Concerning the nomadic mind

(Mushroom picking makes a good metaphor for all life projects. How so? Read on).

Imagine going out mushroom picking in an area where you have never picked mushrooms before with a group of experienced locals. Once they enter the forest, they all turn right. What do you do?

If, like yours truly, you have true nomadic instincts, you of course... turn left.

For although the fact that everyone turns right probably indicates that plentiful mushrooms are to be found right and perhaps hardly any left; and to any normal mind this just might seem a strong reason to turn right (“surely, these people know where the mushrooms are”); yet – the fact that everyone turns right also means that there will be stiff competition for any mushrooms found. While, even though by going left instead, the nomadic mind risks finding no mushrooms at all, yet he also gains the chance of leisurely taking 100% of everything he finds (assuming he finds it) -- a far better shot at the jackpot than anyone has on the right hand path. Plus he gains something priceless: freedom from stress: he can afford to stroll slowly, stop to take in the view, etc. He avoids the mad scramble of competition of the right hand path. Surely, it would seem, these benefits are worth the risk of going mushroomless every now and then?

Now, this the universal truth: everywhere and always, the right hand path is overcrowded; too many intelligent, efficient, capable people chase too few opportunities there; as a result there are no opportunities for arbitrage and profit margins are egg-shell-thin. Unless one is much faster and much stronger than everyone else -- and can therefore thrive in competitive, crowded situations -- the profits of the right hand path are simply too meager to be worth their while. For most participants, the right hand path is all work and hardly any reward.

On several occasions, when asked for advice, I tried to explain the nomadic left-hand-path logic to friends who stood before significant life choices (education, profession, migration, business venture, management of family affairs). They nearly always rejected my advice. Often, I could see that they could see the point of my argument. Often, they even thanked me for my brilliant insight. But understanding the logic of a proposition is one thing; trusting it with one’s life is another. My friends' minds were settled minds, farmers' minds. They could understand the logic of my idea, but they could not see it applying to their lives.

I have sometimes thought my friends timid on this account. But that is a silly view: one does not call a snake timid because he crawls into holes, or a monkey timid because she lives in a tree. This is what snakes and monkeys do. Likewise, this is what the settled minds do: they take the right hand path. They cannot help themselves.

Nor is there anything especially heroic about the nomadic mind's persistent preference for the road less traveled. A nomad like myself cannot help himself, either. In the nomad’s risk-taking decision to take the left-hand path there is no heroism at all: this is how his mind works. It takes no courage whatsoever because the decision comes automatically; there is no pride in it; there is hardly any premeditation; it just makes sense. That anyone would turn right boggles and amazes him. The nomad is no more free to go right than the settled mind is to go left. The nomad knows -- just like the Hurons did -- that the strains of the right hand path would emotionally kill him.

Whether the nomadic mind turns out more successful in specific instances depends more on luck than anything else. A nomad who turns left and stumbles upon some chanterelles, will be acclaimed a genius; one who comes up with nothing and starves, or, as is more common, ends up having to eat berries instead, will be deemed a fool. Such views are silly, too: at the time when the choice between the right hand path and the left hand path is made, no one can know how thigns will turn out. The choice is simply this: poor odds of a good payoff versus good odds of a meager one. Which do you take?

To settled minds, the relatively high certainty of the poor pay off, makes the right hand path more attractive. To my mind, the choice is skewed in favor of the left hand path by the fact that the left hand path, being less crowded, is more leisurely. If I do not find the chanterelles, at least I did not have to scramble in search for them.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that the nomad is... a lazy bone.


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