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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More Thoughts About Time and Consequences (2)

It's a vexing problem, perhaps only because we are a uni-directional species and remember the past but not the future. I'm sure the creatures in Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life" have a different view about it. Chiang would not be the first person to wonder what it's like to be able to see time on both sides of the present. One of the many similarities between Mahabharat and Greek mythology is their speculation about the time problem or, more simply, the future problem. (Side note: There are so many similarities that a Greek who visited Indian around first century AD mistakenly thought Iliad had been adapted into Mahabharat.) Although by no means commonplace, a number of characters in these stories have varying degrees of access to the future.

And, of course, access to or knowledge of the future is inherently a part of the issue of determinism and the existence of free will. Somehow I have a feeling that the belief in supernatural (or, more precisely, superhuman) powers, almost always anthropomorphized, is also connected to the same idea.

There seems to be an irreconcilable chasm between the predictability of the future and the malleability of the future. Am I right on this? I'm not sure ... If the future can be known, then it cannot be changed. If it can be changed, then it cannot be known. A future that is both known and alterable is a paradox. Isn't that the paradox of time travel, too? 

OK, so the question is, what made people in the past at least think the future is potentially knowable to some? It has been speculated by evolutionary biologists and others that humans may be the only future-minded animal (a theory obviously unproven). We are exceedingly concerned about the future. But why? Could it be rooted in the advancing technology? First we had seeds of grains that reliable grow and feed people over a long period of time. Then we had machines that faithfully run mile after mile after mile. Then we had calculators that spit out exactly the same answer to the same question again and again. See how predictable the future is? No wonder the need for superhuman powers has declined along with the rise of technology. In this sense, science might indeed erode religion.

Also this thought while we remember the past --- "If only I had made a different choice at time point A, I would have had a different life X hours/days/weeks/years later." It seems to be a defect in the mechanism of memory that prevents us from accurately remembering the state of not knowing at time point A. As we are confused about the state of not knowing (past) and the state of knowing (present), we imagine that we know the future attached to (caused by?) each of our present choices. 

And all this primarily because I continue to be fascinated and baffled by the advice from Bhagavad Gita: Don't agonize over choices. Go forth and do your duty. Act without concerns for outcome. Choose without either attachment or aversion to consequences. Can anyone live like this? Anyway, it seems as if I am trying to construct a series of argument to back track from the advice to a humanly possible basis.

Coincidentally, or perhaps synchronistically, I have recently been helped to realize that most of my predictions of the future --- or consequences --- are probably an illusion, a mind game I play with myself. 

A related note: Years ago I went out with a guy with clinical depression. He told me that one of his problems was decision paralysis. Sometimes, even the smallest choices, like whether to go out or to stay home today, could get him stuck for hours, his brain buzzing with confusion and anxiety. It now occurs to me that, if he can be convinced to live as instructed by Lord Krishna, he would be fine. Of course it's not so easy, because that way of living seems unnatural to humans, especially modern humans who have such a higher sense of control over the near future. 


Eugene Xia said...

Don't think too much. Just do it. It simplifies life for a lot of intellectuals who think too much.

Jun Yan said...

This is not a problem limited to intellectuals. Everyone cares about the consequences of one's action and choice.

Jun Yan said...

And then of course the question that arises is, "Just do what?" What is it that you just do? Once you have done it and then regret it for various reasons afterward, how do you "just do it" the next time? If it were so easy to "just do it," the Gita would have no relevance.

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