Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ants Marching Toward Their Fate?

We all arrive at destinations in our lives.  Sometimes we feel a clear sense that we have arrived as a result of our prior choices and actions.  Other times it feels like our arrival is the result of chance--or some interplay of choices and chance.

I was watching some ants crawling around a candy jar in our office kitchen this week.  Ants always fascinate me because they have an uncanny ability to show up around food--and they seem to do so by using some mysterious system of patrols, pheromone markings and perhaps...fate.

If I am feeling imaginative, it's not hard to imagine that the ants arrive at the food because it's there--and that their path to finding that food is reverse generated back to some point of origin.  I think of this in terms of some sort of system of temporal milestones connected by a chain of choices and coincidences.  Maybe these milestones are fated and our choices influence them in various directions.  Maybe drastic choices can even eliminate and/or create new milestones.  Now I don't necessarily believe this, but it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to consider it. 

It's undeniable that there are certain points in our lives that seem more significant than others.  Why do we remember certain things and not others?  For instance, when I was in high school our school won a contest sponsored by a radio station.  The rules of the contest were simple:  whichever school sent in the most petitions would win a free concert by a popular rock group.  I have a very vivid memory of one day in science class when the intrepid girl who was organizing our drive to write petitions stopped into our class to rally the kids to write another round of them.  I find it odd that I remember this day in class far more vividly than the subsequent rock concert!  How could that be?  Could it be that that exact moment in the classroom was a powerful and deciding moment in the outcome of that contest?

The passing of Steve jobs has triggered a wave of sadness in many people.  After hearing the news, I watched his commencement speech that he gave at Stanford University.  During this speech he discussed how seemingly trivial actions that he took early in his life turned out to have a significant impact on his later endeavors.  He mentioned that he took a calligraphy class that he assumed that he would never use--but when he was designing the user interface for the Macintosh computer, his knowledge of calligraphy helped him to make the Macintosh the most advanced desktop publishing computer ever made.  He also talked about having faith--even during the most trying of times.  His great trial was being fired from the company that he conceived by someone that he had hired not a year prior.  At that time, he could not forsee where his life would take him, but he persevered, and his later life took many remarkable turns.  He ended up being re-hired by Apple Computer when they acquired another company that he had started after being fired.

Jobs didn't come out and say it--but it sounded like he had some belief in the power of fate.  And as I looked at that ant in the candy jar this week, I wondered whether it was somehow destined to find that candy, or whether it was the beneficiary of random chance.  As a part-time fantasy author, I'm sure tempted to believe the former, even when my rational mind insists that the latter is true.


  1. Ants have a huge responsibility and you'll see it if you watch them closely. They live to work and they also work to live.

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  2. Cool! I guess you would know about ants if you are affiliated with the linked enterprise.

  3. Wow! What was the result of that bite? Super powers?