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Old 2016-04-25, 03:17   #1
MooMoo2
 
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Default Do you think you're special?

While eating out with some friends last night, I overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Someone at that table wanted to be a famous actress, but she said she would "settle" for being an academy award winning director. She claimed that getting "any old job" flipping burgers or pushing papers was "surviving", not "living". She refused to do those jobs for longer than a few months since she was special, had a passion in film, and did not want to be like everyone else. The other people at that table spent close to an hour trying (and failing) to change her mind.

It inspired me to write this:

Perhaps someone told you that you were special. Maybe you were told that you were smarter or stronger than anyone else, better looking than anyone else, or had a talent to do things that nobody else could. Now, let's visualize how likely that is.

Suppose 1 person was represented by a distance of 1 millimeter (0.039 inches). 25 people, or the size of a typical class, would be 25 mm/1 inch. Would it be possible for you to be better than 24 other random people put in a class? Definitely - most people would lack the motivation or resources to compete with you in your field. It wouldn't be surprising if you were the best in your class at something when you were in school.

Now let's scale up to 300 people (0.3 meters/1 foot). That's about the size of a large lecture hall or the size of an average high school graduating class. Could you beat out the competition? Probably, but it would be a lot harder this time. It's likely that many people in that group would be interested in what you're doing and would work to be better at it. Most schools have all sorts of sports teams and clubs for many kinds of hobbies. But with some dedication and a bit of talent, you would have a reasonable chance of being class valedictorian, the star of the football team, or at least the school chess champion.

At this point, we'll step things up to 50000 people (50 meters/164 feet). That's about the size of a small city, the size of several small towns, or the size of a fully packed sports stadium. Think about that for a bit. If you wanted to, do you think you could train yourself to be faster than every single audience member in that stadium? Could you be richer, live longer, or play better poker than any of them? Even if only half of one percent have the motivation to beat you in your field, that's 249 other people you'd have to compete against - approximately 10 classrooms worth! If it all came down to random chance at this point, the odds of you being the best are approximately equivalent to the odds of a fair coin landing tails up 8 times in a row when tossed. But a lifetime of training and a good amount of talent and luck would result in a coin toss that's loaded in your favor. If the coin had an 80% chance of landing tails up, you'd have a 17% chance of getting those 8 tails - still unlikely, but possible and somewhat realistic.

You might be wondering what the 1mm/person visualization has to do with this, so here's where it comes in. You want to be the best in the world, and one day, a mysterious figure makes you an offer - move a distance of 1mm, and you'll beat one person in your chosen event/field/specialty. You're given 4 hours to cover as much distance as you can without the aid of any motors or wheels.

This seems easy, so you quickly accept the offer. If you were to take one small step (0.3m), you've beaten everyone in your graduating class. Beating everyone in the fully packed stadium (50 meters) requires more effort, but even an out of shape person could walk that distance in a minute.

You're a better runner than almost anyone you know and can't wait to start the four hour time trial. Once it starts, you cover the first 100 meters - two stadiums worth - in well under half a minute. The miles blend in together and roll by. You don't remember mile 11 and can barely comprehend the almost uncountable number of millimeters in that mile. And if one person, one tiny 1mm distance, has an interesting thought, how original is it? Was the person's proposed cancer cure, proof of an unsolved math conjecture, or some other brilliant idea really missed by all of those other 1mm people in all of those miles passed?

Your thoughts turn back to the time trial. At the three hour mark, you've already run more than a marathon, and by the time the four hours end, you've run 65 km/40 miles. You lie on the ground in exhaustion, but the fatigue is nothing compared to the joy of being crowned world champion. Or at least that's what you first think. Before long, the mysterious figure tells you that all of those 1mm people you beat didn't even equal the population of Thailand.

Frustrated, you demand a rule change. You want double the time and the use of a car. If athletes and businessmen cheat their way to the top by taking steroids or resorting to fraudulent business practices, why can't you take similar measures to increase the distance you travel? But it doesn't end there. You outfit your car with radar detectors, increase the size of its gas tank, and plan your route carefully. Somehow, you reach sustained speeds of over 100 mph/161 km/h without getting pulled over, stuck in traffic, or having to stop for gas. The 50 meters that represented the packed stadium flies by in a second. As the landscape changes from beaches to mountains to deserts, you realize how insignificant 1mm is and wonder whether the great majority of individuals can ever have a meaningful impact on politics, the environment, or anything else. You think about that time when you took shorter showers and installed rooftop solar panels to save the environment and sigh at the futility of it all.

8 hours later, you notice that even the sky is different. The sun is still shining, but it's completely dark at your original starting point, which is 850 miles/1368 km away. You don't know whether you've covered enough distance to beat everyone on the planet, but you think that at least you've beaten everyone who is of the same gender as you and is in a competitive age group. After all, men don't compete with women in sports, and a 12 year old won't be Miss Universe this year. But you still come up short - at 1mm/person, the distance you've driven is approximately equivalent to the population of China and is less than the global population of 16-40 year old males.

You finally give up and ask what it takes to become the absolute best in the world. If 1mm does represent one person, how far of a distance would represent the world's population? 2000 miles? 3000? It's actually over 4500 miles/7300 km, or the distance from Chicago to Munich. A large jet and favorable tailwinds would be needed to complete that distance in 8 hours.

And unlike a Chicago to Munich flight, the world population distance is getting longer every day.
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Old 2016-04-25, 03:52   #2
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I think you're going about it all wrong.

You start out with "being special" and then halfway, you've shifted the goalposts to "being best". Sure, if you're the world's #1 something-or-the-other, then you can consider yourself as "special". But that is not the only path to "specialness". And it is not a competition, ferchrissake.
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Old 2016-04-25, 04:54   #3
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Originally Posted by axn View Post
You start out with "being special" and then halfway, you've shifted the goalposts to "being best".
Yeah but.

The issue is trying to figure out a way to convey to the special person just how big the pool of people with similar levels of specialness is. In my opinion, it isn't worth the effort.
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Old 2016-04-25, 05:14   #4
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The issue is trying to figure out a way to convey to the special person just how big the pool of people with similar levels of specialness is
Thank god not everyone thinks that way -- otherwise no one would ever do anything worthwhile.

How will anyone know how "special" they are unless they try? And why would anyone try if they don't think they're "special"? Bit of a chicken-and-egg, this one.
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Old 2016-04-25, 06:42   #5
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I thought everyone was special in their own way. I guess it depends upon how you define "special".

Even being the "best" isn't too hard if one gets to choose which field of endeavour to specialise in. There are so many fields of endeavour available that being the best at something is a reachable goal.
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Old 2016-04-25, 06:49   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MooMoo2 View Post
While eating out with some friends last night, I overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Someone at that table wanted to be a famous actress, but she said she would "settle" for being an academy award winning director. She claimed that getting "any old job" flipping burgers or pushing papers was "surviving", not "living". She refused to do those jobs for longer than a few months since she was special, had a passion in film, and did not want to be like everyone else. The other people at that table spent close to an hour trying (and failing) to change her mind.
There are 100's of work a day actors that many people would recognize. People can have quite a good fulfilling acting career without being too special.

I was at an event today and had the chance to talk to some of those hard working actors (2 in particular, a married couple.) Between them they have ~300 acting credits with many of them on TV series. The wife has been in 3 Best Picture winners (Oscars), in BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe winners. This couple are not headliners, but if you ran across the wife in public, you would swear that you knew her from somewhere. I would venture to say that almost to an individual, all of the members of this forum have seen pictures or TV shows with them in them.

Being famous and being a great actor are not the same thing.
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Old 2016-04-25, 11:06   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by axn View Post
Thank god not everyone thinks that way -- otherwise no one would ever do anything worthwhile.

How will anyone know how "special" they are unless they try? And why would anyone try if they don't think they're "special"? Bit of a chicken-and-egg, this one.
I typically think I'm not all that special in the things I do I suck at math science and programming and though I play music and people tell me I'm good I don't have the credentials to make it a job or career and can break it down to things a grade two knows to make the whole thing not special. I typically find the negatives in things so I don't see the positives in my abilities ( not to be confused with skills which I don't feel I have). anyone who knows how to count to twelve and read a list can play most of the instruments i know for example. there's so much information you can find online that even knowing obscure facts etc wouldn't make me special. this is at the crux of my job hunt ( though to be honest I'm waiting until I get moved to start looking again) I can list off a whole list of things I can do, none of which I can do well enough to support if I get myself in an interview with someone. None of which are really all that special.
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Old 2016-04-25, 12:18   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by retina View Post
I thought everyone was special in their own way.
I'm not!


(With acknowledgements to Monty Python and the Life of Brian)
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Old 2016-04-25, 15:35   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MooMoo2 View Post
You don't remember mile 11 and can barely comprehend the almost uncountable number of millimeters in that mile. And if one person, one tiny 1mm distance, has an interesting thought, how original is it? Was the person's proposed cancer cure, proof of an unsolved math conjecture, or some other brilliant idea really missed by all of those other 1mm people in all of those miles passed?

As the landscape changes from beaches to mountains to deserts, you realize how insignificant 1mm is and wonder whether the great majority of individuals can ever have a meaningful impact on politics, the environment, or anything else. You think about that time when you took shorter showers and installed rooftop solar panels to save the environment and sigh at the futility of it all.
This is the most depressing thing I've read in a long time.
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Old 2016-04-25, 16:30   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by retina View Post
I thought everyone was special in their own way. I guess it depends upon how you define "special".

Even being the "best" isn't too hard if one gets to choose which field of endeavour to specialise in. There are so many fields of endeavour available that being the best at something is a reachable goal.
I'm not sure about this. Even obscure fields like memorizing pi (111,700 digits), juggling (13 beanbags for 15 catches), or balancing milk crates on your chin (30 milk crates, 89 pounds) are tough records to beat. If you were to take 10 random babies and train them from birth to do nothing else but juggle bean bags, I don't think more than 2 of them could break that juggling record.

A more realistic way of being the best at something would be combining uncommon events that you're good but not great in and restricting entry to those events. I might be the fastest February-born person in the world at an event that involves making 10 one-arm free throws, solving a 4x4 Rubik's cube, hopping a quarter mile on one leg, and building a 5 story tall card house. My total time from start to finish might be an hour or two. But does that really count?

One distinction that everyone can get is being the youngest person in the world. But if everyone has that distinction, does that mean that the person is special?
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Old 2016-04-26, 00:49   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Carnivore View Post
I'm not sure about this. Even obscure fields like memorizing pi (111,700 digits), juggling (13 beanbags for 15 catches), or balancing milk crates on your chin (30 milk crates, 89 pounds) are tough records to beat. If you were to take 10 random babies and train them from birth to do nothing else but juggle bean bags, I don't think more than 2 of them could break that juggling record.

A more realistic way of being the best at something would be combining uncommon events that you're good but not great in and restricting entry to those events. I might be the fastest February-born person in the world at an event that involves making 10 one-arm free throws, solving a 4x4 Rubik's cube, hopping a quarter mile on one leg, and building a 5 story tall card house. My total time from start to finish might be an hour or two. But does that really count?
Just because your chosen field of endeavour doesn't get international recognition and make you famous doesn't mean you are not the best at it. As to whether it "counts", that is subjective. It would "count" to you, so why would you need anyone else to care about it? Ego? Vanity?

I am very happy to declare The Carnivore the best February-born person in the world at an event that involves making 10 one-arm free throws, solving a 4x4 Rubik's cube, hopping a quarter mile on one leg, and building a 5 story tall card house.
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