On self-destruction

By Emanuel Derman
December 1, 2011
  1. I am thoroughly tired of Europe, America, Obama, the Republicans, banks central and peripheral, and everyone’s indignation about the above. And of my own indignation too. It’s affecting my quality of life.
  2. Part of this is owing to having worked much too hard and too obsessively over the past year, always trying to do one more thing to get it out of my in-tray. I got to the point where when I woke up in the middle of the night my mind began to race with thoughts of things that “needed” to be done and it became preferable to tackle them rather than try to go back to sleep, even though I knew it was a bad idea. And then, the other part is that the world news really is consistently disturbing and unfair.
  3. With this in mind, I have long admired/been jealous of people whom observe the Sabbath, whatever religion. My father often used to claim that the greatest historical contribution to humanity by the Jewish people was the idea of a day of rest, which appears right at the very start of Genesis. When you think about it, having a periodic day of rest isn’t obvious at all. I can’t say my father actually observed it most of the time, very rarely actually, but I see his point. It must be wonderful to rigorously observe one day as a retreat from the world of business, sport, competition, and effort, with intent and habit. I know a few people who do that (actually only one at this point, and he, I suspect, spends most days that way, so maybe it doesn’t count). One day, if I live long enough, I hope to try that myself.
  4. It’s quite clear that resting is very antithetical to life today. When I left New York for England in 1975, it was hard to do much of anything on a Sunday. Driving around the city was was a breeze. Shops were closed. And London too was a ghost town after 2pm on Saturdays. When I came back to NYC in 1977 Sunday shopping had begun, and department stores were open for a few short hours. Now Sunday traffic can be the worst of the week, in New York or in London. Not to mention the restless internet.
  5. In a way, the world has become aperiodic. You can do anything any time, denying the rule of the sun and the moon and the earth’s rotation. You can even have your periods aperiodically. One big part of this aperiodicity is an attempt to deny time and its working its weary way on you. But to be fair, whereas animals go into heat periodically, adult humans can mate any time, so maybe this tendency to aperiodicity was built into us by evolution. All science and discovery can be regarded as an attempt to short-circuit time by either figuring out the end of the story before Nature gets you there, or trying to prevent Nature from nudging you away from the beginning or the middle.
  6. In normal times, when one is very exhausted, either happily or sadly, sleep is a blessing to be embraced, and one yields gratefully to unconsciousness.
  7. Re true self-destruction: I have never been tempted. But, occasionally, maybe two or three times, I’ve been in situations where facing reality has been too unpleasant. Neither books nor movies nor people could distract me from what I didn’t want to face. Only sleep brought relief, in the form of a loss of identity and consciousness, a kind of temporary annihilation. Then you sleep, and if you can’t then you drink or take a sleeping pill until you can. That kind of urge for unconsciousness has always been  very occasional and temporary thing for me, Thank God, but by vast analytic continuation I can imagine some extreme form of that urge for unconsciousness and need to avoid oneself. That, I can imagine, would make permanent loss of consciousness a compulsive attraction. It wouldn’t be a plea for help, just such a strong desire for not being that one has to give in. It’s a kind of self-loathing, I would think.
  8. I wonder if there isn’t some more final version of this latter feeling, or even the former mere exhaustion, which would constitute the preconditions for a good and timely death.
7 comments

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I’ve felt this way too, periodically. Remembering “high windows” always helps.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_UcH1lZc l4

Posted by retheauditors | Report as abusive

Wow, the life of a financial engineer must be getting intense these days.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

i feel like this was one of the best things i have read recently,
especially no. 7

Posted by runnerup | Report as abusive

I think your Father was right about the ‘day of rest’ as it was in a sense a great gift. I believe that it is the first of many gifts that we overlook. I can understand a sense of ‘what’s the point’ especially as we live in a time of upheaval and logic seems to have gone out the window. When common sense is no longer common. I would recommend to you to get your hands on a bible and keep it by your bedside to read each night. I believe that there you will be able to see the world in the light of God’s litmus paper not in the light of religion, or organization, or groups but in a personal communication with our maker. Sleep well, as we pass through.

Posted by Ebeneezerhelp | Report as abusive

Those are some keen observations.

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive

I am not surprised CarlOmunificent. The news of the world, the Congo for one of a myriad examples, tears at my insides. Humans are eagerly capable of behaving in utterly horrifying ways to each other for religion, commerce, and other forms of dominance. I often wonder if humanity as a whole is a cancer on the planet. We behave the same as a cancer. Consuming everything in out path without regard for the consequences.

I find it difficult to feel good about my species, my country, and myself as there seems no way to change the path of our greedy, ravaging natures. Religion is a huge factor as it fosters the wholly incorrect notion that humans are better than everything else and each group thinks it is better than the rest.

Our emotional selves need to evolve or we will wipe ourselves out. And maybe that that will be a good thing. Maybe humans are to the planet what a wildfire sweeping through a forest is; fire burns the accumulated detritus and then dies out, leaving fertile ash to nourish what’s left.

Posted by Lonecia | Report as abusive

On that aperiodicity, known that the various cities I’ve lived in rolled up their sidewalks at different times, I’m seeing some distribution across my sample. I’m imagining periodicity standing constant as I camp out under the stars as far from the city as I can get. I’m being written up by a cop as I walk down an in-town, suburban sidewalk at 12:30 am. I’m minding my own business at 3 am in the same city, but in it’s urban core. I’m trying to get a compressor shut off outside my window at 4:30 am, a clear violation of municipal code, there in that urban core.

Aperiodicity is still a peak urban experience. As with that air compressor, its not necessarily a mountain peak of goodness.

Posted by DavidWLocke | Report as abusive