I Don’t Understand Anything Anymore


The meaning of time is lost in the measurement. Besides, at some point precision measurements run into the uncertainty principle, which tells us you can’t know everything—Certainly not at once.

Now isn’t that a relief?

Understanding how things actually work explains so much of why too-muchness is so disorienting.

It’s just not natural. Nature relies on physical and biological thermostats to detect when things get too hot or too big or too much. Stars that get too big for their own gravity collapse and are reborn in ever-evolving forms. Predators and prey keep checks on each other over the long term to reach a sustainable balance to both. Our microbes, electrolytes, blood sugar, cell metabolism — anything can kill you that’s too much or too little, so balance is essential.

Ursula Le Guin, reflecting on age among other things, described a questionnaire she received from her alma mater, Harvard, on the occasion of the 60th reunion of her graduating class. (Of course, her college was Radcliffe, she points out, the product of gender exclusion, a “detail” Harvard overlooks.) One query asks: “What will improve the quality of life for future generations of your family?” The second choice is “economic stability and growth for the US.”

“That stymied me totally,” Le Guin wrote. “You can’t have both.”

Growth is good to a point. Beyond that, it leads babies to obesity, multiplying cells to cancer; it leads us to ignore the well-known fact that organisms and societies have an optimum size, can only exist in homeostasis with the earth, oceans, atmosphere. What’s more, she points out, uncontrolled growth as the single survival stratagem is bound to fail if only because it limits our ability to adapt, to consider alternatives.

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (who knew a thing or two about war and peace) wrote a morality tale titled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” It’s a great story, so spoiler alert: In the end, the answer is simple and unsurprising: 6 feet.

Nature does not generate fresh spreads of stuff from whole cloth. It recycles: water, air, mountains, energy, matter.

When old (ish) people like me attain too many years to sustain, we get recycled too. My atoms will form new collectives, use good old E = mc2 to turn energy into matter, who knows what? Nature will decide what it needs to keep things in balance. Death is life’s thermostat shutting down your circuits.

You could argue (and I will) that the confusion and chaos of overwhelming muchness is caused in part by the lack of functioning thermostats. The settings are stuck at more more more. More precision, more speed, more land, more people, more bathrooms, more bounty, more booty, bigger bonuses, more stuff to binge. We’re bursting at the seams.

And let’s not forget more friends, more likes, more followers, more opinions. When did crowdsourcing (more voices) become accepted as the best way to get accurate results? As opposed to, say, informed voices? Experienced voices? I don’t understand that.



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