"Men simply don't think."
- Albert Schweitzer
About 3 months ago, the third-most calamitous event of 2021 occurred for me when I lost most of my life savings, equating to just over half a million dollars.
My old laptop had been misbehaving for several weeks, so after finishing a reasonably vigorous day at work, I zipped downtown to buy a new one. Upon returning home, I proceeded to transfer the data from the retired laptop to the its shiny successor. Included in the data transfer was my desktop "wallet," which contained all my cryptocurrency.
That evening, I was also on-call for the hospital. It was a much more action-packed call than usual such that during the data transfer process, I was intermittently called for acute strokes and other neurological emergencies. Sometimes, these calls do require one's full attention. Suffice to say, I was distracted for quite some time.
After an hour or so of attending to the calls, I returned to the laptop to check on the laptop and saw that my desktop wallet was empty. I initially thought it was just a glitch, so I busied myself with some troubleshooting. No explanation was forthcoming until I checked the outgoing transfers, whereupon I realized that the funds had been exported to various different addresses.
The investment and storage of cryptocurrencies is a two-edged sword (or if you prefer, katana) (1).
Within a matter of minutes, I had lost years of savings...and the thing about the blockchain and cryptocurrency is that, as a rule, there is no way to recover the funds. That's part of the appeal, and part of the risk. It's a two-edged sword.
They were gone, no way to get them back...lost.
Prior to the hack, I would not have predicted my initial reactions would be what they were. My first thought was one of disbelief, which lasted for perhaps an hour. Following this was a crushing sense of frustration, that so much of my hard-earned savings had been ripped away by an unknown person, which lasted perhaps another hour. These two reactions I could have predicted prior to having the funds stolen. However, the third reaction was the interesting one - a profound sense of relief, like a weight being lifted off my chest. I had no more savings to worry about, and with that came a strange sense of inner freedom. That lasted until I went to bed.
I went to work as usual the next day, and everything was pretty much the same aside from a mild medley of disbelief, frustration, and relief that continued to pervade me. And then I became philosophical, looking past the reactive emotions, and started reflecting on what had happened. I told my family and a couple of close friends about the hack. One of my friends (after mentioning he would punch a wall for me, many thanks James) suggested I watch a film called The Edge (2), so I did (if you have not seen the film, you may want to do so before reading the next three paragraphs).
It is a fantastic film, and after watching it, I saw why James recommended it. On the surface, it is a survival story about a billionaire named Charles, whose plane crashes into the Alaskan wilderness, where he is stranded along with his friends, Bob and Stephen. Despite his vast wealth, Charles has become bored by his routines, although he does not fully realize it at the outset. In the wilderness, the three men are forced to survive against great odds, an endeavour that requires constant ingenuity and thinking, which Charles realizes soon on.
Charles (right) and Bob (left) (3).
Charles states, "You know, I once read an interesting book which said that most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame."
Stephen looks over with a quizzical expression and says, "What?"
Charles carries on, "Yeah, see, they die of shame. What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this? And so they sit there and they... die. Because they didn't do the one thing that would save their lives."
Stephen joins the discussion, responding, "And what is that, Charles?"
Charles calmly replies, "Thinking."
As the film proceeds, despite overwhelming and several occurrences of bad luck or misfortune, we see that Charles keeps focusing on problem-solving throughout the entire film, keeps thinking, unlike Bob and Stephen who both frequently allow their emotions to take over. Although Charles is not immune to frustration, he never lets it make his decisions for him and, towards the end, he is redeemed by the sheer act of thinking and problem-solving, which has made him feel more alive than he ever felt during life as a billionaire.
Thus, on a deeper level the film is not really a survival story, but a story about redemption through thinking.
In 1952, when asked what was wrong with most men, the French-German physician and philosopher Albert Schweitzer paused for a moment before stating, "Men simply don't think" (4). What he meant by this was that most men do not have a predetermined goal, and without that, they drift and conform to others around them. They didn't even know why they conformed, they just believed their lives were shaped by the things that happened to them, by exterior forces. They had no real goal in life, and went to work every day as it was the "normal" thing to do (that is, the thing that everyone else did).
Like Charles, I was forced to think about the major financial loss I had just suffered, and upon doing so realized that, up to that point in time, I had not been thinking about the cryptocurrency at all. I'd just been mindlessly stuffing it away, and it had become a routine. The loss formed me to reevaluate and think, make predictions. I began researching about how lax my security had been, and how to improve it in future. I began learning more and realized I had not really known anything about the inherent value of some of the currencies I had invested in. And it forced me to think about what I would have done with the funds even if I still had them, for I had no future plan for them up to the point of the hack.
French-German physician and philosopher Albert Schweitzer.