Monday, December 5, 2011

External Forces


I listened a Podcast of a RadioLab piece last night that was interesting.  It had to do with getting to the bottom of things; the ultimate source of a phenomenon.  The piece was called, “Patient Zero,” and was split into several segments.  The first, having to do with the first Typhoid patent, and the second section discussing the search for the spillover of HIV to people, first from two kinds of different monkeys to make a hybrid SIV virus within the chimpanzee likely hundreds or thousands of years ago, and then a second set of spillovers from chimps to humans probably around 1908 (yes, the turn of the century).  It was a fascinating piece. 

Later, the show went into a search for the person who made the first cowboy hat.  They had an answer.  It was the son of a famous hat maker on the east coast who had gone out west.  But it didn’t end there.  The British journalist who set out on this quest then came up with two more theories.  One being that it was actual working cowboys who, through repetition and wear, influenced the popularity and style of the cowboy hat.  And then finally, he suggested that it was really the external conditions; the hot sun, the high winds, the hard elements of the Wild West that ultimately shaped the hat we all know. 

I pondered on this for a while, trying to glean some insight into how this same phenomenon of external shaping could apply to my life.  With some thought I realized that there have indeed been times in my life when the conditions were rife for shaping my own world, and then there have been other times when I’ve felt that I was in turn shaped by the conditions that were laid out around me; an ebb and flow of self-initiated destiny versus day to day reactive survival, the latter not allowing for a great sense of self-actualization.

The idea of the cowboy hat being destined to appear on the scene at some point due to the external conditions makes sense to me.  It didn’t matter who made it.  As the British journalist finally surmised, someone would have eventually come along and kept making hats until that perfect Aristotelian cowboy hat that you and I think of would come to pass.  And so, I think in our lives, we may be more a product of our time and deterministic conditions than we would naturally think.  From the moment you are born to your passing, your life could turn out a hundred different ways.  A good portion of the final result ends up being the product of what circumstances were overlaid around you during the life you lived.

Listen to the RadioLab Podcast