Being thankful life is long and math is true
Everything you have you owe to chaos theory
Thanksgiving has come, and with it fall’s end. Across my neighborhood leaves pile up in driveways faster than neighbors can remove them; the blustery weather collects their vibrant New England reds and oranges and yellows into heaps and drifts. While driving you have to be careful of roaming packs of actual turkeys casually picking their way across the road.
Almost exactly 400 years ago, just a few dozen miles from where I live, the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe sat down in Plymouth for a Thanksgiving celebration. The Wampanoag had helped the pilgrims not starve, and in return the pilgrims had given them supplies and armaments against their rivals, the Narragansett. The Wampanoag still live around here—the public school near me is 7% Native American, the highest percentage in Massachusetts. The graduation ceremony of the school ends with the tribe giving an official Wampanoag travel blessing, along with a drum circle and dance. Every year they and other first nation communities throw a local powwow that’s enchanting to behold, with dances and ceremonies (and food trucks).
That’s for summer though, which is gone. Now, the day after Thanksgiving in our downtown there will be a Christmas tree lighting. Everyone will count down until it blinks on as a band plays.
Perhaps this little slice of rural American life seems like heaven to some, hell to others. I get it. I used to live in New York City and smoke cigarettes on street corners and read obscure philosophy books in coffee shops. I still read obscure philosophy books, but it’s mostly on my porch.
And that’s what I am most thankful for this year. No, not my porch. Rather, that human life is long, and has many different stages, and that a good life consists of partaking of each stage as it comes, as if it were a course in a grand feast. Naturally, there are all sorts of specific things that I am also thankful for. I am thankful for you, the readers of TIP. I am especially thankful for the paid subscribers who find enough value in my work to support it financially. It’s a true honor, and none of what’s written here would be possible without you.
But what I want to highlight this Thanksgiving is, whatever things you specifically are thankful for are, they are mostly an outcome of biology plus math. For we humans have been blessed by evolution with a long lifespan. This, in turn, means that our lives intersect with the mathematics of chaos. As processes we are given enough time to play out in interesting and unpredictable ways. Let me explain with anecdotes and a couple graphs.