What Does Science Say about Fate, and How Can We Live with It?


How much control do we have over our lives?

Do we have a say in what happens to us, or are we bound by fate that’s set in the stars?

Most religions proclaim fate as part of a divine plan that we need to take upon faith, without questioning the underlying reasons. Yet, we’re still going to be held accountable for our actions and choices.

Cause and effect, actions and consequences, fate and free will. Where does one begin and the other end?

From ancient civilizations to modern day philosophers and thinkers, we’re no closer to finding a conclusive answer as to how much control we have over our destiny.

We all make choices, still we feel constrained by circumstances beyond our control. No one can predict success and failure, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, and all the gray areas in between.

I thought maybe I’d look into science. Is there scientific evidence that proves or refutes fate?

Below is my feeble attempt to answer the question.

What science tells us about fate

Please keep in mind as you read these notes that they’re very basic. I have little understanding of physics and neuroscience.

Beyond conscious awareness

Researchers found that most of the processes (for example, breathing, moving, eating) are automatic, and are executed without much conscious awareness.

Modern brain scans show that unconscious activity occurs a few seconds before the conscious activity arises in other areas of the brain. It appears that the subconscious mind decides first, even when we think we’re making a conscious choice.

Does fate reside in our subconscious programming?

It appears so, until we dig a bit deeper.

Quantum uncertainty

The motions of galaxies, stars, and planets follow strict cosmic laws of cause and effect. However, on a subatomic layer of existence, things are different. On a quantum level, nothing is determined until you look at it.

According to the uncertainty principle, it’s impossible to ever know the exact location of a particle and its movement at the same time. Our observations, or the slightest actions or interference, can cause the incredibly small particles to behave differently. Meaning: our choices change outcomes.

But if we take it one step further, order starts to emerge at a much unfathomably smaller scale.

The Planck scale

Nobel prize winning physicist Gerard’t Hooft believes that despite the unpredictability of quantum particles, the entire existence follows strict rules.

On the Planck scale (the bottom layer of existence), the universe movements are binary, where one frame only interacts with the adjoining frame.

On our level of perceived reality, we can’t see, or comprehend the extremely fast calculations, and the minute scale that’s trillions upon trillions of times tinier than the width of an atom.

What appears random or chaotic may be encoded into the most fundamental level of existence. This leaves little room for chance and choice. Who knows if we’ll ever be able to test this theory though.

Where free will and choice reside

All events, even quantum events, have a definite starting and ending point. But there is uncertainty as to what happens in between.

One can say quantum physics creates flexibility in the middle, where we might have a chance to control some aspects of our lives—but not on a significant level.

It appears that we have little control over our lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still be willing participants in our own experiences.

Living with fate: If we can’t change what happens to us, how can we live with it?

The most wonderful and dreadful thing about destiny is that we will never know, until the future arrives as the present.

The end points may be fixed, but we don’t know precisely how we’ll reach them. The quality of our life depends on how we deal with this uncertainty. Here are a few thoughts.

The inevitable cannot be avoided

We do make choices every single moment. From the mundane to what appears to be the most life changing decisions, and we feel we have some control. But there are events that we cannot change, or even understand—no matter how hard we try.

Events like serious illness, loss of loved ones, macro economic downturns, financial crises, famine, war, and all the causes that may lead to death or suffering don’t fall under our direct control. We can try and minimize some of the risks, but there are eventualities that will take place.

The sooner we accept this, the better we can cope, and live, with the unknown inevitable.

Even the positive outcomes and achievements that we _think _we’ve earned might’ve been prewritten in our book of destiny.

Accept the things to which fate binds you and love the people with whom fate brings you together, and do so with all your heart. ~Marcus Aurelius

The duality of life: What fate is and isn’t

Life’s events unfold within two contrasting sides, and all of the possible in-betweens.

We, like other aspects of life, are destined to experience some of these contrasts and a shade or more of the in-between.

A deterministic fate might feel depressing or exciting … limiting or liberating—depending on how you look at it.

Here are a few thoughts about how we might view fate.

Fate is:

  • Unknowable: We can’t know, with accuracy, what will happen the next moment, let alone a year, or a lifetime from now.
  • Unpredictable: Events may unfold in ways that defy common sense and all of our statistics and predictions.
  • Moderate and extreme: Fate can be viewed as a friend bestowing upon us good fortune beyond our wildest dreams, or as an enemy handing us the most painful and shocking of experiences. It can also go unnoticed as it mildly guides our day-to-day life.

Fate isn’t:

  • An excuse to give up: No matter what happens, it’s within our control to choose kindness, to do our best, or to do the right thing. Our tiny actions may not matter much from a cosmic perspective, but we will be at peace with our choices.
  • A weapon to use against others: Fate works on its own terms. And maybe, just maybe, other people’s choices that we find reprehensible are governed by a universal fate that we can’t understand. In this case, we can choose compassion instead of harsh judgment and alienation.
  • Understandable or explainable: We may never know why certain things happen and how fate works.

The more we accept that we may not be in control, as much as we’d like, the more we open up to life … and trust.

The dance of surrender

Life calls the tune, we dance. ~ John Galsworthy

There is no point in resisting, arguing with, or trying to change the unchangeable and uncontrollable tune of this life.

The unknown future may as well determine significant portions of our life, even in this moment. However, it doesn’t have to stop us from being who we are—living, breathing, and unique contrasts of creation.

Fate may have the final say. But until destiny shows its hand, we do the best we can, accept the consequences of our choices … and trust what will be.

We don’t know—and maybe we’ll never know—the purpose of this life, or the inner workings of fate.

We might be ruled by our biology and cosmic laws beyond our control. But between beginnings and endings, we do have some wiggle room. And this is where free will resides, and where we can make conscious choices.

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. ~Jawaharlal Nehru