The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Monday, September 12, 2005

One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

There, but for the grace of God go I.

Have you seen the movie The Butterfly Effect? It's based on an old idea espoused by MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can, through a process of events, create a tornado in Texas. This is an offshoot of the age-old concept that time is a fluid structure that may, through the merest of interference, result in widely divergent outcomes.

I remember something I read by Isaac Asimov years ago that put a mental picture to the concept. He suggested viewing timelines as rivulets of water originating from the top of a wall and flowing downwards. As the water responds to gravity, it seeks the path of least resistance, resulting in shifting, diverging, and converging rivulets. The merest bump, well out of your range of vision, could reset the course of the water in an entirely new direction.

In a simple sense, our lives are like rivulets running down a wall. Each of us is speeding along, making thousands of decisions a day that could profoundly impact our lives, and the lives of others. Or they may not. Who really knows? In theory, you can trace almost any result back to a seemingly pointless decision. Tracing the path would be impossible amidst the uncountable variables that cross our world. Am I alive because I decided to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch on August 9, 1987 rather than a tuna fish sandwich? What about everyone else on Earth? Were any of them effected by my culinary choice? There's no way to tell.

Despite the untold variables, there are many moments during our lives where we can point and say, "Ah-Ha! That was were I screwed up!" If we weren't able to put some consequence to actions, then we would never learn at all. Of course, the chaos of the near infinite variables means that we usually only see cause and effect when that are temporally close or if the cause/decision is so big that it clearly affected the outcome.

Let me give you an example of the latter situation. When I was a 2nd year in law school, I interviewed with a number of employers. Having lived on the road for years, I really didn't have a set location where I wanted to begin my career. I was fortunate to receive a number of employment offers for the next summer. I had decided early on that I would spend one half of my summer with a firm on the East Coast. My second half decision was much harder.

I had tried to interview in cities that I thought were interesting, such as Phoenix and Charlotte. One town that I had visited a few times and had been very intrigued by was New Orleans. I was given the opportunity to do a short initial interview with one of the larger firms in the city, and I jumped at it. That inteview led to a "call back" interview in the Big Easy, and placed it in the lead for working during the second half.

By the time I was heading for my call back in New Orleans, I had pretty much narrowed the decision down to there or Dallas. I had really enjoyed the firm in Dallas and the money was better there, but I was excited about the prospect of living in a city that was unlike any other in the world. With this in mind, I flew halfway across the country with the intention to make a sterling impression and land a job offer.

And then my rivulet his a bump. My bump came in the form of a 3 minute conversation with a bellhop in Le Meridien. On our way up to my room, he started making small talk by asking me why I was in town. He asked me where else I was looking, and I said, "Dallas." He responded that, given a choice, he would choose Dallas over New Orleans. He told me that he had lived in the area all of his life, but if it weren't for hunting and fishing in the swamps he would be on his way to Dallas where his sister lived and which, he assured me, was far superior to New Orleans in terms of livability.

There you go. One random conversation. I could have shown up 10 minutes later and had a different bell hop, or I could have asked about local restaurants before he started with his "why you in town" routine. But I didn't. Would I have decided on Dallas if I hadn't had that conversation? I can't honestly say. What I do know is that the bellhop's comments effectively scared me off New Orleans.

He also gave me several passes to check out the local entertainment. So if you happen to run into some cajun bellhop with a bleach streak in his hair, tell him I owe him a beer or two.
Centinel 3:16 PM #


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