Destiny vs. Free Will
People face different situations in life, which may alter and challenge their understanding of life. Both expected and inevitable obstacles cause people from different walks of life to rediscover their meaning of life and to re-identify their pathways when walking through these trying times. Depending on what each unique pathway may lead people to, they may view their successes and failures to overcome obstacles differently. While some may come to believe that their wins and losses are inevitable and predetermined regardless of the pathways they take; others may define their accomplishments and challenges as the consequences of their own choices and abilities. In a broader perspective, these ways of thinking are categorized in two general philosophical views: destiny and free will, which explain people’s responses to their circumstances. Destiny, also known as fate, is a predetermined course of events or a predetermined future. Destiny defines events in life as ordered and inevitable. This is a concept based on the common belief that there is always a fixed order to the universe. Destiny brings one opportunity and inevitable paths that are pre-planned for individuals. On the contrary, free will allows one to choose from different paths; the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate in various situations. A prevalent idea in support of free will is that people can make a free choice as to whether to commit a crime or not. In a broader sense, free will relates to people’s exercise of will when performing actions in the present, whereas destiny is the total effect of past actions that influence their present life. Since both concepts of destiny and free will can apply to one’s life, why cannot both beliefs influence the way people approach different situations? Is resorting to destiny the only way to determine and analyze people’s decisions in inevitable circumstances? Would there be a common ground between both concepts?
As the first step to answer my inquiry question, I watched the TED Talk “Free will vs Destiny” by Dr. Kapil Kakar, India’s Leading Psychologist, Counsellor, and Coach who has carried out detailed research on personality in India. In the video, Dr. Kapil Kakar tries to explain the concepts of free will and destiny with examples of his patients. In the TED Talk, Dr. Kapil Kakar clearly shows his bias in favor of free will. However, he makes contradictory statements when he tries to explain his stance with examples. During his speech, he does not show a clear train of thought. He claims every event in life has logic behind it, and that the circumstances that one identifies as luck or destiny are simply caused by their inability to find the logic behind it. As he tries to illustrate the concept of logic, he abruptly brings up the idea of morality and merit, entering the metaphysical realm. He believes that everything on earth follows divine laws; he explains that the laws of the universe provide what humans deserve and not what humans desire. He believes one should always ponder what one deserves. However, this topic of morality and merit is a tangent to the concept of destiny and free will, since it does not provide any logical details or clues to whether one should believe in free will or destiny.
Although Dr. Kapil Kakar fails to make a solid conclusion as to whether one should believe in free will or destiny, he does mention an intriguing point that caught my attention. According to Dr. Kapil Kakar, people’s experiences affect their understanding and position on the spectrum of free will and destiny. To illustrate, Dr. Kapil Kakar mentions when he asks his patients about their understanding of hard work, free will, and luck in their lives, the percentages they attribute to each varies from patient to patient. According to Dr. Kapil Kakar, this variation is the result of the respondents’ experiences, such as hardship, challenges, and successes. For instance, if a person has gone through dire situations, their understanding of free will and destiny will be different from people who have never experienced obstacles. Although the TED talk does not fully explain whether individuals have free will or destiny, it does mention an interesting point about the way people’s beliefs about free will and destiny are shaped.
To further my research into the influence of destiny and free will in people’s approaches in different situations, I read and analyzed “The Skylight Room” by O. Henry. In his short story, O. Henry illustrates a petite lady, Ms. Leeson, and her struggle living in poverty with an underpaid job as she can only afford to rent a two-dollar skylight room. O. Henry unveils the harsh reality in society about how poverty can lead one into a near-death experience caused by starvation and portrays a slight coexistence between free will and destiny demonstrated by the protagonist of the story, Ms. Leeson. The existence of free will is shown after she loses her job due to the scarcity of job opportunities, where Mr. Hoover proposed to her. With the high anticipation that Ms. Leeson is most likely to accept the proposal since she has just lost her only source of income. However, Ms. Leeson chooses to reject his proposal using her free will, which leads her with no one to care for and support her. Ms. Leeson voluntarily chooses a pathway that ultimately leads her to suffer from debility induced by starvation. Apart from demonstrating free will in the story, O. Henry also portrays destiny in Ms. Leeson’s life. Throughout the story, Ms. Leeson is fascinated with constellations, in particular a star named Billy Jackson. She reveals that Billy Jackson is her hope that is “millions of miles away […] but [it] kept where [she] could see [it] most of the time up there when there wasn’t anything else but darkness to look at” (Henry 3). After Miss Leeson suffers from debility induced by starvation, a physician named William Jackson comes and assists her through her recovery. Coincidently, the star and the physician share the same name since Billy is the nickname for William. Without William Jackson’s immediate assistance to take Ms. Leeson to the hospital, Ms. Leeson would most likely die from starvation. This coincidence is not caused by free will, since Ms. Leeson did not choose to starve to death, nor did Ms. Leeson and William Jackson know each other previously. I believe it is destiny that allowed Ms. Leeson to inevitably ends up meeting William Jackson no matter which pathway she chooses.
Apart from reading “The Skylight Room,” I watched an interview with Sam Harris, a philosopher and American author who discusses the topics of free will and destiny. During the interview, he claims that free will is an illusion set by society, and free will changes the way humans perceive morality and questions justice. He explains the popular conception of free will rests on two assumptions: each person is free to behave differently than in the past and each person is the conscious source of their thoughts and actions. While these two assumptions seem to be the prevalent definition of free will, however, since humans live in a world of cause and effect, one’s wills are determined by a long chain of prior causes or one’s wills are the product of chance or one’s wills are some combination of chance and determinism. Sam Harris believes that one’s actions in life include a role of luck since one is irresponsible for the micro-structure of their brain rather than their height; it is determined as unlucky to have a mind and brain of a psychopath. He illustrates an example where there is a generic serial killer, his last murder was interned by the neurophysiological events in his brain, which were interned by prior causes: bad genes and the developmental effects of an unhappy childhood. These events precede any conscious decision to act; it is unreasonable to determine that the murderer’s crime is solely based on his free will. If so, with the same attributes, would the murderer react differently so that he could have resisted the impulse to commit a crime? Or would he have declined to feel the impulse altogether? This leads me into thinking that perhaps one’s free will affect the position of one’s destiny. Based on one’s genes, origin, family, and other prior external effects, only a slight influence of one’s action may alter their final destiny. This means for the murderer who committed a crime, his impulse to commit a crime is only one small part that shaped his murder compared to his background that is caused by prior causes, such as his genes, parents, origin, and other influential external effects.
Viewing different standpoints on the topic of free will vs. destiny helped me to further explore the meanings of free will and destiny. I realized that there are no universal definitions for free will and destiny, but rather individual definitions based on life experiences. Although I was unable to find a solid answer, I was able to conclude that people’s experiences affect their understanding and position on the spectrum of free will and destiny. For instance, I was introduced to table tennis at an early age by my mother, who is an avid table tennis player. She influenced me into trying out table tennis as a hobby. Even though it was destined that I would be playing table tennis due to the environment around me, it was still my persistence that helped me continue playing table tennis for more than ten years. For me, I would acknowledge that I had the free will to choose to stop table tennis at any point, including when encountering challenges and obstacles. Although I was destined to play table tennis, the hardship and continuous persistence shaped my opinion on table tennis, the sport I devoted myself to. By reflecting on my personal experience about free will and destiny, I realized that one’s free will affect the position of one’s destiny. One’s small choice may alter one’s destiny and vice versa. According to Sam Harris, humans live in a society that is affected by a long chain of cause and effect from the past. I believe it is reasonable to say that free will does not solely exist in society, nor does destiny predominate and influence one’s choice in life.