Gold foil illustration of stars

Nodus Tollens

The Sense That Your Life Doesn’t Fit Into a Story

Your life is a story. A torrent of overlapping moments, rushing at you in no particular order. As the days flip past, it all happens far too quickly to absorb—a mess of seemingly random events. Every once in a while, you look back and highlight certain memories as important, as turning points in the main plot. You trace each thread back to its origin, finding omens and ironies scattered along the way, until it all feels inevitable, and your life makes sense.

But there are times when you look up and realize that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore. You thought you were following the arc of the story, but you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand. Either everything seems important or nothing does. It’s just a tangled mess of moments that keeps changing depending on what you choose to highlight.

You look around and wonder, What kind of story is this? Just another coming-of-age tale, the same one your parents told, with the names switched around? Is your everyday life part of the origin story of something truly epic? Are you unwittingly getting by on other people’s charity, mistaking your own luck for your own success? Are you a character in a romance, a tragedy, a travelogue, or just another cautionary tale?

As you thumb through the years, you may never know where this all is going. The only thing you know is that there’s more to the story. That soon enough you’ll flip back to this day looking for clues of what was to come, rereading all the chapters you tried to skim through to get to the good parts —only to learn that all along, you were supposed to choose your own adventure.

Latin nodus tollens, literally “the knot that denies by denying.” In propositional logic, modus tollens (with an m) is a kind of argument that goes like this: “If P, then Q. But Q is not. Therefore, P must not be.” Also known as going back and questioning your first assumptions when things don’t work out the way you expected. Pronounced “noh-dus tah-luhns.”







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