants.” Nathan Deal

Marcia and I both have web sites and use the interweb for research, marketing, entertainment, and communication with the world outside of Mendocino. Her office and mine are separated by a wall through which we occasionally shout at each other, though we can never be certain what the other person is shouting about until one or the other of us rises from his or her chair and walks around the corner to find out; or we send each other emails. It occurs to me that we could call each other on the phone, since we have separate lines, but we never do. That would feel silly.

We both have taken to scanning news synopses and articles on the interweb and exclaiming about various horrors and wonders and nonsense we discover. These exclamations can be heard through the wall and often elicit shouts of “What?” or may cause the hearer to rise and walk around the corner to find out what the exclaimer is exclaiming about. We are particularly fond of reports of recent studies by so-called scientists that may prove or disprove something that absolutely, trust me, does not need proving or disproving, though this lack of necessity never stops the studiers from carrying out their needless studies because, hey, in these difficult economic times what else have they got to do with their time and your money?

For instance, recent studies reported in Epidemiologic Reviews show that people who have been smoking marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to crash their vehicles; and if a person has been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, the risk of crashing climbs higher. Imagine how much higher the risk would climb if that person was also talking on a cell phone and having sex.

“Genetic studies in Iceland have found that many of the women who were the founding stock of Iceland came from England and what is now France. Some were probably captured and carried off in Viking raids only forty generations ago.” Keith Henson

Is that a great study, or what? Those English and not-then-yet French women of only a thousand years ago were probably captured and carried off by Vikings and transported to Iceland, probably on boats, don’t you think? I would guess probably it was male Vikings who did the capturing and carrying because even only a thousand years ago I can’t imagine Viking women carrying off English women and women from what is now France but was then…what? France? And the words probably and some suggest that the English women and the women who, in time, would have been French, may not have been captured and carried off, but rather volunteered to go to Iceland or possibly arrived there accidentally to contribute their female traits to the Icelandic gene pool. And, I suppose, English and soon-to-be French men may have been captured and carried off, too. But that’s pure conjecture on my part.

“Harvard Medical School, the University of South Florida, and the American Psychiatric Association have all conducted studies showing that the earlier one begins gambling, the more likely one is to become an addicted, problem gambler.” Spencer Bachus

The implication of this quotation is that one could be addicted to gambling without the addiction being a problem, or one could be a problem gambler but not necessarily be addicted to gambling. I can see that. Sure.

Actually, and tragically, my uncle was problematically addicted to gambling to such an extreme that he committed suicide at age fifty rather than be murdered by the unscrupulous organization to which he owed over a million dollars. His death was a terrible blow to our family and inspired me to read several studies of compulsive gamblers, from which I learned things that may be true and were probably not talked about in those more recent studies conducted at Harvard and South Florida and by the psychiatrists. I was looking for something to explain my uncle’s death to me, something more meaningful than “the earlier one starts gambling” etc. And I found a description of a particular personality that fit my uncle exactly, and this description helped me to better understand my uncle’s fatal compulsion.

It seems that most seriously addicted gamblers are not so much hoping for the Big Win, though they may think they are, but rather they are constantly striving to put themselves in position for the Big Loss—irrefutable proof of their being big losers and unworthy of love. My uncle, an extremely successful attorney, could win with ease when he gambled with lower level gamblers, but it was in Las Vegas, in back rooms playing against high rolling mobsters, where he put his fortune on the line again and again until he lost everything.

“Studies have indicated there is a strong correlation between the shortages of nurses and morbidity and mortality rates in our hospitals.” Lois Capps

Here’s a recent favorite of mine. “A study of 33,000 Swedish women indicates that those who ate the most chocolate had the lowest chance of stroke. Women (not men) who ate 66 grams of chocolate per week, about a bar and a half, were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who consumed eight grams or less a week, reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.”

Well, duh! My own studies show that more studies are done about chocolate than any other substance because chocolate is fun and easy to work with, participants in these studies love eating chocolate, and because the participants are so relieved to be eating chocolate without guilt and in the name of science, that they experience vastly increased sex drives and are much less prone to depression, heart attacks, cancer, and worrying about the future.

Interestingly, a recent parallel study indicates that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, most of the participants in this parallel study were also eating lots of chocolate, so no one can say with statistical certainty which of the tasty comestibles was most responsible for improving cardiovascular health.

“Studies have consistently shown that financial hardship is the biggest obstacle to heterosexual marriage, yet the Republican leadership has done precious little to help address the financial hardship faced by American families.” Kendrick Meek

A recent Brigham Young University study concludes “less materialistic spouses are more likely to find themselves in happier marriages than those who dwell too much on money and possessions.” The team of researchers explored “the impact that value differences about materialism could have on a marriage. (Value differences about materialism? Somebody get me Wittgenstein on the phone and have him explain what value differences about abstract concepts have to do with anything.) Previous studies were limited to materialism in itself, and not the importance that husbands and wives placed on material things. (Materialism in itself? I smell the English language rotting in the noonday sun.) Data collected from 1,734 couples may indicate that even among spouses who shared the same materialistic values, materialism had a negative association with marital quality. (Can college degrees be taken away from people for good cause? Please say they can.) And marriages in which both spouses reported low materialism were better off on several features of marital quality when compared to couples where one or both spouses reported high materialism.”

Man: What’s wrong, honey?

Woman: I think I’m suffering from low materialism.

Man: Are you sure it’s not high materialism? In itself?

Woman: I’m not sure. In myself.

Man: Here. Have some chocolate.

Not to worry. In conclusion, the Brigham Young researchers admit they “recognize that personality traits do influence the degree of materialism. Thus it may be the personality traits that are most damaging to the relationship and not materialism alone.” Materialism alone is one thing; but materialism in itself is a whole other can of worms.

“It is still not clear from this study how laughter can directly help the heart, but other studies have shown that laughter is beneficial for every system in the body.” Allen Klein

Okay. So. A new study involving 6,000 Swedish women carried out by the Karolinska Institute suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Women who drank five or more cups of coffee every day (they didn’t say for how many years or what these women used for downers) lowered their risk of breast cancer by 57%. However, these women were also taking part in several ongoing and cross referencing chocolate studies and were, in themselves, much less materialistic than American women, which may or may not make any difference in how the coffee (unless it was the chocolate) impacted the cancer cells.

“If you look at the studies coming out of the Congressional Budget Office, the number one thing that’s going to blow a hole in the deficit as we go forward twenty, thirty years is government spending on healthcare.” Christina Romer

“Vitamin E supplements may be linked to an increase in the risk of prostate cancer among men (as opposed to prostate cancer among women?), U.S. researchers say.”

Reading beyond the headlines, we find that the motivation for studying the impact of Vitamin E on the prostate was to confirm that taking Vitamin E reduced the risk of prostate cancer, since American medical doctors have for several years now been aggressively prescribing Vitamin E as an important and proven health supplement for men. Oops. Don’t you just hate it when those hard cold facts turn out to be soft hot nonsense? However, the researchers did use that word may in their summary of the results, so, you know, whatever.

This just in: “A small new study (as opposed to a big old study) suggests that human intelligence may fluctuate throughout adolescence. (But not in middle and old age?) IQ has long been thought to remain stable over a person’s lifetime. (Not by me.) ‘Approximately one-fifth of our sample had very substantial changes such that they moved from above average to below average or vice versa,’ said Cathy Price, senior study author and professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, U.K. Prior studies have shown changes in IQ in individuals over time. (But I thought you just said IQ was thought to remain stable…) However, those earlier studies were not able to rule out the possibility of chance.”

Aha! Chance. So what these researchers seem to be saying is that people used to think there was something called chance. But the researchers have now ruled out the possibility of chance, so we can say with great confidence (backed up by all this rigorous scientific research): ‘There is no chance. No way. No how.”

From these and many other studies conducted by semi-literate scientists and shameless academics, we conclude that as our intelligence fluctuates, we (which includes you) should eat lots of chocolate, guzzle coffee, stop being such greedy materialists in ourselves, and not drive when we’re stoned and drunk and talking on cell phones and having sex. And remember, in the words of Robert Sternberg, “So long as you restrict your populations, your testing materials, and the kinds of situations you look at, you can keep finding the same wrong thing again and again.”