[Note: this is about the Rise and Fall of a Legendary figure, kind of like a biography of sorts, adapted in the context of the topic of “intuition”. It’s meant as a homage. Parts of it, especially the bits about where “intuition” fits into the scheme of things, are fictionalized and speculative, and since that person cannot speak for themselves on this forum, I certainly cannot say to what degree “intuition” actually played a role in their Rise or Fall. No malice or disrespect is intended.]
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Approaching his mid-30s, he was at the peak of his career, a well-established legend of that era, in a niche hyper-competitive field, a darling of a poor nation, a champion of the masses who needed an Icon to grasp as a symbol of hope and national pride amidst the poverty and corruption, and he had several more years of spectacular work-product left to share with his peers, and the world at large. So when he died in 1994, at the young age of 34, all that promise and potential cut short abruptly in the most violent way, it was a historic black day in the history of his field, with an entire nation mourning for its fallen hero, pouring out on the streets by the millions to watch his State Funeral parade. It was like like another tragic day: “the day the music died”.
His death, while tragic and gut-wrenching, was almost a given, based on the highly risky nature of his occupation, and the crazy shit everyone in his field did as “par for the course”: just another reckless day of work. In some ways, his death was as inevitable as a game of Russian Roulette, that has to eventually end in only one way: the certainty of the bullet hitting someone’s head. In a game of statistics and probability, someone eventually pays the ultimate price. Lady Luck might have thought of everyone in that field as a cat with nine lives, but the tenth time, you are done. A strong sense of instinctive intuition was almost a basic prerequisite in his work: from the perspective of ensuring basic survival, and thriving by bringing your A-game under peak pressure.
Mathematical Intuition. Geographic Intuition.
Kinetic Intuition. Tactile Intuition.
Aerodynamic Intuition. Strategic Intuition.
By virtue of being a champion in his field, it’s only natural his intuitions were almost always right. As close as it can get to perfection, without transcending the line between Man and God. His intuitions about his field, his work equipment, his peers and competitors, and about himself guided him on the path from the humble beginnings of his nascent struggling days, with cheap shitty equipment in loosely-organized events to working-up his way through the hierarchy of his field to bigger, well-organized events, to figuring out the “formula”, the secret-sauce to spectacular triumphs, which were witnessed and discussed by millions around the world. And yet when his intuitions finally failed him on that fateful day, it caused an irreversible mortal wound.
The last day of his Life, the day he tragically died, was the day his intuitions were proved both right and wrong. Like Schrodinger’s Cat, his intuitions were in a state of Quantum Superposition. Because, on that day, he had two kinds of intuitions:
- one was a general intuition about the external world, about his line-of-work and the event taking place that weekend: a sense of restless foreboding and visceral gut instinct that something terrible is going to happen (borne out of the tragic events leading up to that fateful day, since things had already gone terribly wrong), which was sadly proven right.
- and the other was a personal intuition that applied to his own internal Self: that he had been in some scary work situations in the past, had made it out ok till now, that he had endured his share of ups and downs, and persevered through all of it, and that he would make it through that weekend as well. That his abiding faith in God would be rewarded yet again. That the Divine Spiritual Forces governing the Universe, who he was sure were watching over him, giving him moral strength, providing him with the singular-focus of tunnel-vision to look past the Fog of Uncertainties, and propelling him to victories, would continue to be benevolent towards him. This intuition was sadly proven wrong.
This personal intuition was perhaps guided in major part by a sense of “sunk-cost fallacy”: that he had come from a poor country where his line-of-work was most definitely a luxury, he was an outsider in a domain dominated by White Europeans, that he had made tremendous personal sacrifices, forgoing being close to family and friends from a tender young age, keeping a rigorous punishing schedule, living out of a suitcase as a vagabond nomad from a young age, subjecting his body to insane acrobatic and aerodynamic forces, and engaging in reckless dangers with a frequency that had put him on the blacklist of all Health and Life insurance companies.
That he had endured personal and professional setbacks, persisted through humiliating defeats, bore the brunt of petty work-politics and unfair work decisions. That he had gone head-to-head with the best talent in the entire world, including with an arch-nemesis that formed the basis for the defining rivalry of that era, making for compelling television, boosting his field’s popularity. That he was swimming with sharks with a no-holds-barred approach, feeding-off the hyper-competitive spirit of "almost anything goes". That he had fought way too hard and come way too far to sit this one out.
Quitting was not in his lexicon. Abstaining was not a vote he would ever consider on the ballot. He was either a resolute yes or a firm no type of a guy. Mostly a resolute yes type. He wasn’t going to fold his hand in the Poker Game of Life. He was going all-in. He knew he didn’t have a choice. He had sensed that Life is a one-way ticket. From birth to death. He had spent most of his Life pursuing this dream, building an empire in his domain. He might as well have seen it through, even if it meant paying the ultimate price. And so, cognizant of the enormous sunken costs thus far, his personal intuition might have formed almost as a subconscious “confirmation bias” coping mechanism to reinforce his determination, reminding him of everything he had conquered in the past, mistakenly extrapolating that into the future, including a clean chit for that fatal weekend.
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He was a Formula One driver, and not just another driver, but someone who had reached the apotheosis of his field, in the pinnacle variant of the sport: a three-time F1 world-champion. He had humble beginnings in the world of Go-Karting, zooming around the circuit with flimsy equipment; a time he remembered fondly as one with pure sports and passion, without the dirty politics of big tournaments, or the frail egos of fellow top-notch drivers: like Wall-Street sharks in aerodynamically aesthetic chassis, or all the baggage that comes along with fame or fortune. Those incipient stages were a demonstration of pure brute force adrenaline attack, which would lay the foundation stones for his advancement into a perfect chimeric blend of Man and Machine.
It takes two to tango, and while the Student (Driver) was becoming ready, putting himself through the grueling grind of working his way up the ladder, the Car (Master) would appear soon. Soon, he found a Yin to his Yang, and together they ignited that four-stroke internal combustion engine, fired up various pistons and cylinders, put on a stunning display of theatrical acrobatics, powered their way to spectacular victories, and won over the hearts and minds of millions. Many commentators remarked the way he snaked his way around the track was quite similar to the flamboyant, sensual Samba dance from his home country. The tango of Driver and Car had achieved harmonic symbiosis and spontaneous combustion, leaving everyone enthralled.
When the Rain Gods decided to piss all over the track, and all the other drivers and teams dialed things down by a notch or two, this guy was busy making lemonade out of the lemons, for he was notorious for being a wet-condition specialist. It seemed his sense of racing intuition improved with the coolant liquid, whatever little sense of residual self-doubt he had (if there ever was one) getting extinguished like friction decreases when a lubricant is applied. He dominated come rain, come sunshine, come the fall of the Berlin Wall, come the fall of the Soviet Union. He was another force of nature to contend with. If cars were around in the ancient Greek era, they would have certainly given him the honorific title of “Velocity”: the God of fast moving objects.
He reflected on his journey, of being “in-the-zone” and how that makes him feel close to God, how being in a state of “flow” at over 200 miles per hour (350 kmph) helps him “visualize” God. He admitted that many of the stunning victories he pulled from the jaws of defeats were borne out of some sense of “tunnel-vision” which was “beyond his conscious understanding”. He credited a divine hand for his victories. Perhaps it was narcissism or hubris or simply a way to throw your hands up in the air when faced with the unknown about how exactly they had pulled the fucking thing off, but it seems to be a common theme among many “high-achievers”: to attribute their greatness to some divine mystical power far beyond their comprehension.
In his home Grand Prix, which he had not won even once, despite becoming world-champion, he was leading comfortably with several laps to go, with a secure warm feeling in his heart that this time he would win hearts and minds of his own people right here at home in-person. And then he found his car stuck in sixth gear, unable to shift up or down, with several laps remaining. Just as he was on the verge of becoming the latest victim of the random cruelty of the Universe, he dug deep into some indescribable aspect of the human spirit, guided by his inexplicable racing intuition of how to dance that sensual dance with a crippled car, to steer his car against all the G-forces, against all concept of physics and muscular limitations, against the concept of Fate/Destiny itself, refusing to bend down or submit to the Will of the mysterious forces of the Universe, he somehow took the chequered flag in first position, emerging scarred but not broken. He let out a primal scream whose audio is sure to leave you filled with goosebumps: a scream that’s so primitive and raw in its sense of catharsis, that you can metaphorically see in it the evolutionary struggle of millions of ancestral humans as they conquered all odds to survive and endure, their stubborn refusal to give-up despite all manners of obstacles and pain, leading to future generations (you and me included).
Then there was his rivalry with his arch-nemesis: a Frenchman nicknamed as “The Professor”. The Portuguese and French hadn’t tussled with one another with the same intensity since the Invasion of Portugal by France in 1807, during the Napoleonic era. While he was the flamboyant Samba dancer, driving the car with fast dazzling touches of a Flamenco Guitarist, “The Professor” was far more calculative and laidback in his approach: evaluating everything through a numerical algorithm, computing cost-benefit-analysis, and taking very calculated risks, which incidentally worked well for him, producing his share of wins. Their pairing had about as much in common as an apple with an orange, and their rivalry produced as much electricity as Tesla’s poly-phase AC generator feeding into Edison’s DC motor.
While The Professor was more concerned with calculating logic, HE was governed by an inexplicable sense of intuition, quite like how in "The Matrix", Trinity tells Tank to upload the Helicopter program into her brain, and a few seconds later magically has the ability to pilot it expertly. It was that sense of racing intuition - some intangible amorphous way to predict the movement of the car along the track, accounting for various handling parameters like traction, suspension, steering, slippage - which "logic" alone cannot explain - that brought him a lion’s share of victories in that era.
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01-MAY-1994, ITALY: It was a beautiful bright Sunday, the sun shining in good force, visibility crystal clear. While the weather was the epitome of perfect, the entire atmosphere around the track was metaphorically shrouded by dark, gloomy clouds because of a series of dangerous and tragic crashes during Friday and Saturday’s Qualifying sessions. A driver from his home country found himself in a horrific crash, but thankfully survived with concussions and minor injuries. Another driver from Austria, however, was not so lucky, succumbing to a fatal horrific crash. The entire racing community was in a state of shock, with everyone wondering whether it's even worth going forward with the race. In various meetings between drivers, teams, and regulatory officials, questions were asked about safety, and almost everyone felt a sense of immense reluctance about participating in the event, borne out of anxiety and respect for the dead. He too had his misgivings and concerns, with a strong sense of external intuition of negative energies. He had been relieved to hear about his fellow countryman being okay, but was gutted to hear that the Austrian had passed away.
Being sick to his stomach with a sense of despair for his injured and fallen co-workers and their worried and grieving families, and a sense of nauseating anxiety for his other living co-workers and their safety, he briefly considered whether to abandon the race himself, and yet, despite his own doubts, misgivings, and sense of horror, he along with others decided to race. There might have been some weird cognitive dissonance in his head that he would himself be mostly okay. He had to; there wasn’t a choice for him.
He might have been an iconic legend, and might have been a demigod to many. But like all the rest of us mortal flawed humans, he seemed to have a blind-spot with respect to one’s own self. He got many things right and shined in many areas, his magical instincts guiding him around the circuit in a blaze of glory, but in the final question of his own survival, his intuition failed him and he didn’t opt for self-preservation. For him participating, winning and living Life to the fullest, with an intense zeal and singular focus most of us would never achieve in seven Lifetimes, mattered more than Life itself. The risk of fatal injury was one he was willing to take for the sake of Exceptionalism.
And so, as the third rock from the sun completed yet another rotation around its axis, the sun rose and finally brought us that wretched day: “the day the sports maestro died”: a day which might have been pleasant for millions of others: babies were born, people got married, students were taking graduation walks just before the summer, with their families in attendance. But it was also a miserable wretched day for millions, who bore witness to the fall of a meteoric legend with a unique Shakespearean story of drama and tragedy. His fatally wounded body had many pallbearers, among whom was his former arch-nemesis “The Professor” (Alain Prost). He was given a rousing sendoff in the form of a State Funeral, with millions pouring into the streets to publicly grieve the loss of a National Treasure, an Icon of Hope in a poor, struggling country.
On that day, his general external intuition (that a catastrophe might happen) was proven right. His personal internal intuition (that he would somehow circumvent the calamity and survive) was proven wrong.
He had plans to unfurl an Austrian flag at the end of the race to honor his fallen Austrian comrade: Roland Ratzenberger. Instead, he ended up joining Roland in-person in the after-life. He was a Legend from Brazil. His name was Ayrton Senna.