I’ve been thinking about something specific for the past month or so.

The topic is hard for me to put into words but, fundamentally lies at the intersection of (Life,Liberty and,Risk). Hence the title.

While I’ve done my best to keep the language simple, there are some technicalities and some assumptions made to arrive at the conclusions that I think make the most sense.

I would genuinely love any feedback, corrections, mistakes, refinements, critiques of any form you could provide.

Intro

I’ve done some reading in an attempt to understand and shape my world view better. The end result of this is best summarised in the following points.

  1. There are hardly any causal effects in life — I’ve now come to a point where I believe that there are an incredibly small number of scenarios in life where cause and effect can really be defined. Most scenarios and interactions have far too many hidden variables. Most are correlations and these situations are insanely hard to recreate. I originally came to the belief that there are no causal effects but, this is impossible to prove.
  2. We own nothing but our thoughts, perceptions and, emotions — This is to say that the material things that are with me are merely in my possession and I do not in truth own them. This also means as an extension, I do not own this laptop that I am typing this on, I am in possession of it and I did incur real world cost to be in possession of it but, it can be taken away from me at any moment. This is by no means a legal definition, its a philosophical one.
  3. Even these few things that we own are lost when we die — Lost is an interesting word, since, once we ‘cease to be’ we cannot really lose, but, that aside, I think the point holds. The concept of regression to the mean posits that all extreme events will eventually regress towards the average, in the case of our lives, we have not existed for much longer than we have, as a result, the mean or normal scenario is for us to not own anything and not be in existence.
  4. As an extension, life is fundamentally a balance sheet — Regardless of how much your asset appreciates or losses accumulate, at the end, everything is wiped out, how quickly they depreciate/wipe out is the only difference, to some, it happens throughout life, to others, it happens fully at the end. This is in my view, the easiest thing to understand but, the hardest pill to swallow. This point is in some way inferable from (3) itself and could also be understood from the next point.
  5. Impermanence is a fundamental truth — What once was and is, will not be at some point in the future, this sort of neatly encapsulates the other points as well. As a result of this, I have come to accept that all Life is suffering, suffering is both a strong and loose word to use here, but, that’s the one I’m going with, mostly because, this life is something that I did not choose to be put into, will not choose to leave and, merely have to exist and do what I can while I exist. In short, it is something I have to endure ( this is not as negative as it sounds ) To me, these 5 points seem to hold fully/reasonably true when I test them, mostly because they are derived from different branches of philosophy and theology in bits and pieces.

Scenario

Now to make the first jump based on these points, let us say that these are the rules of the ‘Game’ of life.

There are several ways to ‘play’ this ‘game’ or ‘win’ this ‘game’,

  • To be the best player in the game itself
  • To do the best/worst you can
  • To choose not to play
  • etc All of these fundamentally fit into the boundaries of this ‘Game’

But, based on the 5 earlier points, all gains are wiped at the end no matter who we are, so, can there really be a way to be the ‘best’ anything? Does the word ‘best’ still have meaning in a world where an individual cannot persist?

Lets say since all gains are wiped out, there is no end value to ‘winning’. 
As a result, it is worthwhile to investigate what the ways to play this game that fit into these 5 points are.

Legacy

If somebody lives the ‘best’ life that they can, how long will the effects of their lived life have a meaningful impact on the rest of the world?

By effects, I am talking about things like Memories of the person, things they have created, institutions that they have supported/created, inheritance left behind, in summation, Legacy.

While legacy and effect might not ‘matter’, I am only addressing whether and how long an effect has impact post one’s exit from the world.

Meaningful impact, I choose to loosely define as anything that changes how any another person lives, their behaviours and choices they make through their life.

The question is, again,

How long will the effects of a lived life have a meaningful impact on the rest of the world?

Assumptions

To try to answer this, let’s make a couple of reasonable assumptions,

  1. That a total of 100 Billion people have ever lived since humanity gained consciousness, by this I mean, since people started being aware of ones surroundings, was able to think critically ( intelligently ) and whose actions were not a by product of stimuli.
  2. That humanity has had such consciousness for roughly 50000 years, both for easy math and because its the best estimate we have. Let’s now try to answer some questions,
  • How many people from before the year 40000 BC are we aware of?
  • How many people from before the year 4000 BC are we aware of?
  • How many people from before the year AD 1000 are we aware of?
  • How many people from before the year AD 2000 are we aware of? If you’re like me and I think you very likely are, your estimates for these answers increased exponentially one after the other.
    This is one part of legacy.

Another part could be, what is passed on materially to future generations.
This can be reasonably addressed using similar questions, like,

  • How many economies/states/systems have persisted for 40000 years continuously?
  • How many economies/states/systems have persisted for 4000 years continuously?
  • How many economies/states/systems have persisted for 1000 years continuously?
  • How many economies/states/systems have persisted for 100 years continuously? I think you’ll find that a similar rule of estimate for the answer holds good here too. This is another part of legacy.

Redux

Without being very empirical with this, I’m going to try to answer the question,

How long will the effects of a lived life have a meaningful impact on the rest of the world?

  • Most (>99%) of lives don’t have a meaningful impact beyond 250 years
  • The rest (<1%) of lives decay exponentially and asymptotically from there The number 250 is arrived at through a set of assumptions,

Lets take the most secluded, isolated, small life, having few friends and knowing only your family, very likely your effect is going to have a meaningful impact only on the people closest to you for a few generations.

If we expand on this and live a bigger life, the effect is likely to be slightly larger for a slightly longer period of time.

I thought 4 generations was a good estimate and four generations overlap over roughly 250 years.

To summarise,

  • Very few (<1%) have effects that have a long term (>250 years) meaningful impact on any part of the rest of the world.
    This is both a defeatist position to be at and an incredibly optimistic and liberating position to be at, at the same time. It really depends on you.

Playing the game

So, the choice really is,

  • Do you want to try to have a long term impact or not? If you do, how do you do this?

I think, if you want to have long term impact, you need to be ‘playing’ right at the edge of the boundaries of the ‘game’ to try to redefine them.

The people who have had long term impact are the people who have redefined the boundaries by creating exceptions to the 5 points stated earlier.


If you fail by trying, that’s fine, you would’ve failed by not trying anyway.

If you choose not to try, that’s fine too, you’re with a huge chunk of people.

The question that I’ve been struggling with, is why isn’t everyone trying?

Risk

So, where does Risk fit into all this.

The biggest risk you can really take, is in truth, not much of a risk at all, because you can now be armed with the knowledge that you are very likely in the 99%.

There ceases to be a way to say high risk or low risk because, they all fold into the category of low risk, only higher or lower risks since most risky choices are in truth scenarios where you fold into the default.

Unbounded high risks exist only in the short term, not in the long term and the effects of such risks will probably not have an impact beyond your lifetime and if they do, probably only for ~250 years.

Liberty

If I die tomorrow, my life will be forgotten about by all but those closest to me in less than 100 years, the effects of my life might have a meaningful impact for maybe another 50–100 years, but, as of now, not more.

I find this thought incredibly liberating.

There is nothing to be stressed about, the biggest ‘success’, the biggest ‘failure’ and everyone in between will very likely have no meaningful impact on life in the long term and similar small meaningful impacts on life in the short term.

The deviations as a result of these impacts could be severe in the short term, but, more often than not regress to the mean.

I came to these thoughts about a month ago and have found myself in a weird sense of peace since then.

These things seem to hold true regardless of which school of thought I turn to.

Again, this isn’t a novel set of thoughts in any way, by admission, I’ve derived this from reading what has already been written.

What this has left me is a whole bunch of questions to think about and a bundle of optimism that is looking forward to the rest of this.

Life

The conclusion that I have arrived at is that life simply is, there is no good life, there is no bad life, most lives matter only to us and those closest to us and, will have minimal or no long term impact.

As a result, I can choose to do risky things in life and still fall in the same bucket as those who choose not to, I can choose to push the boundaries of this game and still end up with everyone else.

I can be safe in the knowledge that I cannot do too much or any damage to this world in the long term and also that I very likely will not do too much good either.

As an extension of this, for me personally, I want to do my best to live a risky life that tries to push the boundaries of this game. There no winning, losing, success or failure in this game. The objective is to just play on some level.

Maybe that’s the point of this, just to play.
What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Its very likely the same as the best thing that could happen, nothing in the long term.

The worst thing that could happen has already happened, we’re already alive and, suffering.

This is where I am right now, I will write more if I or anybody else finds faults with what I’ve stated above or if I find something that makes more sense.

Coda

If you stuck with me till the end, first of all, kudos to you and thank you.

Many thanks to Raghav, Vignesh and, Vishak, who helped me think this through and helped me write this out.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you for reading

Sainath