Fate is Like Running With Scissors


I used to be the kind of person to say that I don’t mind what you believe in, as long as you don’t do anything to endanger others. But no more. I’m begining to suspect that there is no such thing as a harmlessly comforting false belief.

There are two problems with believing in destiny. These are two of the same problems as running with scissors.

1) Danger


To believe in fate is to surrender your decision-making capacity to the whims of indifferent coincidences. The worst form of belief in fate is a very simplistic pros vs cons list. You notice some circumstances align to make one option appear a bit better, and then hypothesise that, “maybe I am meant to go with that choice.” And then, having primed yourself with confirmation bias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias), look for one or two more reasons to go with this option. In this complex world, it is never difficult to find (or invent) reasons to do a given thing, if you look hard enough. Having now confirmed that you were meant to choose this, you shortcut the decision process and just go for it, confident that there must be lots of good reasons to do it and things will ultimately work out for the best, because after all, you were meant to.

To believe that things will work out for the best, and that there are options pre-selected as the best for you, is to dismiss your responsibility to make well-researched, well-considered judgements. It shifts the burden of the decision from you to the universe, which makes it an inherently dangerous belief.


2)  It is stupid.

Really? An incorporeal entity is trying to communicate to you to nudge you towards the choice that would be best? Surely if it has the immense power to manipulate events to vaguely suggest this, then it could manipulate very simple events to spell it all out for you in plain english with fridge magnets. Why would it insist on being so ambiguous in its communications to be easily mistaken for the random, mundane coincidences of an indifferent universe obeying the laws of physics? A willingness to read into coincidences is indicative of an ignorance of basic principles of statistics and probability. With 7 billion people on the planet, doing and saying and thinking millions of things every single day, what would be truly bizarre would be if there were no coincidences.

Anyway, if things will work out for the best inevitably, then you could just as easily ignore these ambiguous nudges that you think you see, and you would still be fine. So why not stay safe and make rational decisions on the assumption that coincidences really are just coincidences? Fate, as an idea, is internally inconsistent and fundamentally incoherent.

Don’t run with scissors. It is stupid and dangerous. Much like believing in fate.


One thought on “Fate is Like Running With Scissors

  1. Just a comment on rhetorical linking : both this entry in Concept Sandbox and the Dennett reference you provided contain some useful ideas. However, you have not linked your use of either of them into the “Love… etc” discussion topic in any way. Therefore I have not put them in the reference list. You have the connections inside your head, but they are not public. A hard lesson I have learned in a long writing career is that if you want people to make connections you have to signpost them brightly, preferably again and again. – Thor

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