The Vanilla Variable: You learn to tumble and join an acrobatic road show which takes you to a small town in New Hampshire where you hear two girls speaking in Arabic. You either don't understand it and continue as usual, or do understand and talk to them. When you talk to them, a cop then asks you if you're a wise guy. You're either nice to him and then continue as usual, or you call him a wise cop and get into a flight that leaves you mostly blinded, you find that what should have been a determinant on the course of you life isn't one after all. You continue as usual with the tumbling act.
Birth: Your existence is determined by random causes on three level: 1) the decision of your parents to conceive a child at that particular time in their lives is less the product of their philosophical ideas than of the security which your father felt because the lawnmovers were selling well in the hardware store he worked in and which your mother felt because she was sitting around young and complacent with little else to do; 2) the act of conception was something they had to try several nights before they were sure they had something--why on one of those nights you were conceived and on the others you weren't is beyond them; 3) you as an individual, and not someone totally different, were created because the sperm cell with our genetic code happened to fertilize an egg before any of 18,000,000,000 others did. A few examples of the 18 billion other possibilities of the union of your two parents are your brothers and sisters.
Steal flares from the construction site?: Several times in life you are asked to make congnitive decisions that are obviously going to determine your future identity. Stealing the flares would be the social lever that would get you in with the generally more adventuresome, definant, virlle boys -- the jocks. (Being a jock is a state of mind rather than a guage of atheletic ability.) Too chicken to take any flares, you fall into the "non-entities" who have no clique and who consequently consume their time by reading which they have been told to do. As it happens, the importance of this decision is misleading because no matter whether you were a jock or a wonk, you still would have gone to Harvard.
Decision -- what flavor ice cream cone?: Constantly you are asked to make decisions of seemingly little import which turn out to be the most entire life. Vannila ice cream, as it happens, you can get at the corner spa near where you life, so you remain a homebody and eventually go to Harvard. Chocolate ice cream is only available at the Dairy Queen down next to the Sunoco Station; had you eaten there, you would have fallen in with some people all of whom later worked in gas stations.
Discovering Things: You were just average in college but the plague closes it down for eighteen months before you before you can return for graduate work. An apple either falls on you head or it doesn't. It does; and, with eighteen months of idle thought just finished, you then derive the calculus and the basic laws of motion.
College?: There will be times when you are asked to make decisions about events that will actually determine the course of your interests and actions. You will decide whether and where to go to college; but because you can't see the alternative future possibilities of the course of your interests, your life-determining decisions will be based on petty emotions which are irrelevant to the events they determine. You go to Harvard to study physics, and then you later wind up as to study physics, and then you later wind up as a writer.
Love: (The big myth -- the only girl in the world, etc.") Actually you could fall in love with half the girls at Radcliffe. It's just a matter of the right time and place and of whether the girl happens to be needing someone like you to have around at the time you need someone. The random factors here are infinite in their inter-relations. The converse view is that love is entirely determined by your past. Probably you will fall in love with someone unconsciously reminiscent of your mother. Also whenever you and a girl mutually fall in love, that event directly determines the life of the other boy she would have fallen in love with, who falls in love with another girl, who would therefore fall in love with someone else, who falls in have with someone who would have loved you.
Job: You think now is the time for your great act of will. To write for a living is a relatively liberated decision to make. But you find yourself forced by circumstances beyond your control (e.g., hunger) to write a lot of journalistic stuff you don't want to. You success is determined by the chance meeting of certain editors and the arbitrary dispositions of potential publishers when they read your work.
Writing: Fresh from the country, not an ideology in your head, you take ot the city to become a writer. The section of twon you live in leads you to meet a lot of angry young men, and your work is politicized. When the big bust comes, you're dragged in with your pals. Everyone is sentenced to be shot. The guns of the firing squad are cocked when a last second reprieve comes from the Czar (it was staged). The person next to you goes insane. You abjure this possibility, rethink a lot of things, and write Crime and Punishment.
Illness: Because you are sickly, you rarely attend school. Around the house you're always underfoot; they give you a drum kit to keep busy. As a consequence of your obession with drums you are unfit for useful work. It looks like you're going to be a ne'er-do-well, so you get together with some other kids who are also ne'er-do-wells and form a rock group. At your first recording session another group asks you to be their drummer. You join them; change your name to Ringo; and escape oblivion for fame and influence.
Air: There are approximately 136,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of air in the given room you're sitting in. They are constantly zapping back and forth all over the place. Their distribution throughout the room is entirely random. One of the possibilities of this random distribution is that they would all huddle together over in the corner. In such a case the room would implode to fill the vacuum; you would be killed by the tremendous force of the reaction. The probability of this happening is about one in ten to the 73rd power. It's one of those things that either happens to you or doesn't.
Death: Death needs little introduction. It rivals birth in its number of different levels of random causes. It can happen to you at any time, and stop the whole thing; there's nothing you can do about it.
Somebody else's decision -- what radio station to tune-in to?: When you get older, it all gets more complicated. The trooper watching the sppeeding radar on the Conn Pike hears the beginning of "Honey" by Bobby Golsboro on the radio, which distracts him from someone doing 85 in the passing lane. You're doing 73 in the middle lane; but you're next. When you get a ticket, you shrink your ego: to minimize the penalty you go humble and let the cop score his subconscious anthropological victory by asserting himself over you. On an emotional level, you feel tiny. This is the night someone telephones to ask you to be editor of the Saturday Review. Because you're then in need of reassurance, you rate it as a great personal achievement to be offered the responsiblity for an important magazine. Actually, however, your sleepless nights over the typewriter on dex were supposed to lead you to writing the Great Work, to be the next Faulkner of the American novel, you thought. To edit a magazine leaves your life's work at a few well-reading periodicals. You've been made to feel you want to do just exactly what you knew you didn't want to do.
You Smell the Grass But Can't Make Flowers Grow"It's a melting society, it melts everybody's ass alike-but if the pressure gets too hot you can turn back and
Coming Together: Love in CambridgeRadicalism as a philosophy for change will, and must, have reverberations beyond politics and economics, at the level of social
No Headline"My boy," said a conscientious teacher, "do you know why I am going to whip you?" "Yes," replied the young
In the Streets CarsIM NOW DRIVING the car that's going to kill me. It's long and sharp, an American car, a much-traveled F-85
The Year of the Freshman: an annual social event thrown for 1200 selected students, with lifelong repercussionsIn Some Respects, A Rebuttal: Well, I hate to contradict old Nate right off the bat like this, but as