July 9, 2017

Providence & Unpredictability

As much as I dislike the term “providential,” mostly due to how folks have come to (mis)use it, it does relate to an important bit of walking around knowledge to keep in mind. You never know who you’re meeting today or what effects today’s actions will have on tomorrow. Providence is a word that we may think we understand but one that we literally can’t comprehend to the fullest of its meaning. The basics of it, at least insofar as it applies to most of us on a day-to-day basis, is that there is a plan or pattern for every machination of the cosmos. I could also use the term “divine” plan because it casts a wider net over diverse theologies, whether your Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Even if you’re not a religious person, the term “divinity” could even liberally apply to the mathematics of universal causality, which for now you can treat as just a cheap hook and I’ll come back to it shortly.

The point is, if you think of all of the things and events in the universe going on at the same time, seemingly infinite stuff from bow-ties to blue whales and from sneezes to skydiving, it’s mind-blowing to think of how they’re all connected in time and causality. For those of you who have heard of the butterfly effect, this isn’t really anything new. For those who haven’t, it’s really simple in concept but profound in its far reaching implications. Basically, the idea is that if a butterfly flaps its wings wherever you are, then through a chain reaction of subtle movements in air currents and weather patterns, it could, in theory, cause a hurricane or tidal wave or some other immense meteorological event on the other side of the planet. Then, of course, the same would go for anything else, given enough time or distance.

The seemingly infinite stuff in the universe is all interconnected.
With that in mind, we can start to see how the seemingly infinite stuff in the universe is all interconnected through the subtleties of causality. In fact, when you really stop and think back to any important event in your life, say, graduating high school, meeting your spouse, getting your first job, or whatever stands out in your memories, then try to follow the chain of dominos that had to fall to lead up to it. You’ll see that if you had tried to predict that chain of events from any distant moment in the past, there’s no way you could have. For example, through a long series of seemingly unrelated, yet sequential events that all depended on each other to happen at all, I would’ve never met my wife-to-be in 2007 if I had not taken a last-minute trip to Dallas, Texas with some friends in 2003.

There’s no possible way that I or even the most sophisticated computer running the most complex algorithmic program could’ve predicted that series of events to unfold the way it did. The possibilities between the starting event and the ending event seem infinitely unpredictable. If you’re a religious person, then the only thing that exists that could ever orchestrate or even understand such infinite possibilities is a divine creator—hence “divine will,” or “God’s plan,” etc. If you’re not a religious person, then you can still imagine mathematical causality at work—at the beginning of time when the Big Bang did its banging, every speck of dust that exploded outward determined the course of events for the rest of time throughout the universe. Each speck had a certain trajectory, atomic composition, temperature, etc. that put it on course to bring about every electron, earthworm, elephant, and earthquake there is today. Whether you call this whole mess of a concept natural causality or God’s plan or anything else, it is, in the most basic sense, what is meant by the term “providence.”

The person you meet at a coffee shop today might be your next most hated enemy or your next true love.
The person you meet at a coffee shop today might be your next most hated enemy or your next true love, or perhaps even both at different times. The smallest good deed you do today—holding the door for someone at the filthy truck stop on the way out of town, telling your wife that she looks pretty the next morning after a night of heated and seemingly pointless fighting, or even just tossing the last bite of your cheeseburger to a stray dog on your lunchbreak—might eventually erupt into the largest and most amazing of results tomorrow. Yes, it’s also true that sometimes good deeds result in accidental backlash. Maybe that stray dog you fed pissed on your leg afterward or some other such annoyance. But, ultimately, we can all pretty well agree that for the most part, you’re way more likely to stimulate growth and positivity by doing positive things, and even the smallest ones can have the most profound unforeseen effects in the time to come.

On the opposite end, the person you thoughtlessly cut in line at Taco Bell may be the same person who’s going to interview you for a job later that afternoon. The same stray dog that you chased away from your front porch (even the same one that may piss on your leg), might have someday come to drag you from a housefire two years later if you’d have taken it in. And, as we often forget in our western culture, while we strain ourselves and complain about taking care of our elderly parents or grandparents, we may be in the same shape or worse ourselves someday, perhaps even at a younger age.

While this may have developed into something that sounds like a fluffy inspirational poster in parts, the message you should take away is this. Do everything with purpose. Pay attention to the world and people in it. Today’s actions are tomorrow’s outcomes and you never know when your last moment on earth will come or the first moment of the best time of your life will begin.