Sunday, May 04, 2008

The future of the past

As a region of time, the future has very different characteristics from the past. Unlike the past, which is a multitude of possibilities (as proven by people's varying memories, versions, and interpretations of it), the future is fixed and definitive. Predestination is not an idea dreamed up by theologians; it is, unfortunately, simply the way things are. Get used to it. The idea that different possible futures exist is not borne out by the fact that one present is the inevitable outcome of that definitive future coming, inexorably, waiting to pounce on us, its unwilling prey.

It is a certainty, for example, that the Milky Way galaxy will one day become absorbed into the local group of galaxies around it, torn apart in the process, while all the other galaxies in the universe gradually drift off so far that we will no longer see them. In the same way the past drifts off from us, the lights of memory gradually fading until a kind of cosmic Alzheimer's pushes the whole existence of another reality we vaguely knew into the darkness.

If we really want to know the future or the past, we must look deeply into the present for clues. The solutions of the future only reveal themselves in the coded revelations of science fiction, as dictated to skeptically minded writers who rarely give credence to their own channelings. Similarly, the vast project of past remembrance, which spawned the world's longest novel as well as libraries of nontranquil recollections, is an all-encompassing occupation which can only be prosecuted in the here and now, where the shadows thrown by past people and objects relentlessly flicker. The snows of yesteryear may finally melt tomorrow, but we ourselves are the food of the future, which is digesting us at a frightening rate.