The Calculus of Philosophy (or “I need to get out more”)

Fair warning- this post is going to be tagged “#unrelated topics”. And it gets really geeky. You’ve been warned.

When thinking about an ethical or philosophical issue, a fun exercise is to take your position to its ridiculous extreme and see if it still sounds reasonable, or is left gasping for air like the flabby rationalization it really is. Speaking of ridiculous, I just used “fun”, “exercise”, and “philosophical” in the same sentence. Those three words may never intersect again, and I’m just glad I got to be part of it.

Anyway, if something claims to be Truth, it should always be true no matter how you push, pull or twist it. One of the principles of calculus (which never ever lies) is that if you want to really define an equation, you see what it does as it approaches infinity. Interesting that mathematicians, not philosophers, realized that we can never reach infinity, but we can imagine what happens as we approach it. What is true right here and right now should be true in the most extreme of circumstances.

To apply this theory, imagine the competing truths or ideals we all juggle. Family, fatigue, faith, career, all combining in complicated permutations. For the sake of this experiment, let’s remove a few variables from the equation. Oh I don’t know, for demonstration’s sake remove family, cable TV, a car, outdoor activities, and bacon. You are left with career, faith, and… Well, that’s about it. What is the “truth” of career when it is put in such a prime position? How does it look as work approaches infinity?

Before you pound the keyboard and declare that work is evil and must be scoured from this earth, reverse the exercise. Remove career from the equation, and you have a not-so-pretty image of someone sitting on their couch watching televangelists, eating bacon, surrounded by 12 dirty children. I would assume a car is back in the picture as well, but it’s on blocks in the front yard.

Now the solution to this problem is that there must be an equilibrium; some point on the chart where the values of career and family and everything else can be in the correct proportion. This is when most people would say “Well Duh!”. During medical school we were constantly told to keep our lives balanced; in residency and then in our jobs, at church and in our neighborhoods, everyone repeats the mantra of finding balance. Our little math derivation has proven this to be true. But why didn’t anyone tell us how to find that balance? Now that we know there’s a formula, what is it?!? I think they don’t tell us because nobody really, truly knows. We are all missing the target in our unique way, filling out the scatter plot of life. Maybe we are supposed to make the most of what we have, and look with faith towards infinity. That’s where the truth will be.

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