Some philosophical thoughts on the subject of Luck
“I forbid myself any further form of harassment.” Had you said that or just thought it? In any case, I simply cannot resist my fourth favourite pastime, philosophising. It comes upon me that way, unbidden. Of course, it would not be necessary to put all this down on paper, let alone in a book. But I risk it. It is also this subject in particular that is, as the English would say, “touchy”. Touchy? Let’s take this.
1) Thoughts on language
Some of my basic thoughts about language I would like to try to express very briefly, harassment or not. Language itself lives and develops. This development has existed since the first sounds, words, with which people communicated. Every word that has found its way into language use has an original meaning and in this way also its “justification”.
There are words that designate concrete things, things to touch. Even here, it is still an abstraction that must be carried out. The person saying the word abstracts what he sees, even if it is only in his mind’s eye, translates it into a word, transports it by language to (at least) one counterpart, the interlocutor(s). There the word possibly arrives, it is understood. Now a second form of abstraction is necessary. But it should be called “re-abstraction” or also “concretisation”. The word heard must be transformed back into an object.
So far, everything is still quite simple. The average person now sees a table in his mind’s eye and psychologists even know exactly why it is always the table. But I do not question this. I see a table, now and very concretely, even in front of me. I simply write down the word. You also see a table, you just wonder why I can’t speak and you can’t hear anything. At a higher stage of human development, one day we will succeed in putting words on paper….
So, I see a table, write the word table, you read it (there is probably a certain analogy between writing – speaking or hearing — reading). But it is guaranteed not to be the same table. With or without the help of the mind’s eye. Our tables are different. We still manage to communicate (ok, I admit you wouldn’t be the only one who would have a hard time communicating with me…. but…).
Well, this simplest form of describing language and what it does served only one purpose: to prepare you for the emergence of everyday misunderstandings. We could argue now, the psychologists are already lying in wait, I as a lateral thinker rush forward: “But my table had three legs, Ätsch.” “No, a table has four, it’s more or less defined that way.”
Now I look at the already somewhat more complex word “dog”. What do you see right now? Well, there are all kinds of dogs. I’m only mentioning this here because it’s amazing that my children were already absolutely reliable in recognising what a dog is at the age of two. No matter whether he was tiny and cuddly or a gigantic, huge, monster-like beast. But that was only for children’s eyes…. I just always puzzle over what, of all things, distinguishes the dog and makes it so unique that it can never be mistaken for a lion, an elephant, a bird, a cat, a fox or a wolf? All dogs look totally different. But even a two-year-old child can immediately recognise that this animal is a dog, even before it barks.
Another small example of how misunderstandings can be created with a simple word. First of all, I say the word: “day”. What different ideas can this word trigger? How has the meaning of the word grown or changed? I’ll speculate, although I’m certainly not qualified as a linguist. But originally it must have meant day as the opposite of night. Today, night is part of the day, or what? A day has 24 hours, doesn’t it? And when one should say “tomorrow”, what does one mean? “I just said I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Yes, that was yesterday, right. But now it’s already late at night.” There we go. Today is tomorrow yesterday. And that’s all day. Until the evening. And then there’s also the night. Confusing.
And yet we have only pronounced three words so far. Or written. Fortunately not read. And now I’m increasing the complexity, and not too slightly: What about abstract terms? What about when words are combined into sentences? And then there are x words, all of which are not translated back identically. And what about a tone of voice, a facial expression, a gesture, the facial expression? And, for heaven’s sake, what about the constantly hidden jokes, errors, irony? Then who is supposed to take what and how? Stop it with grammar! A word in the wrong place, in the wrong time, in the wrong case, the whole meaning is changed. In writing, it’s also the punctuation marks (instead, facial expressions, gestures, intonation are usually omitted, unless I mention that that’s exactly what I meant).
Now I just have to put this little, well-known example here, when a child once claimed that you don’t need punctuation marks and his father invented the following nice (no, nasty!) poem:
I wish you all the worst
Stay far from my body
All misfortune befall you
Never think of me again
But then kindly added a few punctuation marks to the outraged child:
All bad things I wish you far from my body. Stay everything for me. Misfortune will never befall you. Think back to me.
Well, I’ll stay calm, I had two very nice conversations this morning. It seems to be working after all. But it’s puzzling to me why people actually argue so rarely. Do the misunderstandings cancel each other out? Or do people simply come to terms with the misunderstandings? Or is it the famous diplomacy? In any case, my argument theory seems to work with partners of different sexes living together…
Yes, what does all this have to do with happiness? Yes, quite a lot. So there are concrete concepts and abstract concepts. First of all, I’ll talk about the nouns, the nouns. And why are nouns called nouns? But even among the abstract words there are some that trigger a somewhat secure idea, and some that leave wide room for interpretation. I am not the only one who has a paraphrase for such words. People then say, “That’s a broad term.”
My favourite examples for illustration (which is just here contradictory) are then always “God” and “love”. And as proof: the Bild newspaper has been looking for a binding definition for about 11 years. Every day I read (out, the man is out!) with pre-LOVE on the last page: “Love is…”. And every day something different. A really broad term. I think I’ll dedicate my next book to the subject of love…. Oh, there’s a book already?
I also maintain that terms that were introduced at some point for some phenomenon gradually fill up with meaning. So there is an original usage. Therefore, the meaning and relevance, the “justification”, of the word is indisputable. It just happens that meaning is added. It is used in other places. “Oh, there was something similar before.” And a meaning is added. As mentioned elsewhere, this also happened with the term “probably”. It is used for the phenomenon of not knowing a certain thing for sure, be it in the past or the future (“Oh yes, now that you mention it, it will probably have been like that, seems like it to me too.” Or even “…I’ll probably come tomorrow.”). This is how the term came into being. Later, mathematicians took up the cause, first substantiating it as a probability and then quantifying it. And then we can even speak of small or very small probabilities. A true contradiction to the actual meaning of the word. “Probable” is understood, at least in everyday spoken language, as “fairly certain, but not quite”.
Yet it continues to be used. In spoken language usually still with its original literal sense. If you should say at an appointment: “I’ll probably come.” and then don’t show up, you can even refer to me in case of doubt: “I didn’t say how likely it is.”
Arrived! Happiness is also one of those broad concepts! It has also grown. Meanings have been added that were not present in the original conceptualisation, which described a phenomenon that I cannot easily reconstruct (was it even: “I am happy.”?).
Since it is such a broad concept, I will try to present a few of the possible conceptions of happiness.
2) Forms of happiness
There are different forms of happiness. I will try to describe them here in detail, i.e. to show the differences in their conception, but of course also the similarities.
a. Happiness in life
I keep saying that the greatest happiness is to be alive at all.
And I mean that in the way I say it. The philosophical, even religious questions that are connected with it only begin then, but I have already answered them for myself, so to speak. The luck is that these two people actually met at some point and that this one sperm cell also met the one egg. Then these two had to get along really well. What would have become of me without this miracle remains open. Perhaps you have a (different) answer to that. For me it remains this: luck. It only serves me, especially in suffering, to comfort myself again and again or to approach the next day with optimism. Faced with the choice of living now and in this way or not at all, I always choose: living.
b. Happiness in life
There is always a connection, of course. At least the one that I use the same term. But it is worthwhile for me to distinguish between the two. For me, happiness in life itself already has several components.
i. (In)measurability of happiness
One of my standard assertions is that happiness is not measurable. Perhaps the idea is trivial, everyone knows it. I mention it anyway. I once heard a song on Sesame Street that went something like this: two very happy characters would always take turns singing and one would always claim to be so very happy, so incredibly happy, that he was even happier than the other. This soon degenerated into a kind of (childish) argument: “No, I’m the happiest.” “No, I’m much happier than you.” Gradually, the two then found themselves absolutely no longer happy but downright angry. Luckily everything worked out again, we were on Sesame Street after all (thankfully). They settled the argument, hugged each other and were then probably “equally happy”.
Anyway, it proves that it would be pointless to have a discussion about it. Are you happy? Yes. Good, then be happy. Each to his own, as much and as well as he can. I indulge, do not enter into competition.
I also maintain that it is only possible to feel happiness if you also know suffering. My theory, at that time I was 14 and in a first serious life crisis, I imagined I had recognised and solved the problem. I can still describe this solution today: The deeper you can feel suffering, the more you can then feel happiness. The fluctuations result in either an exciting, varied life, one with many ups and downs, or alternatively one that is as constant as possible at a constant level of happiness. I shy away from calling it “boring”. I just wonder how someone could say: “I’m so incredibly happy” when they were almost as happy a day, a month, a year before? So I chose the first path, or who did?
It’s just a kind of basic theory in which I’ve been able to find few flaws so far: At an absolutely constant level, no one can claim to be “happy” for lack of absolute measurability, which had already been sanctioned before, can they? I feel just as good as I did yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, just constantly. But not particularly good or particularly bad.
iii. What does the idealist want
So I tried to turn myself into an idealist. I first tried to do that by thinking about it. What does the ideal idealist want? And if I became one, then of course only that. What can be the goal of this form of idealism? Can it be that there are as many people as possible? No, that is out of the question. I know that certain views or remarks about it are extremely questionable and dangerous. But at least this much seems reasonably obvious to me: it is precisely socially extremely weak countries that have a higher production of young people. The reason is just as obvious to me: In the understandable desire to preserve the species (implanted in all of us, in every living being), people produce more out of concern. In other words: one, at least one, should get through. So if I were to strive to make all these people happy, well, how?
Could it be that the goal is to abolish suffering? That sounds great to me. All right, I agree. But there we already have the side effect: the fluctuations are, in my view, responsible for the level of possible happiness. So for me, abolishing suffering would mean abolishing happiness as well.
So I asked myself whether it would be a possible goal to increase the average value of the perceived overall happiness. So I would have to invent a scale in which each person would have to tick a number between 5 and -5 for their current feeling of happiness. Then we take the average. As luck would have it, it was 0 just this year. Then I come as an idealist. I push through my goals, in small steps. After a year, the next survey. The average value has increased! Yes, it now stands at 0.5. A dream! But oh, what have I done? I have distributed happiness unevenly! I have made one large group of people miserable to make another, even if even larger, group happy.
No, it can’t be that either. It must be evenly distributed. I would have to increase each individual’s sense of happiness. I’ll take up the work of implementing it soon. Or can I even make a contribution with this post? What was the literal meaning of “contribution” again?
iv. Pain and suffering
On the subject of measuring happiness, the only thing that came to mind was that it is equally impossible to measure pain. But I was recently at the hospital giving first aid. And there was this cute chart. It quantified the sensation of pain. There was always a face to a certain amount of pain. Really pretty. And it ended with a very miserable, crying face. So you know…
Just that there really is a second, desirable, worthwhile point in the world. Pain, suffering, is somehow a kind of absolutely veritable antithesis to happiness. So to feel happiness in pain is actually difficult. I guess that’s why people always wish for health? So the opposite of happiness, of this form of happiness, the happiness of life, is not bad luck. It is pain, suffering. That cannot be measured either.
c. Playful happiness
There is certainly a connection between the terms here too. First of all, there is a phrase that is often used in Berlin gambling circles: “That’s a funny winner. He can win for days and is always in a good mood.”
Well, actually, when you win, it’s always relatively easy to be in a good mood, to be happy. You’re lucky, so you’re happy. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
There’s another nice quote to back that up:
“There are two kinds of people here on earth: Winners and sore losers.” Expresses pretty much the same thing as the sentence above.
But that’s just a bit of a joke. Although there is a lot of truth in it. Specifically, however, I would like to examine playful happiness in another way.
Playful happiness can even be measured in a certain way. For this purpose, I have examined, among other things, the backgammon match between John Hurst and Christian Plenz, which can be read in the chapter “Game Developments”. This illustrates this best. Curiously, both had measurable luck in this match. In this case, this meant that both had an increase in the probability of winning due to the rolls that the dice gave them. They were favourable overall for both sides. So you have a certain position in front of you and you are at the roll. Before the roll, you have an objective chance of winning the match, that’s a theoretical assumption, you rely on a computer programme. Then you roll the dice and the quality of the roll has increased your chances. This gain added up over all the rolls is the (better: a) measurable form of luck.
It is really unique to this situation. Only for this match. Just the purely mathematical portion of luck. As I also mention there, Christian was indeed lucky because he benefited (measurably) from the quality of his throws in the way described above. Nevertheless, his amount of luck was not enough to win the match, because his opponent was even luckier. And I conclude by saying that his reward for this form of bad luck was 15000 euros. That means that he, Christian, was of course also aware that he was lucky after all in the whole tournament.