Take a hypothetical example of a road accident that I am involved in. I am being very careful, driving under the speed limit and being responsible. But the driver of the bus that barrels into me was speeding, had a few drinks and thought he had the right of way. Further, he was trying to overtake another bus, competing with that driver to pick up passengers first. The driver of the other bus too wanted to win. Neither wins, but I lose a limb.

What should I believe?

  • That it was God’s will, that he has some plans for me or some lessons that I have to learn? Is it karma, or consequence of something that I did in my past or current life?
  • That it was a random/ unpredictable/ maybe explicable act, which happened due to a set of mental models created in the drivers who were therefore competing, coupled with their low self esteem which was compensated by the false bravado of a few drinks.

How should I react?

Based on either of the above, should I

  • be inert or
  • actively forgive the driver? or
  • actively avenge my loss of limb by suing the truck company, or
  • get the driver beaten up or any such reaction?

Are events random, or are they fated to happen?

If I look at a continuum of fate vs. deliberate action: 

I could have, on one end, 100% dependency on God’s Will and the philosophy that everything is preordained.

Whatever happens to me, whether good or bad, is not of my making but “that of our stars,” as Shakespeare would say. I may explain my actions by saying that God put this decision in my mind, and at an extreme, Gods talks to me and tells me what to do – whether it is of positive consequences like Joan of Arc or negative like Charles Manson.

On the other end, I could believe that when I react to an event, I do so on the basis of my mental models and my beliefs.

These beliefs have been created based on my previous interactions with the world and my interpretation or learning from past events.

When I react, it is like throwing a stone into the water, and the ripples of my action impact a myriad of people in different ways. All these people react in different ways to my action based on their mental models and beliefs. Since I do not know their beliefs and how they were formed, it is not possible to predict what is the sum total of all their reactions and what will be the final impact of these actions.

It is sort of a Brownian motion, where random molecules collide with each other and therefore change their path. How people interact or react is based on their beliefs and since we cannot see into their mind, we cannot predict the course of action.

Hence, we would seem like a random event. These are inexplicable/ random/ unpredictable events which have a major impact on life as we know it. These random events are called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell or “Black Swans” by Nissim Nicholas Taleb.

The last such random event was 9/11 according to the Western world.

In the middle of this continuum would be the 50 percent belief, that there is a grand scheme of things, and there is a randomness of nature.

We have to try our best to understand how people would react, but because we cannot be 100% certain, there will be an element of randomness, coupled with an incomprehensible hand of God. We have a tendency, after the event, to try and explain it rationally. If we cannot explain it rationally, we try to explain it as God’s Will, His Grand Plan about us.

The Impact of either fate or randomness

This entire continuum can lead to a belief that:

  1. we should not attempt anything either because God will take care of us, or
  2. the randomness of events will anyway render intended consequences of any of our actions futile.

So we can justify our inaction, our procrastination and laziness.

We have Indian philosophy from the Bhagwad Gita – of our right to action, but not to results. We have a piquant situation where we have a right to action, which (based on where you are on the continuum, has an element of pre-ordained) and no control on results (which is random or unpredictable at best).

Sort of drives the final nail into the coffin of inactivity and inertness.

If things are random or pre-ordained, how will I be motivated?

Motivation is based on

  • the needs of a person, and
  • the probability that the effort the person makes would lead to the fulfilment of the need.

If we say that we cannot predict the impact of the effort, why would we make the effort?

So forget about consequences?

Shall we follow the philosophy of existentialism, live for the moment, with no thought of either the past or the future? I am here and now, and only this is real? So there is no such thing as strategy or long term consequences? If I cannot control, why think about pollution, leaving this world a better place etc. Or it is God’s will?


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