You must believe that you control your future.
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 are estimated to 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 can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Have you ever taken a risk that depends on how the future will play out? Have you ever done something that could turn into a disaster if you won’t be around sometime soon to take care of it? What makes you so sure that you will around? Did anyone give you a guarantee?
People make the assumption of self continuity all the time. When you decide to have a child, you know that this human being is going to need you to be around for at least twenty years to give them the love, protection and nurturing that they must have in order to flourish. Does anybody who makes this fateful decision have any control over what will happen to them in the coming decades?
You could say that I’m being needlessly morbid. We take risks all the time. We put our money in the Stock Market. We drive in cars. Taking risks is part of life. There are no guarantees and everybody knows it. You do the best you can.
I’m talking about a specific kinds of risk. I am talking about the kind of risk that involves things staying the way they are, more or less, for you.
Also, risks that you take on the Stock Market might turn out to be a disaster, but even in that case, the damage is limited. You can make a rational decision that balances the risks and rewards. But there’s some cases where the failure outcome is so bad, that it makes no sense to speak of balancing risk and reward.
This is also not only about risks. This is about commitment. When you make a commitment to someone, you are promising them that you will be around to make good on your word. Commitment is the foundation of human society. The person you promise will now take a specific path or action, because they rely on you keeping your word. Their life may come into being based on that commitment.
One psychological answer is that we simply cannot imagine not being around. Our brain is wired to believe that we do have more control over our future that we actually do. It makes sense to suggest that we are designed to have this irrational belief, because human life could not exist if we did not.
Another answer is that we must (almost) all believe on some level (whether we acknowledge it or not) that the Universe is taking care of things for us. However, the format of this post is that the initial section will not be explicitly religious in nature.