I watched the director’s cut of “The Butterfly Effect” on DVD last night. You ever watch a movie where it makes you feel enough negative emotions where you felt like you got sucker punched in the stomach? This was one of those. The movie was pretty dark and morbid, I had to turn my speakers down a little because some scenes a bit chilling to take. Not that it was a bad thing, if anything, it goes to show that the movie is engaging enough to be nerve wrecking. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you are looking to relax with this movie. I am not quite sure why the critics gave it bad reviews, I thought it was nicely done for what it set out to do.
Butterfly effect, for those of you who are not familiar with the concept, the idea was that if a butterfly chances to flap its wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different. Might sound ridiculous at first, but is it so hard to imagine that a tiny snowball on the top of the mountain would end up causing an avalanche as it roll down the hill? Very crucial initial condition changes often result in big differences.
The idea behind this movie is suppose you have a way to change the initial conditions of your past, how different life and everything surrounding us would unfold. We all have moments when we wish we could change something. Right a wrong. Gain love. Avoid heartaches. How different your life would be if you only made a slightly different choice in your life. Like the movie “Sliding Doors” (a great movie and a very cheerful and non-depressing way of illustrating this idea), through a random twitch of a wheel spin that we have absolutely no control of, life takes a new course.
Often times, this had me wondering if there really is such a thing as free will. Our characters, our actions, our everything is shaped so much by our experiences in life, and our experiences largely relate to our genetic makeup plus what kind of environment and family that we grew up in. None of which we have any control over. It’s both liberating and disturbing to realize that freedom doesn’t require any free will. Maybe we have the notion of freedom only because we cannot predict or compute the outcome of something as complex as life and our brains. But just because we can’t see through all the factors and initial conditions, doesn’t mean it’s not all predetermined by a set of initial conditions. If you think about it, everything is just cause and effect, it is with nature why should people or your brain be any different?
This brings me to another story. One of my friends and I used to argue a lot about this, she believes that nature is a lot bigger shaping force than nurture in people, but me on the other hand would always like to point out that the prodigies of our generations usually pop-up from middle of nowhere and not some rich, smart, and well to do family.
There’s actually a very emotional reason why I like pointing out the exceptional cases. Logically speaking, I do not believe that there’s such a thing as soul, and since our brains are made of physical matter of this world, they have very defined reactions to certain actions. Even phenomena as dumb and soul-less as wind and lightning have unpredictable patterns. Maybe people are predictable, but it’s just way too hard to predict. And if everything was mere causes and effects, then everything happened as it should. It’s fate and destiny in every single sense of the word.
Our lives are like a giant TV shows, you don’t know what’s coming up next, but as far as the TV producers and the actors are concerned, the outcome is fixed. To you the observer, it might seem like the possibilities are endless, that Rachel could pick either Joey or Ross, but then it’s an illusion, the outcome was fixed and predetermined during the production.
But as a person with flesh and blood, that conclusion is disturbing. The concept that everything I do is simply an act of nature unfolding a series of events disturbs me. There might not be a meaning in life, but life certainly needs meaning to survive. I believe emotionally that life has meaning. The fabric of my existence refuse to accept the possibility that free will might be an illusion.
No, I am not stupid when I argued against my friend that people can fight against the odds. I know logically, nobody fights odds, everything happen for a reason. Prodigies are the way they are because certain initial conditions that shaped them, not because of some miraculous victory of the human spirit.
But, here is the big “but”, what’s the point of living an existence, living from day-to-day knowing that you are following the track that you were meant to follow? Life needs self-determination, moral responsibility, and free will. We all need to believe that we shape our own destiny and that we are not pawns moving on a chessboard. I believe in miracles and that people can change for the better, it makes me feel alive. I love hearing stories about how people fight the odds and win, it reaffirms my emotional need that life has meaning.