Thursday, July 30, 2009
Embrace Your Human Limitations
(Photo courtesy of patrick h. lauke)
Limitless possibilities are a paradox.
On the one hand, the sense of limitless possibilities can be exhilarating.
On the other hand, it can be paralyzing.
Almost every choice eliminates certain options. Dan Ariely's work shows that we humans are irrationally predisposed to preserving options, even to our own detriment.
Telling someone, "You can do anything" may be a curse rather than a blessing. When they fail to achieve their (probably unrealistic) goals, they feel sad and disappointed.
Happiness results from wanting less than you have. Wanting it all inevitably leads to unhappiness.
Many of us don't like the idea that our possibilities are slowly dying off, but that's our predictable irrationality at work.
That our options decline with age is natural, even inevitable, since we ourselves decline with age, and eventually die.
That is the final reality. When we are born, the possibilities are nearly infinite. When we die, the wave form of our possibilities collapses to a single point. It is quite reasonable that a 40-year-old man halfway through his life feels like he has fewer possibilities than his young daughter.
Depressing? To some perhaps.
But I am an optimist. I believe that knowing and acknowledging the realities of human existence allows us to live better lives.
When we understand the arc of our lives, we can develop a happier mindset. And a realistic understanding of these dynamics makes us appreciate even more those heroes who risk their precious lives in defense of others, and makes their sacrifice all the more poignant.
We are human. We are limited. And that's what makes our efforts to transcend those limits worthwhile.
(Inspired by a post by Tim Taylor.)
P.S. For those who are still a bit down, consider the possibility that Kurzweil is correct, and that the singularity is near. Once we have achieved immortality, the possibilities really are infinite.
P.P.S. Still need cheering up? Some Richard Simmons ought to do the trick!