Freaks and The Norm in the Post Office Line; A Primer on Pessimism @VerbaVitae

Scenarios amaze when a fabulous outcome comes down – as if it is other than expected. We ooh and aah; we revel over the event like it’s a miraculous anomaly. And yet, statistics tell us something else. Statistics tell us this: The chance of something unexpected happening on a timeline is  equal in likelihood with the chance that something expected will happen. At any point on that timeline, the most expected and the most unlikely are equally poised to occur in the next moment.

Strangely, we defer to statistics to proclaim that something common is likely. We point to the average and expect it. If we are pessimistic, perhaps we look to the part of the bell curve on the less ideal side. We listen to doctors, stock analysts, trend forecasters, and our own heads. So much support of the less than optimal, that I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually contribute to the next moment being ho-hum.

The previous comment is not just anecdotal. The “New Physics” stumbled on this very thing – the degree to which we can affect the next moment. The New Physics is a term used to describe the modern fields of Physics that explore the aspects of our world that function bizarrely according to traditional approaches, then observe and speculate on possible reasons for them. One fascinating observation drawn by Quantum Physics, a field that can be placed under the umbrella of New Physics, is that when scientists go to look for an electron’s location, they have to stop it from moving because it is so erratic. When they do that, they cannot observe its behavior. When they let the electron do its thing, they can only watch its behavior, but cannot pinpoint its location. It is a statistical mess – manic at best.  This is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – for the guy who put this into words.

Anyway, this is the backdrop for the following. Modern scientists took this principle and started to tweak it. They wondered: If they look for an electron where they expect to find it, will they find it more often? This, to determine whether intention has any bearing on the next moment. What they found shocked them and the world: Electrons showed up much more often where scientists  intended to find them than statistical norms suggest they should.

Science took this observation a step further. They asked a control group to intend certain numbers to a computer several hundred miles away – this computer’s sole job was to generate random numbers. The data, conclusive: numbers intended showed up much more often than should statistically.

With this in mind, I wish that we’d be taught this in school; I mean, how would it be if we understood that intention can have a bearing on outcome?

So, over to the discussion at the beginning of this post. We expect the average, or we expect the worst. When and how often do we expect the best outcome? Certainly, we try sometimes. In this regard, culturally, we’ve benefited from the urgings of our traditions. Weddings and births come to mind. We say “May You have a long and happy life together”, even though statistics on unions are not pretty. On births, we say “Congratulations!” before the birth and comment on how wonderful the experience will be from pregnancy to the child’s maturity. Our traditions do not focus on the pain, the risk, the fear, the teenage years. And, this brings up a very valuable point: As a culture, we have found a way to get optimistic, even ideal around things we can’t control that are fundamentally and ultimately risky. So, why don’t we do take this approach with everything?

I once taught as a school for Massage Therapy – largely a self-employment field. Teachers would complain at Staff meetings about the unlikely success of many students, and commented that perhaps, these students should have been barred from admission. Our Teaching Manager would look at them and say “Who are we to determine the outcome of someone else’s success?”

I never forgot that. I now look at the world this way:

Freaks and The Norm stand in the post office line. We live in a statistical stew. The ingredients of this statistical stew are just waiting for their turn at the counter.

The middle line, the 50% mark; image

Whether we expect a wonderful or tragic moment next is up to us. Even if we have experienced tragedy, we can tell our brain that we reject the thought that something bad is coming, and replace that thought with one that gives the “official” position of our head: that we anticipate great things.

You can embrace the idea that your intention affects the next moment. If you decide to embrace this idea, you are set. Just intend good stuff.

If you are unwilling to embrace this idea, then remember that statistics shows us that in the next moment, all things are equally possible.

The orange and the white - equally possible the next moment

Either way, optimism becomes the logical conclusion. But, the choice is yours.


Feel free to drop me a line about your thoughts on the issue. As always, I’ll leave the light on for ya.

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