Thursday, December 08, 2005

Destiny versus Free Will

In the past few months I have been having random conversations with people about the role of destiny or fate versus free will. There are different ways to look at both of them but first I want to try and break them down individually. Destiny or Fate is said to govern all beings. In Ancient Greece, fate was personified by the Moirae or the Three Blind Women who spun the yarn, measured it and finally cut it. Even the Gods themselves were governed by their power and could not escape it. The classic story of Oedipus Tyrranus or Rex is a perfect example of destiny at work. Oedipus was abandoned by his parents when he was born because of a curse placed upon his father that Oedipus would kill him and marry his own mother. When Oedipus grew up he also heard the prophecy and ran away from his adopted parents. In a twist of FATE, he happened upon a man on the roadside and after an argument, Oedipus killed the man. The man unknown to Oedipus was his father. After a series of challenges, Oedipus finally married Jocasta, the queen of Thebes and his mother, thereby fulfilling the prophecy unbeknowst to him. Eventually he discovered this after many years and poked out his eyes and Jocasta killed herself, the power of fate.

The defining feature of Fate or Destiny, is one's inability to avoid or escape. Things will happen the way they happen because they cannot occur in any other way. People live and die based not on their own actions but because it was meant to be. Interesting enough most romantics strongly believe in this idea but its tailored to their love interest, ie: john and jane were meant to be. Destiny bring purpose and some level of comfort into the lives. Their lives aren't pointless because they have a purpose, something they were meant to do. Our paths have been paved for us because it is important in the grander scheme of things. Destiny removes a certain amount of responsibility from our mindset. Our actions can't be fully due to our intent because it would have happened regardless.

Free Will is the power of the individual and embraces chaos. Free will necessarily implies chaos because it requires that we can act or will without any real reason or purpose. We as individuals determine our our path and course, there is nothing set for us. It is also another romantic idea but in a different sense. We do things because we want to do them, our failures and successes are dependant on our actions and will. Free will removes from us a sense of higher purpose and order. Free will makes us responsible for our own actions at the expense of our sense of deeper purpose.

When misfortunes unexpectedly occur we tend to blame it on fate, not our own actions. We didn't get the promotion because it wasn't supposed to happen or the relationship didn't work out because it wasn't meant to be. On the otherhand, when good things happen to us we tend to say it was due to hard work or our actions. We got the promotion because we worked hard and made it happen.

It seems from all this that destiny and free will are mutually contradictory but thats not necessarily the case. Destiny is fundamentally a top down perspective. We can only justify it based on something grander and larger than us, many times its God. Free will is a bottom up perspective. It is from the vantage point of the individual who doesn't have all the information or knowledge. Imagine this, you have designed a maze and accordingly placed 3 rats in the maze at various positions. From your perspective you know the only way to get to the end of the maze, the rats clearly don't for them they have a wealth of possibilities to get to the end. Free will is about possibility while Destiny is much much closer to probability. Yes this analogy is not perfect because Destiny would imply 100% probability but given my relative non-omniscience, I can't make such a definite statement. :) Any thoughts?

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