Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Multiverse or: How I Quit Smoking Tobacco

The fundamental question is:

Would you like yourself if you were to meet yourself?

If you were to meet someone that was you, but you didn't know who they were, and little by little you were getting to know this person, what would you think of them? Would you want to hangout with them, or would you think they were unpleasant or uninteresting?

And what if your answer to this question was that you were not attracted in some way to this person? What next, simply forget about it? Or try to change your behavior, at least those parts that you find at fault? And if so, how?

Behaviors are habits, and habits can be modified or stopped. I don't mean necessary bodily habitual impulses, like hunger, but those habits the alteration of which would not be in some way harmful to the self, whether physically or psychologically.

When, nine years ago, I finally decided to act on the wish of wanting to quit nicotine, cigarettes being my preferred delivery system, it took me about two years to actually bring myself to do it. I was quite a heavy user and by the time I quit I was averaging thirty cigarettes a day. I suffered from withdrawal anxiety and, because of that, I almost always tried to have a fresh pack along with me. I also had to have at least a carton at home and on long trips. All this to say that I was addicted to nicotine and to the physical and psychological habit of smoking. But this is also to say that if I was able to quit, anybody can.

The way I was able to do this was by bringing myself to dislike the habit and by consciously disliking myself for not being able to quit (we all unconsciously dislike ourselves for some habit but until we are able to consciously admit this we are not going to be able to do much about it — thus my initial fundamental question). I was able to consciously realize that I disliked smoking, even though I liked — or at least I thought I did — the physicality of it and the way it made me feel, for making me behave in ways that were harmful to myself and to those around me. I also disliked myself for financially supporting companies whose bottom line is dependent on killing people and who either support or are directly involved in other similarly despicable activities. This was, for me, a helpful psychological trigger.

But the more fundamental concept that allowed me to find this trigger and break with my addiction was that of the multiverse — or a least that of a multiverse theory.

Roughly, according to this theory, there is not only one uni-verse but an infinite number of universes — the so-called multi-verse. And, if so, everything that could happen has either already happened or it will happen in at least one universe. For example, there is at least one universe where our laws of physics do not apply; one where, all else being equal, I do not exist; at least one where, all else being equal, I do exist, smoke and die of lung cancer; at least one where I quit smoking; at least one where I quit and still die of lung cancer; and so on.

Then I asked myself: if I could choose which universe to be in, all else being equal, which universe would I choose? The answer was simple: in the one where I quit smoking. And so I made that universe this one by quitting. Because if I could quit in one universe with all else being equal then, it follows, I can also do it in this one.

I have not smoked tobacco or used nicotine voluntarily in nine years and I don't see myself ever doing it again (even though there is surely at least a multiverse where I do pick it up again). The simple reason being that I dislike it or at least I dislike telling myself that I like it. Mind you, I didn't quit without help and I used technologies to ween myself out of the nicotine dependency. But the concept of the multiverse allowed me to see that quitting was possible, because I realized that I, all else being equal, must be able to do it in at least one universe.

Since then I have changed other behaviors (or habits) that I disliked such as eating animals and their products — also a very rooted habit that most people cannot acknowledge, let alone change. Yet, once one accepts the idea that something is possible than it's simply a matter of finding the psychological lever (trigger) to spring oneself into action.

An important caveat:

This type of exercise is only possible with those habits that one has full control of, all else being equal. By full control I mean something that can be realized by acting on a wish. For this reason, this post is not meant to endorse those extreme neoliberal theories of self-reliance according to which everything is possible if one puts one's mind to it. Because even if I wished this was the universe where I do not die of lung cancer after quitting smoking — as it must happen at least somewhere — I do not have the power to actualize such wish. Thus, all I can do is try to reduce the odds of getting lung cancer by quitting smoking as I cannot simply wish my cells into not turning cancerous. I can just try to stop feeding them junk as much as possible, something that is within my control, and then hope for the best.