Okay, at this point, it may be oft-quoted, but here goes. Kurt Vonnegut wrote:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you have about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of–

God damn it, babies, you’ve got to be kind. ”

And for that, if for nothing else, I argue the man ought to be revered.

I got to thinking: what do I know? Not a lot, perhaps. What do I think? Well, there’s more of that. And so, in the interest of capturing all my bias and all my wonder and all my world, and in the interest of not having to do any more research than I have to, I’d like to write a little bit discursively, claim it’s fact, be wrong where I may and right where I may, and thus and so the cookie crumbles.

So we are people, kiddo, human beings, which is to say that as far as anyone is able to tell, we are descended from the apes, and we are the only creatures on Earth, at least, that have developed paper airplanes and fake vomit and nuclear weapons and knock-knock jokes. Whether all of this has been for good or ill is a point of some contention, although my contention is that it doesn’t matter all that much, because it is what it is, and, as they say life goes on, and so all our determinations of whether it all comes out in the wash or whether we should take a stand has little effect except to maybe guide the torrential flow, incredibly inertial by Earth standards at least (although probably relatively insignificant on a cosmic scale (which is itself the point of much more contention)), and to make marginal improvements here and there. Mostly such commentary only has an impact on whether you’re enjoying the ride, as far as I’m concerned.

And so, I guess, as far as delusions of grandeur are concerned, my advice would be to steer clear. So much has already happened and so much will that if you really want to leverage your impact, your best bet is to try to maximize your enjoyment. A lot of people are likely to misinterpret that, but there are myriad qualifications and caveats: a good rule of thumb is to look kindly on the classical philosophers who said “in all things, moderation,” not because it’s necessarily the best way to live, but because it’s a good way to ensure that your living is not miserable, or short in supply. That way at least you’ll be able to hang around long enough to figure out what might be better. Just an opinion, really, but it seems to have worked out better than the alternative for most people who try it (just ignore the selection effects, please).

So yes, it’s hot and cold, although that varies longitudinally, and it is round and wet and crowded. But most of that you won’t have to deal with terribly, which is to say, true but unhelpful. The roundness is a point of interest; it’s more than academic interest, because given the laws of physics we’ve been able to discern so far, if it were flat, we might not be here, but as far as like say your existential experience, the roundness of it will only really come into play when looking at maps or flying overseas, and even then, it’s kind of a bulge-y roundness, not just a sphericality. It’s interesting, and its interestingness makes it essential, to me at least, in the enjoyment and understanding part of life, but it’s not clearly essential to like your day-to-day life.

The wetness, likewise, unless you’re ever trapped adrift at sea, which is possible but unlikely, is a fortunate detail, because we require a lot of water, we people. Nonetheless, if you live in a city, which most people do, the wetness of the earth is indirectly related to your actual observed regional wetness. Because it’s mostly in the ice caps and oceans, I think. Living in the U.S. is handy for this, because we have a very high amount of fresh water per capita, comparatively speaking.

It is increasingly crowded. This will be experiential for you. At some points it may be quite unpleasant; at other times, it can be reassuring. It leads to scarcity, which in turn leads to economics, which gets your father paid, so to some degree it’s a good thing. Plus more people means more people to enjoy things with, to learn from and to share with. It also means more people to fight, to take your stuff, to bid down wages and bid up prices, and so the direction of the marginal utility change of population increase is indeterminate. It’s quite a debate. [Edit – it seems clear that the population change is good news for you, being one of the new people. That said, once you’re here, you may (and not entirely irrationally, the sanity or lack thereof of the forthcoming example notwithstanding) pull a Tom Tancredo and say “I know I wasn’t here first, but I’m here now, and you can’t come in, you other new people.”]

All that stuff is external to you, though, the hotness, wetness, coldness, crowdedness, and roundness. I mean, you’re a minor cause of some of the crowdedness and you depend on some of the stuff, but the part of me that I think of as being me is less corporeal than that. I don’t believe in a soul; a lot of people do. I think Douglas Hofstadter has some crazy-sounding and interesting ideas about being a “strange loop,” but you can get there yourself or ask me about it later if you want. Mostly the stuff that I think will maximize your lifetime enjoyment are mechanics of being. So, how to be, well.

It’s important to know that life is mostly boring, mostly out of your control, especially in the early days. You also can’t do very much. It’s like the beginning of Dragon Warrior, especially the first one, where you can only fight slimes and you can’t even really afford to buy anything other than the crappiest sword and shield, and you basically march back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and *fight a slime* and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and *fight a slime* and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and *run from a Drakee* and back and forth and back and forth and fight a slime and now you can afford to go to the inn and heal yourself.

Which you repeat for 2 hours and then you can go somewhere else and do more or less the same thing, only now you don’t have to run from Drakees, just Wyverns. Which your uncle Luke and I really enjoyed, which I argue makes us really well-suited for life. I’m hoping a combination of genetics and upbringing similarly blesses you with a capacity to endure and even enjoy monotony.

The sooner you can cope with being bored and incapacitated, the sooner life will start to gel for you. It really is sort of a ride, in many senses. I think free will is kind of an illusion, and is often best treated like it both is and isn’t an illusion. I guess the best way to articulate it would be that I think you choose a lot of actions, most of which don’t have much influence on the outcome of things. A few times in your life they will really matter, but most of those times, you don’t know it. And so it wasn’t through purely random chance that I was fortunate enough to meet and marry your mother but I certainly can’t really take any credit. That said, I’m glad I was the sort of person that I was when I did meet her, and that I had some control over.

So that’s probably lesson number two. The one thing you really can hope to have some real impact over in your life is your choices about who you are, internally and, to a lesser degree, externally. This is not to say you can become whatever you want; you just have some say here. People who are open to the things life offers them are usually happier than people who aren’t. People who feel entitled are often disappointed, while people with more moderate expectations are more likely to be pleasantly surprised. There are a lot of different ways to be, and I think the best shots at happiness in life come from trying to be an active participant in who you want to become.

That’s one of the real perks of being a person, I think. When you’re a kid, you’ll feel like the world is really vast, so vast it’s approximable by an infinite area in your internal model. You feel like history has gone on forever and the whole shebang is just really chaotic and incomprehensible, and if you’re lucky, the daunting sense that comes from that won’t be enough to deter you from trying to understand at least a little part of it better. Once you do that, and you follow the string of connections you come to for a while, I think you’ll be surprised (I was), by how much of that seemingly infinite content is meaningless, and how truly finite are the bounds of both human history and the current world. There are only around 200 countries in the world. There are only so many fundamental laws of physics. Most of mathematics is really just implications of a few basic axioms.

Aggregate similar things: this is something people do naturally and do well. It can be dangerous, and there’s a strong bias in favor of acknowledging and celebrating diversity in today’s world; it’s a good bias, don’t get me wrong. For understanding the world, though, the fastest way to make sense of it is to multiply the power of what little insight you may have to make the most use of it. If a bunch of countries are like a bunch of seeds in an apple, then what you know about seeds in an apple might apply to countries. It might not, but with the appropriate humility, you can get a lot out of life this way.

Which brings us to the biggest ones of all for today. There’s more where all this came from, but the mother of all lessons you’ll hear me complain about and drill into you is this: humility is essential, doubt is your friend, confidence comes from being able to admit you’re wrong.

You can’t afford to make big claims if you can’t admit those claims are mistaken. You want to make big claims. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s one of the few really big and fun games of human existence that gets bigger and more fun as life goes on. It’s good to have been wrong. It’s not as good to be wrong as to have been wrong, but in most of your life you’re going to have to make decisions and garner insights in less-than-ideal circumstances. Getting in the habit of understanding where your intuitions come from, making inferences based on them, and then adjusting them as you find out some were wrong, some were right–that habit will pay off like nobody’s business.

It’s okay not to be certain; you can never actually be certain, so acknowledging that you’re not is basically admitting the obvious. It makes your beliefs more credible, it makes you more capable of dealing with the unknown, it keeps you fresh and it drives other people nuts. It means you can differentiate between things you sense and things you feel and things you’re pretty sure of and things you’d like to believe and things you’d stake money on and things you’d stake a lot of money on. Doubt is your friend; it’s where you come up with better ideas than the ones already out there. It irritates a certain part of your brain that can become the Magic Eye.

You gain confidence when you can shed a bad idea and grasp a new, good one. You become the upper envelope of all ideas you’ve considered. It makes you a better person, a more attractive person, a more likeable person, a more insightful and knowledgeable person. It is a good thing. It’s like giving up headbands when they go out of style, or picking up on a new band if it’s actually really very good, or upgrading to a new version of Firefox. You get rid of the bugs, you add some new features, you’re a faster, stronger version of yourself. A freakin ninja pirate robot.

And so with that ends a brief precis on some tips for life. There’s a lot to know that’s fun, too, so I’ll try to clue you in on some of it. Hasta pronto Pickle!

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