The Road Not Taken 


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The speaker in the poem encounters two roads that are basically the same; one is not clearly better than the other; there are no rational criteria for choosing. But he chooses one because, he tells himself, it looked less worn. But even it was in fact less worn, his act of traveling down that road makes the level of wear about the same. So what was the point? At the end of the poem he imagines himself as an old man claiming that one of the roads was “less traveled by” when really, thanks to him, they were the same.

Decisions must be made without any knowledge of the future. Sometimes reasons for the decisions are invented later. This is about attribution, identifying a cause for some effect. Causes have to be found within the structure of a system, not in the environment. We make a mistake we say things like a the flu virus causes certain symptoms. Actually, the flu virus just perturbs organisms; it doesn’t actually cause anything. If you’re immunized against the virus, ideally the virus won’t do anything to you. We have to look at the structure of the organism, or what is happening in the organic systems within a particular body.

As Luhmann wrote,

Every attempt to specify causalities engenders ever greater difficulties. What will happen never depends on a single event. It is always a concatenation of circumstances, so that uncertainty multiplies in proportion to the rigour of the analysis. (Risk: A Sociological Theory, 41)

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