Examining The Conflict Between Fate And Free Will.
Time's Paradigm: PART ONE - Destiny
Choices in life suggest that destiny does not exist; that we have absolute Free Will to plan our own outcome. In other words: whatever we choose to do now can dictate what will happen to us in the future. This implies, we simply exist in the present moment, and that the past and the future flirt only with our imagination. Our Fate: we make it up as we go along.
The past may have been an influential factor in our present decision to, say, go put on the kettle. However, it is merely our memory that has kept the past alive. It exists, because it is now unalterable fact, but it has materially gone, and we are left dangling in the present; ready to manipulate our future.
On the other side of this debate are those who consider that destiny does exist. In this scenario, future events are all predetermined, and nothing we choose to do actually makes any difference to our outcome. Our Destiny: it's already out there.
On With The Debate
If the future exists then the present is merely the future's past; asserting that the past must also exist and all, then, at the same time. This implies that the Universe is a vast, existential block, a solid tenseless state, and that time is simply our naive attempt at interpreting a progression that does not actually occur. It might seem odd to some that we would have developed the need to make choices in a world where everything is already laid out like a carpet before us. However, others will argue that the proposal simply highlights human arrogance in assuming we are important in this universe and can actually make a difference.
It is clear that the majority of us are happy in the knowledge that we can make decisions and plans and choose how our future might evolve from day to day. It gives us a feeling of control, of satifaction that we might be achieving something useful -- not just selfishly but such actions also resonate within our community, making others happy, too. "Cause and Effect" is an indisputable cornerstone of our understanding of life, is it not? We must believe in Free Will, the alternative is chaos.
But is it? A controlled environment, where we are not at the helm, is perhaps even more comforting than a World governed by human frailties, greed and lust. So who might be in control, if not us? An omnipotent being, a grand unified theory, or an as yet unknown supernatural force?
Destiny, and its ugly-sister, Fate, are words frequently used to express the future. They are romanticized terms, often incorrectly applied for effect. We hear people speak of changing our destinies or that fate was averted, neither of which are really acceptable.
Widely defined as a predetermined and unalterable outcome, Destiny refutes any notion that we have the possibility to affect or change it. That would be an oxymoron. Fate, on the other hand, is a more flexible character whose definition has been somewhat blurred by its association with Death and, as some have expressed in literary history, while we must all die, the exact date and time are not necessarily a future event cast in stone. These days, the two have, however, become accepted as interchangeable, which is unfortunate because there is now no longer a word to describe the possibility that the future can be manipulated -- as Fate once was.
Destiny is for Romantics
"I was born to love him;" or, "she was destined to be a rockstar." Yes, destiny rings of success, notoriety and greatness. But, for the rest of us, as we plod along from day to day -- trying to get a date, choosing which frock to wear, a concert to go to -- sadly, no such fantasy awaits.
It seems, we 'mere mortals' have to make decisions. Whereas, the odd boy down the street gets picked up by a touring scout one day and suddenly becomes a football star. His family are abrupt converts, they now believe we are all destined for some purpose; we don't know what it is and we can't change it -- so we should just let it happen! But there is another set of family members who would adamantly disagree: Those parents who coached their children from a very young age to become sport or artistic prodigies. They will argue -- once their Tiger becomes a champ -- that destiny can be arranged.
While a Diva's success might be attributed to destiny, there are a million likely hopefuls that were equally talented -- that could have succeeded, but didn't. We have to argue that they were actually destined to fail. They tried just as hard, didn't they? They just didn't have that incredible voice the Diva was luckily born with that the judges went crazy over.
What tells a Diva apart from the rest? Most people hate their voices, especially on hearing a recording. A hopeful has to believe doubtlessly in themselves and their talent, then tirelessly work the gamut -- the networks, the trends and the industry -- to be heard above the roar. They will more likely succeed than the rest of us because they identified a gift they had rather than just following a chosen path because they loved it. Bob Dylan didn't exactly have a great voice, it was his writing. Conversely, Stevie Nicks broke the mould with an unfathomable voice that haunts us to this day. Communicators, both.
Success is achieved by "Filling a Hole". Marketing departments know this, they call them "gaps". Shrewed businesses will create holes our lives for their products to fill -- even holes that don't actually exist, holes based on people's weaknessess like pleasure and anxiety. Same is true for stardom, though these holes are created by society's ever evolving tapestry, as a general rule. The notoriety of a dancing parrot on Twitter is not a fulfillment of Destiny, it is a nod to collective obedience, nothing more.
Is, "being in the right place at the right time", a factor in how destiny plays out, or is our future more to do with planning? It's worth noting: being in the right place and at the right time, so you can get hit by a bus, probably had nothing to do with planning, though it was your fate.
Free Will is equally ambiguous. To suggest you chose to do this rather than that, and therefore changed your future, implies that there was a future that now is different. On the flip side, what if you chose to do nothing? Would you have no future? Then, if your future did actually transpire, would it not have to be called "Your Destiny".
Our future, it seems, is just as likely to be influenced by a deliberate act on our part, as it is by mere chance, fluke or other people. So, can it be said that we really make a difference by ourselves? Making the monumental decision to give up your job and move to Tibet, may seem like something you did all by yourself, but in reality the past was the influencing factor. Not just your past, everyone elses', too! including butterflies in China. It may just be, you were destined to make that decision.
Both Einstein and his contemporary the renown psychologist, Carl Jung, battled with this concept over many years. It was their understanding that our awareness of time was a fallacy and that events might be, by and large, acausal, prompting Jung to develop his now famous theory of Synchronicity. In brief, he wished to describe the procession of time as not necessarily adhering to cause and effect. Coincidences and chance he believed were just too obviously a factor in setting up future events, there were meaningful parallels, as if destiny actually did exist.
Science has long established that acceptance of any theory can only be achieved by repeating the experiment; it is the bases of scientific evaluation. Unfortunately, circumstances in life do not occur in a controlled environment. The proof of Free Will and choices, therefore, making a difference to a future time line can never be delivered. Nothing in time can ever be repeated, precisely. The myriad of influencing factors around the World that make up a single decision can never happen again. Likewise, neither can the future be proved to exist in this manner -- both will always remain disputable.
There is no mathematical equation or scientific evidence at present to determine the existence or otherwise of Destiny. Probability statistics put a damper on the likes of Jung and Synchronicity, as coincidences pop up often and are factored into formulas for forecasting occurrences. The only way of getting to grips with our future and how it unfolds is by reason, debate and logic - the rules upon which this chapter is based.
It is true that, NOT trying to achieve something means it will probably not happen. However, this may be your destined path. You are obliged to try and survive -- just as a squirrel collects nuts in autumn -- and you may, or you may not. Regardless, your efforts to affect or alter the future are determined by such things as fear, custom and conditioning. That doesn't mean they necessarily work. Squirrels die young, too.
We must remember that, in modern societies, the future is often laid out before us. Jobs in town are available, shops are for rent, careers are established avenues, paths and prospects already in place. All that most have to do is fit in and follow the lead. Under the guidance of these arrangements that are already prepared for the working masses leaving school, one could almost say: Yes, destiny does exist. Very few toss all that security and establishment aside on the off chance that their crazy idea of a future might work. They are called, entrepreneurs, and though many fail, a small percentage succeed in spectacular fashion and become superstars.
The future happens to everybody, equally. Sure, we are bombarded daily by media musings on the rich and famous, but there are just as many successes in small, poor communities. We just never hear about them. It seems, of the four billion of us on Earth, there are only a set number of wonderful destinies available; the human population can only handle so many. Get in line.
In reality, destiny is not just about success or greatness, it is equally damning, equally unsympathetic, and as we see in the media everyday it can be equally horrendous. And it is just around the corner for everyone. Tomorrow plagues us all, it has no social exclusions or ethnic boundaries. We are all presented with the same offer everyday, to make of it what we can -- and we try to -- however fallible we are.
Having briefly discussed the romanticism of destiny, let's turn the attention to our perception of time. The question is: can we as individuals, by our present actions, make a difference to our future? Or, does our destiny await?
Destiny From A Philosophy of Science Perspective:
There are two camps. Weighing in on the cause of Choice are the A-Theorists, and for our Sealed Fate the B-Theorists. Temporal Ontology is their ring, and the canvas upon which they wrestle is the enormous subject of existence, itself.
In simple terms, the A-Theorists believe in "Presentism", whereby the past does not materially exist, the future has not happened and so we live in a vibrant present state only, progressing onwards. B-Theorists consider the "Block Model" to be how time is; that all of time from the past through to the future exists all at once, and that the flow of time is merely an illusion that conscious beings rely on to function.
Some argue that our path through life is governed by random assembly and not decision making, like a role of the dice. Indeed, it does at times seem as if there are too many variables in the mix and that what or how events occur might be purely chance. Let's call them the C-Theorists, C for casino or chaos (the next chapter considers Chaos Theory and its importance to time). What of fortune or luck? A wise man once said: there is no such thing as luck, it is all in the planning. But whose plan? Your plan or the larger universal plan that involves our predetermined passage through time?
We could count Carl Jung among the C-Theorists. His belief in an under-lying consciousness that, like dreams, is devoid of time and can connect with future events, was how he explained chance encounters with our fate as more than mere coincidence. By suggesting that no time passes while we are unconscious offers the notion of a mind able to travel at will instantly from one period within our lives to another, thus throwing chronology out of the window.
From the outset we must accept that time is just a word. Time has been segmented up in a superficial manner to distinguish between what came before and what comes after 'now'. It has been divided up still further by chronological equipment, measuring devices such as clocks, to help in our everyday analysis of events. It is progress through time, however, that this proposal wishes to explore; the question is not so much, what is time, but how does time flow? How it is possible to move from one moment to the next, our perception of such a process, and the magic of believing in a reality that at times makes so little sense.
Presentism in Brief:
If neither the past nor the future exist, only the present, then how wide is the present? If it has no thickness surely it cannot exist. When does 11.59 become midnight? We can easily state here that the present is just an abstract word we place on our conscious consideration of now, when in reality it obviously does not exist. Easy start. But it still defies logic that we could be aware of a moment in our progress through time that does not, in fact, exist.
Can we suggest that a massive stellar object or a tiny marble passing through the cosmos in motion and time only exists in a present, undefinable and impossibly justifiable moment? How does an entire planet fit inside a moment, unless it is somehow attached to what came before and what comes after? That is a question for A-Theorists.
If they were to draw a line from X to Y on a piece of paper, the ink being material existence and the nib of the pen depicting the present moment, A-Theorists would be suggesting that the ink was invisible, that point Y was not ahead of the nib for the purposes of direction, and yet somehow the pen makes progress. If X and Y do not exist, the pen is relatively speaking, stationary. So, Presentism seems to defy some of today's known scientific principles.
On the other hand, the beauty of the proposal made by A-Theorists is its simplicity, it is not without merit. An object such as our planet that existed only in the present would, as we all know, appear to us in the shape of a sphere. But if we say that all of time exists, and not just now, then our planet is actually a very long sausage. Yet, we see a sphere, so we are being asked to believe that there is a boundary around our present moment beyond which we cannot see any more of the sausage. That scenario is satisfactory to B-Theorists, but for the rest of us it is awkward, to say the least.
How we perceive time, and how we appear to move consciously through this moment we call 'now', is covered in a later chapter and is called "The Kalahari Effect".
This would surely be a disaster! Not just for you and me but for the evolution of every intelligent being, one might think. If there is nothing we can do then lets stop trying to change things and just see what happens. This would not bode well for humanity. Without the desire to achieve, to challenge or to question, there would be no future for the human race.
No desire to live -- no life! So, unless Evolution has a good answer Destiny is resigned to a dusty shelf, once again...
We can easily appreciate that an animal's need to eat brings pleasure, even though the choice to get up and go find its next meal is really controlled by hunger and the hopeful alleviation, thereof. It gets up, it finds something to eat, it feels good, so it wants to do that again. This is instinctual, and it has worked well for eons.
However, many small animals can indeed see a few minutes into the future, and make choices with that in mind. Larger mammals may consider an hour or day ahead; while elephants could be making decisions based on thought process involving weeks, even months in advance.
And now there's us; and given a brain to think about all this we could easily upset the cart if we accepted Destiny. We could stop making an effort; we could just sit and wait for our future, seeing as how it is already out there and coming our way.
Did evolution come up with a devious carrot in order to perpetuate intelligent life on Earth? Just like it offers us fear (to escape danger), or ecstasy (to achieve birth), might evolution also have offered us the notion of choice (to progress)?
In a sense, we already have such a fail-safe system programmed into our brains. Preservation of life is not something we question, it is automatic. Taking one's own life is extremely difficult, if not impossible for most of us. The decision, therefore, to consider our future and act to insure benefit and survival is all part of the same mechanism.
How does such a system work? You could say, decisions are habits. While we imagine we can choose to act with complete freedom and independence, choices we make are actually repetitive in nature. We are condition over time, we have evolved over time, and now our decision making is practically predetermined.
We wander from one habit to the next, not always precisely in the same way, but somehow we wind up doing that same thing we always do, almost in the same way. We are the kind of people we are: Risk-takers; introverts; calculators; or realists. We are predictable. As is a fox, who sleeps in the same place if he can, then goes down to the river to drink in the morning, follows the same path, hunts for rodents in the farmer's corn field and finally goes for a nap on his favourite mound in the woods. Is there a creature that reacts so spontaneously and without pre-conditioned rationale that every minute of everyday is a new experience, and his future therefore is just so unpredictable?
Such a creature might have existed, but would it have been successful and passed on its genes? So we have to wonder: What is really steering us onward through time?
Habitual behaviour is safe. Because it has been done before and worked, it can be done again. So, we make decisions, but these decisions are part of a much larger system that has been in progress since the beginning of time. Decisions? Hmm, perhaps better described as Conditioned Responses, as described in this supplement.
So you think you are making a personal choice to, say.., go on a diet. However, because the future already exists, there are no million and one options you can choose from (even though you think there are) -- there is only one: To diet. Habitually, it is the kind of thing you strive for, you enjoy a challenge and you like yourself -- so no surprise, there. This so called choice you made was already planned, it was in the mould, it was inevitable that you would.
What you get for your trouble is a pleasurable sense of adventure. You get a feeling of individuality; you develop an important emotional awareness. All this is paramount to your self-esteem. And you get slimmer, or you don't. That, we might say, is just part of your personality, the one you were given, not one you chose.
Alternatively, you could just sit back and say, "Come on then, make it happen." Or even, "There must be someone watching over me, they will surely take care of me." And they probably will; be they the government, room service or your clinic. So you argue that your choice of inaction dictated an outcome. Yes, but if the future already exists, then not something you came up with by yourself.
The Argument for Destiny:
The present is our awareness, our sense of change. If living beings such as ourselves were absent from this universe, time would still exist but the present would not; which opens the door to the prospect that the present can be at all moments anywhere in time. We do not, it seems, hold dominion of the present moment loosely termed 'now'.
An evolving world does not need there to be intelligent life on board to question its validity. Apparently, progress can happen without us. So, why do we make a difference?
Things have to happen. We don't start and stop time. How many times have you been in a situation where a decision was required but you did not have the time to come up with one? Nevertheless, something did happen. Perhaps you turned around to open the door while deep in thought without making a decision to do so.
It's that form of dissociation that Carl Jung was getting at. A slipping out of conscious awareness and into a timeless place -- just as there is a knock on the door. Coincidence?
The passage of time is relentless, we cannot alter that, we have nothing to do with this all-encompassing process. How likely is it that we can make choices and somehow alter the outcome of time's flow? A river flows; if we poke a stick in the rushing water we make a slight alteration to the surrounding surface locally, a wake surrounds the stick, before it re-organises further down river, and quickly there is no sign of our disturbance. While we and other mobile bodies will create local influences as we alter our progress, the flow of time manages to repair the damage, smooth out our mess and return everything as it should be.
In the next chapter the flow of time is discussed in more depth.
Things happen, and when they do happen it must be said that very little, if anything, is done because one person decided as much. We are influenced by so very much in our lives that it appears we are completely entwined in every aspect of the World around us. We cannot make the simplest choice about our future without one hundred or so things pulling and tugging at our thoughts; things that we did not even know where truly influential, minor fluctuations; things perhaps hundreds of miles or many days away from our present location. Look no further than Chaos Theory.
What destiny and the B-Camp offers is this sound sentiment: Universal control.
It suggests that the existence of everything that ever was or ever will be is somehow connected, and nothing can go wrong: the Block Theory. You are not in control of the future, and that is possibly a good thing. Well! Do you really think that the existence of this incredible and enormous thing called our Universe is all balanced on the decision making of a bunch of imbeciles floating about on a minute rock in a far off galaxy somewhere millions of miles from anywhere? Is that not just a teensy bit arrogant?
There are no forks in the future. We just think there are; it is evolution's way of keeping us focused. Likewise, our overwhelming and uncontrollable desire to avoid snakes, keeps us alive; a fear both programmed into our psyche and re-enforced by those around us as we grow up. Some say it is irrational to fear snakes. So what of choice?
Evolution's carrot: An overwhelming and uncontrollable desire to consider our fate. Irrational? Clearly, such thoughts are supposed to feel like a real choice, otherwise they would fail to fulfil the objective. The elimination of choices does not conclusively suggest that our future is already out there. This is only the beginning of a long story, one piece of the puzzle.
Theories of Alternative Futures Explored
Having no autonomy as we progress through time is simply the most horrific and frightening thing that we could ever possibly imagine. It is also annoying to think that nothing we have done in our past has made any difference and that, quite frankly, life is pointless. So, if Evolution's carrot is not your cup of tea, then Free Will probably is...
The A-Camp says, there is nothing out there. Destiny does not exist and the future is ours to create. Great! This means that when you make a choice to turn left rather than right, nothing but your mind determines your actions and you can accept or not any external influences you wish. Simply put: you are taking responsibility for everything that happens to you. You are completely free to choose, nothing is controlling your direction through time; you are driving, Father Time is sitting beside you, and there is nothing up ahead.
If the future does not already exist then you are making it up as you go along. If it does exist, but there is allowance for alteration, then that means there is more than one. If you had not turned left, you might have reached The Mall sooner, thus changing the entire outcome of your future, and slowly -- but significantly -- the World around you as the years progress. That's some mess you create for the future of everyone, every time you decide to do something. It makes more sense to imagine that the future does not exist until we get there, so no re-stitching of time is necessary, it is only created once.
An alternative theory for those who support change is that the future does indeed exist, and that every possible direction we might take is already out there, but we can choose which path we wish to take: An infinite number of parallel universes all written down and waiting. A perfect solution, some might say; the best of both worlds.
While it satisfies the sense of control normally associated with complex structures and at the same time allows us autonomy, there are two problems with this theory. The first is logical, the second statistical:
Saying that every possible outcome is already out there, is the same as saying nothing is out there -- everything and nothing are the same number in “infinity jargon”.
Secondly, if every possible scenario is out there for us to experience, then not only the sensible variations but also the insane ones will exist. A chicken could lay a million eggs in one night, for example. However, such whacky things don't really occur. Or do they?
Some very strange things do happen, but far fewer than would seem reasonable if absolutely anything were acceptable. (NB. If the universe is infinitely old then the gap between strange things happening could be many hundreds of years). However, imagine if the laws of physics could be seriously tampered with as we sailed along on our merry way through time. One could suggest that a barrier might be set up within this theory of parallel futures to avoid the unthinkable, to protect the laws of physics. Which means there are rules about how you choose... So, not much of a real choice, hah?
Then, there is the infamous saying, "If it can happen it will." Well, a Doomsday Universe, one which destroys all the others, must have gone boom at some stage -– and yet, here we all are.
Quantum Physicists created this multi-verse scenario. The MWI or 'Many Worlds Interpretation', for making sense of some of their most bizarre conundrums, says that there are indeed an infinite number of paths we can take in the future. Schrödinger's Cat was a thought experiment specifically created to confront such irregularities as, particles that have all their possible states in readiness at all times but only show one when it is observed.
Schrödinger, metaphorically, puts a cat in a box with a sealed jar of poisonous gas and a device that will break the jar if it detects a particle changing state. As far as quantum mechanics is concerned, at any time in the near future the cat is both alive and dead, until we open the box to observe. Thus, the MWI adequately explains this cat paradox, by saying, "Each possibility has its own place in the future, simultaneously," namely, a superposition of states.
We have choices with many possible outcomes, in the view of quantum physicists and the sub-atomic world. But even they assume that the laws of physics must be upheld, they just haven't quite figured out what they all are, yet... making us all the more entangled, especially in the macro world of our perceived reality!
We need to accept that every eventuality does, in deed, exist and therefore occur, not just one or the other, or some of them. Each one of these Many World lines we have just described can only have one past from which they developed. The cat went in the box! Many futures from just one past. The present, it seems, is a place where many outcomes are possible. Are there many pasts converging on this present moment we perceive?
We are lead to believe that one past time line can have multiple futures. Can many past time lines converge on one present moment? That is suggesting that there are multiple universes in the past that have all coincidentally arrived in one present moment. Then they will all diversify and multiply into the future from this one 'bow tie' point. That works for 'Dreamscapes' and Meta-physics; Carl Jung would most likely also be a proponent.
We might otherwise suppose that this whole thing we call reality began with just one time line, and has been growing ever since. Multi-universes expanding exponentially, becoming bigger and more complex with every moment passed. This is reverse entropy on a grand scale.
Later chapters reveal that individuality arrests progress; many states or identities allow for progress. Quantum Variability gives flow in time and space reason, though not course. A superposition of states, if stretched figuratively across time would imply that we were conscious throughout our time line and that the present moment did not, in fact, exist.
Nothing by itself Exists:
While Presentism appears easier for humans to accept, it does have issues. A world where time exists in the present only and on a single time line, where there is emptiness up ahead, is a worry: A journey into nothing goes nowhere.
Imagine: We decide to take a road trip to Lake Mirme-wawa, Idaho; but if Lake Mirme-wawa does not exist then we are not going anywhere. Would we choose to take a road trip to a non-existent location? You could say: OK, let's just get in the car and head out, and see where we get to. Yes, but where ever it was we ended up was already there, you just didn't have a name for it. Time, like spatial existence, could follow a similar principle.
Do we invent such locations merely by suggesting them? One could decide to invent time travel tomorrow, but without the wherewithal to do such a thing it is unlikely to happen. The past conjures the future, not the present.
There has to be something into which we are rushing. One thing floating around on its own cannot be deemed to exist. There can be no movement, no direction, no purpose without something to relate our travel to; there must be something beyond now. Ask yourself this: do you believe, if you pushed your arm through a magical portal to a parallel universe on the other side that for some reason did not exist that day, your hand would actually be there on the other side of the portal?
If there is something up ahead then Destiny has a place in time, it may well exist.
So, on toward death! Not, however, the end of time. As has famously been quoted in various forms over the years, this statement for the B Camp springs to mind: "We cannot choose when or how we will die -- but we will." And for the A Camp, an equally poignant quote from the Far East: "We are responsible for everything that happens to us except our birth."
We can believe in the existence of life after death. We can believe in the passage of our soul to a higher place. We can even believe in ghosts. Yet, strangely, very few would dare believe that there is something out there beyond the present. There's a whole universe out there. It just looks to us like those tiny stars twinkling up in space are part of our world -- they belong here and are not so very far away -- and oddly this is less frightening.
It seems that in order to want to stay alive we must believe that there is nothing out there in the future. It could be a classic case of subterfuge on the part of evolution, if you choose to believe it. Otherwise, you have no choice but to believe it. Believe or die!
This article states that for time to exist it must exist in its entirety. For progress to be made, the past must be connected to the future; choices become irrelevant, the present also. But this is only the beginning. In the next chapter, part 2. Time, the question will be where this progress is coming from and where it is going to.
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