Monday, 18 February 2013

A few thoughts on Serendipity (with a tip of the hat to..)

I can't ever make my mind up as to whether the happenings in our lives are  as a result of randomness, as exhibited by a cold, hard Universe indifferent to our existence, or if all the particles in the Universe, set in motion during the Big Bang, were always destined to arrive at a particular set of circumstances due to the laws that govern the interactions of matter and forces.
Ok, that was quite a long opening sentence, but as a summary of my own struggle with the conflicting concepts of determinism and randomness, I think it describes more or less the nugget in the middle of the whole conundrum. It is, in fact, quite a Biggie as far as philosophical arguments go and far beyond my poor engineer's brain to untangle.

Just lately, I have encountered several friends and acquaintances who tell me that all that happens to us is somehow predetermined. Fate, apparently, has its own opinion on whether we crash into a Jack Russell on our bicycles and hence arrive late at a junction where had we not collided with a dog, we would have met our ends under the wheels of the proverbial bus. We have that dog to thank for not only avoiding our untimely death, but the subsequent posthumous embarrassment at the state of our undergarments which by another quirk of Fate, might not have been pristine that very morning.
A local Jack Russell
Well, I am having none of it. Sorry. I know each action we take is the nexus for a branching tree of happenstance that is infinite in its possible courses, but to think there is some guiding hand of providence which decides in our best interests, which of those myriad sets of possibilities befalls us is just plain silly. Ok, it might exist, as might the gods of Mount Olympus with a chessboard containing rooks, bishops and pawns with our faces on. Equally probable to that is the Christian God with a Divine Plan, or even naughty elves who live in the shrubbery and hide our keys when we leave the front door open. They might exists, but there are no good, factual reasons to suppose any one of them does.
The manifestation of a possible deity..?
And I wish I had a quid for every time, over the last year, a well meaning soul has responded to news of my own recent cerebral misfortune with a "Well, it wasn't you time" or "Someone was looking out for you!" (Well, in that case, why didn't they bloody PREVENT IT happening in the first place then?). It was not so. Shit Just Happens. This is how I choose to regard it. And I am alive and grateful to be so.

And so, what we appear to have is Serendipity. I am grateful to a friend of mine for my introduction to the concept and all its glorious implications. I was aware of the word previously, certainly, but not of it's enormous significance. Our approach to the apparent randomness of Life can profoundly influence how we perceive events and what happens to us as a result.

It seems that "stuff happens" to us all the time. For instance, the imaginary terrier described above can be perceived as a nuisance or our possible saviour from a messy accidental death. Ok, that is perhaps a bit of a tenuous stretch, but you get the idea I hope.

As life unfolds and we stumble through the obstacle course that is the narrative of our existences, if we are receptive to the possibility that the unexpected changes in the course of events might bring us an interesting experience, then it is more likely to do so than if we merely regard the change of plan as a nuisance.

What concerns me is that Serendipity is being systematically removed from our lives by algorithms. Our routes are planned by Satnavs which take us to places without us navigating consciously, and without the getting-lost which often takes us to unexpectedly interesting places we might not otherwise have found. If we regard getting lost as a kind of exploration, it takes on a new meaning. For instance, once, I decided to take a route home on my bike which was not the quickest, but which I had never traveled before. There was no reason for this other than, I just fancied finding out what was down this little lane. I was utterly delighted to find an stand of plum trees which once had been an orchard for a large, now-vanished house. Had the detour been forced upon me by, say roadworks, I might have found it a drag, an annoyance, and not noticed the trees and hence not made several hundred litres of wine and hundreds of pounds of jam.
Plum wine which might otherwise not have been made
Similarly, though I like my kindle, I find it annoying that Amazon "suggests" books for me based on my previous reading material. Were I perusing a library, I might look for a book, and possibly find alongside it, another unrelated title that catches my eye and turns out to be a tremendous read. You don't get that level of haphazard delight from "Customers who purchased this also bought..." algorithms.

Such is the pervasive nature of this guidance, this "choosing for us" that an iPhone app (actually called "Serendipity") now exists which authoritatively instructs you whilst walking in a town to take random turns of its choosing, such that you encounter new places, perhaps very close to, but outside of your normal route. The reviewer noted that he had been amazed to find a park this way that he had previously not know about, though he had walked mere metres from it for a dozen years on his way to work. Discovery happened! How serendipitous! Except it wasn't really because it was to some extend guided.
It's a bit sad that this has to now be the result of a technological product and not of mere curiosity.

So, I thank my friend for the introduction to the concept of Serendipity. It can make unexpected into fortuitous. I shall keep an open mind and take unexpected paths in preference to those I already know. And let's see where it takes me, shall we?

Friday, 8 February 2013


Sorry, I have been a bit busy. Also, I have been trying to find my way around this subtly altered brain. I think I have the hang of it now. I have been making things and doing things and this seems to have scratched my creative itch in the way I needed.
I have also been taking Argentine Tango classes, which I had promised myself for a long time I would do. Oh, I have danced for many years, but Tango I always considered the pinnacle of coolness and class. About ten years ago I saw the film Moulin Rouge and after my initial scepticism, discovered that the wonderful spectacle appealed to my sense of my own pomposity. When I saw El Tango de Roxanne, I swear I held my breath for the whole of the dance. And I really really wanted  to be able to dance like that. But I never really plucked up the courage to pursue it.

Well, time is short, as I discovered, so I got a move-on and Just Did It. I found Tango Alchemy with the enigmatic and authentic Eduardo and it suits me well. I imagine the alchemy bit is the taking of the base metal clod that I was and turning it into Terpsichorean gold. We shall see...
But it's bloody marvelous! Two months in and I think I can give a good account of myself with a willing and able partner. I just feels good. I wish I had done it sooner. But these things seem to have their time and circumstances perhaps needed to be right.

I had always thought tango to be that silly dance where people, cheek to cheek, the man with a rose clasped between his teeth, strode dramatically but ridiculously out of the room through double doors to some pastiche tangoesque music. And perhaps in ballroom tango there may be some echoes of this.
But what I was after was a more traditional and authentic style of tango, more akin to this
And I blinkin' will be able to do this one day!

It's a much more introspective and intimate dance than I had imagined. I can thoroughly recommend it as a passtime. I go home from my tango class with a feeling that I have participated in something both classy and exotic. Dance, as I have mentioned before, is a primal thing that puts us in touch with parts of ourselves that nothing else can. It can be a stage where we act out parts of ourselves that would never otherwise see the light of day. And this is wonderfully cathartic. I do believe I am addicted.

And that is where I have been instead of writing. But perhaps I can hold the attention of two Muses sometimes.