n 2009, I came across a story that shifted my perception of money.
It was about Adolf Merckle, a German billionaire who was among the 100 richest people in the world. He had an estimated fortune of $9.2 billion, and his businesses employed over 100,000 people.
Despite a track record of proven successes, Merckle made a series of disastrous bets during the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in losses that amounted to over $500 million.
As the future of his business empire lay in question, he decided that being alive to witness its reversal wasn’t worth the mental cost.
On a cold Monday evening, he wrote a final note for his family, and took his own life in the most dramatic of ways:By standing in front of an oncoming train.
When you hear a story like this, your initial reaction is to shake your head in bewilderment.
“Sure, he lost a lot of money, but he was still unfathomably rich. Why the hell would he do such a thing?”“He still had his health and family, so he would’ve been just fine. Why couldn’t he see that?”
“Isn’t having billions of dollars enough?”
That final word is often viewed as the antidote to any strain of desire. That if you could stop moving the goalpost, you’ll be able to disregard the pull of greed, longing, or any variant of these feelings.
To a large extent, this is true.
By defining what enough means, you’re giving yourself a concrete barometer to judge your desires by, and whether or not they are worth having. It’s the best way to tell your future self, “Hey, don’t forget where you come from."
The problem, however, is that this future self is a projection of your present-day desires. When you’re defining what enough means, you’re effectively saying, “Given what I want today, I just need this much more of it to be satisfied in the future.” But how plausible is it that what you want today will remain unchanged as you march onward to your goal?
Oftentimes, we envision our progress toward Enough as a continuous journey between where we are now, and where we want to be.
And the purpose of Enough is to remind yourself that once you get there, you should be satisfied with your standing. You don’t need to upgrade your lifestyle or desire anything too substantive anymore.
While this is the ideal situation, it tends to be just that: an ideal.
We are woefully incapable of being satisfied with a prior desire, and many people argue that this is just a part of the human condition. That greed resets any goals you once had, and short of becoming a monk, you are destined to shift that goal by a few more commas.
Of course, there is some truth to this, but I think this view only scratches the surface. Greed is the easy culprit to point to, but what really needs to be explored is something far more interesting: The way your progress toward a goal creates an entirely new identity.
This can sound a bit esoteric, so let’s make it concrete. To do this, we’re going to briefly venture into the realm of physics and explore a fascinating theory that began circulating in the mid-20th century.
Say hello to Hugh Everett: Everett was a quantum physicist, and one thing about quantum physics is that it’s super strange.
One of these strange discoveries was how a single particle can exist in two places at once, yet when we observe it, it only occupies one position. Essentially, tiny particles like protons and electrons don’t behave according to our everyday expectations, but when we observe them, somehow they do.
In 1957, Everett published a paper that attempted to explain what was happening. He theorized that whenever we interact with a particle, it doesn’t magically decide on one position that we see. Instead, the timeline of history separates into two branches: one where the particle is in one position, and one where it’s in the other.
Controversially, Everett believed that both these timelines exist, but only one can be experienced at any moment. So there is a “you” out there seeing the particle in one place, and a “you” right here that sees the particle where it is now.
And given that these kind of quantum events happen all the time, the branching of timelines doesn’t stop there. It just keeps going onward in perpetuity, with branches upon branches existing with every observation or interaction.
Everett later referred to this perpetual branching as the existence of many worlds, which is the basis for the theory’s name. When we hear about parallel universes, this is where the idea comes from.
In science fiction, the many-worlds interpretation is often visualized as a big “what-if” scenario about how life could’ve been if you made the other decision vs. the one you actually did make.
In most of these scenarios, the protagonist will go through that alternate universe, find it exciting in the beginning, and then slowly realize that it actually sucks. A lot.
So then she’ll somehow find her way back to her default universe, feel relief that she could live there again, and exist in a heightened state of wisdom until the day she dies.
This is where Everett will likely throw his hands up in despair. Because he clearly stated that the two worlds could never communicate with one another, nor could anyone ever travel between the two (this is really important to remember).
Each timeline is literally a separate world, and once you inhabit one, you cannot identify with any other version of “you” that’s in another.
And this is where you’ll have to step in, remind Everett that this is science fiction, and slowly escort him out the theater.All right. Now that we have a general understanding of the many worlds theory, I can pivot back into our fraught relationship with Enough.