Probability and Love don’t Co-exist well

I did not have to say anything, as I knew that whatever I would say wouldn’t be the right words. It also was not the place for me to have an opinion. My role was simply to be present. Sitting in a room with someone that is fighting back emotions, having just been pulled away from a part of who they are, is not exactly a skill I easily utilize. I don’t like to just exist in moments such as these. I have the itching to solve these problems – often with a lack of delicacy that leads to the scratches being worse than the itch itself.

One of the topics within my life today is a focused effort to better understand the world with probabilistic thinking. I’m in the process of hiring people that can help tutor me, so I can learn some of the more technical aspects of pulling and managing data. I’m consistently challenging my Excel skills, along with taking online courses and reading books to remember and use the statistics that I learned in graduate school.

While “playing with numbers and code” has been a pretty consistent theme of my life the past 10 to 12 years, it’s been more of a hobby then a profession. Understanding training loads in triathlon, pacing methods in a marathon or how to ideally get a line of css to align a sidebar have all been part of the discussion – but I’ve chosen to fully commit myself, making 2015 the year of data analysis.

I have big ideas on what questions I’ll be able to answer, which is exciting. As I was finishing the most recent book, “The Signal and the Noise” by Nate Silver, I found myself coming up with all kinds of interesting hypotheses, which was leading me think in strictly probabilistic terms. The book consistently forces you to think in Bayesian terms, which can become very enticing.

I found myself watching football games, wondering if any of the teams have put together a chart of probabilities and scenarios for their play calling each week? For example, the Oregon Ducks often line up for a two point conversion after their first touchdown. This is not normal football behavior. The question then, is this an understanding of probability they can exploit to get an edge? But I didn’t just think about football, I found potential probabilities and hypotheses everywhere I looked. (Sidenote: if the Nebraska Football program would like me to be their data guy, just contact me – I have all kinds of ideas).

There are a couple areas in life though where data and probabilities just don’t fucking matter. I realized this tonight as I started watching a Neil Young documentary. It triggered my thoughts, because I understood that when you love something, when you have a passion, it overrides any gravitational pull that probabilistic thinking might have. It could be called, all-or-nothing thinking – which we are often discouraged from possessing. However, there are also times that it is what you want.

There should not be a probability associated with how much you love a spouse. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t say to Nikki,“There’s a 70% chance today that I will love you.” There is definitely not a conditional probability associated with the relationship. Now, there are definitely days that I might show more affection and kindness as a result of our communication, but the underlying principle is one that lacks conditions.

Another book that I just read, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One is Looking), which was written by the co-founder of ok-cupid might disagree. He might say that there are probabilities associated with love. E-harmony is also known for using probabilities to help lovers connect, however I would argue that the probabilities are only to connect two people together – after that, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

Let’s pull the emotions associated with love out of the discussion and just look at passions for a moment. One of the biggest stories in adventure right now is Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free climbing El Capitan. Do you think they spent days or even hours contemplating the probabilities of their success as they planned this attempt? In a similar fashion, I just listened to a Dirtbag Diaries episode, where Will Gadd talked about his and Gavin McClurg’s paraglyding adventure through the mountain peaks of Canada to the U.S. border. While they discussed decision making along the journey, I would guess that probabilities of their safe return home was less their topic of discussion before they took off. Certainly there is an understood reality that is at the core of these adventurers and their passions. However, the reality of danger is overcome with love and passion for what they are doing.
In the book, The Rise of Superman, this is discussed in very honest terms as the author shares the downside to flow. The state that many adventure athletes become experts at eliciting. The understanding for those whose passion is taken away from them whether it be due to age, physical ability or simply having to more fully engage in a culture that doesn’t particularly reward the adventurer’s spirit. That understanding can be depressing and empty.

As I sat there, the tears were slow, each one was painfully released. This is not an individual that easily shows emotions. The emotions were not due to miscommunication, as both parties are intellectually capable of speaking on similar terms and understanding.
The emotion was due to the fact that one of the parties spoke in terms of risk and reward, due to probabilities and outcomes. The other was thinking about love and passion. In life, love and probability rarely can coexist well. For my part, I sat and listened – knowing that my role was to just be there without calculation and without judgment.