Alternative histories

Consider a game of chess. At each position there are typically several moves to make. These moves yield additional possibilities for the move, which again results in more available moves. In general, the player who can see the most moves ahead tends to win.

Some moves have lots of choices. Others have no choices at all. Only moves with choices count. If you are playing against someone, you want to limit your opponents choices. If you are playing with some, you want to increase his opportunities.

Life is similar. Think of your life as a curve. Your past is well-defined—at least in principle, I know people tend to remember the same things differently. Your future is undefined. Your future is a set of alternative curves that fan out from your current position. If you limit your opportunities, the fan is narrow. If you seek to increase your opportunities, your fan is wide.

All curves gravitate toward a conclusion that summarize your choices. This is called ergodicity. This means that in the long run, you get what you deserve regardless of short term wins and losses. Of course the only concern here is that you may not live to see the long run. This statistical law is spiritually known as karma. So if you believe in karma, you are right, in the aggregate.

Financially, is a good illustration of possible curves. Go and enter your numbers. This is how your stock market returns could turn out. If you add a more stable bond component (you can not do that on the website), you will narrow the spread of the curves.

However, stock market histories are only a small part of your life. Take a moment to consider how your other future histories will look like when you make specific choices.

Everything you are now is the result of choices you made 5, 10, 25 years ago… everything you will be in 5, 10, 25, or 50 years from now will be the result of choices you make today. If you are not saving enough today, you will be struggling when you can no longer work. If you do not take care of your metabolism by eating too much sugar and calories, life beyond 50 or 60 will be a struggle. If you do not play nice, you will eventually be alone. And so on.

If you are currently doing something you will eventually regret, stop living in the moment even if it feels good. The moment will not last as the future eventually becomes the present. conversely, if you are currently doing something that has an unpleasant cost but greater future rewards, have patience. The future eventually does become the present.

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Originally posted 2009-07-22 00:38:09.