(Illustration: Wolfgang Bloch‘s The Colors of Coincidence found here).
An oddity this Saturday morning on California’s north coast: Clear skies and bright, early sunshine. The norm for dawn is deep fog, like yesterday when the air was wet as rain, yet not.
Weather nowadays can be really deceptive, and can be made fuel — oddly, all the extreme shit we’ve seen lately, like drought, heat waves and storms, might actually be energizing climate change, creating another one of those obtuse “feedback loops,” which can be good or bad, ‘positive‘ as in bad, and ‘negative,’ as in good.
See, maybe a bit ambiguous, but most all of it positive.
Anyway, outside just now smoking a cigarette on the so-called back patio and the sky was pure and blue-transparent — a few low-hanging clouds to the east, barely in sight of my small view of the world — and in that clarity, a huge, shitload of spider webs can now be too-easily seen.
I loath spiders — more like scared shitless of them — yet terminally fascinated by their construction abilities, how these little assholes are able to leap enormous spaces via secretions, tie-in to about anything and then build these complex and near-invisible threads of beauty and awesomeness.
Humans plant corn, spiders build webs for food — to catch ‘prey.’
However, catch me accidentally walking into one, and bystanders if any, will get a performance of someone going spasmodically-insane, crying and screaming, flapping arms and legs in various directions, working frantically to rid the growing horror of a spider embedding itself into my head.
Baby. Scared of little spiders — shit yeah!
Surfing the news this morning on the Interwebs still throttles up misery and crap — Amber Alerts, the on-going tragedy in Egypt, forest fires, the NSA still thriving and Oprah big at the movie box office. Mundane in an era of horrid spectacle.
A couple of interesting topics, though, via Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture weekend reading list — one is a subject always interesting, which is people, places and thing placed together as if at random, those so-called ‘coincidences’ found all over one’s life.
Amir D. Aczel, a math and science writer and a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University, tackles the seemingly un-connected connections at Nautilus:
The simple question might be “why do such unlikely coincidences occur in our lives?”
But the real question is how to define the unlikely.
You know that a situation is uncommon just from experience.
But even the concept of “uncommon” assumes that like events in the category are common.
How do we identify the other events to which we can compare this coincidence?
If you can identify other events as likely, then you can calculate the mathematical probability of this particular event as exceptional.
Aczel uses pulling an Ace of Spades out of a 52-card deck — a one-in-52 chance, right?
But if every day of your life you draw a card out of a deck, you can be sure to see the ace of spades sometimes.
In fact, you expect this to happen roughly once in 52 draws.
It is the fact that cards can be drawn repeatedly out of a deck (with reshuffling after every draw) that makes rare events show up.
This is essentially what happens in our lives.
We are exposed to possible events all the time: some of them probable, but many of them highly improbable.
Each rare event—by itself—is unlikely.
But by the mere act of living, we constantly draw cards out of decks.
Because something must happen when a card is drawn, so to speak, the highly improbable does appear from time to time.
Read the whole article, food for the mind of a poker face.
And the second reading is of an interview at The Atlantic with cultural historian and social critic Morris Berman, who says America is really a “culture of hustling” — or giving over totally to consuming.
One aspect of this ‘culture’ is the denial of sadness:
What you miss is depth, because the bottom line is that life has a tragic dimension, and no amount of Oprah or Tony Robbins can change that.
To hide from sadness—and one way or another, that’s what Americans struggle mightily to do—is to remain a child all your life.
Most Americans have never grown up. (Foreigners know this, by the way.)
Americans are probably the most superficial people on the planet.
Barbara Ehrenreich deals with this in her book Bright-Sided, which skewers the religion of positive thinking and the happy face. (I would also recommend Janice Peck’s brilliant study, The Age of Oprah, to understand how she is just peddling a pseudo-spiritual version of the American Dream.)
To dull your sadness with Prozac or cell phones or food or alcohol or TV or laptops is to suppress symptoms, and not live in reality.
Reality is not always pleasant, but it does have one overriding advantage: It’s real.
Another interesting theme — read the whole piece. Berman also blogs at Dark Ages America.
So then: Is it ‘coincidental’ we are ‘hustling’ our way to absolute disaster?
Hide (if you can) and watch.