Friday, July 26, 2013

The Double Reacharound Lifelong Justification



So you're you, and you're like me, and you don't know why you exist or that the things you think are important are good or that the things you think are good are important. Typical. Happens to the best of us. An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living-- but who hasn't thought about it? Who hasn't come up empty-handed?

The little exploration below is not about what's good. It is about how to think about justifying what you think is good. Maybe it will be a new path that will spur someone a little closer to figuring it out.

Pretend the multiverse theory is true. It doesn't really matter whether it is or not, because it is only a tool for conceptualizing choice and the progression of time. Say the universe could go up, down, left, or underground at any moment. Say it not only could do these things, but does, all at once, bifurcating and bifurcating in four different branches. Or N branches, where N is a very large number tetrated with itself. You're in a crazily dividing tube slide, where you keep falling into one or the other of a variety of splits and forks and holes, but you certainly could not guess the path of even one other tube.

Unfortunately, as we all know, every tube ends in a spike pit. No, telomere research isn't actually that magical.

Consider the set of all spike pits. Or, since that's too much to ask of any human, notice that each and every spike pit is the endpoint of a nuanced and complex path from the start, like the arterial pathway connecting a single capillary to the heart. Now consider the following question very carefully:

How would you have to FEEL when you reached the spikes to make you want to end up in the exact same universe, given a second chance?

"Oh," they say, groaning, "this again." Live to make life worth living all over again! Or some bullshit. But look more closely and perceive that which was asked. "Live like you'd want to do it again" is a moment-by-moment assessment, an instantaneous evaluation: for my calculusly-inclined friends, maximizing the fulfillment derivative. It's also a command, a description of action, an aphorism. I'm talking about an open-form question regarding an emotion E with the special quality "I imply the desire to live the same life again." And I'm leading up to a fulfillment integral over a lifetime, or at least a parameterization by emotion of the same. And the show certainly won't be happening in your humble Cartesian space.

E is a slippery beast. Try the trivial solution everyone will try: "HAPPY!" I can't speak on your behalf, but perhaps you'll be surprised as I was to find this a hollow and desolate excuse for an answer. I'm sorry, you came all that way, and you're happy...? You're a universe-pusher! What is it about happiness that makes you think you branched all our lives just so? What the hell did you do? As for you fools who are trying "old..." Just leave. Ok ok, fine. This is real serious though.

You who just stopped reading and thought of a couple more: I like you. Everyone else, there's an example to follow. Do it like her.

Here are partial solutions to E that feel as though they brush truth to me: Dignified, Grown, Self-Utilizing, Aware.

Dignity, a repercussion of the knowledge of a life well-lived; a tell-tale, if not a root cause.

Growth and self-utilization, both appearing because in feeling immature or unripe one knows oneself to have curtailed that which one might have accomplished. Self-utilization can happen after a long enough period of growth, but I certainly don't put any bounds on how much time is enough. Some small children, whom we call "precocious," grow into their places early in life. I wonder if most people ever reach full maturity.

Awareness is perhaps the most important quality of the way I would want to feel. In the high-dimensional emotion vector E, it's one of the bigger spikes. Had I not been awake to my options and lucid regarding my powers, I would have no support for the belief that the life I had lived was the one to repeat. To give a stark example, imagine living out your life in a darkened cell, meals pushed into your hands and your waste carried away, both without a sound. In this minimal-awareness situation, you can't know your options outside those walls. Awareness puts a stiff lower bound on fulfillment.

Perhaps I tack on Permanent.

Permanence, a syllogism: If your life made no difference, far down the line, then your life makes no difference far down the line.

But to happiness I do not even award the tell-tale value of dignity. Happiness is not bad, but it signifies, specifies almost nothing. Even dignity, the weakest among these shadows of my E, far surpasses this "pursuit of happiness" so fawned over by American Dreamers.

Now for the application of E, though it might be optimistic to hope that anyone discover it completely before they see half of their remaining life. You may already have guessed the reacharound. This emotion E is the carrot on the end of an infinite-dimensional stick, a pretty light on the tip of a reacher-between-universes, that you will faithfully follow. Make decisions in life that lead to feeling the most E in the long run. You and your path pull and twirl into a self-referential vortex with a singularity at perfection when you keep E on your horizon. At the core of this argument is the subjectivity of perception, that the way you feel is as close as you can ever get to truth, being stuck in that head of yours.

"This hour, I feel an emotion that makes me wish I had lived the life I lived." That's your target.

One more thing. Every point has a path up to that point. How would you have to FEEL when you reached that point to make you want to take the same path to that point? Whoops, looks like we just generalized the argument by induction. Surprise! You should always be trying to feel E, not just endeavoring to snag it briefly before your death.

Today I'll ride the bus home, and then I'll see a world premiere by my local Shakespeare Ensemble (needless to say, not Shakespeare), where I'll think about human relationships in a new way. Then I'll attend a ridiculous weekly party, at which sexuality is celebrated and crudeness thinly veils interesting, intelligent people, and at each recurrence of which I become more aware of myself by leaps and bounds. Then I'll talk to the love of my life for a few hours on the phone because she's the love of my life, and then I'll sleep deeply and stilly, knowing that I already pursue E and that the more detail I define, the more handholds I'll have when I soon face more important decisions.

I anticipate one objection now: I have already lived a portion of my life, and I have regrets. What can be done now that the ideal path is forever closed to me, somewhere far uptube? The weak rebuttal is that, like a process in control theory, I can eventually level out to an even, steady state in infinite time no matter what my initial fluctuations, as long as I know my setpoint and I navigate intelligently. All is not lost. But everyone with spikes at the end of their tube has finite time, albeit more than we think.

The strong rebuttal, on the other hand, notes that the one making the decision about E is already in this space, so that the E is always ideal in context and not a general property. Furthermore, upon finally feeling E, everything leading up to that time is justified, because, of course, E by definition recursively implies my ideal path. I said so myself. If I don't believe it, I pick a different E. I can't do better than that.

The Double Reacharound Lifelong Justification:

Reacharound 1. The path you choose is determined by the emotion you'll feel having traversed that path.

Reacharound 2. The emotion you choose now is determined by the path up to now, and cannot be attained except by inclusion of that path.

What is your E?

If nothing else, maybe this is an exercise in asking the right question when hunting for meaning in your life. Maybe you will break into a brilliant new space of understanding and realization after considering this and many other ideas.

When you figure it out, though, don't tell me. No spoilers.

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