The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for April 7th, 2017

inexplicable process

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It’s National Beer Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst lying about and writhing in self recrimination, a humble narrator often finds himself aghast. As is often opined, existential horror is what colors my days and precludes peaceful rest at night. Certainty exists in my mind that the cogs of fate are spinning towards doom, but I’ve been saying that for decades. One thing which all can agree upon, I believe, is that there is something wrong. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the political craphole I’m talking about.

There’s a larger sense, zeitgeist wise, that something weird has happened. Google “Mandela Effect” for the pop culture version of this phenomena.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One often wonders about parallel universes and alternate timelines. Theoretically, every moment in time – every decision you make in fact – spawns a binary split in time. There’s a universe out there based on that the fact you turned left instead of right, in essence, and where Star Trek’s Mr. Spock has a beard. There’s a depopulated American landscape in a timeline where the Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in a nuclear war, and another one in which the Japanese Empire rules over the western coastline of North America and so on… but all of that is on a grand societal scale. Focus on your personal stuff – wherein you married someone else than your current spouse, or decided to move to Kansas City instead of staying in NYC, or decided that you loved the sweet taste of crack cocaine.

Binary, or branch logic, is how to process these possibilities. The crazy thing is imagining all of the alternate “you’s”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Binary logic boils down to a) you turned left or b) you turned right. That binary decision led to a branch of further possibilities that led from your A or B choice. Each choice leads to another set of binaries, which in turn branch out from each other. Negotiating these choices determines how a person can end up as either a Doctor or a Convict, or possibly both. It’s “big math” trying to calculate the positive and negative consequence of each binary, and the name for this sort of behaviorally predictive arithmetic is “game theory.”

Taking that first step on a new path, or not, is a consequential moment that requires a certain number of logical assumptions which are based on prior or learned experience.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, the math of these binaries doesn’t account for fortuitous serendipity – or luck. Why do some people end up in positions and places which they have not earned through hardscrabble effort and choosing the correct binary choice at every step of the way? In some cases it’s because they are born into families where some forebear has made all the correct choices and the branch of the logic tree they enter the world on is already set. In others, it’s “luck.” Some people make their own luck, via a well chosen series of binary decisions.

There are two kinds of King or Queen out there – those born with the silver spoon in their mouth, or those who just roll in and take that spoon out of somebody else’s mouth and stick it in their own. I think it was Voltaire who said something like “all of history boils down to the sound of silk soled shoes falling down stairs while wooden soled ones are climbing them.” Durant was fairly emphatic in his warnings about the historical patterns of successful and well established civilizations losing touch with the ancestral vigor that “made them” in the first place being supplanted by younger and tougher ones – think Constantinople and the Turks, or the Persians and the Parthians, or Rome and the Franks. “Stay Hungry” seems to be the lesson of history, but how does that parse?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Theoretically, every binary choice spawns a new timeline – or universe – and that all of these timelines coexist in a series of ever multiplying and fracturing bubbles. Often, one has pondered how big a decision is required to spawn a new universe. Did ordering a burger instead of the fish at dinner last night create a new timeline? The answer is likely yes, if you buy into the theory. There’s also an army of “you” populating these alternate timelines – ones where you’re happy or sad, alive or dead, etc.

On the large scale, there’d be an alternate timeline NYC out there somewhere in which September 11th didn’t happen. Wonder what that world is like? There’d also be one where September 11th took the form of a nuclear attack, I suppose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pondering these binary choices can drive one crazy, especially when considering your decisions in retrospect. I’ve actually known a few people over the years suffering from mental illnesses who get lost down a binary logic hole.

Regret is ultimately the realization that you made the wrong binary choice and entered a branch of logical consequence that is less than ideal. “Never should have got behind the wheel that night,” or “what possessed me to say that to her,” or “well, he needed killing” are things none of us ever want to say. Should have become a convict is something no one ever says. On the other hand, this binary world view really sucks the joy out of life. If the choice between ordering a burger or the fish can really spawn an alternate timeline and a whole new universe, you should spend some more time reading the entire menu while also considering fate, and destiny.

Conversely, once – when I pondered about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin to my Dad – he offered “hey that’s pretty interesting, why don’t you think about that while you’re washing the car?”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given my studies of NYC’s history, friends often ask me where and when I’d like to visit – were it possible to travel in time. My first instinct would be to visit the NYC described by Jakob Riis, but then the realization that the people of that era were “super predators,” by modern standard, creeps in. Most present day New Yorkers would be shortly consumed by the people of that era. The interesting thing to me, of course, is that the set of binary choices and results which the “super predators” of the 19th century made and achieved – turning a cesspool city of wood framed tenements that lined unpaved streets which were crowded with pack animals and foraging pigs – into the greatest “polis” that the world has ever seen. The history of the world is always bookmarked by City States which defined the financial and cultural center of individual civilizations. Ur, Athens, Babylon, Rome, etc.

I’m currently torn to shreds over the idea that a set of binary decisions made millennia ago is Mesoptamia have ultimately branched into the City of Greater New York. I’m also wondering about an alternate universe in which Ur was never founded, and a world without cities. To answer the time travel question – I don’t want to visit the past, instead, I’d like to be able to view the other branches of the binary logic tree.

Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm

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