Saturday, October 25, 2008

There, but for the grace of God, go I

All for want of a horseshoe nail.

A butterfly flaps its wings in China.

Sliding doors.

We have all sorts of images to express contingency - if it weren't for this tiny little thing, something completely different would have happened.

I was brought face to face with it yesterday at playgroup. There is another 6 month old baby there, in fact she was born two hours earlier than Midget in the next birth suite. It's fun seeing her, but yesterday it was such a shock to see her hoeing in to apple puree and eating more than half the jar, it obviously wasn't her first time, and apparently she is on formula full time as well. Midget is currently sitting on my lap enjoying her first food, a large carrot stick she's been gumming and sucking on and off all afternoon. She's having a ball but won't actually eat any of it - it's too hard for her to get any off. We will move on to softer food, this was just something for her to play with today.

Is one way better or worse? No, I don't think so. But the point is, if I hadn't found the ABA website, that would probably have been us. If I hadn't lived in the middle of nowhere, I wouldn't have gone looking for company on the internet. If I hadn't had problems getting Widget to open her mouth, I wouldn't have gone looking for the ABA. A large number of tiny things led to that search, and that search has had huge implications for my life.

If it weren't for the ABA forum I doubt I would have heard of baby led solids. I would not have fed to sleep. I seriously doubt I would still be feeding Widget at 3 years old. I quite possibly wouldn't have found the cloth nappy forum, in which case I wouldn't be running a cloth nappy business. I wouldn't have started sewing clothes for myself and the girls, I don't know what I would be doing for a hobby. I probably wouldn't have had the idea for the science educational business which is my long-term plan.

My life would be completely different.

And contingency is fractal - it happens at all scales. It happens in individual lives. It happens to communities - I've just voted in a local council election. It happens to nations - what would the global economic situation be if 9/11 hadn't occurred? It happens to species - what would life for the last few million years have been like without the icecaps?

My all-time favourite writer, Stephen Jay Gould, wrote a book about contingency in evolution called "Wonderful Life," using the movie as a modern example and the Burgess Shale pre-Cambrian fossils (seriously old, seriously important) to help demonstrate the hypothesis that we are here in this form by accident. Many, many years ago I studied human evolution and worked with contingency on a professional basis. Then I moved on, changed careers and had kids. Now here I am looking at my 6 month old baby and realising contingency is still with me.

I'm definitely not talking about fate - in fact contingency is the opposite, saying that we can be blown around by tiny, unpredictable events. And I find that rather refreshing. It gives us the space, the freedom to exercise our own judgement, make our own decisions. It creates a paradox, that we can be influenced by tiny things, but still take charge and be responsible for our own lives.

No comments: