Causality

The wheel of fortune

The Wheel of Fortune, from the Hortus Deliciarum
Lady Luck turns the Wheel of Fortune

The meanings we care about first and foremost are good and bad. Not good and evil—not ethics, not yet—but good and bad for us. We want to know how the wheel of fortune will turn. Will particular people, things, and events be blessings—or disasters? Where do goodness and badness come from, and how can we influence them? What do good and bad events imply for other dimensions of meaningness—social relations, our selves, and our purposes?

Eternalism promises answers: certainty about what is good and what is bad, and understanding and control over what produces them. However, “good” and “bad” are not intrinsic qualities.1 Reality is not about us, and doesn’t know or care whether it benefits or harms us. “Good” and “bad” are not merely unpredictable; they are inherently nebulous: mixed, shifting, ambiguous. Thus, broad answers to “will good things or bad things happen?” are impossible.

And so, again, eternalism cannot deliver. Relying on its claims about good and bad is a recipe for disappointment, if not disaster.

The fantasy of control

I want a remote control for my life
Image courtesy Bruno Souza Leão

If only you could get control over your life. If only things went according to plan. If only people did what they’re supposed to.

None of that is going to happen. Reality is often chaotic. Things fall apart, break down, slip away, blow up in your face—metaphorically, or for real.

The physical world, the social world, our selves, and meanings: all are nebulous—intangible, amorphous, non-separable, transient, ambiguous. This makes complete control impossible.

Eternalism denies nebulosity. It hints that you can get control over your life—if you just make it conform to the proper patterns. This fantasy is one of eternalism’s strongest selling points—and most harmful lies.

Pursuing that fantasy has predictable bad results. Attempts to exert partial influence are often sensible and successful; attempts to gain complete control are dopey and disastrous.

Control is a major topic that shows up in many parts of this book. Besides eternalism, it is central for two dimensions of meaning, capability and contingency. It’s also significant in dualism, and plays a major role in confusions about the self, ethics, authority, and sacredness. This page is an introductory overview.

No cosmic plan

Galaxy

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Flow

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There are no ultimate causes, and causation is nebulous, but we naturally observe patterns.

Chaos

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Causality

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Navigation

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