Which is the hardest thing you had to do and why?
A really challenging question.
How to judge the many different dimensions of hard against each other?
One really difficult thing was killing a pig for Max about 25 years ago (the last large animal I killed). As I walked into the piggery, the pig saw me coming, and started to scream. I was very confident that the pig was aware of its own existence, aware that rifles meant death, aware that its future existence was at risk, and was expressing that terror in the sounds it was producing. I had told Max I would kill the pig for him. I did it. I walked up to it, apologised, and put a bullet in its brain.
And doing that blurred the previous boundary between animals and humans for me.
That pig didn’t have language as such, and I was clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that it had awareness of possible futures, and had definite preferences about retaining its own existence in those futures.
I haven’t hunted or killed large animals since.
I have since noted many levels of awareness in humans, and I now understand the notion of there being a potentially infinite set of levels of awareness possible, and that incident with that pig has had a profound impact on the selection criteria I apply to selecting preferred possible futures from the infinite class of the possible, and taking actions accordingly.
And there have been lots of different sorts of hard.
7 years ago, having oncologist David Gibbs tell me that I needed to get my affairs in order, as there was nothing known to medical science that could extend the probability of my life, which he gave as: could be dead in 6 weeks, a 50% chance of living 5 months, and a 2% chance of living 2 years.
That declaration was not in my list of probable futures.
Accepting that it was very likely that I would die very soon and very painfully wasn’t easy, and I did it.
And me being me, I decided to check the details for myself. My responsibility to my family demanded that much of me.
When I looked really closely at all the data I could find, it seemed that there were things I could do to alter the probability of that outcome.
I’m still here, now over 6 years since the last tumour.
Many aspects of that journey were hard. Giving up meat, and eating only plants, and no sugar or alcohol, removed everything that I actually liked from my diet.
It took a lot to do that, and eventually my tastes adapted and I started to like some of the things I was eating, but that process took many months, and it was a couple of years before I could say that I was really enjoying what I was eating.
When I was a teenager, in scouts, I did a tramp one day, with a pack. Between 4am and 10pm I walked 22 miles according to the map, carrying a 40lb pack. That was little short of pure torture for me. By the end of the day I didn’t have a muscle group I could identify that wasn’t screaming in pain. The skin was gone from my shoulders and hips where the pack was rubbing, and from my feet where the blisters had broken. But I did it. I did what I set out to do, and after a few days the pain wasn’t so bad. As a kid I was short, fat, unfit, feet twisted outward, about as far away as you could imagine from my current 6 ft 2 inch lean frame. That was a really big deal for me then.
When in my early twenties I was out diving one day, snorkling for crayfish. I was out the north end of Opito Bay, and there is a big rock out there, in about 30ft of water, with a narrow tunnel you can swim through to get into a large open space that is normally packed with crayfish.
It was one of those days I was breaking all the rules.
I was commercial fishing at the time, so the only time I got to go diving was when it was too rough to take the boat out and set nets. So it was quite rough, a large swell, with about an 18 second period.
The guy who was going to come with me pulled out at the last minute, so I went alone.
So – rough conditions, diving alone, a long way from anyone else, and I was having fun, getting lots of crays.
I was spending about 2 minutes down giving myself about a minute’s margin for safety most dives.
Then one dive I stayed a bit longer, so it was about 2 minutes 40 seconds when I started to leave the cave on the swell.
Then I was coming out the entrance with a cray in each hand when one of them flicked its tail and jammed in crevice. It took a few seconds to free it, by which time the surge from the swell reversed and I was swept back under the rock.
I waited and tried again on the next swell. Same thing happened again with the other cray.
Back under the rock again.
Now I had been down for over 3 minutes and oxygen was getting very low, and my vision was starting to go. So I tucked the crays into my armpits and headed out on the next swell.
As I got out of the cave entrance my vision was down to being like looking through two drinking straws.
I oriented for the surface and put full power into my thigh muscles, knowing I was in deep trouble.
About 10ft from the surface vision went out.
A couple of seconds later I lost all sense of gravity/ direction, I didn’t know which way was up.
I clearly recall thinking – you’re in trouble now. How to know when to breath?
Then I noticed a change in temperature of the skin on my cheeks under my eyes. I though that must mean I am at the surface, in the wind – so I took a breath. I was right. The lights came back on. I could see again.
Decided to call it a day, and headed back to shore, and back home.
Those few seconds without sensory input were fairly terrifying. Maintaining any sort of awareness was an effort of will that took more than I thought I had. It left me feeling drained for days.
Lots of other similar yet different events from my past.
Lots of things that have been hard, in different ways.
Reading Goedel Esher Bach, and not going past any paragraph until I was confident I understood it, and had checked out all aspects of the logic involved, was hard. Nine months of headaches every night, as I kept at it until I was done. Confident that I had explored all the limits of Goedel’s conjectures. The only work I have ever read that I have not found significant errors in.
The list is long. This is a small selection, and I am not confident that the hardest is in the list, and it is what it is.