The universe is your puppeteer. Embrace it.

An ode to existential serendipity 
“Pinecones” by Samuel Lewis.

This article is not what it was last month. 

Or the month before that. Or the year before that. This body of text has been endlessly rewritten, picked apart and put back together with revised narratives that wash over their predecessors like waves of sand upon detritus. 

Even though past versions of this story emphasize different points or anecdotes, its composition is not what defines it. Circumstances do. Since the prototypical conception of this story over a year ago, I’ve won and lost awards and opportunities, made and ended connections, experienced periods of productivity and sloth and other pendulum swings.

These factors have all influenced the direction of this piece, whose core message is about the chaos that molds us. In a sense, the writing process has been an example of that.

What we cherish in life – achievements, relationships, status, wealth and most importantly, sense of self – cannot be entirely attributed to our own actions. They are also the products of the whirlpool that is existence, the cosmic swashing and swirling that manifests as winning lottery numbers and car crashes; coffee shop run-ins and stray bullets; zip codes and lightning strikes.

You’re likely thinking of one of several words. Fate. Luck. Chance. Odds. Destiny. All of these terms encompass the central unpredictability of chaos. But they’re all also somewhat misleading because chaos is not truly random. It is the calculable product of a long-brewing equation. How long?

13.8 billion years.

Indeed, the Big Bang didn’t just inflate the universe and establish its rules of law; it began an unfathomable amount of chain reactions that are still endlessly unfolding today and until the end of everything. 

These chain reactions started with the formation of matter and splintered with the emergence of galaxies, stars, planets and life, which then splintered further into all the utter disarray that comes with humanity. 

There is a sequential design built into every facet of existence. 

If you were to construct a line of dominos, and you topple the first one, you can then reasonably predict how, why and when the final domino will fall. Turn this hypothetical up a few notches by making the scale universal and congratulations: you can accurately predict everything that will ever happen. Hypothetically.

The thought experiment “Laplace’s Demon” considers the implication of this line of reasoning. In his 1814 book, “A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities,” Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace proposes the idea of an entity who knows and understands everything about the state of the universe, from the mechanics of natural forces to the precise movements and positions of every last particle.

With this knowledge and the ability to analyze it, this entity – or demon, as it has been named by academics – would not only be able to perfectly recount the universe’s past but also accurately predict the future.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Speaking literally, everything happens for a reason. We just don’t always get to know the rationale. But behind every incident of unforeseeable mayhem is a tumbling line of dominos.

Sometimes, such incidents have collateral damage – injuries and physical, mental or career setbacks. And oftentimes, we downplay the impact or importance of the bad things that happen to us. And for fair reasons – hardships are not enjoyable. But they are fundamental to who we are.

Like a thread knitted into a blanket, what happens to us becomes part of us.

In early 2020, when I was finishing my senior year of high school, I had to be rushed off campus and to an emergency room after a pinecone detached from a tall palm tree I was walking under and bonked me in the head. 

When I woke up that morning, I went to school with the assumption that it would be just like every routine day before then. I could not possibly intuit that the structure of my day-to-day routine would be completely disrupted by an unpredictable happenstance. Every thought, decision and action I had ever made up until that point coincided with every force of nature that contributed to that pinecone finally breaking away from its tree and gliding straight down into me.

But in my assessment of the situation, I was missing the forest for the trees. From my perspective, yes, it was completely random and absurd. But in the grand calculus of the universe, it had to happen. I had to walk down that path to leave class. The branch had to snap because of the wind that day. 

I fared quite lucky as the pinecone didn’t do significant damage and other than a few weeks of having staples in my scalp, I walked away unscathed. But it doesn’t always play out that way. 

Later that year, I caught COVID-19, and despite the mild infection, developed long COVID.

The weight of chronic pain and cognitive hindrances inflicted by an incurable, practically-unknown ailment is inexpressible in words. It was a truly intolerable state of being spanning several years onset by one simple interaction with an infected person. 

Not really as funny as a pinecone bonking me on the head, but just as wild.

Nowadays, most of my symptoms have gone dormant. But for a long time, I accepted the fact that, for whatever reason – whether it be damaged nerves, chronic inflammation, clingy viral residuals or another theorized cause of long COVID – I would possibly carry this burden permanently.

This prolonged period induced a lot of self-reflection and, eventually, resulted in me switching my major to journalism and enrolling in journalism classes. 

This decision – again, spurred by my predicament – has been one of the most important of my life. It has been close to three years since then, and now, I not only have a collection of awards and accolades, but I’ve made important connections and have found a career path. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that it completely changed the course of my life.

Think about your circumstances and how altering the littlest of details changes entire trajectories. Register for a different class and you never meet your significant other. Walk into a store five minutes later and you never run into that colleague who offers you an opportunity. This extends to our negative experiences, too.

As individuals, we are an ever-expanding mosaic fashioned by bits and pieces imparted by the people we’ve met; the things we’ve felt; the media we’ve consumed; the experiences we’ve had. The majority of these shards of life are only ours because of the same providence that enables the symphony of atoms, molecules and cells within us to arrange the exact way they do.

This is all to say that there is a method to the universe’s madness. Everything that has ever happened in your life is founded upon billions of years of precedent. You are meant to exist the way you do.

On June 28, scientists from the research collaboration NANOGrav announced that, after 15 years of experimentation and data collection, they have officially detected low-frequency gravitational waves, a phenomenon produced when giant objects move through space. Essentially, the movement of these objects – usually primordial super-massive black holes – send ripples through the actual fabric of reality.

What it revealed is that these ripples, or hums, are constantly reverberating through the universe and the space we inhabit. 

Now look at your surroundings; look at your limbs; look at the world outside. Everything that ever was and ever will be, all of the cogs in the grand framework of the universe, are fluttering to the tune sung by ancient celestial bodies. And there is not a single misplaced subatomic particle or flawed molecule to be found in any corner of the universe – an orchestra as perfect as it is deliberate.

In our world teeming with uncertainty and difficulties, it can be difficult to wrestle with concepts of identity and self. Some wish to believe that they’re entirely self-made while others struggle to define who they are at all. But really, we are the sum of everything. Our actions, circumstances, loved ones, feelings, thoughts and surroundings are just as responsible for who we are as the sod below us and the cosmos above us. So, instead of clinging to one idea or another, embrace your existence wholly; the good, the bad and everything in between. It’s all part of the schematics that erupted into existence billions of years ago.

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    SamAug 1, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    A beautiful piece, thoughtfully composed in what I believe is an accurate and compelling view of the universe and life.