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Theory of Contingency, Briefly Stated

The notion of accident, like many prevailing notions among mankind, is generally misguided, if not altogether misconceived. When the word accident is used one assumes that something which was not likely to happen, or not expected to happen, happened. Now, it can be proved that what has been expected to happen also, in reality, need not have happened. It would then follow that absence of an accident is also an accident.

Since the idea of accident derives from the fact that something unexpected occurred, and if it can be proved that the accident was clearly potential, possible, impending, then the accident's not taking place could take over the original definition of accident, of something unexpected. Therefore, an accident not taking place can also be called accidental.

In earlier days when I talked about my theories, one of the first things I would do to the so-called quester after truth or understanding would be to talk about this notion of accident, essentially to acquaint that person with the kind of language, the kind of notions and calisthenics that would confront him or her as I spoke on my theories. If a person got confused or lost in my introduction on the word accident, I would generally discourage him from going ahead until he could figure out what I meant. At first I resisted giving a name to my theory, because I felt that it was absolute, final, and all-encompassing. Giving it a name would limit it, as if it were merely one theory among many. When I did name it I called it my theory of contingency, because in simplest terms one can say that all things are contingent on other things. Each event is contingent on some previous event, which in turn is contingent on a previous event, in a progression going back forever. Everything is chancy, there is no design, and this very chanciness is inevitable. Even the very inevitability of chanciness is itself inevitable. So the expanded name of my theory is the "theory of contingency and inevitability of inevitability."

Many of the people who listened to my theory of contingency followed a particular pattern. That pattern would be an initial attitude of rejection, then gradual belief, and finally, total acceptance. But some of those who heard me would advance a single argument. Although their understanding would have been changed by me, they still might advance this argument because of their conditioning. Even though they could not prove me wrong they still had to find, for their own satisfaction, something wrong with my arguments, my hypotheses, my ideas. So some of them, eventually, came up with a very feeble argument, and would come back to me after two years, or three years, and say, "We accept everything that you say. There is just one thing that we can propose, or add. That is, although the theory of contingency is inviolable, nothing comes from nothing. So, granting and accepting that the theory of contingency is the ultimate basis of understanding the universe, we must not doubt that it came from something. And that something is God.

This was their strongest argument, after hearing which they expected that I would become speechless. As it happened, while I was developing my theory I myself had asked this question, and therefore I had a method of dealing with it. I would make them write down on a paper the basic tenet, which they accepted: that all things must come from something. then I would say that, okay, your point is that contingency itself is a product of God, what you would like to call God: not something to be worshipped in the conventional sense, because the theory of contingency has changed your views, but God nevertheless. That God produced it and then vanished into thin air, or whatever. They would agree, and I would ask them to read carefully what they had written. Everything, but everything, must come from something. So then even God came from something. And that something came from something else, and so on.

These people, even in their total agreement and surrender, because of conditioning and for their consolation, would say things like, "Okay, all right, you call it theory of contingency, we call this mass that you call the theory of contingency and inevitability of inevitability, God. How about that? Would you have any objection?" I would say, "Yes. Because the moment the idea of God was accepted in the conventional sense, it implied both volition and creation. An ant creates another ant, but by doing this it does not become worthy of worship. It does not become God. In the same sense, the idea of God conventionally would imply that there was a design, or that there continues to be a design, that somebody is watching over all this, influencing it, controlling, damaging, or doing something beneficial. Whereas the theory of contingency implies no credit, no discredit, nobody in charge, nobody in control. Even contingency itself is not in control, since each contingency is a product of billions of contingencies, interacting, opposing, conflicting, merging, which contingencies would again be contingent on other billions of contingencies interacting, fusing, reacting, repelling, and therefore conclusively unpredictable, undesignable, unplannable.

This conclusively and forever proves the absence of pre-destiny. Because even a moment cannot be planned in the truest sense. For example, if I said that I'll go and drink a glass of water in a minute, I'm making only a hypothetical statement. I can be prevented by a telephone call, a heart seizure, forgetfulness, a commotion outside my gate which demands my attention, the refrigerator giving me an electric shock when I try to open the door to remove the bottle and my being sent to the hospital. Now, one can say that these are remote possibilities. But I can reply that as long as there are possibilities, it is not very important whether they are remote or less remote. Because even the least remote possibilities, when they do take place, assume the importance of total possibilities.

For example, if the likelihood of something happening is theoretically only one percent, and if such a thing does happen, one cannot say that it has happened only one percent. It happened one hundred percent. If the chance of my dying in an airplane crash is only one in three million, when I do die in a crash no one is going to say that I am only one in three millionths dead. The potential of that one in three million, if it takes place, is total.

So the most significant contribution of this theory is the understanding of total inconsequentiality of everything in the universe, including the universe itself. Even the universe has no volition. This theory is not a war against theism, against belief, against hope, or against the institutions that man, in his misguided way, has created. The main issue it deals with is that nothing in this universe, including the universe itself, is in real terms consequential. That being the case, unfortunately, even this knowledge cannot be of consequence.

One problem even beyond the fallacy of God coming from nothing, as compared to contingency coming from contingency ad infinitum did at least among some people lead to a very important question. That was of abstraction, and human comprehension was just not adequate. "Ad infinitum" became an abstraction, just as "infinity" became an abstraction. Yes, people would say, we understand, you are saying that one contingency came from another one, which came from another one, but how long can the chain go on? It became difficult to comprehend. So I would use the example of Newton's law that anything which is in motion will remain perpetually in motion; anything which is stationary will remain perpetually stationary, except when either of them is disturbed from its state by external forces. Suppose that Newton was called upon to prove this, in the presence of scientists and skeptics. He took a ball, and said "This ball will now perpetually remain in motion." He threw it down so that it rolled on the floor, but after some distance it came to a halt. The observers snickered, but Newton said "Wait a minute, my law stipulated that an object will remain in motion unless halted by external forces. In the case of this ball the external force was the friction of the floor. So watch me now." He polished the floor, and threw the ball again, and it rolled twice as far as it had before, and stopped. Again the observers laughed, but Newton said, "Wait", and polished the ball also. Again, the ball rolled much farther than it had before, but eventually it came to a halt. Then Newton could say, "Look. You have been witness to the ball rolling a longer distance each time the force of resistance, of friction, is reduced. If you can imagine zero friction or resistance, you can imagine that the ball will continue moving perpetually. Newton had no means of creating this state of frictionlessness. The observers had to imagine by extension from what they could observe empirically that it was possible. There is a limit to what you can demonstrate empirically. Some things inevitably have to remain abstract.

Another problem was that at no time, at no place in the universe, could there be a language which would be adequate. The first people who began to use sounds to communicate ideas and notions would have found that they were woefully inadequate. Now language has advanced so much, but our thoughts have advanced so that they are still ahead of our language.

But no matter what you do, in any language, you cannot explain the universe unless you put infinity into it. Because the moment you describe the beginning of something, another person can challenge you and say, "No, the father of what you call the beginning was the real beginning." And a third person can say, "No, both of you are wrong, the grandfather of that thing was the real beginning." The only manner in which this apparently irresolute thing can be resolved is by ascribing to it 1) the notion of infinity, and 2) the notion of contingency.

In a personal sense, the tragedy is that I was the first victim of this knowledge, because I realized that there was no use in my truthfulness, honesty, and integrity. But those were the three ingredients which I used in order to acquire this knowledge. So you run into inevitability of inevitability: that in order to reach a particular kind of understanding you need equipment. And if you use that equipment absolutely, when you want to throw it away you cannot, because you embraced it, you acquired it with an avowal for eternity. And yet it has no value whatever. (1960)

ramesh gandhi