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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Twists And Turns

Our lives are like roads. By analogy, the features of a road can be likened to different aspects of our lives. This analogy can be useful, because it can help you produce a framework for understanding what happens to you and to others.


Curves in a road are required by the local terrain to keep the road smooth enough for you to continue to navigate it properly. In our lives, the local terrain becomes the external forces that mould and shape our lives, constraining our path. Such things as our family, our mentors, the schools we went to, the jobs we worked, the people we loved, the successes we had, and the crises we went through qualify as external forces. They are a bit automatic, since they don't affect the linearity of the road (in the sequential sense that the next part of the road naturally follows what preceded). A tornado that destroys your home is a terrible thing, but if you survive, you rebuild or move and life goes on.


Hills in a road, where steepness is increased, require you to use more energy to continue at the same pace. Life, on the other hand, can get more difficult for you if you break a leg. Then you may have to work twice as hard to get where you are going. Periods of economic austerity, requiring you to work two jobs at once, or a period when you go to school at the same time as working a job are good examples of such difficulties. Even when you have a baby and you get awakened at all hours of the night can make life more difficult in the short term. Not that it isn't wonderful!


When you take a turn at a fork in the road, you are making a decision in what would otherwise be an unchanging linear path. In our lives, such a decision, through causality, might completely affect what follows just as taking that turn on the road might very well alter your destination.

Decisions are the turns of our lives.

When you decide to take that job in another city, requiring a move, you have made a life-altering decision. If you take the job, then you might be turning left. If you don't take the job, then perhaps you are going straight.

If a decision is forced, then it is really more like a curve in the road. There is no opportunity to turn. Or if there is a turn there, perhaps it is blocked with those orange cones.

But, like on the road, we find that, in life, doing the hard thing can sometimes produce better results than simply taking the easy path.

All Roads Lead to Rome

There are certainly reasons to believe that not all decisions will completely alter what follows. This is because, often, all roads lead to the same place. It's just that they arrive there by a different path. And this is not an insignificant aspect of life.


Sometimes you must pass over another road, or under. In life, sometimes things happen externally that don't affect you, like a vacation that everybody else went on. They just pass you by. Sometimes it seems that there's no point to an overpass, but it does help to address the problem of crossings. In life, things can happen in parallel that might ordinarily affect each other through sequestering. Perhaps these are more like lanes in a road.


Still, largely, roads are embedded in the plane: the surface of the earth is locally a planar topology, though globally it wraps around. When a turn becomes too complicated to embed in the plane (like a road normally is), it becomes a twist. This is akin to what happens when everything in your life turns upside-down. Nothing makes sense. You lose your bearings.

But also, on a road, there can be unnecessary complications: the right lane turns left and the left lane turns right. This is sometimes forced by the multi-level nature of roads, or by the requirements of a turning radius.

You see, unnecessary complications do happen and they are a consequence of things getting too complicated to treat in a simple way. Perhaps they are the result of bad planning. But, as they say, in a battle the plan is the first casualty.

The topology of life is an unrelenting problem and things can get hopelessly tangled up so they can't be separated. We have talked about knots and weaving, fabric and rings, but the humble road is such a good analogy for life, because of its sequentiality. There is something calming about driving a nice straight road. In a similar sense, life seems to be at its best when it is simple.

It's best not to have too many twists in your life. It seems that breakdowns occur when life gets too complicated.

But life does not always comply with our wishes for simplicity.

Roads have another feature: the dead end. This is a place where the road can go no further, at least, in this direction. In life this is simply death, of course.

Me, I think I'll drive onto the ferry and find more road!

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