Fate or destiny is this idea that our futures have already been planned; rather than working as sentient forces that are able to drive themselves towards their desires, we are rendered powerless by “the powers that be”. A belief in fate is a belief that we are actors that play their own part in the puppet-show that is life. It’s a truly fascinating concept that is able to place people in a sort of opposition with one another, regardless of their religious views.
While studying psychology last year, I came across an idea that put people into two separate camps: those who believed in the supernatural, or in fate, were to be considered sheep, while the seemingly more rational people who rejected this idea were dubbed goats. Due to the connotations that come with each animal, I don’t necessarily agree with the method of labelling, but setting up these two categories also leads us to another concept called the “locus of control”. If an individual possesses a high external locus of control, it means that they believe their life to be in their own hands; there is no such thing as fate, or magic, and you essentially reap what you sow. Those with a low external locus of control were far more likely to turn to such institutions as organised religion because they considered their lives to be out of their hands and required someone to tell them that it would be alright.
One particular factor that dictates whether a field of study is a science or a pseudoscience is its ability to be proved wrong; the scientific process thrives on being able to take a hypothesis, test it, and present results, even when they show that the original idea was false. In proving things wrong, we progress our understanding of our reality in the same way that we would had the initial idea turned out to be correct; however, many elements of the supernatural have been in a position in which the ideas that are presented are irrefutable. A God or an afterlife cannot be disproven because the only way to find out whether those things are real or not is to die, and thus cut ties to our world; this does not mean that any given religion is definitely correct because we cannot disprove it, but simply that it is in a state of limbo. This same idea can be seen in fate, but rather than it being the product of an omnipotent entity that can change the rules as they see fit, it is down human ignorance, and the present impossibility for us to see anything but the present.
One element of fate is that we cannot change it. What will be will be, essentially, and there is absolutely no way for us to alter that fact. You can understand quite easily why the “goats” wouldn’t want to believe in such an idea, because it removes their power from the equation. The notion of taking away their ability to choose their path and mould their future makes them naturally uncomfortable, and so they reject the idea completely. However, the typically adopted meaning of the word fate refers to our future being outside of human control; we cannot alter it, and from the initial inception of the universe, our lives have already been set out. I remember hearing quite an interesting idea referring to fate in the context of The Big Bang. Imagine that everything, all the stars and planets, were set up in a large pile before being exploded out across the universe. Everything has been set out on its course through that first propellant motion: in this way we can predict when that meteorite will pass through our solar system again in a billion years, or that on the twentieth of the eighth in a thousand years time, all of the planets will align and there will be a solar eclipse for all planets at once (don’t go and check that, I made it up). We can predict the movements of the planets and the stars because of that first explosion, and every possible action has been already foretold because there are no entities to interfere with these movements, because they too would have been set on their course through the same means as the planets. Still with me? The idea is that, although humans consider themselves to be powerful in their volition, they are still subject to the same laws that govern the planets, and that every one of our movements have also been predetermined by that first spark. The notion seems to be utterly abstract at first, but with a little bit of thought, I’ve begun to wonder whether or not the idea is as farfetched as I first put it down as.
All of that’s well and good, but I want to finish with a softer concept of fate that I concocted in the shower this morning. Humans are unable to see into the future (perhaps you believe in the tarot or what have you, but people are typically under the impression that we are temporally sightless), and so are unable to shift their destiny. Our history, our temperament, our friends, our foes all work towards impacting the choices that we make, and because we have no knowledge of what those choices will result in, we will choose in the way that our personalities dictate. It’s like running through an RPG for the first time, and choosing the options that you would in real life; it’s exactly the same concept, because unless you are also looking at a walkthrough, your choices don’t mean anything in the here and now. In this way, our future isn’t dictated by some external supernatural force, but by ourselves; however, until we are able to definitely see into the future, we will not be able to alter our fate, because as long as there is a future, there has to be an outcome. What you will do in the next few hours, months or decades will happen, and you won’t be able to change what happens because you will always make those same choices for as long as you can’t see their outcomes.
I know, it’s a convoluted topic, but I hope I didn’t get too confusing (or confused) in its presentation. Philosophy remains to be one of my favourite topics, and if anyone has any counter-arguments they would like to put forward, or even any topics they’d like to see covered in the future, I welcome them with open arms.