“Suppose there was a book of your life. In the library of all possible books, there is a book which tells the truest tale it could be told of your life from the moment of your birth to the moment of your death. But there are also uncountably many books in that library of all the books which tell perfectly true story of your life upto this moment and then diverge in billions and billions of ways for each future. One of those books is the book of your life. Which one? Who knows? Impossible to tell until afterwards which one tells the truest story of your life.”
Daniel Dennett talks about Determinism in one of his interviews where he says the above lines. Determinism is the philosophical theory that for every event, including every human action, there exists a cause which cannot cause anything else but that effect. This theory is the central idea of Paulo Coelho’s celebrated book, ‘The Alchemist’. The book revolves around Santiago, a young boy who is on a quest to meet this alchemist who knows the secret of the sorcerer’s stone. On his journey through the desert and many cities he comes across many people and omens who tell him only one thing, maqbool, which means, it’s written. The book encapsulates the theory of determinism in this one beautiful word. The book is one of the best fiction reads about the theory of determinism and explains it on a spiritual tangent when Paulo Coelho writes that the entire universe conspires to make you achieve that which is written as yours. Maqbool, essentially defines the story.
I had read The Alchemist years ago, but I picked it up again after reading about the theory of causation in Indian philosophy, because I was surprised by it’s uncanny symmetry with the theory of determinism. The theory of causation says that every effect has in roots a cause. Now the effect can either be an entirely new entity, or it can be preconceived in the cause. This similarity between these two different schools of philosophy is striking. While determinism emphasizes upon a specific cause determining a particular action, Indian philosophy theorizes causation with the essential precedence of a cause before the effect.
For Dennett, human beings are biological devices that respond to the environment with rational, desirable courses of action. He believes that even if our brains are causally determined, it does not follow that we are not morally responsible for our behavior. Dennett argues that we base our decisions on context, gradually limiting our options as the situation becomes more specific.. If this is the case, then we have a huge question to solve. Human beings are considered to be rational agents who act out of their own free will. And Dennett says that our brains are causally determined. So do we really have a free will? If all our actions are determined, then how can we say that we did something out of free will? And if we do not act out of our free will, then how can we be held morally responsible for those actions?
The very nature of life on the planet is deterministic. From the process of breathing to natural phenomena like rain pouring down from the sky to the sprouts rising from the ground, everything is determined, everything has a cause. But what if the cause of an effect is in itself an effect of some other cause? And that cause the effect of some other cause? It is inevitable to then fall into an unending series of infinite regress till we reach the ultimate cause, if there is any. How do we know which is the ultimate cause? Is there an ultimate cause? If so then what is its nature? The questions never end, and we find ourselves on a seemingly unending quest to find the answers we find the answers. The theory of determinism is one of the most fascinating philosophical theories, because of its exactness and accuracy and the mystery associated to the cycle of causation. It is indeed a mystery which is accurate, because who knows, I might be writing this article as a result of some specific cause, which might be the result of some other cause and so on, let’s leave it here, or we would fall into an infinite regress again.