Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Date with Destiny

There's something you should know about me, if you didn't already: I analyse everything. That's why I can't fall asleep at night, think about cave paintings when I'm walking in the rain and think about the back stories of strangers on the bus. Everything and anything. But a recurring inner discussion that I have is that of destiny, fate and parallel timelines.

First of all, perhaps on semantics alone, destiny and fate are not the same thing, though they are often used interchangeably. (Much like jealousy and envy. Look it up if you're as pedantic as me!) Destiny dictates a event that is predetermined or the power behind this predetermination. Fate, rather more pessimistically, is a course of events that must happen or the agency that dictates this, often with negative connotations of death and ill fortune. Yup, pretty much semantics with an upbeat/downbeat twist. On my understanding, destiny means that we will hit certain events in the future but the present up until those points is still in flux. Fate means that everything is laid out in advance and we are just along for the ride. Think car ride vs train journey.

But the key and shared element, that of predetermination, is what fascinates me. Is this a valid concept, or just the bread and butter of New Age-ists,  lovesick people, films of varying quality and Lost? Some people like to believe in this to cheer them up when life has kicked them in the nether regions. It can be reassuring to know that something better is coming along in the future or that there is no way a certain chain of events could have been avoided. There's a certain easing of stress in the laissez-faire, che sera sera way of living that can be a positive thing, avoiding overthinking the future and focusing on the present that can lead to a double-edged lifestyle of hedonism/being ill-prepared.

For my part, I don't overly like these concepts. I'm not going to poo-pooh these theories out of hand, I have no proof either way and have done no rationalising beyond my recurring by idle thoughts on the matter. But I'm somewhat hesitant to believe in Fate as it completely belittles the significance of our free will, something which separates our souls from our primal instincts. I only wish I could cite some Jungian principles at you at this point, but suffice it to say, I value this aspect of our psyches very highly. There is a slight degree of leeway when it comes to Destiny that I could get on board with: the idea that the while the ending is written, the journey that takes us there is still up to us. As it said in the closing line of La Haine, "L'important c'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterissage".

And if the future isn't written in the stars, if Fate does not dictate all of our paths in minute detail, what about the little decisions that make all the difference in how our lives map out? What if I had never left the house early that day and missed my bus to the airport? What if I had chosen a different university and met a completely different set of people? What if I have taken a different route to the station and bumped into a different person? (Think the Butterfly Effect. The concept rooted in Chaos Theory not the terrible Ashton Kutcher vehicle.) Fate answers all these questions with a simple and somewhat belligerent "You wouldn't have. You were always going to do what you did." Tell me that isn't a little grim. Destiny on the other hand, is a lot more glass-half-full. The feather in the cap of romantics everywhere (pleeeurgh at Serendipity, hurrah at Love in the Time of Cholera) it is endlessly more positive. But then we go onto parallel timelines and/or the inherent paradoxes behind time travel and the effects of our decisions. And then, unless you're an expert in quantum mechanics, this is the point where you stop or just go insane.

Even LOST gets confused about this: doesn't this just blow your mindhole? 

A film that handles this well is Sliding Doors. Very British (yay!), very cheesy and romantic, but it makes pretty good use of the concept and contains elements of my random musings above.

What do you think about Fate and Destiny? Do you believe in it?

And now to completely destroy any iota of respectability behind my reasoning, here's some cheesy 80's-esque pop music, the only good thing in this entire movie (is Drew Barrymore just a massive film jinx post-ET?) I thought of it purely for the line "A twist of fate makes life worthwhile..."

12 Response to A Date with Destiny

25 February 2010 at 05:00

That's a cool post, Stephen!
I like your analogy with the car/train ride, to tell you the truth I've never thought fate and destiny were any different, but now it makes sense...
I don't know where I stand on this matter. My husband, D, thinks that the Universe is predeterminded, that for every situation where we have a choice there can be 2 possible outcomes: choose that or don't choose that. Your life is formed of the path taking you through this graph of state-choices. There are a certain number of states in which the universe can find itself. This number is incredibly big (because there are a lot of choices to be made, but it's not infinite).

A while ago, I wrote something on parallel universes, the theory introduced in the 50s by Hugh Everett (the father of the singer in Eels, go figure!). If you'd like to read, just search "parallel universes" in the Search Box on my blog...

Ok, I'm going to bed now, all this thinking is making me tired!

26 February 2010 at 09:48

very thought provoking post. I believe that your destination is written for you, but it depends on the individual how he reaches it. We choose the path to where we must be, I guess.

But then there's no limit to thinking and imagination right.

27 February 2010 at 16:24

I love the way you write.
I'm tired and don't have anything intelligent to say. So, I'll just come back to this later :)

27 February 2010 at 19:34

Ughhhh...I love the way you write. It's so flowy and perfect.

I can't say I believe in fate or destiny. I don't believe in karma either. I just believe in Jesus. ;)

27 February 2010 at 22:26

you were recommended as an excellent boy blogger today. be proud :)

27 February 2010 at 23:00

Yay another post of philosophical pondering! I think I choose destiny as well. But maybe in a loose sense, like things will either end up ok or not ok, and we don't determine which it is, only how we get there. I would find it very hard to believe that it's any more specific than that. For example, I don't think I'm meant to be writing this to you right now, but maybe that I was meant to write something nice and you were meant to hear something nice and the way things happened is the interesting part, the part we decide. Anyway, for the nice thing I'm going to say: Great post Stephen! I love it! As always you've clearly illuminated an interesting train of thought and defended your view while presenting both sides in true lawyerly fashion :)

28 February 2010 at 18:07

Alexandra - Mmm yeah it confused me a bit also, you're just lucky I self-edited out some of the more confusing elements! I'll check out your post, I've become quite interested in this topic over the past few days. Saw an episode of Scrubs (My Butterfly) which covers the same point with parallel timelines and reconfused (sp?) myself! That and repeats of Dr Who.

AT - I have to believe we choose our path, otherwise we'd just go insane. And actually if you think about it, the two concepts aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, as you hinted towards in closing. Even if our paths were set in advance, our mental processes that lead us there would similarly be predetermined, so it would still be important for use to think, imagine and dream...

TSG - Haha, why thank you. And you often have intelligent things to write, that's why I read YOU too :)

Stephany - Flowly, perhaps. Perfect? Definitely not, but ta all the same! I'm not sure, again, that these ideas are mutually exclusive. Fate/destiny can be the life God has set out for us, and karma can be the precepts of heaven and hell. This is why I'm so confused.

Whitney - By whom? Yourself? Why thank you :D

ALH - *bow* :D You know what, I really like that idea, that of merging paths determined by our own decisions. It's all sweet and what not (like you *retch * :D) but also so very plausible.

28 February 2010 at 18:34

I'm a firm believer that there is no fate/destiny in life... we simply find these patterns when we look back on the past, we need to find these patterns because they bring a measure of comfort in a world that is nothing but chaos.

We aren't following a path when we are in the moment but we will find that path later, looking back. We want it to be there.

We are all masters of our own destiny. Our choices matter. Nothing is planned.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

and with The Butterfly Effect I don't think it matters. Events aren't linear to me, they are bouncing around all over the place waiting to collide... so if you went back and changed one thing that doesn't necessarily mean that the world would blow up but that you negated one collision, there are still a million more that may or may not react in such a way to make the end result the same.

No path. I like it that way.

1 March 2010 at 02:49

hah i was actually asking on 20sb for people's favorite boy bloggers, and you made a few people's list :)

2 March 2010 at 11:54

You are quite the philosopher, aren't you, my friend? Thought-provoking stuff. You express your ideas with finesse — the car vs train tracks analogy was spot-on.

I'm with Birdy — it's chaos. And it's awesome.

I don't believe in a higher power/The Universe/God/Gods/etc., so the idea that there is some kind of 'greater plan' just never seemed to hold water.

People like to look for patterns and connections between disparate events to help them make sense of their lives, to find a narrative. It's comforting to think that the shit you are going through at any given point is somehow part of a grand scheme. I see the appeal. But at the end of the day, it's all a giant soup of random, although the outcomes of every decision are not always binary black-and-whites. Often, the possible end results are more likely to be variations on a theme, rather than polar opposites.

I like the inherent adventure in chaos.

2 March 2010 at 23:54

Love this post! Especially the LOST references. I wish we lived on the same continent so we could be real life friends.

22 March 2010 at 08:35

For whatever reason, I do believe in Fate and Destiny. However, because I can, I've always likened Fate to be a; whereas I do believe in Destiny at the definition of what it is. I tend to believe fate is more in the short-term; for example, I feel as though I was fated to fail a university biology course because I was supposed to struggle to graduate on time and yadda yadda that goes with the consequences of that. But at the same time, I refuse to believe life is fated to end in some bloody, disparaging way. I don't feel as though life in general has a negative tone to it, that our end is not only predetermined in a pessimistic fashion, but that we are just along for the ride. Because...if that were true, what good would it be for us to have happy memories and big decisions and laughter? For Whoever is Upstairs to mock us and laugh while we think we're being our own person? That's cruel, and I can't bring myself to believe it. I don't buy it.

Destiny, on the other hand, is something I do believe in, simply because there are events in my life that I feel were meant to be. There are things that I can't explain, but I know I was supposed to learn or know or go through. I've always thought destiny to be a bit circumstantial and/or subjective. Destiny has given pillars in my life that I am predetermined to meet, but the way I get there can--and will--change. The pillars are there for me to better my life, or at least expand it.

Granted, I understand I've completely altered my own versions of fate and destiny to fit my life and how I'm choosing to live it. I've somehow shaped fate to be the negatives in my life, and destiny to be all the others. I could be completely wrong, I may be completely right; more than likely I've just fit it to a point where I can feel comfortable. But I like to believe in free will and the ability and capacity of humanity, and since I've yet to encounter anything that concretely disputes it, I'm ok with this.

...anyway. I really loved your car/train analogy, and again...I really love reading whatever you write. Apologies for a comment on a post almost an entire month old, but better late than never, right? :)