The dichotomy of control, ER edition

Philosophy as a Way of Life
8 min readMar 4, 2022
[image: the author, in the ER of the Tisch Hospital run by NYU (left); view from said hospital (right)]

Pardon me the personal update, but the darn covid pandemic hasn’t been kind to my health, mental and otherwise. I have developed hypertension. One of my vertebral discs went out of alignment. I have put on weight, in part as a result of stress. And I’ve just spent three days in the Emergency Room of New York University’s Tisch Hospital, on Manhattan’s midtown east (highly recommended, by the way, if you are in the market for that sort of thing).

I understand that correlation does not imply causation — though the two are highly correlated, as my statistician friends say — and that therefore I cannot claim a causal link between the pandemic and my health issues. But it sure has been a difficult time. Then again, I have experienced nothing like what a lot of other people have been going through over the last two years, as I have an excellent and stable job, with a good health insurance. And of course it’s a whole different ballpark for the millions of people currently being affected by Adolf Putin.

Still, I have to deal with my own problems because, well, they’re my own! Which is why I am grateful to have been practicing Hellenistic philosophy for years now, mostly in the form of Stoicism, more recently in that of an eclectic type of Skepticism.

The reason for my gratitude is not just that studying (and practicing) Hellenistic philosophy has opened up to me whole new and fascinating vistas, not to mention that it has allowed me to reconnect with my Mediterranean roots after three decades in the United States. I’m grateful most of all because these philosophies have given me practical tools to cope with what life throws at me — good and bad alike. (Or, as the Stoics would say, preferred and dispreferred.)

Over the years I have narrowed down my practical exercises to five (though with my friend Greg Lopez we have articulated a whopping 52!, covering a variety of needs and personal inclinations). Perhaps I will eventually write an essay on those five and why I think they are so useful.

But today I’ll focus on the one technique that has been most helpful during these past three days: the so-called dichotomy of control, though the term is actually misleading, because it isn’t really about “controlling” anything. In fact, it makes you realize just how much you do not

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at