Among others, I have two identical shirts. One has a slightly dodgy button on the left sleeve, you know, that button that closes the gap between the cuff and the mid-forearm.

The other morning, I stood at my wardrobe having decided to go with the pale-blue, double-cuffed shirt. I selected one of the two on offer, but then chose the other one, deciding that the day’s events were sufficiently important to warrant an unblemished cuff-button.

The morning’s drizzle also required a raincoat to be donned.

That evening, while running for an 87 bus having popped to Robert Dyas after work, the shirt caught on a shard of metal on a lamppost on Whitehall, tearing the sleeve to the point that the shirt now resides in the bin. Half an hour beforehand, I’d paused outside work wondering whether or not to go back in for the raincoat, deciding against it given the balminess of the evening.

My question is this: if I’d selected the dodgy-buttoned shirt twelve hours earlier, or if I’d popped back in for the raincoat, would the shirt now be in the bin? Or would I still be the owner of a twin set of shirts? To what extent do tiny decisions in life affect things downstream?

On a much grander scale, if I’d not managed to achieve the B-B-E A-level grades that Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my university of choice, was demanding of me, I would have instead gone to Swansea University, would not have been able to choose a rather niche third-year module that Newcastle had to offer, would not have gone on to study for a Masters in that very subject at Warwick, would not have joined the first company I worked for (for they specifically targeted the Warwick course), and I would never have met my wife who worked for that very company.

For the record, I no longer own any identical shirts.


6 Responses to “Rent-a-shirt”

  1. Roger on May 30th, 2008 10:43

    Mid-life crisis looming huh?

  2. Francis on May 30th, 2008 12:57

    This reminds me of the explanation of how to think in 10 dimensions:

    We all have such choices which seemingly are inconsequential only to have a perceived knock on effect. You might ask after I post this…what would have happened had I not written about my shirts on my blog? Shanahan would never have re-linked the 10dimensions thing.

    I dunno if there’s any point to any of it.

  3. Hughie on May 30th, 2008 20:20

    Why am I here, what’s it all about, where’s it all going to?

    Am I just a speck in a multiverse of possibilities?

    Is it just about watching Britain’s Got Talent with a stroller blocking the passageway?

  4. Niknej on June 2nd, 2008 17:48

    Having worked with our illustrious blog author recently and knowing the organisation where he works well, I am more fascinated about what on earth he felt warranted the smarter of his shirts to be worn or who he felt would be examining his conduct of dress so closely – or maybe he is interviewing his way out of a rather trying time!

  5. Tom on June 3rd, 2008 20:40

    To answer your question: “To what extent do tiny decisions in life affect things downstream?” I think the answer, intuitively, must be: zero to massively, in a completely unpredictable way.

    If hitler had died in the womb, would WWII have occurred?

    If you select an new alternative sandwich filling for lunch today, will it make any difference to anything? Probably not, but what if your co-worker or even yourself are allergic to something in that sandwich? Then yes!

    The really, really frustrating thing is that it’s impossible to do the the experiment, to compare the two alternatives.

    Until we have time machines that is…!

  6. Tom on June 4th, 2008 06:50

    “For instance, to the counterfactual claim “What would have happened had Hitler drunk coffee instead of tea on the afternoon that he committed suicide?”, the timeline would have remained unchanged — Hitler in all likelihood still would have committed suicide on April 30, 1945, regardless of what he had to drink that afternoon. However, to the counterfactual “What would have happened had Hitler died in the July, 1944, assassination attempt?”, all sorts of possibilities become readily apparent, starting with the reasonable assumption that the Nazi generals would have in all likelihood sued for peace, bringing an early end to World War II. Thus, the counterfactual brings into sharp relief the importance of Hitler as an individual and how his personal fate shaped the course of the War and, ultimately, of world history.

    Counterfactual history is in many ways a reaction to the extreme de-personalization and determinism of much of current historical studies, with their emphasis on social history as opposed to event- and personality-driven history.[citation needed]”

    “In his 1964 book Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History, Fogel tried to use quantitative methods to imagine what the U.S. economy would have been like in 1890 if there were no railroads. [2] Fogel hypothesizes that, in the absence of the railroad, America’s large canal system would have been expanded and its roads would have been improved through pavement; both of these improvements would take away from the social impact of the railroad. He estimates that “the level of per capita income achieved by January 1, 1890 would have been reached by March 31, 1890, if railroads had never been invented.” [3]”


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