This is a somewhat silly observation, but in so far as we are all taking random walks through life, I noticed that the mathematical probability of reaching any given point in multidimensional space diminishes with the dimension (e.g., in dimension 8 it is already as low as 7%: see [this Mathworld link]). And surely any approximation of real life involves an immense number of dimensions through which we wander. So there is a mathematical justification to claiming that we are all in a unique situation.

My question is:

Q. Are there philosophical arguments that are fundamentally opposed to this conclusion, i.e., claiming that we are all in something like the "same situation"?

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    Probability makes NO sense if something happens only once (probability is a consequence of statistics). And i would suggest to count life as an example of a unique event which happens only once (even if it is not). Thus we humans are all same but not in misery, we are same in ability to reach something great. To start thinking for example.
    – Asphir Dom
    Oct 5 '14 at 9:56
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    Gary Larson had a pertinent comment on this. img1.etsystatic.com/006/0/6386833/il_570xN.395050651_9owu.jpg
    – user4894
    Oct 9 '14 at 0:22
  • @AsphirDom the Bayesian interpretation of probability allows for making sense of probability even for events that have never happened. Oct 13 '14 at 18:13
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    I think there's something to this question, but as it is now is kind of unclear. First of all, the point about random walks applies only to uniform lattices. Second, you didn't really provide much of a justification yourself for why the above mathematical fact says anything about the situations in life that we may or may not share (not that your necessarily wrong). Can you, for example, provide a citation for a philosopher who has said something similar? Oct 13 '14 at 18:19

For starters, I would look at the idea of historical recurrance. As the wikipedia article notes

Nevertheless, while it is often remarked that "History repeats itself," in cycles of less than cosmological duration this cannot be strictly true.

While not strictly true, there are several examples of philosophers and historians who have made an argument noting the similarity of two situations (first two paraphrased from the article):

  1. Macchievelli noticed "when states have arrived at their greatest perfection, they soon begin to decline."
  2. Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, "not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time," because he believed that much about the human condition was stable (i.e., not a random walk)
  3. There is a quote from the Bible: "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) which scholars estimate was written between 450 and 180 BCE.

It seems then that the idea of being in very similar stations (even if not the exact same one) is a common philosophical belief.


While mathematically, it might make sense to treat everyone's situation as unique solely because everyone occupies a different point in situation-space, it is possible for two things to be so similar they might as well be the same. The postmodern argument of "the death of the subject" asserts that most of the new, trendy, avant-garde styles of writing like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Pound have all been claimed, and now there are fewer and fewer writing styles - and even personalities - that could seem new, that is, significantly different enough from an already extant style (or personality) to be considered "unique". Because of this, individuals claiming to have unique personalities largely tend to conform to a particular subculture, adopt that subculture's values, morals, and expectations, and thus, our personalities become so similar to others they start to seem derivative. Yes, there are many different subcultures, cultures, morals, and truths - but there is indeed a finite number, and you as an individual will end up either conforming to one of these societies or becoming a hermit.

If personalities can work this way, and personalities are taken to be a consequence of "situation", then people's situations are most likely also similar enough to no longer be considered unique, and thus, you could very well be in the same situation as others. Not everyone is in the exact same situation, but there could be a very small (relative to the entire population of humans) number of possible distinct situations, meaning that pretty much nobody is in a "unique" situation.

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    This is a very clear-eyed summary of the situation. Everyone is in a unique situation in one sense, but "pretty much nobody is in a 'unique' situation" in another sense. Oct 14 '14 at 22:05

Two of the three statements you made are true. However, the third statement "real life involves an immense number of dimensions..." is false. Real life involves only 4 real dimensions!

  • I should have said: Real life involves an immense number of path-choices, each of which might be considered analogous to a dimension. Oct 8 '14 at 19:15

Our experience of reality is an abstraction of what is really going on. For example "someone threw a tennis ball at me" has a someone, a tennis ball, some speed, and if their aim was true, a collision.

We don't mention the gathering of energy involved in operating the muscles, the exertion of force on the ball, the increase in its mass owing to it undergoing acceleration, etc.

If you look in detail, everything is unique because two things can't exist in the same place at the same time (a bit of licence there, but I think you see what I mean).

However once you start abstracting away from the fine detail and considering 'macro' stuff, groupings of events start to look similar. Eg the act of throwing. Or stopping at traffic lights.

The amount of detail with which an observer views reality must be subjective - I would think a cat's view & conceptualisation of a lawn is far different to mine.

So surely the less we know about a situation, the more chance there is of viewing things as non-unique. The more detail we look, the less 'sameness' we see.

  • "If you look in detail, everything is unique": Nice point! Oct 14 '14 at 22:11

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