Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Elimination of Waiting (A Thought Experiment)

Suppose we accept the following line of thought:
1. Waiting is always undesirable. (No one likes to wait; time is precious, etc.)
2. If x is undesirable, then x ought to be minimized.
3. Therefore, waiting ought to be minimized.

Were this right, then a "perfect" world would be one in which we never had to wait--a world in which waiting has been not simply minimized, but eliminated.

What would life look like if we never had to wait for anything? Pushing this hypothetical to its metaphysical limits, time as we experience it would almost cease to exist. Every desire would be instantly fulfilled, every pain immediately alleviated. (Any frustrations of our goals would have to be instantly alleviated, otherwise we would have to wait to get over our disappointment.) Every experienced moment would be filled to capacity. What about effort and achievement? If we eliminated all waiting, these things would have to happen instantaneously--anything that requires effort and time requires some modicum of patience between the setting of the goal and its realization. Thus, to eliminate waiting, we would have to eliminate, it seems, the need for effort. But if achievement is something special, something we recognize as the fruit of a sustained, attentive, meritorious effort, then in order to eliminate waiting, we would have to also eliminate achievement. I could go on, but the point should be clear already--the ideal of eliminating waiting, taken to its logical, if extreme, conclusion, would entail the elimination of anything much resembling human life.

This suggests that we should re-evaluate waiting and re-consider the facile assumption that less waiting is always better, even in those cases where it is possible to shorten our wait.

(As an alternative, one might suggest that waiting is not always undesirable; what we need is an optimum state of waiting, but prima facie that seems a bit like a silly way of putting the alternative point.)


  1. Seems like this has some implications related to the soul-making theodicy of John Hick with respect to the problem of evil.

  2. That's an interesting point. Something else that's related to this, that I've started puzzling over, is what we should make of "enhancers" as a way to improve our patience (a "patience pill"). This isn't just sci fi, since various medications help people deal with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, all of which might be related in various ways to one's capacity for patience...