University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jim Garrett
Too Late To Control Fate
Too Late To Control Fate
Fate is decided and predetermined. Characters may try to avoid or change their fate, but no matter what, the end destination is inevitable. Certain changes in a character's life (realization of the past, living in the present, or knowledge of the future) may help speed up or delay fate. Whether a character's fate is good or bad, it is inevitable and will eventually happen, no matter what a character may do to speed it up or slow it down. "Who can control his fate?" as Shakespeare writes in Othello. This is the essential question we must ask ourselves when discovering if fate is character, or if character is fate. In my own life, I believe that everything happens for a reason. Those reasons are what leads up to what fate has for me. Fate is like a drive home. It doesn't matter which route you take or how many stop signs and stop lights there are. There could even be a closed road with a detour. It doesn't matter because you will reach the same end destination. Those factors may speed up or slow down your drive, but you are still getting to your destination the same way. Some may argue that the choices characters make decide their fate. Do they? Is fate character, or is character fate? Well, fate is assigned at birth. Nobody can affect it enough to change the end result that it brings.
Hamlet's fate was assigned at birth, and the main task of that fate is to avenge his father's death. He finds this out after talking with King Hamlet's ghost, "O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right!" (Hamlet 1.5.210-211). Hamlet is confused after hearing this news because everything is happening so fast. When he remembers that his mother marries Claudius not too long after King Hamlet's death, he realizes that something is up. Talking to the ghost is a reassuring factor that leads him on his journey to fulfil his fate. As Hamlet mourns his father's death throughout the play, he begins to call into question what the purpose of life is in a soliloquy, "To be or not to be—that is the question" (Hamlet 3.1.64). He contemplates ending his life, which would defy what fate has for him. He has trouble accepting his fate and questions it a lot. He shows hesitancy a lot during the play. One particular moment is when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius while praying, "Now I might do it <pat,> now he is a-praying, and now I'll do't" (Hamlet 3.3.77-78). He doesn't do it though because he wants to ensure Claudius goes to hell and not heaven. It isn't until Hamlet finds out Ophelia dies when he completely and instantly switches and decides he must follow through with his fate and put an end to Claudius. In that scene he blatantly speaks of his vengeful thoughts, "Yet have I in me something dangerous, which let thy wisdom fear. Hold off thy hand" (Hamlet 5.1.276-277). This is a wakeup call to Hamlet that he must follow through. Hamlet ultimately reaches his fate and ends Claudius's life. After all the attempts to dodge his fate, the inevitability prospers, and his fate is reached.
Oedipus's fate crept up on him because he kept doubting and denying it. His blindness caused him to be oblivious to the truth, "And so, for all these years I have kept clear of Corinth, and no harm has come" (Sophocles 52). Oedipus doesn't yet know the real story of his childhood. His fate has already happened a long time ago, but he keeps denying it. He has no clue! It's not until Tiresias, the blind prophet, and the messenger relay the truth of his childhood that he emotionally connects with his past, "How strange a shadowy memory crossed my mind, just now while you were speaking; it chilled my heart" (Sophocles 39). This tells us that Oedipus senses that there may be a possibility his fate did happen already. When he goes on his journey to find out more about his childhood, he comes to find out that the prophecy about his life is true. Oedipus's fate was predetermined and already happened. There was no way of changing it. Nothing Oedipus did can alter it. This exemplifies the inevitability of fate and shows that it is determined at birth.
In both plays, the protagonists' fates are given to them at birth. Hamlet tries to avoid his fate in many ways. He first questions it, which causes him to question his own purpose in life. He nearly kills himself. He then becomes hesitant to kill Claudius and needs a wake-up call. Eventually, he gets his wake-up call when Ophelia dies, and he does kill Claudius and fulfills his fate. Oedipus has already fulfilled his fate during his childhood. He too questions and denies his fate. By doing so, he blinds himself throughout the play. He won't accept his fate and refuses to believe it already has been fulfilled. At the end of the play, he blinds himself and sees everything he has been oblivious to. From these two plays we can conclude that character is fate. The characters are drawn to fulfil that fate has in store for them. Whatever they may do to affect their fate simply isn't enough to change it. Their fate is decided from birth to death and cannot be escaped.
When dealing with the idea that character is fate, we must know why. It is because fate is predetermined, un-changeable, and inevitable. Characters' actions and decisions are not impactful enough to change their fate. Whatever they may try to do to speed up or stop their fate, it will come. This is one of the great themes in many tragedies. Characters try as hard as they can to avoid their fate, just for their actions to catch back up to them when fate hits. Fate comes whether characters know what it holds for them or not. Characters have control over their own lives and may do what they choose to. But everything they do leads them to their fate one way or another. Because of this, character is fate. It is a necessary inevitability required in all tragedies.
How Can Human Cognition Improve?
How Can Human Cognition Improve?
Human Cognition can improve on the aspects of speed and the reflection of past events (how the brain perceives things). The cutoff for improvement lies at the ability to return to reality rather than seeing the world through cognitive biases and Illusions. Some people comprehend things faster than others. Some people are able to view past experiences and learn from them. It may take others longer, or they may not have the ability to do so yet. When the brain perceives something, there are often biases attached. Some people are able to break the illusions and see reality for what it is. Others can't do that. Regardless of whether one can or can't do these three things, they can all be improved upon.
Speed of comprehension may not be that valuable, but the speed of thinking, perceiving, and understanding can improve. In chapter 1 of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, we are introduced to system 1 and system 2 also known as fast thinking and slow fragment thinking. "System 1 operatesInvoluntarily and quickly with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control" (Kahneman, 2013: 20). System 1's speed is already up there, but how can we improve our slow thinking? (By turning things that our fragment normally takes on into something for our system 1 to take on). The more we familiarize ourselves with something, the less we'll have to think about it. Take the multiplication table for example. At first, one can't do most of it in their head. But as one practices, it becomes easier. After constantly using it in math class, it becomes second nature after a few years. What's 5x5? 25! Why? Because we are adding up 5 sets of 5. When I just asked why, it triggered our system 2 again, even though we already knew what 5x5 was. The reason the brain doesn't think of all that that when it solves 5x5 (and it simply remembers that it's 25) is because it already went through solving it before, when the multiplication table was first learned. The brain doesn't want to undergo cognitive strain to constantly keep thinking "5x5 is 25 because of 5+5+5+5+5." It is at cognitive ease when system 1 can simply say "5x5 is 25." The brain knew the answer before and it hasn't changed. Therefore, it knows the answer is the same now as it was before. System 1 cannot speed up because it is an involuntary thought process. But since it is quicker than system 2, in order to speed up the brain's thinking and comprehension process, we have to move things from system 2 to system 1. This transfer of knowledge is a process that takes time, and requires attention and practice.
Learning from past experiences is very valuable due to the fact that it changes how the brain perceives things and makes one a better person. The speed at which one does so can really help out as well. It is very beneficial to be able to realize that a mistake was made and learn from it as soon as possible. If someone were to call another person a nickname that they didn't like, (and the recipient told them that they didn't like the nickname) they wouldn't call them that same nickname the next time they saw them. Another example is the saying "Never judge a book by it's cover." Say someone were to glance at someone else for the first time ever. Their hair is well put together and they're wearing nice clothes without a crease, plus a nice necklace with a bright smile to top it off. They might think, "Oh hey, that looks like a really nice and friendly person." Then they approach the other person and attempt to socialize, but the other person is clearly uninterested in conversation. In this situation, the person who attempted to socialize experienced what is called the halo effect. It is "a common bias that plays a role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that system 1 generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing" (Kahneman, 2013: 82). That person would probably be confused as to why the other person didn't want to socialize. Because of this experience they would remember it the next time the halo effect creeped up on them, and they probably wouldn't try to engage in conversation. Realizing things like this are important. Let's say it was something bigger, like a serial killer putting on a front. Since the halo effect wouldn't affect them next time, they wouldn't engage in conversation with the serial killer - which would save them from harm. One's past can influence one's future. It's important that we realize situations from the past and shape our future differently (by learning from experiences and adjusting according to what happened before). This is extremely difficult, however. Our beliefs are set in, and it is very hard to change them unless we learn by experience multiple times.
Being able to look through reality rather than looking through biases and illusions is extremely important due to the fact that it can help avoid harming others, and one can avoid any self-ignorance they may or may not know that they have. Someone being able to see reality quickly and realize that they are looking through a cognitive bias or an illusion is a valuable skill to have. It can come over time with past experiences as well. Most of the information we get is targeted and advertised specifically to us depending on our age, gender, race, where we live etc. This happens the most on social media. When first presented with information, our brain has biases and judgements attached." If someone has recently seen or heard the word EAT, they are temporarily more more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP Than as SOAP. The opposite would happen, of course, if they had just seen WASH. This is called a priming effect. The idea of EAT primes the idea of SOUP, and WASH primes the idea of SOAP" (Kahneman, 2013: 52). When being primed, all the information one has is biased because it comes from the same topic. "What You See Is All There Is" or WYSIATI is the concept from Kahneman that people are blinded by what they see and can't see around it. If someone is primed to see something one way, that's all it is to them. In reality, there are other sides to where information comes from, but they can only see what they have been primed to see. This is a bad habit for us, so the more we can un-blind ourselves, the better. It will help us see the world differently, and it will help us relate to and get along with others better. Unfortunately, cognitive biases and illusions are an automatic brain function, and we can't override our automatic functions. Our brains tend to try and make everything as simple as possible. The principle of Occam's Razor states that "Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones" (GMM, 158). When posed with information, situations, or problems, our brains want to do the least work possible to come up with a conclusion. For example, let's say that someone is driving in one lane while another driver is in the other lane. The other driver quickly cuts off the first person by switching lanes right before a stop sign. The first person is probably furious and has reason to believe that the other person is a horrible driver. But maybe there was glass in the other lane and the driver had to make a quick decision. The first person may assume that the other driver is out to get them. This is not the case. The first driver didn't know that there was glass in the other lane. Because of this, their brain came up with a simple explanation: the other person is a horrible driver and cut them off on purpose. This is where Hanlon's Razor comes in. The principle that says, "We should not attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity" (GMM 172). In this instance, the two razor principles combine to describe the brain's automatic functions in this situation. It is extremely difficult to override that automatic assumption. Unless this happened to the driver often, they wouldn't be able to understand the other driver's motive for quickly switching lanes. Automatic functions of the brain mark the ending of improving human cognition. It is almost impossible to override automatic brain functions.
So, at the end of the day, why would anyone want to improve their cognition? Who even cares what cognition is? Well, its not just important for psychologists. It's important for everyone because it helps us communicate with each other in a better way. Verbally, mentally, and physically. It helps us relate to each other, argue against one another and more. Improving cognition can help us see the world from other perspectives and differently overall. This matters because nobody is the same. It is so much better if we can understand multiple viewpoints of something rather than being one-sided. It can help to partially eliminate judgements, assumptions, stereotypes, racism, discrimination, bullying, and more. It can help change the negative aspects of life into positives.