I came up with a neat and compact little definition of a crash as a result of the recent ongoing obsession with the idea we’ve had around here. A crash is an unexpected subjective reaction to an unexpected real-world outcome.
Both parts are important. If you have an unexpected outcome to an activity, but are able to just roll with it without experiencing any mental states you haven’t encountered before, it isn’t a crash. Having a flight canceled isn’t a crash. It’s simply a contingency that you deal with by replanning your travel. Annoying, but hardly a case of unexplored emotional reaction territory.
Equally, having an invisible and private emotional meltdown with no visible external trigger events is not a crash (though it might lead to one).
A crash is something like a failure, but more general and less loaded with negative connotations (think “crash a party”). You can generally predict the kind of emotional reaction in a failure, but not the degree. A crash generalizes this idea: with a crash, both kind and degree of emotional reaction are unexpected. So unlike failures, crashes can be both positive and negative, and are invariably interesting, which to me is a more interesting feature of a situation than its emotional quality.
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The more I learn about the life stories of others, the more I tend to view mere survival as an accomplishment in the median case. This is an odd view of humanity, but an accurate one for the vast majority. We are misled about the actual difficulty of basic survival because societies are built around highlighting and celebrating the two ways you can react to easy conditions: striving and slacking. Striving leads to accomplishment, which we celebrate by according high status to the accomplished. Entitlement leads to visibly enjoyed leisure, which we celebrate in a different way, by sanctifying it into a utopian view of the “good life” a given society offers. Societies advertise both by way of marketing themselves. What is generally swept under the civilizational carpet into invisibility are two other behaviors that are responses to hard conditions: surviving and suffering. These four kinds of behavior form a convenient 2×2 on which you can plot your life in a useful way.
The x-axis should be self-explanatory: it takes subjective hardship as a serious thing, but not as an absolute thing. Smarter and dumber on the y-axis refer to intelligence in the sense of capacity for pure Darwinian survival — a Hunger Games definition rather than IQ. Note that being further north does not make you smarter. It means you’re getting smarter faster. These definitions make the entire diagram subjective.
Striving is getting smarter in good conditions. Surviving is getting smarter in bad conditions. Suffering is getting dumber in bad conditions — a progressive failure to continue existing. Slacking is getting dumber in good conditions. Try drawing your life on this 2×2. Note that equal intervals of time will not map to equal lengths on the path. The trajectory tracks your story of adaptation, not your story of aging. When it comes to adaptation, as Lenin remarked, there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.
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