“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, wrote Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. Coelho explains how it was this line that carried the book from obscurity to every other bookstore across the world.
With a moment of thought though, we can see the absurdity of those words. Every human being is one among a billion, with trillions of other living creatures swarming on this planet, which itself is more insignificant than an atomic particle in the vastness of the universe. Surely, the universe has bigger supernovas to fry than to cater to people’s the dreams. Seen from this perspective, Coelho’s sentiment seems like delusion served with a healthy dose of hubris.
And yet, it finds resonance with most of humanity. It indicates our propensity to put ourselves squarely at the center of the universe. We even have a name for the universe’s plans for each of our lives – fate.
“Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic universe.” quoted Amos Tversky, perhaps as an antithesis to Coelho’s sentiment.
The universe is a chaotic place, mostly unfriendly and rather unconcerned about human well-being. Realizing this truth would divest our lives of meaning – a prospect which is so scary that we cope by seeing patterns where none actually exist.