The Bicycle and the Chasm

Builds Upon: Domitian’s Error

Imagine a narrow sharply winding path about 2 feet wide with a dark yawning pit on either side.  The path is the only route across a chasm and it must be crossed on a bicycle.

One wishes to preserve one’s life and not fall in, but the default human response is fear.  Ironically the desire for life will make one nervous and probably cause one to lose balance and fall to their death.  Therefore, if one truly desires to live, one must suppress their overwhelming desire to live.  It is a paradox of sorts yet in application it makes perfect sense.  If one is cool and in control while going across the chasm, the short ride is quite doable.

This thought experiment is a principle in itself.  It illustrates how the truth can be both paradoxical and counterintuitive at first glance.

It is a demonstration that you have to separate your principles from intentions and determine what your actions accomplish in actual implementation.

It is about how the most ardent passions are not the epitome of living, how they can be destructive and counterproductive.

It is about how one tends to lose what one most desperately desires by virtue of desperately desiring it.


3 responses to “The Bicycle and the Chasm

  1. isnt the purpose of this fear to NOT cross the chasm in the first place? the fear wants you to turn around, think again and look for a safer option. To not listen to your fear would mean to choose to cross the chasm.

    fear seems to work very well to me in most more “free” situations, and your example more or less the exception that proves the rule.

    Only when we dont listen to our fears we find ourselves panicking, because we entered there where were telling ourselves not to go.

    anyway, thanks for the blog 🙂

    • The idea is that you have no choice or on the other side is a priceless goal. Somehow you have to make it work.

      I understand the metaphor’s not exact in every single way, nor is it meant to be. I mean, walking across would be a lot easier than using a bicycle. Actually, crawling across would be better still….
      The idea is to form a visceral mental image and imagine what it would feel like and how one would succeed or fail.
      You are taking this far too literally.

      The point is that faced with a situation that invokes our instinctual fears, giving into these fears tends to worsen our situation. A quick look at real life tells us it’s far from absurd to suppose we’ll come against unpleasant situations we can’t avoid. Actually, that ‘s pretty much situation normal.


      -investors who panic and jump out of a market when prices are low instead of when they are high.

      -a person who can’t swim panicking, thrashing frantically, keeping away the swimmer sent out to rescue them, quickly gulping in water instead of holding breath.

      -a panicking soldier who tries to flee out in the open instead of keeping behind cover.

      I guess your main objection here is about the coercive element in this scenario.


      -A person who opts for car travel out of fear of air travel. (cars much more dangerous.)

      The person avoids a perceived chasm by choosing a route that seems much more innocuous on the emotional visceral level. This person has made the wrong choice when it comes to maximizing safety.

      The instinctual reaction to being thousands of feet up in the air, knowing that if something does go wrong, however unlikely, we’re pretty much dead can be pretty intense.
      The fearful appearance of this chasm thus clouds our judgment when one would be better off crossing.

      OR the said person can choose to never travel anywhere again in their life using any form of transportation…
      To entirely avoid the chasm and avoid risk one would very nearly need to avoid life itself. For most people this isn’t a real choice. We have bodies that require food and shelter. We have a strong inbuilt desire to go
      out and connect with other human beings.

      So I ask then is the ‘free’ situation a true or more realistic representation as you seem to suggest?

  2. Interesting lesson, I think it can be used for many things in life.

    “It is a demonstration that you have to separate your principles from your intentions and determine what your actions accomplish in actual implementation” .

    This made me think… would that mean for a subtle person, they would have to suppress their subtlety if in the end it will make life just a little easier? I remember you writing that when a subtle person tries to change, they ultimately feel a disconnection from themselves. Am I misunderstanding something? If not, how are we to go about this “separation of principles and intentions” in such a circumstance?

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