In continuation with this series of blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of free will and destiny in this blog. I would like to clarify that this blog is not about whether there is really anything like destiny or whether there is really something like free will. The question whether destiny exists or not is not answerable at present. Whatever knowledge we have, whatever wisdom our culture passes on to us, is not sufficient to answer this question. Therefore, there is no point in debating the existence of destiny. Same can be said about free will. Therefore, I would sidestep this issue. Instead, I am, as a novelist, more concerned with how both these notions shape our thinking rather than verifying the notions of free will and destiny.

One of the peculiar thing about a human mind is that it doesn’t have any direct means to verify whether any given idea is true or not. A human mind can find out whether any idea is true or false, only by working out the consequences of that idea. If the consequences are verified, then that idea is true. Thus, a human mind cannot establish an objective truth it can only verify the consequences of any objective truth. Strangely, in order to verify the consequences of any idea, the mind must assume that that particular idea is true. As far as the working of mind is concerned, it can work out the consequences of any proposition only if it temporarily assumes that that idea is true. To a human mind, it doesn’t really matter whether the idea under investigation is true or not. All that matters to a human mind is how to work out the consequences of any idea it is investigating. However, in order to work out the possible consequences of any idea, the human mind must assume that that particular idea is true.

The real problem with such a way of processing any new idea is that a human mind often forgets that assumption of that idea being true is provisional. Due to its compulsion to find meaning of everything that it is processing, a human mind mistakenly thinks that the idea under investigation is true. Thus, we have a situation wherein our minds have two categories of truth, objective truth and subjective truth. The objective truths refer to factual details of this world and the subjective truth refers to the beliefs that our minds assume to be true.

It is one of the tragedies of life that our minds fails to distinguish between these two types of truth. Therefore, while trying to evaluate the validity of any idea, a human mind often wrongly assumes that a subjective truth is an objective truth. Therefore, as far as our minds are concerned, whether destiny really exists or not, is not important. The same is true for the notion of free will. As a result, our minds are influenced by these notions irrespective of their existence. It this that concerns me as a novelist. What bothers me more, is the fact that our minds don’t analyse these notions as if they are mutually exclusive.

Purely from the logical point of view, either there is something like destiny which decides how we would behave, or there is something like free will which suggests that we are free to act as we wish. In fact, it is intuitively clear that logically only one of these two notions can be true. Both can not be true at the same time. The tragedy of our minds is that it doesn’t follow this self evident situation. Instead, our minds operates by assuming that both these notions are true. Therefore, in order avoid any confusion, our minds work in a modular fashion. A human mind tries to verify the consequences of both these notions in separate parts of itself simultaneously. Therefore, we are governed by conflicting notions. The duality of free will and destiny influences our minds and we are torn between two different interpretations of meaning of life.

It is a natural corollary to this scenario that we experience conflicting emotions because of the influence of these two mutually exclusive notions. The real problem with this split processing is that our emotions do not factor into this split. Therefore, even when the different parts of our mind are processing the consequences of destiny and free will separately, our emotional response to these processings is common. As a result , we experience complex and sometimes antagonistic emotions. The technical term for trouble caused by this split processing is semantic ambiguities. Similarly, the technical term for this experience of conflicting emotions is cognitive dissonance. Thus, the angst of our existence arises because we swing back and forth between semantic ambiguities to cognitive dissonance. Therefore, it seems fair to conclude that the duality of free will and destiny would always be inflicting a heavy cost on our mental well being. More importantly, there is no escape from this duality. As a novelist, I have always tried to depict the semantic ambiguities and the cognitive dissonance in my novels, including my third novel which I am writing now.

I have realised that, as Indians, we are saddled with this duality to a greater extent. Our culture has nurtured and strengthened our subconscious belief in destiny. On the other hand, our modern education has inculcated the notion of free will in our conscious mind. Thus, there is a direct conflict between our simultaneous beliefs of destiny and free will. This conflict is all the more acute because it is carried out between our conscious and subconscious minds. Therefore, as a society, we, modern Indians, collectively experience this angst more acutely.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of fact and fiction.


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