This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Life gives us choices, reality restricts these choices.
The 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, viewed life as a dichotomy between choice and facticity. Facticity encompasses the unchangeable constants of life, such as our identities, limitations in our abilities, birth circumstances, and basic needs like food, safety, and fulfilling our obligations to loved ones.
However, often, we might overestimate facticity rather than underestimating it. We navigate through life and make important decisions, or sometimes fail to make them, as if we have fewer choices than we actually do. It is possible that there are many more possibilities available to us than we realize. Sometimes, the challenge lies in being able to see all the options that are truly open to us.
Why do we fail to see these options? Why do we automatically dismiss possibilities without giving them serious consideration? Why do many options never even enter our minds?
We often reject potential choices because we fear the unknown consequences that may result from those decisions. We feel anxious about failure and stepping out of our perceived comfort zones. In many cases, the dangers we imagine are improbable, yet even the slightest chance of those outcomes frightens us away.
There are various other reasons why we fail to pause our current path and question whether another path may be better. The stress of our present situation may not allow us the time to consider alternatives. The momentum of our current missions may seem too substantial to change course. We become so fixated on the immediate challenges we face that our perspective becomes narrow. Sometimes, we simply lack the quiet time and energy necessary for contemplation or creative brainstorming that would enable us to reshape our thinking and come up with entirely new ideas.
In his book Walden, its author Henry Thoreau describes living in a cabin next to a lake for over two years, living almost exclusively on the produce of his own hands. Although such a lifestyle may not appeal to most people, the crucial point is how far our lives have become detached from our basic needs. Many of the things we believe we cannot live without are likely just illusions of difficulty.
Our civilization has advanced to a point where most of us are relatively far from the risk of severe deprivation. Even in societies with limited welfare systems, safety nets are in place to alleviate these low-probability fears. Our world has changed, and most of our fundamental needs are easily accessible, yet we have not fully grasped this new reality.
Imagine that in a moment of creativity, either alone or in discussion with others, you come up with a new option. Your initial thoughts may be that it is impossible. Take a closer look at each objection and ask yourself, “Is that really true? Who said so? Where is the evidence? Does it truly matter as much as I believe it does?”
Life may not offer us as many choices as we desire, but it may provide us with more options than we realize.