Take probabilistic thinking, which pervades not only science but also our most intimate decision-making processes. We base crucial life choices on statements that deny a place for us as individuals. To say that “overweight men are at increased risk of heart attack,” for instance, is to speak only for large numbers of men, never for any single man. How should I eat? the author asks. What should I do, based on my character, my desires, my history, my destiny? That is the question statistical analysis makes us oblivious to: “It is not in the nature of probabilistic claims that they can be disconfirmed by example. They can be confirmed or disconfirmed only probabilistically, by other statistical investigations conducted on other masses of subjects.” Taken to extremes, the author says, probabilistic thought obviates poetry and drama, literature and religion: “Can one imagine the Sphinx foretelling that Oedipus will probably kill his father and marry his mother? Can one imagine Jesus saying that he will probably come again?”
From a review on Slate
2 thoughts on “On Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year”
Loves this, great food for thought. Thanks for sharing. I really liked this point from the review : ” The author indicts the heedlessness inculcated in us by modern ideas, technologies, economics, life. In each domain he mourns our inability to respond toÂ the plight of single beings, or to immerse ourselves in the idiosyncrasies that would allow us to care about them as we should”
It’s funny, this exact thought is one of the big motives behind what I’m working on right now (with Heather Anne and Linda Avey).
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