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Que Sera Sera

by on March 9, 2014

Que Sera Sera

by Marco M. Pardi

“You’se gonna’ take a dark trip wit’ a long stranger.”

“Sister Cornelia, if God is all knowing how can we do anything he doesn’t already know we will do? How can we act against his will, and sin?”

Doubting Thomases noted that, as Sister Cornelia, a recent transfer from the parish of Our Lady of Ongoing Agony anticipated Sally Fields by two decades and flew through the air to answer in a distinctly un-Rhadamanthine way, a lesson in causality was taking form. Indeed, the 18 inches of her wooden ruler (with sharp brass straight edge) did not define the limits of her reach. And the predictable outcome was a day amassing penmanship demerits as the various phalanges and metacarpals gathered to decide when it was safe to reappear as a hand. Of course, in the 4th grade the thrill was worth the pain. But by the 6th grade hormonal fluctuations relegated such questions to the abstract.

Still, they remained, if in a more sophisticated, non-theistic form. Older, and with money to spend, people go to “fortune tellers”, or whatever they call themselves, to “see what the future has in store.” At least there is long standing precedent.
Of course, we can only infer. but shamanic practices dating back thousands of years appeared to include scapulamancy, the reading of the cracks in heated scapulas, still practiced by modern Siberian shamans. Egyptians placed great importance on pre-cognitive dreams. But Kurt Seligmann, in his book Magic, Supernaturalism, and Religion, reminds us the Egyptian hierarchy proscribed divination from the common man for fear they would “throw down their tools in despair, or throw down their tools in joy.”

The Etruscans interpreted the flights of birds. Greeks and Romans read the organs, especially the livers of sacrificed animals. The Oracle of Delphi, a woman sitting atop mind altering gasses, was revered as well as other Sibyls of the Mediterranean World. And well into the 20th century one could find people, usually women, sleeping outside village churches in hopes of prophetic and/or incubation dreams.

But as prophets, astrologers, seers, and necromancers had varying degrees of acceptance in that world, the more interesting issue is that, when they were negatively sanctioned, it was more often not because they were wrong but because it was considered improper to venture into the future. The possibility that one could do so was less the issue than whether one should do so.
More fundamental still was the usually unspoken question of Fate versus Free Will. Again, most world myth systems have within them an unalterable clockwork of Fate usually overseen by a demi-god or gods, be it the Fates of the Greeks – the goddesses of destiny known as the three sisters Clothlo “The Spinner”, Lachesis “The Decider”, and Atropos “The Inevitable”, the Norse and Germanic Nornir, or the unnamed but ubiquitous force of the Hebrews, as seen in Ecclesiastes 3 King James Version (KJV) 1. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; and etc.
In an interesting aside, the Lachesis figure, who measures the thread of remaining life and the Atropos figure, who cuts this thread binding a human to life, anticipate the recent discovery of the telomere, mentioned in an earlier blog. As we assault our cells through life the telomeres appended to each end of the
chromatid shorten until gone. We come to “the end of our rope”. Of course, there are those who insist that we can slow the trimming of our telomeres, perhaps through the diet book they are selling. And there are those who, should they organize, could start a new 12 Step Program, beginning with “I came to realize I was powerless over my telomeres.”

So, is it all in the cards, the entrails, the stars, or perhaps the telomeres? In his 1951-53 works, The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov, who had more Ph.D.s than many people have fingers to count them, posed a Galactic Empire for which the present was understood and the future had been plotted through a mathematical process called “psycho-history”. Essentially a forward projection based statistically on all that had preceded, it reminded me of lessons from a friend, Henry Wingate Ph.D., an Applied Mathematician/Science Officer, who patiently explained the mathematics of listening to incomplete human utterances and plotting the statistical probabilities of any next word to come from the person’s mouth. A remarkable intelligence agency tool for salvaging interrupted intercepts and rank ordering likely “paste ins”, it was ill advised in every day use except perhaps for keeping your OCD significant other busy. Still, it deals only with probabilities.

But Asimov repeatedly stated in his Trilogy that while human behavior could be predicted and chart plotted in the aggregate, the individual was an unquantifiable entity. “Freedom” existed at the individual level, but group behavior was amenable to calculation, more easily so as the group enlarged. In a very real way, the same applies to linguistic utterances; the longer they are before interruption the easier to calculate the probabilities of the next word. Of course, this calls the question of whether “freedom” is merely the reflection of current mathematical limits or if there really is such a thing as Free Will.

Before settling for Asimov’s view of the individual we might consider the context in which it was written. Burrhus Frederic Skinner, American psychologist, inventor of the operant conditioning chamber, and in modern eyes an egregious animal abuser, was following the lead of John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov in quickly establishing his school of radical behaviorism. He is still considered as one of the triumvirate of modern Behaviorism, a school many consider to be an over zealous reaction to the amorphous musings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. While the lockstep formula of the Behaviorists’ conditioned response has largely fallen into some disfavor, more recent explorations raise the question of just who is being conditioned.

Also eventually in disfavor was the body of National Character Studies, developed out of the gestalt approach of Anthropologist Ruth Benedict, 1887-1948, “The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers”. Persisting well into the 1950’s, these studies reinforced, if not originated the idea that the culture into which one was born determined the adult personality, down to minute traits. Stereotyping thus seemed to have a scientific basis.

So where do these traits, including the probability of deciding and acting one way versus myriad alternatives come from? In his first publication released to the American market, The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, Tor Norretranders, a breath taking Danish science writer exhaustively and precisely provides us with the neuro-linguistic data clearly showing that appropriate areas of the brain “light up” prior to our conscious intention to generate the act for which they are responsible. Subjects repeatedly identified the exact time at which they formulated the intent to move their finger, only to learn that the finger movement area of the brain had already set the process in motion before they thought of doing so. Repeated experiments since, done in various ways, have universally supported these findings.

Dean Radin’s Entangled Minds and Lynn McTaggart’s The Field exhaustively document studies with human subjects and with quantum mechanics which convincingly throw serious doubt on the long held sanctity of the autonomous human actor. Each of these three researchers, along with many others, throws serious doubt on the valence of culture as a determinative force.

A frequent criticism of divinatory – for the “future” – practices such as Tarot is, “I only wound up doing it because that damned card reader put it in my mind.” Staggeringly simplistic, this concept overlooks basic elements:
1. At Point A Madam Nozall sees Point C as an existing state.
2. The event during which Madam Nozall transmits this information to the sitter is thus Point B.
3. The interim between Point B and Point C is therefore Point C In Development.
4. The fact that Madam Nozall does not recognize or pronounce herself as part of Point C In Development does not negate the historic fact that at Point A she saw Point C.

In short, “The Devil made me do it” does not stand. Nor would “My culture made me do it”. And, a more thorough examination will likely expose the earlier development of Point C long before Point A occurred, including the mechanics of what brought the sitter to Madam Nozall to begin with. Blaming Madam Nozall is equivalent to an overboard white water rafter, who having thrashed several hundred yards downstream, blames someone on the bank for pointing out that he is heading for a rock.

Over the early years of teaching Death & Dying I sometimes asked my students if they would want to know when they are going to die. The answers were scattered, but the question raised concerns. Do my choices in life determine my death, and if so, how?

Recent developments in genetics and other forms of analysis now bring that question more into the realm of possibility, for groups if not the individual. Yet, we are still treated to some questionable “studies”. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this is the growing tendency to replace the stars, the cards, the yarrow stalks, the entrails, the will of some god, etc. with “the genes”. In the same way that Sister Cornelia could not reconcile an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient god with a free will in any given actor, we now find ourselves living in an “Eat well, exercise, and die anyway” world view.

I was going to drive to the mall this afternoon. But, remembering those instances of small planes being forced to land on highways, I think I’ll just go back to bed.

“Lost and alone on some forgotten highway, traveled by many, remembered by few.
Looking for something that I can believe in,
looking for something that I’d like to do with my life.
There’s nothing behind me and nothing that ties me to
something that might have been true yesterday.
Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today, and I don’t know what the future is holding in store,
I don’t know where I’m going, I’m not sure where I’ve been.
There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me,
my life is worth the living, I don’t need to see the end.

Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care,
like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.
Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care,
like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.”
John Denver. Sweet Surrender.

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20 Comments
  1. Pam Wedding permalink

    Beautiful mind, Mystic…beautiful mind.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Dana permalink

    Hmmmm. Would I want to know when I’m going to die? I have thought about this question before, and most of the time I feel that I would. If my death were to be health related, then I might take better care of myself in order to live longer. But then, why I am not doing absolutely everything I can now?

    These are the type of questions I find so very interesting. Thank you for posing them, Marco.

  3. Thank you, Dana. I guess the answer is, sooner or later.

  4. Did we go to the same Catholic school? It only took a couple of knuckle wraps before I stopped trying to write with my left hand, and I didn’t question anything, out loud, ever. As always a very thought provoking article. For the most part, I follow the advice of one of my favorite songs, “Let the mystery be.”
    Thanks and look forward to your next post.

    • Dana permalink

      Mary, I went to Catholic school kindergarten through second grade, but somehow we students escaped the knuckle rapping. However, my teachers weren’t nuns, so perhaps that’s why.

      Shortly after that, I was the “annoying” kid asking too many questions in Baptist Sunday School.

  5. Thanks, Mary. I could never pass up a challenge, even if it meant a Pyrrhic victory. The Brothers of the Holy Cross even engaged us in fist fights.

  6. Dana, Some of the nuns at my schools seemed to be former Auschwitz guards. I seem to recall that you were the terror of some of your GPC classes. The Warrior Spirit never dies.

  7. When i was 21 i was involved in a bad car accident. Was totally run over by a `drunken `car (lol), flown to the other lane, well, i could have been easily dead. but I wasnt.
    At that time i had been studying astrology (more as psychology than foretelling though) for a while and that accident really got me thinking.

    Had somebody a year before this forewarned me of such an accident coming my way, would have i appreciate it ? would i have been happy to know my future? would it have helped me? I really thought a lot about this while i was recovering in bed. The answer was always NO.

    I reckoned that out of fear (`is it today the DAY ?`), I would not have been able to `live fully and normally ` through the waiting-for-the-accident year. On the other hand, when i had had to deal with it in a `real` and unforeseen way, that is when it happened, I had been able to get over with it with some physical pain , yes, but not terror, and actually i was going on with my life in even a better and more conscious way.
    I mean, the ordeal was over before i had realized it was even there !

    And as destiny (:-) i dont believe in destiny !) would have it, it is with the money i got from the Insurance company that later that summer i went to Japan for two months , and met my husband 😉 !!

    You see Marco, how your posts bring out so much of me/us ? cant even think now how i ended up sharing a piece of my life …or why !!! 😉
    So as for Dana`s question, for me, it was a definite No. (and by the way, i went to Catholic school too !)

    • Rose Palmer permalink

      For someone who doesn’t believe in destiny, you’ve certainly given us a perfect example, LOL. Since I know you believe in angels, perhaps it is easier for you to believe it is their gentle hands guiding (or pushing) you in the direction you needed to go. I, too, am pleased that you made it.

      • Rose, first of all thanks for taking the time to comment !! 🙂

        And well, it`s not that i dont believe in destiny, but i kind of see it rather as something we have programmed before we come into this life to help us bring about our `chosen ` lessons ! (yes, i know , sometimes/more often than not 🙂 , they s*ck 😉 )

        So in a way, it was `destiny ` or angels or our Higher Selves …who knows for sure ! 😉 , but certainly our actions and reactions to events in our lives are all part of our game !!! (at least it`s just my humble opinion lol)
        Love to be chatting this way 🙂

  8. Thanks Foal, we’re glad you made it. I’ve also experienced events which seemed horrible at the time, but “set me up” for something better in ways I could not have engineered myself. I think that, when we “see the future” we are simply standing off at a vantage point which lets us see the broader picture. Then we descend back into the picture and inch our way along to something we “remember”.

  9. Rose Palmer permalink

    Okay, my turn I guess. This is not a new conversation for me, and certainly not a new train of thought, so I’ve enjoyed sitting back for once and just “listening” to the thoughts of others. To me, destiny, free will, and even circumstance are not mutually exclusive entities, but work together to make life what it is. Not everything happens for a reason, but those things that do are what make up destiny. Foal’s last comment echoes a way of thought I read many decades ago in what I think may have been “The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge”; an interesting tome, if sometimes difficult to fathom. It seems as likely an explanation as any for some of the more unlikely things which happen to us.

    It is those things which fall into the realm of destiny; the things, both large and small, which come about to change our lives. These things happen without planning or choice, and once set in motion become pivotal points in our life’s story. How we respond to these moments is where free will comes into play.

    Most of what happens to us, the day in and day out of it, are under our control, and yet free will is not absolute. Every choice that we make is made available by the choices we have already made, and limits every choice which will be available for us to make later. Each action taken leaves a set of actions-not-taken behind, and determines which set of actions we may choose from next.

    Circumstance is when two lives touch in the same time/space with a point of interest or similarity in common, which may add to our lives, but does not change it in any significant way. Some do not believe in circumstance at all, but I tend to believe it comes about as a result of our choices, and makes up most of what happens in our lives; randomness and chaos abound!

    The question at hand is whether we would like to know our future, especially as it pertains to our time and cause of death. My answer to the last part of that is no; I will die how and when I am meant to die, and that is the end of it as far as I’m concerned. I will live as well as I can for as long as I am meant to live.
    That being said, many years ago I had the opportunity to get a psychic reading (at a comic convention, no less) by a couple selling crystals to the new age crowd. I’d always thought it would be fun, and so it was. She told me of my past, and of the future she saw for me. The thing about the future is, it’s not cut in stone. It’s only possible to say “this will happen if that doesn’t”.

    I’ll never really know whether it was fate or free will which caused me to search out Marco (along with a short list of others) on the ‘net that day, much less the sending of that first message, but it was one of the best actions taken of my life; it has lead me to all of you.

    • That was so BRILLIANT !!! from a brilliant mind !
      And Rose, I am glad too that you sent that first message, and see what a domino avalanche of relationships it brought forth !!
      And talking of how we met Marco, in my case it was Jamie Butler!! Talk of psychics !! lol !

      I was having a reading with her and all of a sudden she came up with this story that she had an Italian friend and would like to introduce us ! 🙂
      So it`s a small world indeed, but thanks to that one insight, my world became much larger !

      I am also very grateful I have met all of you !

      • Rose Palmer permalink

        Marco, along with his “mad professor” act visited my art history class to teach us about the Etruscans; I was captivated, and had to know more of what this man had to teach me. That was more than three decades ago, and I am still learning from him, and from those he has caused to enter my life.

      • Dana permalink

        Rose, you’ve been writing here quite a bit, and I’m thoroughly enjoying your insight. If you don’t start a blog, at least continue to contribute here as you have been.

        Foal, your spirit brings joy into my life. I’ll bet your smile lights up a room, and you certainly bring one to my face.

        I was in need of finding a community of like-minded individuals. Whatever the patterns or force that brought me here, I’m grateful to have been led in this direction.

  10. This interaction is marvelous, and all I could have hoped for. Well, I could hope to host everyone for a couple of weeks at my mountain chateau. Hope. What an interesting concept.

    • Rose Palmer permalink

      …and here I thought you had left the conversation. Your words paraphrase my thoughts so well; how lovely it would be if we could all share time/space some day. If you hear echoes of long ago conversations in my comments, it’s only right and fair, as so many of my thoughts have their roots planted firmly planted in our past time together. I hear echoes of those conversations in your blogs, and it makes me smile.

  11. Rose, wow ! 30 years ! I kind of envy that LOL !

    Dana ! all so reciprocated !! and thanks !

    Marco, you are the creator of this !! 🙂

    • Rose Palmer permalink

      More than thirty years went by between knowing Marco then and knowing him now; that this renewed acquaintance brings with it such new and interesting people makes it all the better.

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