The paradox of free will
Are humans the masters of destiny, or mere conduits for the demands of the times?
This age-old question has troubled many great minds throughout history, with a definitive answer troublingly out of sight. But perhaps the benefit lies not in the answer, but in the debate itself.
Would I have pursued engineering in a world that did not pay engineers better? Did I start reading because of inherent interest, or because my time in Kota, devoid of smartphones and internet, did not allow any other form of entertainment? Am I writing this article because I want to, or because I have some time on my hands before I start a job?
Some other questions are more profound. Would Israel have existed if the Jews were not persecuted everywhere? Did Nehru become prime minister for his talents and remarkable worldview, or because the England-educated son of a Brahmin barrister from the Hindi heartland was better suited to represent a hierarchal society administered by an anglicized bureaucracy? Are all biographies essentially an account of the prevailing times?
Broadly: do we get to decide our own fate, or is it decided for us by social, political, economic, and spiritual forces, which themselves are the collective manifestations of the ideas of individuals like us, devoid of absolute control over their lives? (You’ll probably have to read that again.)
The question is particularly unsettling for the ambitious among us, people who’ve grown up on the ideals of sweat redrawing the lines of fates per the whims of the master. The concern is earnest: What, after all, is the rationale behind effort if destiny is pre-decided?
But if indeed everything is a movie, does it render meaningless the performance of the actors? Is going to the office every morning any less important in the absence of another option? Is my B.Tech. any less meaningful if I pursued the program for money?
And if indeed there is a script, are the best roles not reserved for the best actors? If there’s no way to change the story, is it not desirable to work for a better role?
As stated in the beginning, the questions are age-old. I lack both the wisdom and the intellectual heft to provide an answer. In fact, this article itself is an act of ponderance.
Writing answers more questions for the author than it does for the audience.
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If you liked this article, do read the one I’ve written titled ‘Why write?’