Of the Many and the One

In late spring thaws or pouring rain,
The water finds its way from peak to base,
With gravity and a groove it is turned,
First one way and then another,
Splitting here or there as chance permits,
So many thrills, with rills, and spills,
Into braided streams and channels,
Until all the many choices become one.

And where that mighty mouth,
Dares a salty kiss on majestic sea,
It slows its approach out of respect,
And unloads grain upon grain,
Until a bed is made for them both,
And the river does tease with dendritic hands,
The ocean ebbs and flows with delight,
In brackish ecstasy they become one.

In winter bare does the tree invite,
A labyrinthine exercise for the eyes,
From small sprout it begins to climb,
Branch to branch, twig to twig,
Steadily, always going out on a limb,
Spreading high and wide, leaves unfurling,
All to catch those golden rays of sun,
The majestic sylvan purpose is one.

Darkened skies heavy with bloated drops,
An ominous base hovers over thirsty land,
Millions of electrons bully others away,
Full of potential an army charges out,
Their leader searches from something positive,
It sends one battalion here, one there,
A more covert operation you’ll never see,
And in a flash, power surges in finding the one.

And as I sat and pondered these things,
I looked ahead at the decisions before me,
And those that were far behind,
Would one different turn have changed me?
And what decision should I make next,
Not knowing where I might be sent?
Are all the many branches of possibility,
Just an illusion that lead to an outcome of one?

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10 thoughts on “Of the Many and the One

  1. An interesting closing question, Swarn, though perhaps one unanswerable. I suppose our final outcome is for us all of one kind, and yet as we won’t be there to witness that same, it shall remain unverifiable β€” save that metempsychosis prove the case.

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    1. I was kind of asking two questions there…the bigger overarching question that you are asking, for which I agree is somewhat unanswerable, but nevertheless, in a rather unromantic sense we do all end up fertilizer. πŸ™‚ In my comparison to dendritic structure which often involve small branching in comparison to the larger structure, I wondered if a lot of our agonizing over this decision or that decision might not overall be fruitless and that we roughly be in the same place we are now. Even perhaps big decisions. Maybe a different wife and a different child, wouldn’t make me significantly different as a person given that I would look for similar qualities in a mate, who agrees on similar parenting strategies. In my examples despite the complexity of the dendritic structures, the purpose, the goal, the end point…are the same. How much of our “choice” leads to some vastly different outcome? I actually tend to think they might, so perhaps the opposite of my thesis here…but I wanted to combine this thought with my aesthetic appreciation for dendritic structures in nature. πŸ™‚

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      1. Fertiliser seems a little unromantic for you, Swarn β€” can we settle upon returning once again to stardust? As I understand it, then a lot of our decision-making, our apparent agency and autonomy, is somewhat illusory, tricked as we are by the appearances in the mind of alternatives from which to make a selection. Much of this is post-hoc rationalisation, a post-dictive illusion β€” i.e. an explanation after the event β€” the intuitive decision already having been made in felt predispositions within what used to be called the Limbic Region of the brain. [Victoria will put us straight on that, no doubt. πŸ™‚ ] We notice this sometimes in daily living, say, when going to close the car door whilst consciously aware that the keys are still inside. The motor action has been initiated (a decision has been made to close the door), beneath the level of conscious deliberation. Benjamin Libet was the first to run scientific tests on the timing of neural events in short-term decision making, back in the 70s. From memory, I think there’s something like a 400ms delay between the decision being made and the conscious awareness of making a decision (the volition occurring). It may well be that a similar schema plays out on decisions made over a longer timescale. That’s to say, we make our choices largely intuitively, in accord with felt predispositions, only rationalising after the event in order to shore up our sense of agency and autonomy. If it turns out to be so, then the end-point, as you call it, is already known in the unconscious mind β€” meaning there exists a predisposition which will likely be followed, would we but know it.

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        1. Haha…I agree…the fact that we are made of stars…return to the Earth and become one dust again is indeed a beautiful thing to me…I was more being tongue’n’cheek to those who want there to be some supernatural paradise awaiting us where we can meet relatives and pets. πŸ™‚

          I am not a support of free will myself. I had read about the time delay between when we consciously become aware of something and when we make the decision to do it when I read this short book by Sam Harris. It was fascinating stuff.

          I was also inspired by a fantasy book series I read where an oracle is a being who inhabits a large tree. The being is an oracle and is able to see every combination of decisions in a person’s life, and thus is able to encourage that person into one particular direction to reach a particular outcome. The large branching tree is set, I think, as a metaphor for the massive array decisions that it can see impacting every event in time. So whether or not our choices are illusions themselves or not, I also thought about how environment (the oracle) influences are decisions and sends us on a path…not so much of our own choosing…but with the illusion of our choosing. And in the book the characters ponder whether or not even knowing what the oracle has done to you would make any difference because he would know you would at some point make the opposite decision and you’d still end up where you were going to end up. I digress a bit…but it is interesting to me to think about and wrestle with. Are the decisions we wrestle with unimportant to becoming who we are going to be given that our society, and environment, our parents, our genetics…all perhaps mean much more than the individual branches we take in the large context of our lives.

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  2. This is a fascinating convo between you and Hariod. Great poem, btw. Interesting questions, too. It’s especially interesting because last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about how my life might have turned out had I not gone to a party (which I didn’t want to go to in the first place). I had moved away from the South, and was living and working in DC at the time. Anyway, a friend of mine was insistent that I go, so I went. That is where I met my late husband. We ended up moving back to the South (his request), and I am pretty certain that had I stayed in DC, I wouldn’t have had the same life experiences. I also think I would have become an atheist a lot sooner, as I was at the cusp of becoming one before I went and screwed up my life by falling in love with a Southern boy. LOL

    But, Swarn, you asked a great question at the end. Does it really matter? I do think that one different turn changed me, and it just seemed like a big waste of a chunk of my life. Now, it seems like I am back on course some 30 years later. In your reply to Hariod, you said:

    “Are the decisions we wrestle with unimportant to becoming who we are going to be given that our society, and environment, our parents, our genetics…all perhaps mean much more than the individual branches we take in the large context of our lives.”

    I don’t think they are unimportant. We might eventually end up becoming who we were going be, in spite of the detour, but it just seems like a waste of a large chunk of my authentic life when I branched off in another direction which dramatically changed my life.

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    1. Well said. I certainly don’t mean to diminish the journey… Such things are the flavor of life. I find dendrites absolutely beautiful so even if the endpoint is singular we can still find the journey amazing. Stepping back to look at all the myriad of choices… Something hard to picture in our minds but easier to see when we look at dendritic patterns it’s a bit like a map…A wondrous metaphor perhaps to our lives. Some paths are longer and more arduous than others even if the end is the same. I’m much more on your side here… But maybe as Hariod says you were going to go no matter what. You already made the decision before you were conscious of it. Your were the type to listen to your friend’s insistence because of who you are.. And thus the course of your life was set. It’s mind boggling to think about this maze of possibilities!

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  3. This is so interesting – the comment dialogues enrich the post, which stands alone and wondrous. Love the image as well – I took a photo strikingly similar yet monotone in nature – wish I could drag and drop it here to share with you. Anyhow.

    Of course you are familiar with Robert Frost’s poem about two paths diverging – he, too was contemplating ‘the road less taken.’ As for me, I don’t live with regrets. I simply accept the choices I’ve made, unable to go back and change things unless I enter the time/space continuum to do so πŸ˜‰ In this way I do think it’s possible, but to what end?

    I tend to concur with both Victoria’s hypothesis that ‘We might eventually end up becoming who we were going be, in spite of the detour … ‘ and Hariod’s, ‘Much of this is post-hoc rationalisation, a post-dictive illusion β€” i.e. an explanation after the event β€” the intuitive decision already having been made in felt predispositions …’

    But, hey. We all must ask the questions that arise, I suppose. Even if the answers are impossible. Aloha πŸ˜‰

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    1. Thought of you today, on a random note. Listening to an audiobook called Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A scientist with a poetic soul and a real gift for writing. If you’ve not done so already, maybe you want to check it out. Anyhow, hope you’re having a good weekend! Aloha, Swarn.

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    2. I’ve always thought that one of the things that separates us from other animals, whether an artifact of our level of consciousness or some other evolved function in the brain, that we have an advanced predictive capability. Watching animals, or watching my son as he develops, his future sense is not strong. For animals it seems that they often don’t advance very far in this capability no matter the age of the animal, but humans do seem to be able to become aware of future consequences to a level that, at least in all appearances, is unique on this planet. Being able to consider your choices and actions (Whether an illusion or not) and consider consequences well into the future (whether they will happen or not) maybe be part of our struggle to make choices, but may also be one of our greatest strengths as well. And our ability to look into the past to do a detailed hindsight analyses too seems unique.

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