I'm sitting in the DRAGON counting room at TRIUMF, my eyes drooping from the jetlag which tries, somewhat successfully, to convince me that it is 5:30 in the morning. Travelling west is always easier than travelling east - for me, anyway - but an 8 hour time difference is enough to smite the best of us. My British colleagues were actively impressed that I slept until nearly 6am Vancouver time the first morning. Add to the changing time zones the unfortunate fact of my cold, which has moved from sinuses to chest in an effort to render me useless, and you're left with one red-eyed, coughing, irritated individual.
In spite of all this, I feel at home being back in the lab, haphazardly stringing lemo cables across the experimental hall, babysitting the data acquisition, spending countless hours wasting time on shift trying to locate people I know on personals websites. There is a certain atmosphere to an experiment that isn't present when I'm working on my own in a lab on campus, and I've missed it.
A few days ago, as I approached the black mental abyss of getting through a 9-hour transatlantic flight (direct from Heathrow to Vancouver), I began to struggle actively with my phobia, which inevitably leads to questions as to the nature (and existence) of fate. I am told by others that the universe, or God, could never be so cruel as to allow you the full knowledge of your own fate; that, if anything, my fear of dying in a plane crash means precisely that I won't. But I cannot believe that fate works only in our favor - I reply that what we must be left with is no fate, just the infinite possibilities of any outcome. That there cannot truly be such a thing as fate, but only coincidence and chance and randomness onto which we project (either forward or backward) our own hopes, fears, dreams and fables. We make our own fate, in that sense, not because we control the outcomes, but because we control the way we view those outcomes.
Because my phobia convinces me that I will not survive my flight, I feel fated to die in a plane crash, but since the logical portion of my brain can't accept such a viewpoint, it instead fights to convince me that all is random and there is no fate whatsoever. But it is fate that we met, he says. That you first came to Oak Ridge when you did. Is this fate, though, or merely wishful thinking? Are we writing our own fairytales after the fact, seeing the path the story took once we've walked it? In truth, I see nothing harmful in that sort of thing - it gives our lives a fuller, richer hue. But it can sometimes seem like willful ignorance. We can live as though we are lucky, but we mustn't believe in luck.
In the end, as always (so far, anyway), I get on the plane, I freak out a little bit and watch the wings flex and the ground pass by silently below, and when we land I feel sheepish for having believed the voice in my head. But was it fate that I survived? If I was so convinced that it was my fate to die, then I cannot turn around and say just as glibly that it was my fate to live instead. But such is the nature of fate - we cannot say what it is until it has passed, and yet, in that context alone, it is worthless. To know our fate beforehand is torture, to know it after the fact is mere selective history. And so the answer seems as though it must be no; fate is not real, it does not truly exist except within our minds. But when my next flight rolls around (this Thursday, in fact), I will revert to the superstitious phobe, hoping I have not tempted fate by saying such things about it.
3 days ago