A man plans and God laughs

Quite often, important moments in history and in our lives happen and we, as humans, remain full of doubts: how did things go this way? Why? Could I control it?

by Moriella Kowalski

Philosophy 06 March 2023

In a circumstantial account of specific moments of what we tend to believe are uncontrolled causes, we often speak of fate. The different approaches to fatalism shift in the balance of what we assume is in our power and what is not. Those types of bias will usually depend on culture, religion, experiences, science, and so on.

Philosophical thoughts on fatalism have ancient roots, mostly placing us as powerless entities against the universe. But is it still so in an era when we are learning to control, predict and manipulate both ourselves and nature? In ancient Greek mythology, fate was considered an inexorable and unstoppable force that no man or god could defeat. The daughters of Themis weave the thread of our lives, measure its length and cut it when they see fit. It is said that they laugh at the attempts of men to resist because in the end, no matter what we do, fate will always prevail.

My grandmother used to tell me in Yiddish, “a mentsh trakht aun gat lakht” (אַ מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט), which basically means a man thinks or plans and god laughs. Later on in history and even till today, philosophers debate about fatalism and its meaning. Aristotle believed that nothing is either true or false because things will change their state based on the time they occur. So the question is whether it is fate that determines the righteousness of a given state, and are we completely impotent against the critical moments of our lives; moreover, can things live in more than one state? Just like in quantum computing. 

Looking back and connecting the dots, many times, we can reconstruct the roadmap that led to that specific moment, to that specific output. What we lack beforehand is some sort of intelligence that is able to rapidly articulate the probability of events considering all parameters that are involved in the equation. So basically, we can assume that things happen because they have to happen out of necessity (which is not always logical), even if the cause is unknown to us or even undesirable. Does this leave us with a sense of inevitability? Lack of control? How much is in our hands for making or breaking? Does our free will have any weight on how things turn out redesigning an alternative future?

Throughout history, it seems like critical turning points, even our own, tend to have an emotional and impulsive component that often overbears the rational one. How do we explain that? I dare each and every one of us to take a moment and backcast an existing state until they reach that critical turning point in which the cards on the table have shuffled our lives forever, and think: was it fate, was it gut or head? I really believe that at any given moment in time, we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. Whether fate, logic, choice, or feeling, our turning points probably couldn’t have turned out in any other way.