Monday, May 4, 2009

deus ex machina?

Never expose yourself unnecessarily to danger; a miracle may not save you...and if it does, it will be deducted from your share of luck or merit. - The Talmud

I can't tell if I'm more or less prone to accidents than others. I've only been me as long as I can remember. Going on pure intuition, I'd say I have a higher incidence than most. This is mere speculation. I wont bother to innumerate the painful details surrounding the events of my inductive reasoning here, one will suffice.

I was 6, maybe 7, years old and my parents generously decided that the passing of another birthday was cause for excessive celebration. Their gift as recognition for my being year older surpassed any reasonable expectation, considering that neither 6 nor 7 are notable milestones as far as age goes. We were a middle class family and I suppose in typical middle class fashion we (or they) spent more than they could afford. I didn't complain. They flew me from New Zealand to Hawaii. Hang loose dude.

We stayed with one of my cousins there. During an excursion to a public pool, my dad helped my younger cousin restrap his goggles which had become loose. I stayed in the pool while they worked on their little project out on the margins of the poolside area. I was instructed to hold on to the edge . I hadn't yet learned to swim. A gross over sight, as I'd soon discover, but a marginal concern at the time. I don't know if I was bored, suicidal or just stupid, but somehow I managed to lose my grip on terra firma and I found myself "floating" helplessly away from safety and into the 6 foot deep abyss of chlorine flavoured water.

I had a perfect understanding of what was happening at that moment. I was drowning and I could possibly die. That's an unacceptable outcome when all you're trying to do is enjoy your birthday present. I flailed my arms, which didn't seem to help much. I tried to yell for help, but all that did was help me take on water even faster. I learned later in life that sound travels through water more efficiently than it does through air. I know from experience though that this fact works better as a theory than it does in practice.

There I was at the bottom of the pool. Waiting for the grim reaper or hopefully someone else to notice that I was no longer visible above the surface. That's when it happened. I felt 'something', I don't know what, helping me back to the edge, back to safety. Dad came over like the police in every action movie ever made, too late to do anything useful, but just in time to clean up the left overs of the important stuff he missed. I just used up a big chunk of my allotted luck and I wasn't happy.

There are a number of explanations for this unusual occurrence, I will leave many to the imagination but here are some possibilities: I could have spontaneously learned to swim at the exact moment that I needed it the most, through some kind of strange permutation of an adrenaline rush. This seems unlikely, because I didn't officially learn to swim until some ten years later (maybe someone uploaded swimming knowledge into my brain ala the matrix and wiped it as soon as I started breathing air again). Accounting for the helping hand that I remember complicates things. It could be a false memory, a confabulation of a simple child exposed to too much religion. Or I could accept that the universe wanted me around in that and this form for just a little bit longer. This can not be discounted. Anthropomorphising the universe might be frowned upon by people who don't like that sort of thing, so for the sake of the positivists around us let's just say the universe for no particular reason kept me alive that day. That cannot be disputed. I'm still breathing air.

It's tempting to remain agnostic (and by agnostic I just mean in the general sense, a lack of commitment to any explaination at all) about my deliverance from the dread clutches of a watery grave, but that really is a soft option (sometimes). The thing I like about theists and atheists alike is that although they are often ideologically overbearing at the best of times at least you know where they stand. I can understand the merit of suspending judgment on a topic, because all the facts aren't yet in, but it's impossible for us to collect all the facts on most issues (what are you afraid of? that you might, gasp, be wrong about something, that would be just unacceptable), sometimes you just have to make a decision.

My interpretation on what happened is that singularities do exist. If you look at medicine, a discipline that has probably hurt just as many people as it has helped, you'll find that doctor's generally prescribe treatments based on a general model of how a general human will react. On average this is an effective way of working, but not always an efficient one. Each of us is unique physiologically, psychologically and probably just about any other way you can think of. The universal approach is obviously useful for any one that it works for. For patients who are different enough to respond to the standard treatments in unexpected ways (my dad is one of these people, serves him right) particularism needs to come into play. It's rare that you'll find a universal approach that is ever going to work unequivocally in all situations when dealing with complex systems. Chaos can be unpredictable, just like reality. There are just too many anomalies out there. I am one of them. I should be dead.


Anonymous said...

Really? I didn't know that. I tend to be more accident prone then most, what with short vision, flat feet and abominable hand eye coordination. Genetic selection can sometimes be a bit of a bummer (fie upon you flat feet and myopia!!)

I didn't know you'd had a near death experience - Hmmm, technically I should probably be dead too having had the top quarter of my face detached from my skull in a car accident at the age of 12(very schwarznegger terminator II).

While the advent of Seal and Harry Potter made forehead/facial scars en vogue - thanks harry - the only thing my physical 12 year old little girl self could accurately be compared too post accident was a Klingon - from the ridge of staples at the top of my head, the dodgy haircut such measures neccessitated, and the scaly skin around the facial wound).

While amazing for Halloween, not such a good look on a little girl at Intermediate or College Mon-Fri. Yet here I am, still alive and not so much kicking as skipping.

How this particular experience relates to anomolies and universal approaches - say in the realm of theists and atheists alike - poses some interesting questions. This is where we bust out that old chestnut free will to account for ones different responses.

From a physiological point of view, genetics, environment, nature vs nurture and various other theories we could expound and extrapolate come to mind but as I'm short of time, I'll have to save it for the next installment

Till then, keep up the good work =)

Loren said...

Flat feet get a bad wrap, I reckon, seen as the only thing they prevent you from doing properly is joining the army, and there's no real harm in that.

As near death experience go mine was pretty half hearted, no tunnels of light beckoning me home, no passing out, no dramatic flat line followed by my pulse re-materializing out of no where. This is how I justify my no-new-lease on life attitude. Everything is as it always was except that I got a little choked up on some pool water once. Still it wasn't a total loss, it contributed to my incredibly elaborate (yet elegant) philosophical view of the universe, which can only be a good thing.

Sometimes I wonder if people can tell that at least 80% of the time I speak in ironies bordering on half-truths. Since I deliver everything deadpan in life and in writing (with not so much as an emoticon to betray my true intent) I fear that my unquestionable wisdom can never fully be appreciated. Than again this approach should clue everyone into my fundamental belief about everything in general. It's wonderful, crazy and absurd world that we live in.

Have I managed to respond in an intelligible way? That would be truly miraculous.