Monday, December 12, 2011

Hybrid Fates

My friend sent me a piece of science fiction dialog about choosing between possible fates. How, I answered, can a fate be possible when the whole idea of fate is to be unavoidable? The only way I saw it working was if our fate became hybrid. My friend wrote back, please elaborate! This is what I wrote to her:

If you take someone's suggestion, or seriously talk, you are changed, but still in a fairly predictable way: there are clear limits to the kind of person you can have a serious conversation with, and a limit of topics, and also the limit of your own character. In talk, you can be lead to realize you are wrong about something, but you won't immediately be able to change yourself, your habits, in the way your new knowledge suggests.

But if someone you know has thoughts and even a character that can in some way grow into your own character, many of the limits vanish. You might immediately be able to act on new thoughts. And completely new sorts of situations might arise in response to your new "hybrid" character.

The hybridization would have to be well defined, more than a mood communicated.

Philosopher of science Polanyi described his days researching in the years between world wars in Berlin, with Einstein and many other scientists, as working in an atmosphere of shared intuitive influence, where on the basis of intuition there had been a decision made who was worth listening to, and where science itself worked by intuition.

Multiple fate appears to make sense in the logic of conversation. Each statement "decides", out of many possible fates, the next choice of statement by the partner.

But fate isn't multiple, it multiplies. I mean when there is an enlargement of possibility rather than a reduction, when not words or statements but our thoughts affect each other's thoughts, our lives affect each other's lives. All we have to do is tell each other's fortune, as fortune tellers have done for millennia.

A fortune teller has science. She watches responses to her initial, hypothetical remarks, then continuously adapts her next words to those responses, experimenting with different stories. By attending carefully to the client, judging the client's character, a view of the client's life is produced. When accepted by the client a hybrid of both their characters is formed. The fortune teller's character brings a completely new repertoire of habits and responses, to which the world has a habit of responding to in different ways than the client's world did to the client's own habits.

According to Polanyi this is the same as how scientists work together. He observed that scientists didn't teach each other their rules, or the facts of their specialties, rather they influenced each other's intuitions by their own intuitions. They didn't change each other's ideas through dialog, nor through their published research. Instead they each brought out their own particular ways of looking for truth in the world; they watched each other like the fortune teller watches her client; they adapted to and adopted each other's intuitive approaches.

The fortune teller talks to her client about her life, and her intuitive and sympathetic listening and comments change the client's life, making sure the predictions come true: the fortune teller, telling the fortune, makes the fortune, at least in part. In the same way scientists talk to each other about each other's specialties, questioner and questioned hybridizing each other's character and intuition, and making sure that whatever happens in future research it had been allowed to be discovered, even predicted, by the questioning and answering.

This is a factual description of what happens in fortune telling and science. How it happens, through the intermediary of entangled particles, or action at a distance of discreet thoughts or feelings, is unimportant to the story. Characters do meet, whether or not bodies are the intermediaries of the meeting. Science doesn't prove it happens, science is this happening.

Whatever the fortune teller thinks she is doing or the customer thinks she is doing is beside the point, because both are doing something real. Customer and fortune teller form bonds of respect, as scientists do in choosing to listen to each other.

The scientists all live in the same world, their different characters, applied to their different specialities, have something useful to offer each other. If they are doing something right they will have something to bring to the fortune telling table. They try to make sure they listen to those who are doing something right.

Again, to repeat and in sum, as I work my own character and habits into the character and habits of my friend (and others in my own community of notables) reading this:

Here are two different ideas of fate. One idea is the science fiction one, where we have an infinite number of stories possible for us, but somehow our choices keep winnowing them down to what we end up living. The other is opposite: our choices increase, as each brings his own fate in contact with another person's fate. That's really all I wanted to say, using the fortune teller and the philosopher of science's ideas as illustrations.

When your way of seeing the world touches mine, our characters form hybrids, parts of your character are grafted onto mine, and vice versa. Along with our character, our fortune has changed. This doesn't work with stacks of possible fates: even when they are infinite in number we still have no freedom. The problem with the idea of multiple fates is that its alternative futures are based on ideas or words. Dialog between people seems like it should bring new possibilities, predict new worlds and make new worlds. That's impossible. Words can't do it. They picture one world or another, never anything infinite. But the fortune teller and her client, the scientist with scientist colleagues, can tell each other's fortune and in so doing change each other's fortunes, speak correctly about the future they are making together.