Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | December 21, 2010

Destiny, Part II

Last time, I wrote about how part of what people call “destiny” is the idea that an unanticipated future event can actually be the cause of a present event, rather than simply a consequence of the present event.  Another part of what people think of as destiny is actually a misplaced application of combinatorial probability.

If you just went “combi-what?”, the basic idea is that the more parts required for a specific event to happen, the less chance there is of that event happening.  We all understand this from daily observations – we are surprised by seeing five red cars in a row, but if we were to see those same five cars separately throughout the day, we would not even take any notice of them.  We all know that the chances of flipping 10 coins and having them all come up “heads” on one toss are far less than the chance of one coin coming up “heads” on any one toss.  (1/1024 vs 1/2, to be exact)

Whenever a significant event happens, people like to analyze “how did this happen”?  They trace the cause and effect backwards over many previous events, and conclude that if any of those previous events had not happened, or happened even slightly differently, then the significant event would not have occurred.  Often, people then say, “what were the odds of all those things happening in just that way?”  They (rightly) conclude that the odds were extremely small, but then (wrongly) further conclude that the extreme unlikelihood of the significant event is proof that it was “destiny” or “God’s will”.

What this overlooks is that the events have already happened.  Given that, the probability of their happening is not extremely small; it is now 100%.  Also, even prior to the events’ occurrence, there was a 100% probability of something happening.  That something may have led to a different event of great significance, but would still have been taken to be proof of that alternate significant event having been “destined” to happen. 

Things are the way they are because of what’s happened in the past.  Things will be the way they will be in the future, because of what’s happening now – which is something we have the ability to choose; it is not decided for us by destiny.  Mindfulness and compassion are our guides to making choices that will bring us a better future.

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