Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Wheel of Misfortune

We travel through the bulk of our lives blissfully thinking that we are in control of our destiny. To some extent that feeling is true. Most hard work gets rewarded and most bad deeds get punished. However, the system of karma may not be quite as balanced as we perceive it to be. There are forces beyond our control that can radically or subtly (or somewhere in between) alter our destiny. Despite our best subconscious feeling that we can control our surroundings, the fickle finger of fate may strike at any moment and remind us that we are not in control. Most call this force God, as a poker player I call it variance.

Everyday, before we start out to run our lives, we have to give the wheel of misfortune a spin. Most things are unlikely to occur when you look at your chances on a one on one basis. It's extremely unlikely that I'll have a brain aneurysm today and it may be a better chance that I'll have a bad car crash but that's still very unlikely. It's even unlikely on any particular day for me get a flat tire. Let's say the odds are about 500 to 1 of that happening on any particular day. Any good gambler would love those odds. The problem is that we have to spin that wheel for all sorts of unlikely happenings often enough that it becomes likely for something unlikely to occur sometime in your life. We suffer small accidents that are more likely like that flat tire all the time. We have our stubbed toes and spilled milk to prove that variance effects our destiny, even if in a minor way. But we don't cry over them due to their relative insignificance.

It's big freak accidents or horrible diseases and disorders like MS and cancer that really change the path of our destinies. That flat tire can suddenly happen while you're driving 70 mph on the highway and cause your car to jump the median and straight onto an opposing car. A tornado can hit your house. You might wake up and spin the wheel and have a cell mutate into cancerous cell and you won't even know about it until 2 years later until you have 5 tumors in your colon. (That is if you don't get struck by lightning first.)

A good poker player does two things about variance- First, he does his best to reduce variance and put himself in situations to have the odds be more in his favor. He'll play better starting hands or use position or tells for when a bluff would be better utilized. The second thing is that he accepts that variance happens and understand it is a part of the game. If the poker player receives a bad beat from the lucky donk, he understands that such things will happen and stays emotionally calm and avoid "tilt" to get back in the game. (or he at least tries) Of course this should also apply in your view of variance as well. We try to attain more favorable odds by doing things like eating better, creating better medicines, not smoking, checking to make sure our tire pressure is within the proper psi range, and getting express written consent from major league baseball. The wiser of us also accepts variance and knows it is a part of life. If we survive what bad luck comes our way, it's best to get back in the game with emotional calm. It's best to do now what you want to do because you never know what the wheel will land on.

I suppose this is just thinly veiled carpe diem advice. As an athiest I know that no matter what we do that in the grand scheme of things it all means naught. But you can either sit around and wait for death with doom and gloom or at least have some fun while you're waiting. There's a reason the small phrase "carpe diem" survived in latin. It's old and it's true. That truth will survive as long as there is self awareness.


Anonymous said...

"As an athiest I know that no matter what we do that in the grand scheme of things it all means naught"

Ummm..... no.

(except for the cosmic "grand scheme", which is what you meant

Brian said...

what more grand scheme is there?