Ok, that was quite a long opening sentence, but as a summary of my own struggle with the conflicting concepts of determinism and randomness, I think it describes more or less the nugget in the middle of the whole conundrum. It is, in fact, quite a Biggie as far as philosophical arguments go and far beyond my poor engineer's brain to untangle.
Just lately, I have encountered several friends and acquaintances who tell me that all that happens to us is somehow predetermined. Fate, apparently, has its own opinion on whether we crash into a Jack Russell on our bicycles and hence arrive late at a junction where had we not collided with a dog, we would have met our ends under the wheels of the proverbial bus. We have that dog to thank for not only avoiding our untimely death, but the subsequent posthumous embarrassment at the state of our undergarments which by another quirk of Fate, might not have been pristine that very morning.
|A local Jack Russell|
|The manifestation of a possible deity..?|
And so, what we appear to have is Serendipity. I am grateful to a friend of mine for my introduction to the concept and all its glorious implications. I was aware of the word previously, certainly, but not of it's enormous significance. Our approach to the apparent randomness of Life can profoundly influence how we perceive events and what happens to us as a result.
It seems that "stuff happens" to us all the time. For instance, the imaginary terrier described above can be perceived as a nuisance or our possible saviour from a messy accidental death. Ok, that is perhaps a bit of a tenuous stretch, but you get the idea I hope.
As life unfolds and we stumble through the obstacle course that is the narrative of our existences, if we are receptive to the possibility that the unexpected changes in the course of events might bring us an interesting experience, then it is more likely to do so than if we merely regard the change of plan as a nuisance.
What concerns me is that Serendipity is being systematically removed from our lives by algorithms. Our routes are planned by Satnavs which take us to places without us navigating consciously, and without the getting-lost which often takes us to unexpectedly interesting places we might not otherwise have found. If we regard getting lost as a kind of exploration, it takes on a new meaning. For instance, once, I decided to take a route home on my bike which was not the quickest, but which I had never traveled before. There was no reason for this other than, I just fancied finding out what was down this little lane. I was utterly delighted to find an stand of plum trees which once had been an orchard for a large, now-vanished house. Had the detour been forced upon me by, say roadworks, I might have found it a drag, an annoyance, and not noticed the trees and hence not made several hundred litres of wine and hundreds of pounds of jam.
|Plum wine which might otherwise not have been made|
Such is the pervasive nature of this guidance, this "choosing for us" that an iPhone app (actually called "Serendipity") now exists which authoritatively instructs you whilst walking in a town to take random turns of its choosing, such that you encounter new places, perhaps very close to, but outside of your normal route. The reviewer noted that he had been amazed to find a park this way that he had previously not know about, though he had walked mere metres from it for a dozen years on his way to work. Discovery happened! How serendipitous! Except it wasn't really because it was to some extend guided.
It's a bit sad that this has to now be the result of a technological product and not of mere curiosity.
So, I thank my friend for the introduction to the concept of Serendipity. It can make unexpected into fortuitous. I shall keep an open mind and take unexpected paths in preference to those I already know. And let's see where it takes me, shall we?