Necessary and Sufficient

Keys to conjuring life-change

I was reading a web site recently that advocated One Thing (environment) as the magic key that will change your life and make you a success. He paired this with the observation that Another Thing (will-power) is useless.

The trouble with such articles is that they aren’t even wrong.

You see, there is no such thing as magic. Environment or habit are not magic. Anyone who tells you different is not lying.

How can this be? The secret of conjuring is to make something look like magic when there’s a non-magical mechanism at work. The conjurer doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat, he pulls it from his sleeve. He just makes it look otherwise.

So what.

Let’s talk about you. You want some sort of change in your life. Maybe it’s losing weight. Maybe it’s getting our of debt. Maybe it’s ending a toxic relationship. And despite your best efforts this change has been impossible.

But you talk to someone else who went through an identical change–they did X–and like magic it worked. Or you talk to someone else who did the same–they did Y–and like magic it worked.

Meanwhile, you do both X and Y and neither works for you. No magic. Sigh.

The trouble is that both X and Y work and neither of them do. This makes sense if you consider one fairly simple concept: necessary and sufficient conditions.

Let’s explain for the non-logicians in the audience what we mean by necessary and sufficient conditions. A sufficient condition is a thing that will always cause something else to follow. A necessary condition is a thing whose absence will always prevent something else to follow.

For example, suppose you have a four-sided figure. Is it necessary that the sides to be parallel in order for the figure to be a square. But this condition is not sufficient, since the adjacent sides may be of different lengths. Both of these conditions may not be sufficient, since the angles where the sides meet may not be 90 degrees. To get a square all of the necessary conditions must be satisfied.

What has this to do with life-change?

People swear by “habit” as a way of attaining life change. (I am one of them.) Other people swear by “environment” and yet others swear by “community.”

I think they are all correct with one proviso.

Suppose life-change hinges upon multiple necessary conditions. Maybe you try one or two of them and you fail to get what you’re after. You can try all-but-one of them and you’ll fail.

Now suppose you’re in a situation where you’ve satisfied all-but-one necessary condition. Then you add that last missing piece and boom. Everything works. Like magic.

The situation is like a lock that takes many keys, all-but-one have been turned, and the universe is waiting for you to find-and-turn that last key. If you’ve tried N things, don’t lose faith. Keep them up and try N+1. When that happens, you’ll think you’ve discovered life-changing magic, but you’ve just conjured up a rabbit out of your sleeve, not a hat.

It isn’t magic, but it looks close enough to be impressive to everyone watching.

How are you going to impress everyone around you?

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan