Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Fate and Purpose
Evelynn Barclay, Scott Herterich, & Matt Kimball


Summary by Jessica Kowalski

Is there Fate or Purpose for individuals? – How does that fold with Motivation?

Many people have differing opinions on what fate is. Some believe fate to be a path which an individual cannot dictate or choose. The group defined fate as “the development of events beyond a person's control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” The question was then posed: does fate have to be related to a supernatural power? Can it be changed based on your choices or is it set in stone when a person is born? The concept that it is a pre-determined path that a person cannot stray from kept creeping into conversations. An example of this may be that if a person is “supposed” to get hit by a car, but the person keeps narrow handedly avoiding accidents, the accidents will continue to happen until the person is hit by the car. The event is unavoidable. The individual would be able to make their own choices, but no matter what, they will end up with their fate.

The group then asked if the class believed in fate; does fate exist? One student commented that there may not have to be one specific fate, and that we have a few fates in life. I believe you can have multiple fates underneath an overarching fate. It is hard to separate fate from coincidence though.

My own cheesy example of fate would be that I quit working at Rite Aid after my boyfriend and I broke up in high school. The environment I was in was negatively impacting me, mentally, emotionally, and physically. When I got to UNH my mind was clearer, and the negativity had subsided, but I was struggling to have any interest in dating out of fear. Through connections at the farm, I was able to get a job at the greenhouses on campus this year, working for a cooperative extension specialist. With this job I worked in the greenhouses on campus and at Woodman farm. Throughout freshman and sophomore year, I attempted to date here and there, but ran away out of fear. My friend Will and I worked together at Woodman but we were both dating people on and off all fall. We became great friends and liked it that way. We would give each other advice on relationships and wholeheartedly help each other out. After winter break we came back as friends still, but eventually it became more. Call it timing, or what have you. The stars aligned or something. Everything fell in place, and despite trying to date other people, it happened anyway. This is an extremely loose example since choices and emotions were involved. But I think fate is a loose thing. Fate is a loose term, and like consciousness, it is a term that is different for each person. The overarching fate for us all is for our bodies to die. We do not know if there is a larger fate than that.

There are certain aspects of fate that could easily occur. One example that popped up was stating that President Obama will scratch his nose at 5PM tomorrow. Well, there is a pretty good chance that that may happen. I scratch my nose all the time, but that doesn’t mean it was fate.

I believe there are really two different types of fate we are talking about. There is this larger overarching fate that could be described as something that is bound to happen, and then there are smaller fates that relate more to saying that because of all of these events, this happened, so it’s fate.   

The group then went on to ask if destiny, karma, luck, and soul mates exist as well. Destiny is similar to fate, though it is more related to the overarching fate. This is an individual’s destiny. Where someone ends is their destiny. Destiny is much bigger than fate. For example, Luke Skywalker's destiny was to confront his father and the Emperor. He then defeated the Emperor and tried to save his father.

When discussing karma, Buddhism, rebirth and reincarnation were brought up. Karma is, what Buddhists believe, dictates what happens to an individual after they die. The class wondered what karma really is, since good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people, in addition to bad things happening to bad people and good things happening to good people.

Luck was sort of pushed aside by the class as something good that just happens by chance. People can be lucky once in a while or have good luck, but it is generally by coincidence as far as we know!

On TV and in movies, you hear people saying they have found their soul mate. Does everyone have a soul mate? I know a great deal of people who are older and have not found a single person they believe to be their soul mate. I also know people who have found multiple people who they believe to be their soul mates. You may have more than one soul mate and not even know it due to placement in the world, time, or age. There is no way to really know. Soul mate is another loose term that changes from person to person.

The next fate topic presented was fate in Norse mythology. Fate was personified as three spinners (Norns) who controlled everyone and everything’s fate in life. Even the Gods had no control. The end of the world (Ragnarok) was revealed to the god Odin before it was to happen, and he had no control over his fate. He was to die in the final battle of good vs. evil and could not prevent his own death. This was an example similar to when the topic of fate was first presented at the beginning of the presentation.

In Christianity, fate is dependent on the choices made by each individual. Everyone can make their own choices, moral vs. immoral, which leads to their own personal fate, but “God” has a predestined goal or purpose already planned for each individual. If they try to avoid it, their path will just become harder to get throug

In Buddhism, fate is not a supernatural force acting upon people. Fate is determined by a person’s karma. If a person does something bad, bad things will happen to them. If someone does something good, good things will happen to them, and they will be able to come back in their next life.

The group then posed some thinking topics for the class:

These questions led the class to ask more questions such as: how far does fate go? Is fate constantly occurring? Does it ever end? If a rock falls when you walk by a cliff-- is that your fate or chance? I believe that would be chance, the rock would probably have fallen even if you weren’t there.  Is fate only present in living organisms? Why wouldn’t it be able to occur for non-living things? If a rock fell, that would be its fate. The rock would not be able to prevent the falling. Though on the other side of things, you can explain why the rock would fall with physics, so is it really fate?

Some people in the class thought that since fate is related to the supernatural, it would be silly to apply fate to a rock. Human activity is based on free-will which can be related to fate. But what is fated is beyond the influence of free will. The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary states teleological as “exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature.” Fate is not teleological. It is not a means to an end, a purpose, or a goal.    

The group then brought up a quote by Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. He said “the significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.” So if our lives have any significance at all, it comes from us, not a higher power. An interesting point that was brought up was that we tend to think of god as a human but bigger and better; more powerful. If a horse thought of god it would be a horse. Why does it have to take a form? Why name it?

Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. John Lennon once said “when I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “Happy”. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” The question was then posed, what do you want to do in life? Some said to be happy. The thought was brought up that you need to do things to make you happy. You need experiences or at least memories to think back on.

Motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. It’s the general desire or willingness to do something. Ayn Rand once said “I swear by my life and love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another to live for mine.” This stirred up quite a conversation in the class. Love is living for the sake of others- doing things for others because of the appreciation and love for them. Rand loved her freedom so much that she didn’t want to give it up for a man, or kids. There are two different types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation driven by an interest within the individual, and extrinsic motivation comes from outside of an individual because of a desire.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was then put on the table. This is a pyramid that is basically a checklist of things one ‘needs’ to have done before they can reach the next level. It is layered as physiological (ex. breathing, eating, and sleeping) at the bottom, then safety (ex. security of family, health, and property), love/belonging (ex. friendship, family, and sexual intimacy), esteem (ex. confidence, achievement, and respect), and self-actualization (ex. creativity, problem solving, and morality) at the top. The biggest flaw the class found with this diagram was that you really can’t be secure with the safety of family without having a family (a higher level group)
Another flaw is that Van Gogh was very unstable but extremely creative, so it may not be step by step process.

Maslow Pyramid

The group then brought up a rat experiment and linked it to purpose within the brain. There was a pile of food close to a fence and a bigger pile of food behind a fence. Rats were then released, and it was found that rats with higher dopamine levels climbed the fence to get the bigger pile. This is related to humans because it has been found that the ‘go-getters’ or people with goals that work harder tend to have higher dopamine levels.  

Lastly, the group brought up the Human Connectome Project. This is a 5 year project that has a goal of creating a network map of the brain to produce data on brain disorders like schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease. They are doing this by color-coding brains to make a map of who humans are with computer software. The only issue with this is that not everyone’s brain may work the same. Everyone has different experiences that can shape the growth and development of the brain, so the data may not line up.