Do You Believe In Fate?

There are many examples of fate or predestination in our culture. It was meant to be. If it is meant to happen, it will happen.

The idea of fate has a powerful appeal. It relieves us of responsibility. And in a world where we are drowning in our responsibilities, that can be attractive.

Fate and Religion

Sometimes, the idea of fate is tied to religion. If God has a plan for all of us, then we can have hope for the future, and that things will turn out alright, even if they seem dark right now. We all need hope to get us through trying times.

However, doesn’t the idea of fate, or a grand plan, negate the very foundation of religion? It is important that we have free will, so that our choices, for better or worse, have some meaning.

Fate and Science

Nineteenth-century science promoted the concept of a deterministic universe. If we know the position of all the particles in the universe, and where they are going and how fast, we can predict where they will end up. The universe, in that way, is like a giant, complicated billiard table.

Quantum mechanics changed that. Uncertainty was discovered to be a fundamental part of the way the quantum world of tiny, fast-moving particles works.

So it would seem that science is moving away from the concept of the deterministic universe, which would seem to leave out fate. But we don’t live in the quantum world, and the scientific principles of a mechanistic universe apply perfectly well to objects our size and going at our speed.

Fate and Us

It is easy to see the appeal of fate when an important event is about to happen or a crucial decision needs to be made. If I have an interview for a job that I really want to get, it feels good to believe that the decision is already made and all the players are just going through the motions.

It can also bring comfort at a traumatic time. When someone dies unexpectedly, it feels good to think that it was not a senseless death, but rather that it was part of some larger plan of which we are not aware.

But is that realistic? It’s also important to our sense of self to believe that we have free will. Oftentimes, it seems that people simply believe in fate or in free will as they want, without any larger thought to consistency. But maybe that’s okay.

Do you believe in fate? If so, are there certain circumstances where fate is easier to accept? Or is the idea of fate simply useful as a crutch or as a way to hold on to hope?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? Are science and religion compatible? Free will or predestination? Is it a cruel world?

Are We Living In A Simulation?

The idea that our world is just a computer simulation was popularized by the movie The Matrix. But the idea itself is much older than that.

Over 2000 years ago, Plato suggested that we are just people chained in a cave, and what we think of as reality are just shadows on the wall. That’s fairly close to the idea of a reality that is generated by a giant computer.

While our experiences certainly seem real to us, it’s not too hard to imagine a different scenario. Computer graphics, like in common video games, are getting more and more realistic. Virtual Reality headsets are commonplace. And while the graphics they use are still somewhat rudimentary, users often comment about how they quickly come to accept the false world.

In addition, games like The Sims, which place a computer-generated person or family in the hands of a video-game player, have been around for decades. Artificial Intelligence is getting better and more capable every day. We carry them around with us wherever we go on our smart phones.

Putting all that information together, and in just a few years we can imagine a completely immersive experience where you plug in to the internet and lose yourself as another, computer-generated character in a completely modeled world.

What is real?

How can we be sure that’s hasn’t already happened? Perhaps we are laying on a slab somewhere, with what we think of as the world around us being beamed into our brains. Moreover, maybe we don’t even have a body in the “real” world. Everything we see, everything we experience, could all be algorithms in a complicated computer simulation. Each one of us might be a Sims character.

In some ways, that would explain the universe as we understand it. There are certain physical laws, like the speed of light being  the fastest speed possible. Laws like these could just be the parameters of our simulation.

That, however, just opens up more questions. If true, what about the world that houses the computer where our simulation exists? How did it come about? What are the physical laws there?

What difference does it make?

If we entertain this idea of living in a computer simulation, does it make any difference to our everyday life? If the emotions that I think I experience turn out to just be some lines of code in a complicated computer program, does that invalidate them in any way? Does it ultimately remove the meaning from my decisions and actions, or does it add meaning? If I feel pain, or experience joy, or have my heart broken, does it matter if it originates from neurons firing in my brain or the spinning of a hard drive?

It’s difficult to imagine any way of actually testing this hypothesis. We may never know if our universe started with a Big Bang or with a coder writing a program to test out some advanced scenario. The idea, though, is a fascinating one. Are we living in a simulation?

Related questions: What is unknowable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is time? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?

Is Technology Neutral?

The word “technology” refers to methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes. Examples are all around us. Whether you’re reading this question on a desktop, laptop, or a smartphone you are, of course, using technology.

Cameras are an example, from the early devices called daguerreotypes to today’s digital cameras. Are each of these devices neutral, their value only determined by their use? For example, cameras can be used positively or negatively.  You might capture a loved family portrait or stalk celebrities as an over-zealous paparazzi.

In addition, what about technology being used on a grander scale? For instance, the science of splitting the atom is used to produce electricity from nuclear reactors as well as to build potentially population-erasing bombs. Are these technologies neutral or do they have inherent value?

Simply asking if nuclear energy is “clean,” or do its waste stockpiles serve as a danger for current and countless future generations implies value, doesn’t it?

Do nuclear bombs make us less safe due to their destructive capacity? Or alternately, do they make us safer because of the deterrence their existence creates?

This debate is a long-standing one. Critics claim that technology is used/built for a reason — reasons that carry inherent positive or negative values — while the other side posits that it is simply a process or tool that derives value solely from its use by the user.

Where do you stand on this issue? Is technology neutral?

Related questions: Are science and religion compatible? What role does technology play in your life? What do you get out of social media?

What Is Keeping Us From Sustaining The Planet?

The U.S. Global Change Research Program just delivered “The Fourth National Climate Assessment” to Congress and the President. While the report does not present a pretty picture, it concludes with tangible actions that Americans can collectively — nationally, regionally, and locally — take to mitigate our situation as well as adapt to changes that are already certain to happen.

The report begins: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”

With us already seeing the impacts of climate change, what is keeping us from taking action to sustain the planet? We are experiencing more intense forest fires and hurricanes, disappearing coastlines, and changing climate zones. If not for the sake of the planet, what about for current younger generations who must live on a less hospitable globe?

What! What will it take?

Related questions:  Now or Later? What Do You Revere? What Are You Doing to Make the World a Better Place? How Can You Help? What Are Our Responsibilities to Others? What Is the Greatest Problem Facing Humanity?

 

What Role Does Technology Play In Your Life?

Technology has had a tremendous impact on our lives. It helps us to be more productive, to communicate with others, to produce goods faster and at lower cost, and to escape the hold of our planet’s gravity, among many other benefits. In just a few short centuries, life has drastically changed due to the technology we surround ourselves with.

But for all the advantages that our technology has, there are also many drawbacks.

Example #1: GPS

Let’s take Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). GPS keeps us from getting lost, and using it couldn’t be much simpler. Plug in an address, and follow the directions. Any decent GPS will get you to your destination, oftentimes routing around accidents, road construction, or other obstacles. We spend less time getting directions, fewer hassles trying to read maps, and best of all less time being lost!

However, as it turns out, there is an advantage to getting lost. It may be less efficient in the short term, but it helps us to actually learn our local geography. Studies have shown that people who rely on a GPS for navigation do not retain as much knowledge of the route and local landmarks as those who navigate the old-fashioned way. And the difference is not just a superficial one, as the areas of our brain that are used for navigation can be significantly underdeveloped by constant GPS use.

Example #2: Plastic

Or what about plastic? Plastic was introduced just a little more than a hundred years ago, but now it is totally ubiquitous. We wrap our food with it, we carry goods in bags made from it, and everything from toys to life-saving medical devices use or are mostly made from plastic. The reason it is so useful is because it is inexpensive to make, it is lightweight, and it can easily be molded into whatever shape we want.

What it doesn’t do, however, is break down into constituent elements. This means that the plastic that was used to wrap your head of cauliflower at the grocery store will be in the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Every plastic water bottle, every computer or music CD, every plastic toothbrush we throw out will sit in a landfill, intact, for much longer than our lifespans. Or worse yet, make its way to a stream or a river, and eventually to the ocean. There are large islands of plastic waste floating in our oceans, where it is sometimes consumed by sea life while still not breaking down.

Example #3: The smartphone

One last example: the smartphone. Introduced just over a decade ago, they have quickly been adopted throughout society and are now considered indispensable. Smartphone owners use them for just about every aspect of modern life: work, recreation, exercise, entertainment, and communication.

However, it is not at all clear what the long-term impact of the smartphone will be. Our attention is fractured, our focus on reality is weakened, we are easier to manipulate, and we often feel less happy or content despite having and doing more. We don’t really have any idea what smartphone mean to young child development.

The common thread is that technology is a tremendous boon. But it also has problems that often go ignored or denied.

What role does technology play in your life? What technologies could you live without, and which ones are central to what you do or who you are? Are you doing anything to address some of the negative aspects of technology in your everyday life?

Related questions: What is technology? Can technology solve our problems? How have we changed? Are science and religion compatible?