Brain Food #521

Farewell to the dice man

Thoughts of the day

In 1971, one of contemporary fiction’s biggest cult classics was born. The Dice Man, written by George Cockcroft under the pen name Luke Rhinehart (once again the need to detach from oneself to create makes its appearance), sold over 2 million copies. Presented as a biography, it tells the story of a psychiatrist who wakes up one day, bored with his life, and decides to carry on living based on the casting of a die. The eponymous main character in the novel provides himself with some options on his daily actions, but eventually, he lets the die decide.

Floating between free will and constraint, and alleviated from the burden of responsibility, Rhinehart’s life takes a spectacularly unconventional, and often controversial route.

As opposed to Rhinehart, George Cockroft was a shy man, with a conventional life. The die-casting idea came to him as a teenager, when he decided to push himself beyond his limits: “So I would make a list of things to do in a day and the dice would choose which one I did first […] to force myself to do things I was too shy to do. If the dice chose it, then somehow that made it possible.” This didn’t last long, and soon he returned to conventional decision-making. For him, the dice man perhaps brought out the alter ego he longed for, someone who dared to be crazy, or stupid. Perhaps the right word for this is ‘fearless’.

Life certainly does not come with a manual. If it also comes without a predetermined path, then it is our actions that eventually determine our direction. With the influence of the die, Rhinehart puts a twist on this existentialist concept, giving himself a limited set of options, all chosen by him, some surely springing out of the depths of his subconscious. Though these options are his own, through the die he liberated himself from the weight of choice, even if the ideas had been hiding within him all along.

The Dice Man is, ultimately, about the limitations of life against the unlimited potential of the self.

“It's the way a man chooses to limit himself that determines his character. A man without habits, consistency, redundancy - and hence boredom - is not human. He's insane.”

But it is also a refreshing way to make one wonder what life would be like without fear, without any worry about the outcome of our actions, without any problems to face:

“From children to men we cage ourselves in patterns to avoid facing new problems and possible failure; after a while men become bored because there are no new problems. Such is life under the fear of failure.”

George Cockcroft recently passed away. Though he did not live his life by the die, his message still resonates: within our limited choices, there is still unimaginable potential to be discovered, as long as we are less afraid of what might happen.

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