August 3rd, 2020


(no subject)

A productive weekend! I've now written 3,124 words on the revised Silmfic. I could tag on another 300-400 words and be done with it, but it definitely needs to be taken to with a pruning-shear. A lot of it involves Vaire waxing philosophical with Indis on the topic of prophesying and whether that commits you to a certain version of future events (and in which case whether you shoulld stay out of the prophesying business altogether). It's fascinating philosophically because it bumps up against one of my favorite arguments from medieval philosophy, but it's also a huge diversion and pulls both characters out of the moment. If Indis wasn't a bit cowed to be talking with one of the Valar I think she'd be going "wait, no; why are we talking about all this in the first place?" Which, you know, she should be.

So more proud mama Indis chatting about Findis and Vaire being relateable and human (though of course neither is), less diversions into arcane philosophical topics, I think. Even if it winds up being only half the words it would still be a very respectable one-shot. But to get the philosophy out of my system, I want to talk about something called divine foreknowledge. Here's hoping it doesn't get too boring.

So the basic idea is if God knows everything, including what will happen in the future, and if what God knows has to, by necessity, be true, then there's only one possible way for the future to turn out. Take something small: will I eat a salad for lunch today? Well, either I will or I won't, and it seems like either possible future is open to me. But if God knows what the future holds, he also knows whether I will eat a salad for lunch on August 3, 2020; and whichever way it turns out to be, it was always going to turn out that way because otherwise what God knew would have been wrong (impossible!). What that means is, while I may have thought I had a choice in the matter, there was only one way this could have turned out all along. And that's true for really important things, too, not just what I will end up having for lunch.

This can get a bit technical, so bear with me because I think it's also a really interesting way of thinking about the problem of free will. A philosopher might put this as "If 'X' can be known by anyone, X is known by God." (Where 'X' is any belief or statement at all, because it's bad enough we're talking about logic, we also apparently have to pull algebra into the equaiton.) Now take a fairly simple statement like: "Marta eats salad for lunch on Mon 8/3/2020." That's the kind of thing that is certainly knowable by some people - say, the Marta of Tues 8/4/2020. And if it's knowable by anyone, God should know it.

Why does that matter for free will? Because if 'X' is known, it by necessity has to be true. Once anyone knows "Marta eats salad for lunch on Mon 8/3/2020," that statement has to be true; which means I'm logically required to eat salad for lunch today. *blech* And when people talk about a free choice, they seem to mean I could have done X or I could have done something else if I'd chosen. I could eat the salad in my fridge, or I could run to the deli for a chicken sandwich and a smoothie - either option is still open to me. And as someone who probably should eat the salad but really is not in the mood, I really would like to think I have a choice in the matter. But if God knows what I will eat (or am eating, or ate, because it's all the same to God), there's only one option so no free choice to be made. At the risk of abusing Douglas Adams, free will is an illusion; with lunch-time, doubly so. And this is true for everything God knows, which is, you know, everything.

The most common way around this is to say "Marta eats salad for lunch on Mon 8/3/2020" isnt' really knowable in the same way that (say) "Donald Trump is president of the United States on 8/3/2020" is (again: *blech*). Here's the argument: once a fact is set, a statement about that fact can be either true or false, and so is "knowable." You can be correct or incorrect when you make a statement there, because -- in philosopher's lingo -- its truth conditions are established. But if I haven't made up my mind and there really is a choice to be had, "Marta eats salad for lunch on Mon 8/3/2020" isn't true or false, yet. Its truth-conditions are still undetermined, and it's not just a matter of us being ignorant or the information not being available yet, it's that the statement is neither true nor false. It's a flipped coin that's still in the air, neither heads nor tales until it lands. Here we get into some pretty heavy metaphysics about the nature of knowledge and time and God, and I'm not really qualified to go into all that, but the gist is: if a statement isn't knowable by anyone yet (because its truth-conditions are still unestablished), it's not limiting God's omniscience to say God doesn't know it. Because omniscience means "If X is knowable by anyone, it is known by God," and here the statement we're talking about isn't known or even knowable by anyone.

What does this have to do with Middle-earth? Well, obviously Iluvatar is not YHWH or any other concept of God in the Christian tradition, and the Valar certainly aren't all-knowing or infallible *cough**coughcoughs* But let's talk about prophecy and foretelling, which I think gets into very similar territory. Maybe the Valar or Iluvatar or whomever don't hav einfallible or universal knowledge, but once they take a certain proposition, they can't get it wrong and they can't change their minds down the line. It has to be true. So when Mandos imposes his doom on the Noldor after Alqualonde, it rules out the Valar simply revoking that doom because they have a change of heart. There may be room for mercy within the terms of that Doom, but the Doom itself has to stand.

That said ... what if they get it wrong? I'm thinking about this in the context of the death of Miriel, so let's run with that. I'd say Vaire's weaving is a sort of foretelling, especially as it's happening in the Halls of Mandos which seem to be operating outside the normal limits of time; she's not just recording things that have already happening, she's setting stone how things will turn out to be; which means that once she's incorporated some event into her tapestry it's no longer changeable. So I'm imagining a situaiton where Vaire heard that Miriel was doomed to be separated from her family because she'd created such a fiery-tempered son, and being the wife of the lord of all souls and dead things, her mind made the predictable but biased choice: death is separation; Miriel will be separated; therefore Miriel is fated to be separated by death.

Of course for the non-Vaire's out there, there are lots of other ways that doom could have been fulfilled. But once she's sewn it into her tapestries, it has to happen that way, doesn't it? Because she's foretold it, and foretellings have to turn out to be true. I have to wonder if something like this happens, if Vaire saw Miriel pushed down by this inescapable now but once upon a time entirely unnecessary despair and exhaustion, precisely because she was now fated to die and stay dead, if she might have had second thoughts about this whole prognostication business.

All of which leads me to a rather important conclusion:

... er, no foretellings. Or oaths. Oaths are definitely out as well. They very rarely help half as much as they hurt.

Would that Namo, Feanor and certain others could learn from this (admittedly non-canonical, totally-Marta-invented) mistake as well.

And to be clear- this is not the story I'm telling and I will finish it off. I like it quite a bit. But I also wish I could read this other philosophy-disguised-as-fic as well. Someone should get on that.