Practical Alchemy

1 + 1 = 2

In a practical world, for a pragmatic mind, logic supports expectations. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Fill up your gas tank, drive for a few days and for a sizable distance and the gas tank will need refilling. Same with your tummy. What you eat today becomes poop tomorrow. These expectations are facts, truths anticipated and easily observed. There is little disparity between the expected outcomes and the observed results. And these truths do not need retesting. We trust them. They are fixed and unsurprising.

Some expectations are situational or relative to circumstances. Run the can opener and your cat comes running unless it’s locked in a neighbor’s garage. Every month a woman’s cycle arrives, unless her ovaries are on strike or her womb is occupied. Work a day and earn a day’s wages but the amount of money your bring home may be variable due to taxes or overtime.  Maybe it was a holiday weekend. Maybe you picked up a co-worker’s shift. Maybe you changed your deductions and Uncle Sam holds back a bit more. What doesn’t happen is a paycheck for zero dollars. That is absurd and illogical. You did the work, you earned….something. The problems arise when disparity between an expected outcome and a probable outcome exists.

A few years ago, I interviewed a person for a position at my office. My professional colleagues in this community have confirmed similar experiences with potential applicants. The new young bucks completing residency programs have a skewed opinion about what they should earn. They have an opinion about what they THINK they are worth and what they SHOULD earn but this is based on the personal notion of what they WANT. But that is magical thinking….and its coming from people scientifically trained.  The bald facts are that if you want to earn twice what I earn, you must expect to work twice as hard, see twice as many patients, make hospital and nursing home rounds and take call from the emergency room. The trade off for the greater income is less time for non-career pursuits like love, family, hobbies, leisure and frivolity. Oddly and magically, these new yung bucks are quite adamant in their expectations. They want the higher income but they do not want, (nor intended) to work any harder or longer than I work….and they wanted zero risk and 100% guarantee.And six weeks of paid vacation.

This is magical thinking. And it has invaded our cultural psyche. An honest day’s work has true value. But somewhere, we have gotten off the rail. If we applied scientific thinking to our ‘cultural problems’, it would be grossly obvious that there is no way to get THERE from HERE. You can’t get blood from a stone, wine from water or money from a tree. This is not a fairy tale and we don’t live in Oz, Wonderland or the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. I intentionally avoid specific rantings so as to avoid provoking the autoresponse arguments, but let’s face it. We have illegal immigrants because there are jobs in this society that regular Americans will not do. They  won’t do them for (less than) minimum wage. And employers like that undocumented worker, because they avoid paying taxes, benefits and liability. Yet, the solution is to criminalize the undocumented worker? In a supply and demand economic model, the undocumented worker exists because there is a demand…..a company looking to increase their profits by cutting corners.

But I got off track. My logical mind can’t make sense of our national debate. I think this is an issue for so many and it is the origin of our apathy and indifference. How can you care about something that defies logic and offers zero predictability? If I cannot count on rational minds to have a reasonable debate and reach conclusion, why bother paying attention? I am as entertained by the clowns in Congress as I am with the clown car at the circus. It gets old after a while. And you cannot live in a circus.

For me, this final month of 2011 is a time to review my own expectations. What have I expected in life? What have I expected from my efforts? What in my life defies logic and cannot be held to scientific standards? Do I permit my expectations to exceed the practical and likely outcomes? And in this year, where did my expectations and the observed outcomes mismatch? And why?  If I am postulating a theory, trying to prove a hypothesis, then I have to repeat the experiment and document the process and measure the outcome. Just like in Chem lab, I have to measure and turn in the product AND the lab book with the write up of my experiment. How the experiment is performed gives the clues as to why the outcome is less than expected. You can’t throw a bunch of stuff in a beaker over a Bunsen burner and expect gold to materialize. Life is not alchemy. Most of life is scientific.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *