Fate? destiny? Drunken snowplow driver causes death of Total CEO

Following on from my previous post about the season of birth having some effect on temperament, this news item got me to wonder about how much of our lives is – or can be – “fixed” by our genes, our place of birth or our time of birth. How much “free will” and freedom of behaviour and freedom of action do we actually have?

Vnukovo plane crash: Snowplow driver drunk in collision with Total CEO’s aircraft

It was determined in the course of the investigation into the Moscow plane crash that killed the CEO of French oil giant Total that the driver of the snowplow which likely caused the crash was drunk.

“It has been determined that the driver of the snowplow was under the influence of alcohol,” head of Russia’s Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin told the reporters on Tuesday.

Markin added that “there is a possibility that a number of airport staff will be suspended from carrying out their duties pending criminal investigation.”

During the taxiing before take-off, at around 0:10 am Moscow time on Tuesday, the Falcon 50 business jet hit a snow-clearing machine. Although previous reports indicated otherwise, the plane did not leave ground following the collision. The CEO of France’s oil and gas giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, was the only passenger in the jet, while three crew members who were also French citizens perished as well.

Psychologists seem to find that more and more of our behaviour is due to our genes. This seems to be used increasingly often as a mitigating factor – if not as an excuse – in court cases where socially unacceptable behaviour and actions are judged. Our sexual preferences and our positions on the bi-modal gender scale are also increasingly put down to genes rather than upbringing – nature rather than nurture. Intelligence is thought to be at least 50% due to genetic factors. Our adult heights are said to be 80% genetic and 20% due to nurture. Mental and physical abilities and disabilities are increasingly said to be due to our genes. Our moods and our temperaments are said to affected by when we were born.

I have little doubt that – at some macro level – it is our genes that define the envelope of our possible behaviours. It is clearly predetermined by our genes that we cannot – however much we wanted to – behave like a whale or a bird. Our genes constrain us to behave within the narrow envelope of behaviour open to humans. To that extent we are surely “fated” or “destined” to behave within the envelope of possibilities open to us as determined by our individual genetic make-up at birth as humans. Even aspects of nurture can said to be pre-determined. The parents we are born to – pre-determined – in turn determine the education we get, our nutrition and the religions we follow. To that extent our decisions through life which we believe are a consequence of our individual characteristics and who we are and our exercise of our “free will” are already constrained and channeled by parameters fixed at birth.

If two individuals having predetermined behaviour interact, then the envelope of possible results of that interaction are also “fated” or “destined”. It may be an intractable problem with our current state of knowledge to predict the results of such interactions, but that does not mean that the “result” is any less pre-determined. The butterfly problem is also intractable but that does not mean that it may not exist. Extending that thought leads to the conclusion that all the possible results of all our interactions – between humans and with other species and with our surrounding environment – are already largely constrained and predetermined.

I would like to think I have free will and everything is not determined in advance — but it also seems self-evident that everything that happens is caused by what happened immediately before. If not we would have to be able to explain how some event does not have to be dependent upon the preceding events. And that would require that we redefine the nature of time. What comes afterwards cannot escape what came before.

So was the death of Christophe de Margerie a random, unfortunate and “unlucky” accident, or was it fate? A “fate” already determined with his birth and the birth of the drunken snowplow driver?

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