Measure Zero

Sometimes, I am just completely swept away by the majesty of the universe. And sometimes, this happens even when I am a bit sad, like right now.

I was re-reading “Watchmen” because it was the only book that was easily accessible after my move. (I put it in my desk drawer when I suspected that someone might have been rummaging through my stuff in my old place, because using the book “Watchmen” as a warning — with its smiley face cover — just made me so amused. Anyway, that’s why it wasn’t on my bookshelf and packed into boxes with the other books. I do think, in retrospect, that I was just a tad paranoid at the time.) And the quote that Dr. Manhattan gives while on Mars just really struck a chord with my thinking of late:

“Thermodynamic miracles… events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring that precise son; that exact daughter, until […] it was you, only you, that emerged.

“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold… that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle. […] but the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget … We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away.”

I think Carl Sagan also spoke or wrote something similar, but I can’t seem to find it on Google, so I must be wrong.

We, as we grow older, become so accustomed to the improbable that we forget how amazing some things are. In many ways, we wish to lose that wide-eyed innocence because it leaves us vulnerable. For some reason, “sophistication” and indifference are valued in society, and so we grow cold to wonder.

The world possesses such fearful symmetry, but our individual perceptions of the world stamp a decidedly asymmetric view towards it.

My friend sent me this article written by a woman who is becrying the lack of dateable men in Seattle (San Francisco and the bay area are (obviously) mentioned as well) caused by the tech incursion, labeling “brogrammers” as all the same, and causing homogeneity in her dating pool (article link). As if she — and by extension, from the tone of the article, any non-tech woman — is someone so consummately unique. Maybe we in tech all seem the same to them, but isn’t this just a perception of sameness? How different does she think these women are to the “brogrammers”? People tend to think that they are so unique in the world because each of us experiences life as only ourselves. Maybe we sometimes “put ourselves in others’ shoes,” but that is not the norm, and is likely never truly, completely done. Empathy we can and do have, but our perspectives are irrevocably entwined with our existences inside ourselves.

Even setting aside the fact that girls are scary, I dislike online dating because I think it enforces this meat market mentality that commoditizes people. And the fact that the vast majority of people (myself included) ignore this fact or accept this mentality completely frustrates and infuriates me. (To not be hypocritical here, even though I have $1,000 riding on going on 4 dates this year, I’ve deactivated my OKC and CMB accounts.) We fail to recognize that even though we are all unique, our uniqueness does not entitle us to anything; and, furthermore, that we are no more unique than anyone else — we are not unique in our uniqueness.

And so we go about our quotidian lives, realizing in our skewed perspective that we are special, yet not fully accepting that others can have those exact same thoughts. We, the citizens of Lake Wobegon, refuse to admit we live there. The faults of others we do not observe in ourselves. That’s the problem with online dating.

I’m convinced more than ever not that “all men are created equal,” which is idealized, wishful thinking; but that there is a balance — some masterful symmetry that is breathtaking if we view it from one angle, frightening in another — in humanity and the world. Little hints are given to us daily. We hurt others as much as we are hurt. We see beauty, and goodness, and logic, and ridiculousness everywhere.

We are all of measure zero.