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Aubrey Vincent Beardsley: The Birth of Fancy (1892)

" … the betrayals chance delivers …"

Almost everything significant in substance I've accomplished started with some presupposition. I assumed some skill, ability, or knowledge not previously in evidence, then somehow leveraged that presumed ability into actual accomplishment. I had never been evidently a best-selling writer until well after I presumed to write. I had never cooked that first supper until I somehow managed to cook that supper, after which I could reasonably presume myself to be a cook. Or, maybe I no longer had to presume I was a cook because I had cooked something. My earlier presupposition became reasonable only after my accomplishment. Before then, it might just as well have been delusional and probably was.

When does a presupposition qualify as delusional, then?
When might I reasonably judge some notion unreasonable, and when might I comfortably judge it sane? Any presupposition might be regarded as either reasonable or not before experience more definitely defines it. Until then, it's reasonably judged as mere fancy that might be capable of fueling true transformation. Those unwilling to chase dreams never experience them coming true. Those who only chase dreams seem incapable of accomplishing much of anything. Delving too deeply into this line of thinking would probably render me functionally insane, unable to act reasonably or choose responsibly. Avoiding these questions would render me stuck.

The old and banal adage claiming that assumptions make an ass out of you and me misses the more important point. Assumptions do not reliably produce anything, ass or otherwise. Assumptions represent chances. They roll the cosmic dice, opening otherwise inaccessible possibilities. Nobody reasonably rolls the dice when facing every decision. Most seem too mundane to warrant invoking chance's superpower. Others seem altogether too serious to leave to mere chance. Only a relatively small subclass of decisions warrant being subjected to chance's risks or rewards. Some of those will certainly, predictively, fail. A few might well succeed on terms otherwise inaccessible. Those who frequent casinos tend to sleep in the streets. The occasional player only occasionally wins. There are almost no frequent winners; to believe otherwise amounts to one of the more TerriblePresuppositions.

I mention this idea because that Mystery I spoke of the day before yesterday and those ThreeQuestions I talked about yesterday have previously all been resolved by the simple invocation of some truly TerriblePresuppositions. These seem familiar enough whenever planning for any future. Rather than outright speculation, a planner quietly presumes. When desiring an outcome, it's easiest to quietly assume some non-existent superpower will deliver. Initial plans tend to be filled with such presumptions. Otherwise, no plan could ever come to fruition. The relief experienced when completing a plan too easily gets mistaken for actual resolution. The notion that producing some magic might just happen tends to proliferate through the first few drafts. Only the judicious injection of disappointment ever manages to attenuate these TerriblePresuppositions to produce actionable plans.

It becomes the sacred responsibility of the effort's most faithful benefactors to rain on the mustering parade. They must find ways to point out what could not possibly seem impossible, for they resolved uncertainty just when uncertainty threatened to topple the enterprise. They might have only served as placeholders, but the whole structure came to depend upon their presence. Except they were never actually structurally sound. They held the structure pending the discovery of some actual member, an imaginary number required to finish the thought experiment. Before moving from plan to actual, each TerriblePresupposition deserves to be questioned. Each reassuring notion demands to be reopened again. The idea that "from here, a form of magic takes over" belongs in fairy tales, not in any real-world effort.

Except for one or two potentially TerriblePresuppositions, the rest will need to be traded for some more physical counterpart. The surviving presuppositions won't seem nearly as terrible once they've survived some spirited cross-examination. The alternatives to the presumptions will typically seem much less alluring and prove more expensive than whatever they replace, but the enterprise cannot hope to thrive as a house of presumptive cards. A couple of critical parts might be left for The Gods to figure out, and genius might even reward the faith the mindful planner contributes to these efforts. Still, most of the work must properly be grounded in sound principles relying upon such mundane magic as gravity with some lubricating levity accompanying. I feel like Ivan The Terrible as I become the scourge of those TerriblePresuppositions. Still, I know that the one thing more terrible than those presuppositions tends to be the betrayals chance delivers whenever I insist upon including altogether too much faith into the plan.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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