Fate

There are several moments which define one’s life in a way that will be somehow remembered.

Two weeks ago, I had a math exam to pass, in order to be accepted by Erasmus Rotterdam University, for the Econometrics B.S. program. I studied hard, and the test was still too difficult to me. I couldn’t pass it.

 

“When one door closes another one opens”. Sure.

 

We’re wired to make sense out of events that don’t match our expectations. Among the many ways to do that, there is the concept of fate that helps navigate the stormy weather of one’s life. I had a brief conversation with a friend, and she told me that not passing the exam would definitely reveal some brighter path in the future.

 

Sure.

 

I sat next to the river and tried to explain her why I was so skeptic about fate. This is the unpretentious, brief explanation I was able to come up:

This is why I don’t believe in fate, as a way to make sense of the most complex of systems: life.

The concept of fate suggests that there is a causal relationship between events within a complex environments, from the most complex one (life), to the “simplest” one (human relationships); I derive this statement from the following thought experiment, which shows how we try to detect such cause-effect relationship within complex systems, even though we use the word “fate” to describe them.

Let’s say some unpleasant event happens to Mr. Brown. The fate explanation calls the event as “something that was meant to be”. Such explanation already has a seed of past-future correlation, as the present is used to pronounce a sentence about the past (note the past-tense form of the sentence). I can buy the general correlation between the past and the future, it is the empirical bedrock of our human experience. We would take it too far, though, and that frequently happens, by assuming that that event, which was “meant to be”, might bring Mr. Brown a brighter future. Doing so, we are calling “fate” a bunch of opaque probabilities which define an inexplicable past event, and then infer that those same indistinguishable probabilities would make us able to identify a related, pleasurable event in the future. When that brighter experience would actually occur, Mr Brown would likely cherry-pick the “fate” event characteristics that mostly resonate with what just happened to him, and structure a new narrative accordingly, to stick past and present together.

If that mechanism is considered to be fate, then I don’t buy it.

My take is that systems we are trying to describe are so complex, that ascribing any event to a strict causal relationship and being able to translate it into the time dimension (take it into the future either into the past) is quite naive. I prefer to think of every moment as a matching of conditions; it is then upon the individual to judge for himself whether conditions are matching in a favourable way, or the other way around. But there is no objective quality inherent to the event itself; we just choose what we want – or what we need – to see.