In Sophocles’ famous ancient Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King, Oedipus is a man who receives a warning from an oracle that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. In trying to escape his fate, he unknowingly fulfills the prophecy and suffers terribly for it. He gouges out his own eyes and his mother, irreversibly traumatized by the fact that she has not only slept with her own son but has also borne his children, commits suicide by hanging herself. Oedipus the King is told in many different versions, but its underlying question remains the same: can we truly escape our fate? If we can’t, then it doesn’t matter what we do. Free will is irrelevant. We are who we are always meant to be. We have no control.
To that I say: bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT!
The only thing we have no real control over are the choices available to us. Why? Because we’re mortal, fallible and limited, and we live in a limited world. But there is always a choice. Oedipus heard the prophecy and he chose to run away from home, he chose to kill that drunk, raving lunatic who was really his father, he chose to marry a woman old enough to be his mother. No one controlled him. He chose it.
Now I know what you’re thinking. But the oracle knew his fate and Oedipus fulfilled the prophecy of his own doom! The oracle knew the future and there was no escape for Oedipus! Correction, the oracle knew a potential future, not the only future. In fact, his wording was “do not go back home. If you do, you will kill your father and marry your mother.” He never said “you will kill your father and marry your mother no matter what.”
So if someone knows a potential future, that automatically erases our free will? Well, I’m someone, and if I warn myself “do not jump off that thousand-foot-high cliff with nothing and no one to break your fall. You will die,” does that mean I have to start whining about how my destiny is set in stone and I will jump off that cliff no matter how I try to defy my fate?
Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?
But in a way, destiny is set in stone. There are so many choices available to us, and we are destined to make some of those choices. I can choose to make something of my life or sit on my ass in front of the TV all day. I can choose to eat a salad or a chicken sandwich for dinner. It comes down to the same thing. The only thing we are destined to do is make choices. The kind of choices (and by that I mean the choices available to us) are entirely up to us.
“The future is not determined by a throw of the dice. It is determined by the conscious decisions of you and me.”