In 1970, a book written by the French Nobel laureate in Medicine, Jacques Monod , appeared: Chance and Necessity . His title was quite a declaration of principles: he made the motto of his book the thought of Democritus “everything that exists in the world is the result of chance and necessity” . The text, a reflection from the science of the world and the human being, became a best seller and sparked numerous debates for its defense that life is a simple accident in the history of nature. Monod put it more poetically: “Man lives in a strange world; a world that is deaf to its music, and as indifferent to its hopes as its sufferings and its crimes.
The human being is accidental and superfluous : we are in this fluke world –if the dinosaurs had not disappeared we would not be here– and the universe does not give a damn whether we remain or become extinct. Of course, others think that chance is simply an excuse that we have invented for what we cannot find an explanation for, that everything has a reason for happening, that coincidences are not such.
Before asking this question, it would be necessary to first decide what it is. Defining it, as the Royal Academy does, as an “unknown force believed to act on men and events” is not saying much. What or who is that irresistible force? Why should it interfere in the life of the human being? It is said that everything has a reason. But which? What reason is there for someone who dies when a pot falls on him on a windy day? Or who gets the Christmas jackpot? Could it be that we refuse to accept the randomness of the world? It is well known in psychology that the human being needs to find reasons for what happens . If he doesn’t see them, he looks for them, and if he doesn’t find them, he invents them. Is not the belief in destiny a way of leaving everything tied and well tied?
The concept of destiny has always been related to the supernatural. The connection is obvious: if our future is predetermined, someone must have made it . Let’s call it god or multidimensional vibrational energy. The Greeks, and with them the Romans, made it very clear who weaved the future of human beings: the Moirai –in Rome, the Fates–. They, at the moment of birth, decided the acts and the moment of death of every person. Greek destiny was always impregnated with fate, fatality , something that has persisted to this day: no one speaks of destiny when he wins, but precisely when he loses.
The Nordic counterpart is the Norns, three malevolent old witches who decide the future of men with runes and who live under the roots of the Yggdrasil, an ash tree whose branches and roots hold together the different worlds that make up Scandinavian mythology. The future is tremendously bleak. In keeping with the warrior mentality of Viking society, where dying in battle was a fate to be reckoned with, the end of the world was predetermined by one great and final battle: Ragnarok . From her it was known what was going to happen, who was going to fight and the fate of each of the participants in the battle. In the Völuspá, The Prophecies of the Fortune Tellers , the history of the world is narrated, from its creation to its destruction.
We know our destiny but we cannot avoid it: this belief is perfectly reflected in MacBeth ‘s witches, in Verdi’s opera La forza del Destino -based on the work that marked the beginning of Spanish Romanticism, Don Álvaro o la Fuerza del Sino , of the Duque de Rivas– or El Puente de San Luis Rey , by North American Thornton Wilder: five travelers meet the same destination, five different people, on trips motivated by different reasons, cross the most beautiful bridge in Peru at noon on the fateful 20th of July 1714, when it fell apart. Chance? Was it chance that brought those five people together on the bridge? Or was it God?
Destiny, sometimes, we invoke it because we need Justice. If we look around us we discover that the world is anything but fair : God helps the bad when they are more than the good. But in our innermost heart we need that in the end there is some kind of divine justice that puts things in their place and that rewards us for the effort. This message is common in pop psychology and happiness sellers like Andrew Matthews: “Creation is fair. What we sow is what we reap.” Eager as we are to be rewarded, it’s no wonder those messages become best sellers.
In questions of destiny we are very influenced by Greek culture, whose paradigm is Oedipus . If we look at other cultures we can find a variety of approaches: Jews do not believe in predestination. Yahweh has created man free to choose his own destiny, he is the only creature in the universe that enjoys free will, to choose to follow –or not– God’s path. Totally different happens among Muslims. The sixth and last pillar of faith is the belief in destiny (Al-Qadr): “believing in destiny means believing in God; He is the one who decides and creates events and creatures according to his previous and absolute knowledge”.
The belief in a destiny cannot be separated from psychology either. Thus, one of the cognitive biases of depression is fatalism: helplessness in the face of events is interpreted on the basis that this is destiny . In fact, one of the therapeutic techniques used in its treatment is to combat this idea by making the patient see that a certain problem has been due to a certain particular set of situations. An example has been the work of the psychologist Susan Blackmore on coincidences between believers and skeptics in paranormal phenomena. In them Blackmore has shown that believers estimate the probability of coincidences lower than they really are, which allows them to interpret them as signs of destiny.
From a psychological point of view, we human beings can classify ourselves between those with internal control, people convinced that they are the ones who control the threads of their lives, and those with external control, more fatalistic: “What I do is not going to have much influence on my life.” in my life”.
Obviously nobody is of pure internal or external control, but one is more inclined to one or the other. “Being internal control is good in those moments when you can manipulate your life, that is, in everyday life” says psychologist Luis Muiño. “But in extreme situations, such as catastrophes or wars, those of external control come out better off.” For example, those of internal control are usually bad sick . Learning to temper yourself is important. In groups, both situations are usually seen very clearly. “Football fans are a good example of what happens in groups: for the good it is internal control (we have won because we are good) but external for the bad (we have lost because of the referee)”. Those who focus less on their internal control tend to fall into situations like the following. A guy has been dumped by three women whose names start with M. He will look at that as the cause and never go out with girls like that again, instead thinking that maybe it has something to do with him.
Whether it exists or not, perhaps the best thing is to apply to one’s own life this saying attributed to the philosopher Betrand Russell : To be happy you have to have enough strength to change the things you can change, resignation to accept the ones you won’t be able to change. and wisdom to distinguish them.
Monod, J. (2016) Chance and necessity, Tusquets