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Some men are born posthumously. ~Nietzsche

Archive for October, 2008

On Fate

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2008

Random life is random.

After stumbling out of bed late again today, I managed to put the battery charger on my car during my shower, giving it just enough charge to start and take me to class today. This has predictable consequences, right? The question becomes, which consequences are predicted by that action?

After I left class, the internal mumblings of my mind for some reason turned to my time at the UR. Not exactly inexplicable in its own right, as I rewind and reconsider the past frequently. When I got out to the car, it didn’t start. Remarkable. I started to walk home.

Passing in front of HFA, I saw someone who looked eerily like Paul Carlson, a former coworker at the UR. He seemed to deliberately take the path toward me, as though he was setting up a collision course. As he got closer, I saw him smile. Could it be? He didn’t just look like Paul, it _was_ Paul.

I was so amazed to see him on campus that I didn’t know what to say. He’d been in Japan so long, and I really wasn’t expecting him back. He said he was just in on a visit. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes, then he had to go meet someone. Two not quite random ships passing in the night so to speak.

And yet the encounter raises questions. To have chanced up someone in that fashion required both precision timing, and a deviation from my routine. I would not have been in that spot at all if my car had started. True fatalism would suggest that the car _couldn’t_ have started, because the meeting was fated. A more subtle possibility is that the meeting became “fated” through collective choice. The meeting and my car not starting are both avoidable consequences of freely made decisions on my part (and of course Paul’s). There is also the possibility of random chance, augmented by the law of large numbers (a statistically insignificant chance is guaranteed to produce a positive result if enough samples are tested).

All of these possibilities are valid, and the question doesn’t have a provable answer. The other interesting data point is that I was already thinking about the UR (including Paul) as I left class. This has relevance only because of the chance meeting (a correlation to the law of large numbers – similar data points that have no relevance to outside events are ignored) but could also imply premonition. Having determined the near term future events by actions already taken, there exist the possibility the mind can foresee otherwise unpredictable events and prepare for them.

All of this relies in some sense on a definition of time. My semi-snide, semi-serious response to the almost flippant question “what time is it” (“the time is now”) is meant to challenge the idea of time as a concrete dimension withing the universe, instead supposing that time is a dimension of the mind that allows the dull of life to be broken into smaller “snapshots” that limited mental facilities can more easily understand.

I don’t favor fatalism in principle, preferring _some_ role of free will in the unfolding of events, but I don’t subscribe to simple randomness within life either. The casual coincidences of life make for an interesting thought exercise anyway.

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