Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can Probabilities Be Beautiful?


When it comes to interpreting major events in life, there are two camps of view.
One extreme camp, which is probably more popular than the other, believes in the ‘Everything happens for a reason’ – that things have been preordained to happen, by Destiny, to fulfill some kind of a Grand Design.
The other camp, rightly not very popular, believes in probabilities. That a significant event, either happy or sad, happens just because it does – a probabilistic event. A disaster, a guy meets a girl, a pleasant unlikely encounter with an old friend – all just random happenings, and can be explained through probabilities. No ‘reason’, no ‘design’ – Life just, well, happens.
Obviously, it is easy to understand the easy popularity of the first camp, but I am not here to debate which one is right, because truth be told, no one will really know for sure. The Destiny supporters will show how things ‘fit’ together, as if they follow a great script – pointing out to an invisible Design. The probability supporter will just say that this is mere illusion, that the human brain is apt to find ’cause and effect’ and create narrative behind random events. (example: A disaster is caused by an angry God as punishment to evil doings).
I am not here to settle which one is right and wrong. But I want to focus on a classic argument that the second camp’s view results in a Life stripped of its wonders, because hey, how romantic can a ‘probabilistic explanation’ can get?
Here, I would like to take the unpopular position with the Probability camp, and argue that Life is still wonderful, even when things don’t happen for a reason. The most common mistake is to confuse ‘explanation of something’ with its wonder or joy. A simple example to start with: great constructions like The Eiffel Tower, or Liberty Statue. We know that men built them, and perhaps the blue prints are still preserved, but it does not mean that when we stand beneath them we cannot admire them as a great accomplishment?
Or to take a less mechanical example. Let’s take the human body. Science has explained a lot of bodily phenomenon, like every details of fertilization process and then pregnancy and most of what’s happening inside the womb. But does it mean we cease to wonder the beauty of a birth of a new human being?
I would use the same reasoning to view events in life. An unlikely encounter of a man and woman with matching personality, often described as “soulmates” by the Destiny camp, is probably, pun intended, another rare probabilistic event, without a Cupid hovering around to shoot arrows of Love. But does it mean its joy and pleasure reduced by any means? Not at all. “Explanation” of a romantic encounter is not to be mixed up with its “wonder”. The latter can still be felt independent of the former.
In fact, I would argue that the probabilistic view will result in a higher appreciation of a seemingly unlikely happy event! Here’s why:
When you believe in Destiny, you also believe that someone or something is running things for you. A wonderful event happens because it is ‘meant’ to happen – following a script. Isn’t there some kind of ‘entitlement’ feeling involved here, because something out there is responsible to make it happen? I would say the value of the event is diminished somehow.
But when you believe in probabilities, you will look at a wonderful event of chance and go “Wow, what are the odds?”. And given that it is a slim chance, you would treasure it even more, because you know you cannot just rely on someone or something out there to ensure it happens again.
The same argument also extends to sad and tragedies of Life. I would argue the people in Probability camp may bounce back faster than the Destiny camp. Because when disasters or sad events happen, if you believe in an external “writer” behind all things, you will wonder, WHY? What have we done to deserve this? And we embark on personal investigation: was it Karma? A punishment from the heavens? A lesson? Etc, etc.
While people of the Probability camp will accept that there is nothing personal behind it, and that life has to go on. No one to be blamed on, and no ‘investigation’ required. Life happens, and sometimes bad things happen, out of random probability.
In short, a probabilistic view on Life’s events may not be romantic or make great story-telling, but in no way it makes us value the experience less, and it becomes less beautiful. In fact, we may hold on to them more dearly, and conversely with bad things, we are more ready to let go. To accept.
So there you go, my (usual) stance on minority position of things. Partially because I sincerely believe in my position, but also I just love to challenge ‘mainstream’ thinking (read: be an annoying contrarian). Not to mention I just took Mylanta and Fenilpropanolamin that may affect my thinking :D

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