On Indo-European Gods Playing Dice With The Universe

Einstein: “God does not play dice with the universe”

Now, it’s worth contextualizing that Einstein’s aphorism was a one-sentence metaphorical rejection of the notion of randomness and quantum uncertainty. Hence, after some decades of further development in the relevant area …

Hawking: “Thus it seems Einstein was doubly wrong when he said, God does not play dice. Not only does God definitely play dice, but He sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.”

Without going into too much detail, Hawking is making two claims – first up, that yes, there *is* validity to the concept of randomness in the universe … and second, that the randomness is particularly *from our perspective*, as it turns out that efforts to predict random outcomes [and therefore make them, in effect, not-random – as you can calculate how a die might land based on the manner of its throw, the wind, etc. etc.] are in some instances a lot *less* viable than we had previously thought.

Which, to be sure, tells us very little about how this perceived randomness might look to an Omniscient deity.

If you wish to be relatively optimistic about this, there’s a further Einstein refinement of his maxim – “You believe in a God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order” [which makes for an interesting question as to where he saw free will in that schema – if anywhere] … and if you are, perhaps, looking for rather more cynical phrasing, we have John Ford – “Not only does God play dice with the universe, He’s using loaded dice.”

That is to say, in either case, the ‘randomness’ is an illusion – albeit one which Einstein hoped would steadily be pared back with time; whereas this Ford guy is making an implicit case for the ‘Omniscient’ (and Intentional) Divine Perspective.

The Stakes are raised, however, by messers Gaiman & Pratchett, with the following: “God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

Which, one *hopes*, does not entail the notion that the universe has been unfolding according to the ongoing outcome of a spirited game of Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker.

But to bring it back to where I was *actually* going with this … take another look at that second Einstein quote. The one wherein he juxtaposes the concept of a God Who Plays Dice, and that of a universe governed by Laws and Order.

There are a few ways to square those two seeming extremes, which you can presumably read about elsewhere. Personally, I just note that an escalating degree of (true) omniscience axiomatically entails an escalating reduction in the capacity for (true) randomness – and therefore, perhaps, creates an interesting exploratory avenue for the more quantumly aware Deity, of whether They can voluntarily limit Their omniscience and so open up space for something now by-definition Unexpected to Occur.

But before I wind up coining the concept of “Sigtyr’s Box” [or, perhaps, with deference to a king by the name of Vikar, “Sveigðir’s Lots”] and/or then going off down further expansive tangent about the intriguing phenomenon of Divine Games played out in our reality (for which we have both Hindu and Nordic attestations; and on which I keep meaning to write an actual, proper article) …

… let me just say that from a Hindu perspective, there is pretty reasonable scriptural support for the notion that (a) God does *indeed* play Dice with the Universe. Literally. [standard caveats about not taking scripture literally apply – I just mean that’s literally how it’s phrased in the relevant Hymnal] […perhaps I should have phrased that as being “Literarily” rather than “Literally”.]

To quote from the relevant Hymnal [there are an array of others, some about different figures, and different manners in which the dice are to be employed, but we’ll leave those for now], AV IV 16 5:

“All this the royal Varuna beholdeth, all between heaven and
earth and all beyond them.
The twinklings of men’s eyelids hath He counted. As one who
plays throws dice He settles all things.”

[a variant translation phrases it thus: “Like a dice-counter in the hands of a gambler, so is the universe in His [Varun’s] Hands”]

The general theme of this Hymnal, as with several other Varuna dedicated entreaties, can basically be summed up as: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake”. At least partially because Varuna and Odin are both expressions of the same Indo-European Deific … the latter Mask (Grimr) of which has also given rise to Santa Claus – who carries out a function perhaps surprisingly equivalent to ‘Bhaga’ [a role and a theonym recurrent in relation to Varuna] .

Now as for why this is interesting – it’s because Varuna is expressly described not only as effectively functionally Omniscient [*in*-universe, at least], but is also in an array of other scriptural materials, regarded as being intrinsically connected to the Cosmic Order (Rta) and Her permeation throughout the Universe [from Beyond]. Hence, in no small part, why He is described as a King, a Sovereign over the planes of existence – because the Law He supports, ‘stablishes, upholds.

So what we have, here, in other words, is a perhaps surprising pre-emption of Einstein’s juxtaposition of the metaphor of ‘God playing Dice with the Universe’ and ‘Cosmic Law and Order’ [eSpatial Varuna’s Edition?].

It’s in some ways a bit of ‘cheating’ on my part to insistently read Einstein’s quip *theologically*, and therefore speak about ‘perceived randomness’ from our perspective versus .. a potential lack of such from this Divine Perspective. Yet it also somewhat isn’t – as despite the “God” in the familiar aphorism, the existence of rather omniscient divinity is a relevant way to ‘square the circle’ when it comes to the alleged conflict between a Dicing Deity and fundamental, underlying Law and Order.

Especially given, as I have noted, the Same Deity Does Both.

Now, Pratchett, genius man that he was, went off in a slightly different direction again – and hit upon a concept that neatly explicates the conflict at the heart of Einstein’s conceived duality, as well as the perhaps unsurprisingly related tension which occurs in some ancient Indo-European [and specifically, Greek] thought – around choice and chance on the one hand, and determinism and destiny on the other.

He did this by setting up two opposing – in fact, ‘competing’ is the better word to use – figures, Fate … and … we’ll call Her ‘The Lady’.

A succinct summation of Fate from Pratchett runs thusly:

“Fate always wins. Most of the gods throw dice but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been using two queens all along”

Which we should probably qualify somewhat by noting that The Lady seems to have a rather good track-record of *not losing* to Fate, accomplished explicitly via the use of Pawns (who (also) use themselves).

And while it would be tempting to start down yet a further trail of contemplation about the above, I shall endeavour to restrain myself, and instead simply note that the latter figure in particular Whom Pratchett has written of, is in part coterminous with certain Indo-European Goddess(es) of Fortune [and interestingly, there is a direct AtharvaVeda Hymnal of entreaty to an Apsara Who has strong purview over the dominion of victory at Dice, and is beseeched by the invoker to exercise Her potency to “win for us” when She wants to [it is dangerous, it appears, to be seen to be *directly ordering* Luck, a Lady, around – hence the nature of the request being so delicately and politely worded] … one of an array of dice-and-gambling aid elements of Vedic scripture – which just goes to show that even if God(s) don’t normally play dice, that isn’t going to stop humans from asking Them to do so; which may semi-intentionally invite all the ‘excitement’ of Them ‘playing with us’ in *many* senses of that most deliberately expansive phrasing.]

Yet Who is also, particularly when in competition with this male counterpart (Fate), recalls another series of Indo-European mythic occurrences wherein a Female Deity subtly “isn’t seen to intervene” immediately prior to Her favoured playing-piece doing *unexpectedly* well. As an example, there is an occurrence in the Funerary Games toward the end of the Iliad wherein Odysseus, Her Favourite, is losing a foot-race to the younger and more sprightly Ajax the Lesser … who is deservedly, as it turns out later, quite the opposite in terms of Her Regard. Just as the lesser Ajax is nearing the finish line, he just *happens* to trip and fall – landing him face-first, mouth-open and nostrils wide in the dung of the cow sacrificed at the Funerary Games’ outset. This follows on from another instance wherein Apollo and Athena are, effectively *both* engaged in competition via mortal proxies in a chariot-race [that of Eumelos and Diomedes]; although the actual points of comparison which had sprung to mind for a ‘competition with male counterpart’ typology were those of Nordic mythology wherein Odin and His Wife have occasional such contests and interventions – indeed, the fate of Geirroth, as detailed in the Grimnismal, is just such an occurrence.

This last instance is an intriguing additional element in comparison to our earlier “What Happens When An All-Seeing (Though One-Eyed) God Gambles” as applies Varuna … as it would appear possible that given Odin’s seeming-loss in the bet with His Wife in that matter as a result of Her acting in a way that He had not anticipated nor been aware of [and which can basically be described as having Geirroth become aware of a pointedly accurate *summary* of his immediate future; thus leading to Geirroth doing something entirely against Odin’s expectation of him] – that “God Plays Dice With The Universe” might be a rather more complex and actually-less-certain-in-result affair when it’s “God Plays Dice With The Universe Against/Alongside Another God(dess)”.

At which point, it’s *exactly the opposite* of “all bets are off”.

As we can perhaps see in a further instance from Hindu mythology – wherein it is Shiva and Parvati Who play what is initially a series of games of dice, but which later turns into a much more all-encompassing and quite literally existential hard-fought competition. Replete with, as it happens, quite some observation on the questions of basically omniscience and omnipotence, perception and determination, which we have earlier parsed. (It always both does and doesn’t amaze me how centuries, millennia ago, some Vedic Sage – and, in-Purana, *the* Vedic Sage , the AdiYogi – has considered all these philosophical and conjectural matters we’re only just getting back to much more recently in these realms)

And replete also with allegations that both Husband and Wife are cheating wildly. Parvati wins … because of course She does (to the point that, if we liken this to strip poker, Shiva is by some tellings, down to His underwear … and the part of that metaphor that’s a metaphor is that it’s “poker”, and the rather modern concept of “underwear” rather than an ancient wilderness-frequenting Sadhu’s equivalent. I’m not kidding – that’s pretty much how it goes in some renderings … but with the stakes also escalating beyond more mortally-equivalent wagers to the sorts of things that only Divinities can have – or lose].

Shiva, however, declares that He is going to Win .. because that’s what *He* Does. [And there is a good reason that one local Pandit has idiomatically translated “Aum Namah Shivay” as “Good Luck!”]

The competition continues to escalate and get *well* out of hand, until eventually turning into a full-blown theological argument of the sort we might perhaps refer to as a Deyk-measuring contest. This very nearly leads to cataclysmic disaster for the universe all up, as you’d possibly expect – until what effectively happens is They *both* Win. Because of course They do. Although some texts make a point of noting that it is Parvati Who Wins last (the ultimate win, in terms of order, some might suggest), because of course She Does.

Although as with the situation of Odin losing to His Wife over Geirroth – we can never *quite* be sure whether it’s a case of what we might perhaps term “Just As Planned”.

This notion of Divine Competition, in which what might *seem* to be a simple and straightforward game even a child or computer could easily play … actually turning out to be an unutterably complex foggy nebula of ‘cheats’, ‘counter-cheats’, subtle gambits, and theological explication (with associated Indo-European mytho-linguistic discursions) of an order that is as to what we think of as ‘recreational pursuits’, well in excess of what the US financial markets are to an ordinary household game of Monopoly (and presumably with similar levels of home-discord potential … Mono-Pati?) – suggests another interpretation of the “God playing Dice with the Universe”.

Namely, that the “Dice” in question *Is* the Universe. It is, of course, “Loaded” (That’s that Ford again). Although with what, and in what direction is probably impossible to actually tell while inside it until its movement eventually stops.

This, in some ways, brings us back to Pratchett’s “Fate vs The Lady” conceptry – and in particular, how the latter’s resonancies go far Deepa than that, to a well-renowned if somewhat guarded strand of Shakta Theology; which does also have tantalizing trace in other Indo-European mythoreligious canons.

I shall not speak directly about it, but suffice to say that Pratchett and Gaiman had it *almost* right with their aforementioned quote from Good Omens:

“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

The Chief concept they got wrong in that… was the gender.

We’ll quote us some more Pratchett now in closing – Vacam Garjit Lakshanam subtly foremost (also) in mind:

“It is said that the gods play games with the lives of men. But what games, and why, and the identities of the actual pawns, and what the game is, and what the rules are—who knows?

Best not to speculate.

Thunder rolled…

It rolled a six.”

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