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Is It All Random?

Is It All Random?

Martin LeFevre

A first cousin I was close to growing up, who has been grappling (to put it mildly) with cancer during the last year, said in a visit over the holidays that he still feels that events in life are essentially random. For the two of us, and for an untold number of others at this time, the question has great poignancy, both spiritually and personally.

Over the years, the rationalist and the mystic (for lack of better words to describe us) have had this conversation many times in various ways. But our existential stances, which have always had a provisional aspect for each of us, assumed far greater gravitas during this talk.

“You have to have a certain degree of health to care about philosophy,” Mike said at one point, in response to my question about whether his disease process has made him pursue philosophical questions with greater vigor. That puts philosophers in a bit of a double bind, since most healthy people don’t care about basic questions either.

We shared the premise, without morbidity, that life is a bubble on an infinite ocean of death. But I think that insight meant very different things to each of us, since beyond this seeming agreement our perceptions radically diverge.

Mike feels that the evolution of life is a chance occurrence, on however many or few planets it occurs, and that there really is no such thing as fate for individuals, or the human race. “We’re here because one egg out of thousands and one sperm out of millions happened to fertilize,” he said.

To my mind, randomness is an indisputable part of the equation, but it isn’t the entire equation, or even the main factor. Without resorting to nonsensical notions of “intelligent design,” which self-importantly attempt to preserve beliefs about humankind’s special creation, I feel that life, and indeed all matter and energy, contains within it an inseparable intelligence, inherent to the universe itself. Humankind represents a drastic departure from cosmic order and the intelligence within it, the exception that projects its illusory rule.

Of course there’s no way to prove this, and this juncture defines the difference between the scientific and religious mind, between making reason one’s god, or God one’s reason. This is also where the test of faith, and the trouble with faiths, begins.

Even so, isn’t the duality between randomness and intelligence itself a product of the human mind? Why should it be either/or? Perhaps randomness is written into the unfolding script that the universe is writing, so that new combinations or novel developments are sometimes seized upon by an intrinsic intelligence.

This brings me to the fascinating issue of destiny and fate. As I see it, destiny is a fundamentally conditioned principle, the pattern laid down by previous generations, which tends to suck succeeding generations into a rut. Fate, on the other hand, is the participatory relationship between human creativity and ongoing cosmic creation.

Alexander the Great (a misnomer if there ever was one) believed it was his fate to conquer the world, but he was essentially following in the footsteps of his father, and acting out the ambitions of his mother. His was a destiny, not a fate. To discover one’s fate, one has to free oneself completely from one’s father and mother, indeed one’s entire lineage.

Does humanity have a fate, or merely a destiny? That’s a question still in our hands--it’s our choice but not our choosing.

That is, we always choose from conditioning; but when we see clearly, we act without choosing, that is, without the illusion of “free will.” Choosing always leads to further confusion. In seeing our destiny, there is freedom from it. With fate, there is a choice, but no choosing.

The snow that covered the bay for as far as the eye could see was gone when I got up--melted away in the mild temperatures overnight. The greatest evidence of global warming may be dramatic temperature variations, from –15 C to +15 in two days.

Almost as surprisingly, the grass around the cottage was green. Beyond the incongruous yard and sandy beach, the bay looked like a vast ice rink, with a thin blue line at the horizon where there was now open water. Through the binoculars, which allowed one to view small waves crashing onto an icy ‘shoreline,’ the open water appeared higher than the flat, smooth ice.

A flock of large white swans flew low over the frozen expanse, undulating with exquisite grace. In a few seconds they disappeared. The sight was so ethereal that it seemed like an apparition, but they were no mirage.

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