Amor fati


"My formula for greatness in a man is amor fati: that one wants nothing else, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bearing what is necessary, still less hiding it - all idealism is meekness in the face of what is necessary - but loving it." Friedrich Nietzsche

We all think that we could have done things differently than we did and also that we have a choice about what happens to us in the future. But is that really the case?

The belief in a powerful self is particularly manifested in the idea that by wanting something very badly you can force the universe to give you what you want as well. Think of phenomena like The Secret (supposedly working through 'the law of attraction') and the Natale Institute's Results Course.

We believe this to be true because we think we have a certain understanding of time and causality. We also think that there is a central, fixed person within us (the person we think we are) who makes choices and thus influences the course of events. But again, is that right?

Brain Activity Before Voluntary Action Suppose I decide to take a sip of my coffee. What exactly happened then? And could I not have done it as well? Let's see what science, especially neuroscience, has to say about this. See, for example, the comprehensive article 'Neuroscience of free will' in Wikipedia.

In the article you can read that nowadays it is possible to use fMRI to see what happens in the living brain before, during and after a certain action of a test subject, such as making a fist or taking a sip of coffee. It then turns out that up to 7 seconds (!) before the action is actually performed, there is already unconscious activity in the brain, while the thought or feeling of wanting and doing the action does not arise until later, sometimes even after the action.

In other words, completely unconscious processes have already determined that I am going to take a sip of my coffee, even before I consciously make the decision to drink. So the actual 'decision' comes after the fact and is nothing more than a kind of (unnecessary) 'comment'. This also means that once the action has taken place, there is no question that it could not have happened.

I also find that I have absolutely no idea in advance what I will think or do in a minute or so. Thoughts and actions just happen. The letters appear on the screen. I "hear" the words I want to type in my head. I don't know how they got there. I didn't 'decide' it. And even if I did, who or what decided that a decision should/will be made? That so-called decision also just appears.

And if you think about it, it's also clear that every event depends on and is caused by a practically infinite number of factors (including genetics, upbringing, culture, the actions of others, the weather, natural forces, ad infinitum), which are at play here and now, but which have a history that goes back to the 'Big Bang' and perhaps even further into the past.

My sip of coffee, now, is inextricably and causally linked to everything that is going on in the entire universe at this moment. In fact, no one is personally responsible for their behavior. Not me, not you, not anyone. We cannot, at any moment, be anything other than who we are.

But at the same time, remember that 'understanding something' is also something that happens and therefore affects everything, including our own behavior.

"When understanding changes, behavior changes, without anyone 'doing' anything."

says Robert Saltzman.

So it could be that when you understand that everything happens when it happens, and that nothing else could have happened - a relaxation occurs, that allows you to embrace whatever happens, also known as your 'fate' or your 'life': amor fati.