Archive for November 2010
Life advice from Jonathan Nolan’s short story Memento Mori, the inspiration for the film:
They were right. Lists are the only way out of this mess.
Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.
This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.
But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.
The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.
It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.
Your problem is a little more acute, maybe, but fundamentally the same thing.
Vishnu did not arrive in person, but the rest of the herd came and rescued the baby elephant.
Update [2012-08-31]: Found another version apparently at “the Luangwa River in the South Luangwa National Park” in Zambia, via here and here, etc. (Couldn’t get the above photo to not appear in this gallery; ignore that one.)
More from the “everything-that-can-be-said-has-already-been-said” department. Kumārajīva (344–413 CE), who was translating Buddhist philosophical works from Sanskrit to Chinese, writes:
Once Sanskrit is converted into Chinese, the subtle nuances are lost. Though the general meaning gets across, there is no way to bridge the gap in genre and style. It is like feeding another person with chewed-over rice. Not only is the flavour lost, it will cause the other person to vomit.