Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chance That Dares Not Call Itself Providence



It's very hard to believe that there is a all-caring God somewhere behind this world of appearances and of rapidly changing disguises.  It's even harder to believe that there is an order or a pattern or a scheme to what happens, that is, some form of providence.  I'm inclined to be at one with the great contemporary theoretical physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking, who believes that everything in this universe happens by chance.  See the following link for my entries on chance Chance:  Not that I'm going to get too philosophical or theoretical in these musings here.  I'll concretise what I have to same with some examples from my reading and from my own lived experiences.  I am an inveterate reader and these long wet days of summer are ideal for indulging to excess in this wonderfully lazy pastime. 

At the moment I have two books half-read, one a memoir by the war correspondent, journalist and broadcaster John Simpson and the other the most authoritative biography (by the famous biographer Ronald Hayman) of Carl Gustave Jung, the founder of the Analytical Psychology - a school of psychotherapy distinct from that of Psychoanalysis.  Anyway, to get to the point, John Simpson underlines the fact, in agreement with Hawking, that life is pure chance. (However, I might add here, parenthetically, that Carl Jung would not agree with this contention and he worked out a rather elaborate theory of synchronicity which is, I think, really a spiritual or at least a parapsychological take on the law of cause and effect.  However, Jung's argumentation is too intricate and far too complicated for this present post.)  I intend reviewing both books in this blog over the coming days, that is, before I go back to work.

John Simpson's book is a wonderfully gripping read.  He was conceived in London during the bombing of that city and remained in it until just a few weeks before his birth.  His father and mother, plus the child in the womb, were almost blown to bits during one bombing raid by Goering's Luftwaffe.  In wartime London life was very cheap and indeed, very much a thing of chance.  Let me quote some relevant lines from Simpson.  He has already alluded to his father's and mother's many lucky escapes from Hitler's bombs - chance, of course - and then he muses about how they first met and the sheer chance of it - in a railway carriage in wartime:

Chance rules our lives utterly, and everything flows from it as a result.  A few more yards' distance, a ten-second delay, an instinct or two ignored, and all the pain and dullness and boredom and pleasure and duty and failure and happiness which constitute the lives of Roy and Joyce [his parents] and the rest of us would have been ordered completely differently.  No me, no children, no grandchildren, no great-grandchildren.  Our small world would have been an entirely unrecognisable place, unpeopled (sic) by us and repeopled (sic) by others instead.  This book in your hand would not have been written; and by the same process of random chance you yourself would not have been reading it at the critical moment if a few extra seconds had elapsed, a few more yards had intervened in your own pre-history. 

All chance, all randomness.  Remember that, the next time you feel a sense of your own significance, your own inevitability.  We are left to make the best of it, and get on with our chance-ridden lives as though there is some sort of fundamental order to them.  (Days From A Different World, John Simpson, Pan Books, 2006, 28)

Well put indeed and very true existentially.  Undeniable, existentially, I'd contend.  However, the chance that you or I or that John Simpson exists is even smaller than this author conceives.  Even given the small chances of say our mother and father meeting, especially in a city, the chances of my being born with my particular biological makeup, which makes me me, is even more ridiculously and alarmingly small by way of occurrence. Biologically in any one ejaculation there are 500,000,000, yes, that is 500 million individual spermatozoa of which only one brave warrior will penetrate the egg.  Then every woman is born with immature eggs in her ovaries. Just before birth, the number of eggs in the ovaries is roughly a few million but by the time puberty begins, this number has diminished to about 400,000. Of these, only three hundred or so will ever be released. As you age, the number of eggs in the human ovaries continue to diminish, which isn’t so surprising when you remember that about 20 or so immature eggs begin to develop and then die off when the one dominant egg is released every month. Let's then go with the 20 eggs (rather than the number 400, 000 to make our rough sum a little more credible) of which one will be released, that gives the chances of say me, Tim Quinlan, being born in any one session of sex or act of copulation as 1 over 500 million multiplied by 1 over 20, that is 1 chance in 10,000,000,000, that is 1 chance in ten billion.  Insignificant or what!

This is a deliberately cool and calculated post, but no less sincere for all that.  The fact that I exist, being just one chance in ten billion at a very conservative estimate, is nothing short of "miraculous" when looked at through a certain lens.  This lens I call the story lens or the mythic lens or the poetic lens or even the mythopoetic lens. Those of a religious frame of mind might see all the above through a religious lens or through a spiritual lens.   The real question is not which perspective is more correct or which perspective is the right one; which lens is more correct or which lens gives the clearest picture.  The real question to my mind is being able to ask the questions, to see reality from as many perspectives as possible without writing off any.  Maybe all the lenses have a role to play - some rational, some aesthetic, some ethical or moral, some cultural or sociological etc.  There is much food for thought here.  After all, is not thinking a great activity?  Is not philosophy a wonderful subject?  Is not the ability to wonder and to ask questions one of the greatest gifts humankind has at its disposal?


Above I have uploaded a picture of a woodland scene I took at Dalgan Park, Co. Meath.

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