Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fate, Destiny, and Society I

Are fate and destiny real? Are miracles real events or figments of our imagination? Why do we believe in fate, destiny, miracles, and things that were "meant to be"? What are the social consequences of these ideas? Stick with me for the next two posts, at least, and I'll try to answer those questions.

First, consider these thoughts:

1. Many, many kinds of events are highly improbable. There are millions, perhaps billion, of people who could experience any one of those events on any given day. It is just a matter of mathematics that lots of really unlikely things happen to people.

2. We tend to interpret events in two ways: First, we tend to try and find patterns in the events that we experience. We also tend to evaluate things from the standpoint of everyday experience and feeeling, rather than by using an "objective" set of criteria: When you win the lottery jackpot you may experience this as a "miracle" when it was really just a statistical fluke.

So, I think that some combination of 1 and 2 explains why beief in destiny and fate persists. The psychological need for these concepts and our own cognitive biases keeps the ideas alive while other supernatural ideas become less popular.

What about the common experience of feeling that a romantic relationship was "meant to be" or that the breakup shows your relationship was not "meant to be"? Are these ideas survivors of a time when we thought that supernatural beings controlled our fates? I think so.

Now we tend to believe (contrary ot all scientific evidence) that we are masters of our own destiny, while still believing that the relationship was meant to be. Interesting, no?

Maybe, just maybe, such ideas are a sort of psychological defense mechanism. Our minds try to protect themselves from the harsh realities of life by inventing comforting explanations for things. We get some protectiond from the constant emotional and phsyical stress that can threaten our sanity and physical survival.

Any psychologists out there care to comment on/rip apart my explanation?

Enough with the psychology lesson. Next time I'll mention some of the social consequences, good or bad, that result from our belief in fate and destiny. (I'll return to the subject of miracles in later posts on religious beliefs.)


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