DRMacIver's Notebook

Historical contingency

Historical contingency

Here’s another piece from draft bankruptcy. I don’t seem to have got very far with it and don’t know where I was going with it, but what’s here is interesting. The original title was “Life is made of found things” but that’s too good a title to let languish in ddraft bankruptcy and I mostly didn’t cover the relevant bits.

An early event that I can point to as crucial to how my life has turned out was a Christmas gift from a family friend, of the GURPS second edition basic set (the rules for a roleplaying game).

This isn’t because GURPS has been a particularly major influence on my life (Though it was honestly quite good creativity training, and introduced me to the warehouse 23 basement which is also very good for grinding a particular skill set), it just set certain wheels in motion. It got me into particular online communities, where I made a friend, Greg, who was a couple years older than me and already at Cambridge university. When it came to applying to Cambridge I didn’t honestly have much basis for deciding which college I went to, and he made a good case for his (Pembroke), which checked out and so I applied there.

This may seem like a pretty bad way to pick a college, and perhaps it was, but I think the reality was that there were many equally good options, and not much basis to choose between them, so picking one and verifying that it works well isn’t a bad way to do it. I can’t say Pembroke was the optimal choice, but it was a fairly respectable satisfice.

Once at Pembroke, I met particular people, made particular friends, had particular supervisors and life advice. Other colleges would probably have been about equally good - in some ways better, in some ways worse, but importantly they would have been different. I’d have met different people, who would have influenced me in different ways, and my life path would have diverged substantially as a result.

Given how large the effect of a single Christmas gift was, it seems fair to say that at some point in those four years something would have gone differently enough that I’d be a very different person today for the change.

This is historical contingency. The way your life turns out depends a great deal on prior conditions, and on the choices you make, and the type of person you are, but it also just depends on chance happenstance and the knock on effects of it.

Two-road chances

I’m a big fan of the book “Trickster makes this world”.

I found this book because it’s recommended in Chuck Palahniuk’s (Yes, the fight club guy) “Consider This”, a book about writing, where he lists it among a number of other books that will fundamentally change your view of the world. I think he was right, but I’d perhaps struggle to describe exactly how. Let me try.

(Reader: I didn’t try)

More contigency

This was originally a very long footnote, but my notebook doesn’t currently support footnotes (I’d like it to, but it’s fiddly for various reasons)

I read “Consider This” because someone on bookchat discord recommended it, in the #writing channel. Bookchat discord exists… I don’t remember exactly why. Doing some research on Twitter identifies the seed of the idea here.

I can’t remember exactly why I read that. Probably because I’d read “The Year of Reading Dangerously”, which I’d read… I think as a result of a family Christmas present project I was doing? I think it was 2018 that I created a small family library, which was well received but didn’t actually result in much increase in reading I think.

I didn’t actually publicise the discord until some months later:

I believe this was my first foray into discord, which I knew about because of a conversation with a friend of a friend some time earlier (probably in 2018?) in which he expounded on how discord was the future of social and we were all like “What? Discord? Isn’t that a gaming thing?”.

I can chart this lineage further, but it’s not that exciting. Mostly I’m pointing out that a lot of historical contingency happened here too.


I apparently keep failing to write about “Trickster makes this world”, as this was also the point at which I abandoned How to be lucky.

In general I am surprisingly bad at writing about books I’ve read.