Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fate & Destiny - I

In this blog, I attempt to understand the underlying patterns behind various phenomena that govern our lives, like the universe, economics, politics, etc. It may have the flavour of "Freakonomics", but it may be more formal. The outlook in all cases shall always be scientific, without any recourse to speculative sciences like the occult and religion. The reader may not regard these posts as definitive conclusions or debates, but rather as ongoing discourses, on whom discussion is always open.

In this particular post, I attempt to understand the concept of "fate", of course with a scientific outlook and approach, as stated in the opening para above.

Now, it is often remarked that, "Dhirubhai Ambani was destined to be a great businessman". The implication is that regardless of the extreme conditions that he was born in (he hailed from a lower middle-class household in a backward village), and his lack of higher education, he was to become a leading businessman anyway. Meaning, the whole sequence of events surrounding him "conspired" in such a fashion, that he rose to the top, even though he came from such an unlikely background of low education, a relatively poor family and pre-liberalized India.

As another example, it is also remarked, that "Indira Gandhi was fated to be assassinated. In fact, the Gandhi family is ill-fated in this way, what with her son Rajiv too being assassinated". Unlike Ambani's example, here it may particularly be noted that national leaders are historically more susceptible to being assassinated than others.

So, the conventional definition of "fate" or "destiny" is a) the inevitable outcome of events regardless of the choices made, or actions taken by the subject(s), or b) the inevitable conclusion of a state of being, regardless of the external stimuli that acts on it or influences it.

Yet it may be a paradox, that the very society out of which this conventional wisdom arose, also emphasizes that one's 'fate' is a result of one's actions. So, Dhirubhai is acknowledged as a model businessman and a very hardworking man. His business models are case studies at Harvard, and he is seen as an beacon of everything -- from a ruthless businessperson, to the epitome of Gujarati entrepreneurship.

His actions and choices are said to be behind his success. For example, his choice of not continuing high school, and going to Aden instead. Also, his act of allegedly undercutting rivals by all means possible, and his act of reportedly influencing public policy to Reliance's favour. These choices and acts are seen to have cumulatively "colluded" up to establish him as India's foremost businessman.

Similarly, it is opined that Indira Gandhi's actions were responsible for her assassination. Many books have been written about her and her kind of politics etc. It has also been opined on how she should have -- or should not have -- handled the Sikh separatists, and the subsequent Operation Bluestar, etc. There was also a minor political debate on whether her act of nationalizing most private banks was in the long term interest of the India's economy or not.

Thus, the underlying theme on studying her political life was the choices that she made and the actions that she took all of which led to her death. In both the cases i.e. of Dhirubhai and Indira Gandhi, their choices and actions made over an extended period of time, are said to result in their final destiny --- much like the various forces acting on a ball at a billiards table after a shot, that decide it's final resting spot.

Now, in the course of understanding this phenomenon of destiny, we must be able to reconcile the notion of fate or destiny in the conventional sense, with the "fate" resulting due to one's actions in the course of things. The former may be termed as the surroundings and/or circumstances (to be used interchangebly here), while the latter may be termed as re-actions and/or choices (to be used interchangebly) in response to, or when faced with those surroundings or circumstances.

One way to approach towards a reconciliation may be as follows :- The initial circumstances under which one is born is not decided by the person; however, the re-actions of a person to his surroundings determine two things :-
1) the consequences, and
2) changing his surrounding circumstances by the re-action.

As an example of point 1), if I'm born in urban India, I'll inevitably join a coaching class in 10th std. Now my reaction to that could be a) to study hard and get admission in a "good" college, or b) to get admission in a lesser known institute, and don't get anywhere later in life (or maybe, become a famous actor or designer even).

As an example of point 2), if I study hard I may actually deny another student a seat in college, thus contributing in changing his surroundings and therefore his "fate". So, his re-actions to this occurrence will result accordingly. On the other hand, if I join a lesser known institute and end up jobless later, I contribute in changing the surroundings and "fate" of myself as well as my family members who'll have to contend with me. Maybe my sibling will have to work harder. Again, he has a choice on whether to work hard or not.........and so, our choices and actions at each step continue to change our fate, which in turn bring us newer choices, which again in turn lead us toward another fateful path.........and so on.

Therefore, we see how this a cycle that feeds on itself. It may be the idiomatic, "cause, as well as the effect".

In the next post, we shall prove by scientific means that each and every action that takes place --- like the ruffling of a leaf, or the itch in your nose right as you read this --- is pre-determined or fated.