78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Free Will or Fate?


Last night I finally watched The Adjustment Bureau, a movie about fate versus free will, and because that's right up tarot's alley and mine, I recommend it even if sci-fi isn't your thing.  I'll try not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I won't make any promises.

The story is boy-meets-girl, but the twist is that there are cosmic forces that are trying to keep them apart even though they really, really like each other a lot.   A whole lot.  So much that even when threatened with losing everything and what amounts to a lobotomy by beings who can easily follow through, the guy doesn't give up on taking the path he feels in his guts is right for him.  Here's a trailer:

The basic premise is that we all have a life plan that is charted for us by The Chairman and these members of the Adjustment Bureau are charged with making sure that we follow it.  They do this through orchestrating slight mishaps, inconveniences, and other "adjustments" in our lives that manipulate it just enough to keep us on track.  If that doesn't work, they will tweak our reasoning process a bit in order to make the decisions we're supposed to.  It's all very cloak and dagger and highly coordinated.  The idea of free will is just that, an idea.  We have it in the little stuff but not in the decisions that impact the course of our lives.

I am a very big fan of free will.  While I have known some people who prefer their life plotted out for them and who wouldn't take responsibility for a dang thing, always saying, "It was/is God's will,"  most of us like to manage our lives ourselves, please and thank  you.  But something this movie highlighted was that even without The Adjustment Bureau, society does a really good stand in job for them.  At the end of the movie these words are spoken:

Most people live life on the path we set for them, too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while people like you come along who knock down all the obstacles we put in your way. People who realize freewill is a gift that you'll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that's the chairman's real plan. That maybe one day, we won't write the plan, you will.
Right?  If you think about it, our families, our friends, our social environment all serve as The Adjustment Bureau.  When we step off the grid a bit, they are quick to try and rein us back in.  What ensues is usually so unpleasant we become afraid of stepping off again. But there are some people who just don't give a crap what others think or feel and grasp their own fate by the throat and just take it.  They just take it.  And they do so with no other proof, no other evidence than the gnawing in their entrails that tells them there's more for them over there, doing it this other way. 

Today I found this quote: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” --Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian Prime Minister 1889-1964)  Philosophers argue whether there is even such a thing as true free will since we are all subject to causal relationships and random acts are not premeditated and therefore not freely chosen.  However, I like this compatibilistic (the theory that free will and determinism can co-exist) view of Nehru's even though determinists would dismiss it saying how we play the cards depends on our biology (nature), environment (nurture) and a host of other predetermined factors.  Still, whatever we have, predetermined or not, we have the choice to work with it, against it, or with some combination thereof.  We love rags-to-riches stories because they highlight how a person's own will can rise and triumph over the weight of negative deterministic conditions. 

My own life experience has evidenced that while I do have choices, I am not all-powerful or limitless.  I understand there are some things that "just happen," but what Nehru is saying is that how we respond, how we choose our next move, is something we alone ultimately control.  While we are not likely to choose contrary to our own brain wiring nor our lived experiences, we sometimes do.  And I think those times are when our intuition is so strong we actually feel like it's something we're "destined" to do.  Ironic that at the moment we are fighting hardest for our free will that we would attribute it to fate.

"And maybe that's the Chairman's real plan."

Could it be that in those moments of actual or as close as we can get to free will that the reason we feel such commitment and resolve, despite the gut-wrenching fear, is because we are meant to learn how to become more and more free?  I like to think so.