Everett Climb is an alpinist. Is this chance or fate?
His young brother Ruppert, who travels a lot, missed his plane for Katmandu, which later crashed in the Himalayas, leaving no survivor behind. Learning the news, Ruppert had a fatal heart attack and fell lifeless on his kitchen floor.
Robert, Ruppert’s cousin, who always plays the same lotto number, wins the jackpot on Friday the 13th. But he lost his ticket, which was found by Alicia, a homeless girl begging at the foot of his building.
6 months later, Robert and Alicia met at a caritative event supporting victims of earthquakes. They got married one month later. During their wedding trip in the mountains of Kazakhstan, an extraordinary and unexpected earthquake took place and both perished under the ruins.
What to think of all this? Chance? Fate? Fatality? That’s the question!
Are life situations, small or big, happy or unfortunate experiences, life choices – professional career, family, personal evolution –part of the thread of destiny?
Is there a space for fatality or chance? Or is all this nothing but an intellectual and farfetched occupation hiding the fact that there is nothing? Why do we wish to interpret or give meaning to things that happen to us?
Well, perhaps we simply need to understand and explain small and big things.
We all know the butterfly effect theory about predictability from the meteorologist Edward Lorenz:
Can the flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?.
This theory gave birth to various interpretations and variations, most of them used to show that a big event may have been caused by another one, much smaller. There is a little “Russian dolls” side to this theory.
Is there such a great difference between chance and predictability?
On the one hand, chance1, whose original meaning is « game of dice », is characteristic of events bound by the laws of probability. When I roll a six-sided die, I have 1 chance out of 6 to see it ending its course on a 6. When I use 2 dice, the odds are of 1 out of 36 to get a double 6; with 3 dices, 1 out of 216 chances to get a triple 6.
On the other hand, predictability is the extrapolation of a future event from a past event. But in this case too, the laws of probabilities come into play.
In the beautiful movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet The City of Lost Children (La cité des enfants perdus, 1995), there is a memorable scene about that kind of chain of events, from the most insignificant – the tear of child – to the most apocalyptic – a cargo accident. All this highlights that, in the end, nothing is pure chance.
Using the laws of probabilities is accepting that “anything can happen”. It is also accepting that any event can happen because another one has happened before, and so on.
Is my life a series of events with no other link between each other than some probability? If I study medicine, I will probably become a doctor. If I become a doctor, I will probably give a cardiac massage to a 73-year old Irish man in a plane heading towards Katmandu. But why would I study medicine? That is a question that the laws of probability can hardly answer. I can feel that something is wrong between the why of things and the probability of them happening.
And even if I don’t know the why, I cannot accept that all this is pure chance, a chain of probabilities. I have the profound belief that causes and effects are bound by other laws. Chance and the laws of probabilities are undeniable, but they only apply in a certain perspective of events.
Nowadays, it is recognized and proven that the chair on which I am seated now is submitted to certain laws at the scale of my office. But at the infinitesimally small scale, very different laws apply. It means that, depending on the point of view, the laws that apply to things are not the same.
To sum up, if it is chance, it is weird; if it is destiny, where will it lead me? Where am I ready to go to understand what is happening to me and what it means?
The often « catch-all » notion of fate is very convenient and can answer all sorts of mysteries. Like in the example of the Climb family, chance and the laws of probability are weak and feeble explanations.
But this doesn’t mean believing that EVERYTHING happening is the fruit of fate. Because then, the question of the meaning of life would arise. And then, it all becomes very embarrassing. Am I ready for this question?
What is the meaning of my life? What is the meaning that I give to my life?
Beyond the fact that I believe in fate or not, in chance or not, I feel this vital need of meaning. And in view of all that has happened throughout the history of humanity, it seems that I am not the only one; far from it. It is then logical that I feel connections with those who have the same preoccupations. And that opens a path of understanding of myself, the world, and life. Understanding is a very important key in the search for meaning. In understanding, there is light!
Understanding is more important than explanation. If someone explains to me how bees live, it is good. If I understand bees, it is better. The key of understanding opens a door, that of knowledge. If I understand bees, I can live with them. If I know them, I am one of them. The boundaries don’t matter anymore. Beliefs are of no interest. Egoism is no longer necessary.
I enter another relation with destiny. I deal as equal to equal with it. I tell it:
Ok I accept you, I understand you. You are of use and necessary. But you, too, must understand and accept my search for meaning. My aspiration to be free implies that you no longer lead my life, but we move forward together, hand in hand.
This bond has an unexpected effect: compassion.
But this will be the subject of another article.
- 1. « Hasard » in French