The Frail Logic of “Meant to Be”

One of my favorite ways to help me make a decision or re-think a problem is to post it on Facebook or Twitter and ask for an opinion. I value other people’s perspectives and ideas. It helps my brain run in new rivers of thought.

Aboriginal art from the Gippsland coast.

The other week I asked a “should-I-or-shouldn’t-I?” question and got clever, good, and thoughtful answers. The one answer that I don’t fall into the flow with is “if it was meant to be, it will happen.”

I’m not a person who believes in predestination–that everything is pre-planned, and people are meat puppets acting out their destiny. It takes away that free-will decision making process that has taught me so much in life. (That’s nicer than saying “I made huge mistakes, and often.”)

And how far can I ride the “meant to be” stream? If my teeth are meant to be flossed, someone will come do it for me? If the mortgage is meant to be paid, someone will send me money? I know, those are far fetched, but I don’t know where the horizon line is in the “meant to be” scheme.

The first peoples of Australia (and Albert Einstein) believe in the Everywhen–a universal time in eternity, where past, present and future are all present.  In that case, I understand that my problem, decision and consequence are all visible at the same time. I can understand that.

For the life of me, I don’t understand that items will fall into my lap if someone (fate? destiny? a god?) declares it “meant to be.” If that were true, then I could work for years toward a goal, which has secretly been declared “not to be” and I wouldn’t know it. Or reach my goal. Or (and this is the big one for me) not know why I’m not getting close to my goal. Some of my finest learning has been discovering why my efforts are (or are not) moving me toward a goal, why failure happened.

Shrugging off failure, ineptness, laziness, as “not meant to be” also means I can sit in the same ineptness and laziness and expect something to work if it is meant to be.

So I’ll continue to be confused until I work it out. You know, if it was meant to be.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is watching for an opportunity.

24 thoughts on “The Frail Logic of “Meant to Be”

  1. I use that saying, “If it was meant to be…” But as long as I am waiting I guess I should do something constructive while I am waiting. I hate being bored and staying busy keeps me sharp, so that when whatever was meant to be happens, I won’t miss the event. LOL

  2. OK, the truth can be revealed: there really IS a vast omnipotent force controlling everything, but it could care less about humans — it’s actually spending all its time making the universe a delightful place for hydrogen atoms, particularly those much-favored hydrogen atoms that perform the sacred rituals to create heavier elements.

  3. The only time I can shrug and agree with something ‘meant to be’ or not is when it is something I have absolutely NO control over. My husband has applied for an opening for which he is eminently qualified. He passed all the tests, filled out all the applications and has contacted every person in the facility to let them know he his more than interested. There is a protocol for hiring for these spots and when it comes down to it, others might get the spot ahead of him and he’ll miss out. At that point, I can console him with, ‘it was not meant to be.’ He did all he could to get the job short of chaining himself to the building and has no further ability to work towards getting one of the ten openings. BUT: if he gets it, it was because he worked his tail off to qualify himself for the position.
    In reality, the phrase has as much meaning as the greeting, ‘How are you?’
    No one really wants any answer other than ‘fine:’ it’s a way to fill a conversational void with something friendly sounding and noncommital.
    If the tornado blows my house away, it was meant to be. If I neglect to take care of the gas leak and it blows up, then that’s something else again!
    I think all the dogs I live with live in the Everywhen and when I’m relaxing with them I can see it from here!

  4. But seriously…the idea of predestination supposes that every event in the universe is *at least* directly causal — that is, given the exact and complete description of a first condition there is one and only one possible subsequent condition, or state. The more we learn about the universe the less likely this appears. It is also, as your title suggests, logically weak. One thing we know about the universe — from observation — is that there is now more of it than there used to be. We surmise that it all may go back to a singularity of some sort — one undifferentiated “thing”, quite small, that began expanding quite rapidly. Even without knowing anything about that event, if everything since then has been directly caused, that suggests that all the information in the universe today — from the person in the red car turning left instead of right this morning to whether a given photon happens to be observed as a particle or a wave — must have been “contained” in some way in that original singularity. But information is not an abstraction; it’s a physical thing or event. So where did it fit in that singularity?

    If you take a less minimal view of predestination, it might imply that the universe isn’t operating for the first time. It “happened” once already, every possible event was recorded in some way, and now it’s happening again but the recording contains the information about what hasn’t yet happened as well as what has. This is, I think, fundamentally unprovable, as the “recording” would have to exist somewhere much, MUCH larger than the universe itself, and be accessible — that is, we’d either be able to perceive it if it existed, or it requires the existence of things that violate everything we understand, which means the universe contains things impossible for us to accurately perceive. So it’s just wild speculation; a fairy tale.

    What I always think about predestination is “so what”. It doesn’t imply “somebody gives you stuff”; you still have to do what you do. Who cares if it might be preprogrammed/known ahead of time/happened before/already decided? None of that information is remotely available to you, so letting it bother you is the same as worrying about the weather on Pluto.

    • The Calvinists were not quite as broadminded, Pete. I was thinking of predestination in the way they did–if you were wealthy, God favored you because you had been chosen. If you were poor, or sick, well, then, we know what you did!

      I might have to read your comment a few more times, but I love the idea that everything has already happened. We just imagining it again.

      • If you take that Calvinist point of view (more precisely, what I think it is) then “predestination” would have to only apply to what you want it to apply to. The universe doesn’t seem to work that way; its properties – gravity for example – seem to be consistent throughout and not depend on very local variations.

        For example, one small group of humans decides to assign great importance to their individual control of one element (e.g. gold), but no importance at all to how much argon they each have. Their assertion is that — only in their time and place — the distribution of one element has been “controlled” (because they care about it, so they notice it) but distribution of another element has not.

        I didn’t mean we were just imagining the universe again, by the way, I meant it’s actually occurring again. Including, I suppose, every thought everybody has or will have.

        There’s an idea in current cosmology called the “multiverse” that might, in a stretch, kind of support this. It’s not really a theory because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t suggest a single testable proposition. The idea is that things don’t just “happen this way” — they happen every possible way, all the time. When you come to a corner and turn right, you also turn left. After that there are two universes each with its own “you”. And that happens for every event down to atomic decay. I’m pretty sure this is not much more than amusing, but I suppose among “every possible universe” there might be some that include predestination. And unicorns, of course.

        • That would be really hard to keep track of. Not the unicorns, but every possible way. My head hurts thinking about it. But in another universe, I’m not thinking about it, and in a third, my head doesn’t hurt.

    • You two are going all ‘Fringe’ here! ;D But seriously, thinking all this is really interesting. And it makes me wonder what you, Pete, do for living. (A rhetorical question, no need to answer 🙂

      • Pete is an everyday creative who is able to do the thing I think of as the definition of creativity–to process information quickly while finding patterns among seemingly non-related pools of information. He’s funny, too.

  5. If I believed in predestination I’d be doing everything I could to thwart it (what a lovely word, thwart) as I do not like the idea of being controlled! Nor do I think there is some great paternal power in the sky doling out blessings and systematically killing countless people in natural disasters! An act of god? Wher did that come from? Oh, something that couldn’t be explained or blamed on anyone I guess.
    There have been times in my life when I knew I was in the right (or wrong) place at the right time and I would learn something important, or I would achieve something important and it invariably did – I had made all the right/wrong decisions and was listening (or not) to my own wisdom, not being led by some puppet master.
    So yes Quinn, there’s no opting out, the day will pass whether you participate or not and life will go trundling along regardless – join in or vegetate, it’s a choice not ‘meant to be’ or luck.
    When I’m told I’m lucky to have the life I’ve got I say it’s not luck it’s planning, grabbing opportunities and hard work.

  6. Maybe ‘luck’ and ‘destiny’ are most of all matters of sensitivity, awareness and the power of observation. A friend of mine is a numerologist and she believes that universe (and what ever forces it contains) is constantly providing us with clues about possible actions and choices. A ‘lucky’ person is one who is tuned in, one who has a better awareness of the world surrounding her and so she notices those clues more often than others do. So, the reasoning goes, if one is ‘awake’ the possibilities become apparent and wise person may then utilise them even when others see a no-choice-situation. Predestination is then the situation of a not-awoken-person: if one does not have the awareness of the possibilities one is then left on the mercy of the ‘fate’.

    So I agree with you. It’s seldom meant to be – though I have encountered situations that have fallen under that category.

  7. Quinn, your post makes me think of the assertion “You’re so lucky.” As most “lucky” people will tell you, “luck” really means having put in the hard work so that, when an opportunity arises, you’re in a position to make the most of it.

    • You are so right. It always made me laugh, when after doing research for two years and writing for another, people would say, “You got a book published? You are so lucky.”

  8. “Meant to be” is not what propels me out of bed each morning. I know that certain household duties must be completed before I can head into the studio and ponder what I might want to work on or even better, just start dabbling and playing to see what will appear. Some days what happens in the studio was planned out, but more often than not, things spontaneously happen. Can’t say that these were meant to be. Some days, what happens is golden, other days, not so much. Each day is a roll of the dice, that’s what keeps me moving. You just never know what will happen!

  9. dear Quinn – as someone living in australia its delightful to read about Everywhen – something I had not heard about! – seems like there is nothing much to do afterall……. what if everything we ever experienced just was experience….kind of makes life alot more fun.. 🙂

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