16 November 2007


A while back I read a book, called something like "The Barefoot Doctor's Guide to the Tao." There were some interesting ideas in it, often more Hindu than Taoist, but a few things made no sense. At one point, he makes a comment to the effect that, since everything's probably predestined, there's no point in being afraid. To which I responded, "If everything's predestined, so's the fear."

The closest I come to an idea of predestination is a Chinese concept whose name I forget (and can't find at the moment). It describes the way a tree grows. Each year, it adds on a ring. So long as the tree lives, this is inevitable. But the way that the ring grows depends on the circumstances of that particular year. Warm, cold; wet, dry; no bugs, lots of bugs; etc. In that sense, I think that some events can become inevitable before they occur, but the manner in which they occur is not fixed until the event itself. The way I envision this is not that it's "predestined," however. It's more like... each event/person/thing/idea is a thread, and sometimes threads can get so tightly bound up that they have to move together. Robert Jordan's idea of "The Pattern" is very similar, and probably based on the same Chinese concept.

This came up in our philosophy-coffeehouse chat on Wednesday. I was talking about empty spaces. Seriously, I don't think very many people really understand how much empty space can teach you, and how empty space almost makes a sound in the mind (or is it a lack of sound?). I was describing an incident where I seemed to have forewarning of an event. I had just pulled into the parking lot of the Albertson's on Benton, and noticed that I had slowed down to a crawl. There was no conscious decision to do this, and I looked down at the speedometer, puzzled, wondering why I'd slowed down. Then a car, hidden by bushes and other cars, came zooming through the space in front of me. Had I not slowed down, I would have been hit.

My interpretation of this event is that I was subconsciously aware of something, some indication. I knew that there was no empty space in front of me to move into. How I knew that... it could be I subconsciously heard a sound; it could be that same awareness that tells me there's a vulnerability in push hands, an empty/full space that I can use. Will's interpretation was more along the lines of destiny. I was destined not to get hit there. He particularly wanted to know what conclusion I would have drawn had I been hit. I responded, "That I wasn't paying good enough attention."

"So you wouldn't think that you were destined not to be aware? Or that you were aware, but you were also aware that this needed to happen?" (or some very similar comment)

I blinked, thought for a minute. "Uh, no... that's not the way I think about things." I can see what he meant, but I don't see events like that as "meant to be" or as "not meant to be." I might use the terms avoidable and unavoidable. One theory of World War I that I encountered suggested some of the blame lay in time tables and contingency planning. That is, countries had plans along the lines of "if A, do B", and since the predominant means of travel and supply were railroads, once things had started moving, it was very difficult to stop them. I don't know that it was impossible, or that this was the sole reason the conflict escalated, but it is certainly something to think about.

In the sense that sometimes, once threads have collided, certain events become inevitable, I have a sense of "destiny." I have no concept of what kind of scale is feasible here. WWI would be a large scale event, but over a relatively short time period. There could be a hunk of rock floating in space now on its way to earth, with no obstacles in the way to deflect it, and it's been on its way since the universe was formed. That would be a very large scale "destiny." If our technology and awareness is good enough, we can still avoid a collision with it, though.

I see events as largely fluid. There are openings, ways around or through them, if you are open and aware. Timing is, of course, important. If you become aware when the rock is half an inch from your head, chances are that it's too late. Awareness is the key. If you become aware of the rock, but the only way to avoid it is to leap into a pit full of hungry crocodiles, well ... I suppose it depends on how big the rock is and whether you know how to wrestle crocs. `/^ At any rate, I would say that an event can be unavoidable—there's a rock on its way already—but the effects may still be avoided or minimized through awareness and openness. Most of the time.

No comments: