In continuation with my earlier blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of past and future in this blog. This duality is not obvious at the first sight, but it is a duality that shapes our lives, particularly our present. As mentioned earlier for the duality of good and bad, this duality is also a continuum. It is our awareness of present moment that gives rise to this duality of past and future. Strangely, present moment is a fleeting experience. In contrast, both, the past and future seem to exist permanently. Of course, we know a lot about past, but we are blind towards what future holds for us. This asymmetry between past and future is the foundation of the human angst. It is this angst that I would discuss in this blog.

All most of all of us are familiar with a strange feeling that we experience when we are conscious of the present moment and its transient and evanescent existence. This consciousness of a present moment happens when we experience acute emotions. What changes during that awareness is the type of emotions but not the acuity of emotions. In the moments of joy and happiness, we desperately want that present moment to last forever. Similarly, in the moments of agony and pain, we desperately wish to get over with that moment. However, what we fail to realise is that both these desires arise because our past and future dominate our present moments. The present moment, which philosophers call specious present, is without any emotional content. It is only because our past memories and future expectations colour this specious present differently that we react to it differently. This is the crux of the human predicament. We are torn between this duality of past and future and the duality of hope and fear.

The present moment, the specious present, has no emotional content of its own. It is we, or rather our subconscious mind, that impose the emotional content and meaning to this specious present. Therefore, our emotional experiences during the specious present are not absolute. They are manufactured by our subconscious mind. This possibility is so unnerving that instead, we choose to believe that these emotional experiences are absolute and struggle to make sense of our lives. Thus, the duality of past and future shape our lives without any one of us being aware of it.

There is one key difference between past and future that is not only stark but it plays heavily on our minds. The past, as we all know, is fixed and known to us. The future, on the other hand, is totally undetermined and unknown to us. Of course, those who believe in destiny, however insist that future, like past, is predetermined. Therefore, instead of discussing whether there is something like destiny, I would focus on the knowability of past and future. This is because I believe that our knowledge of our past and our ignorance of our future have a strong impact on our perception of the specious present.

The most common feature of our past is that it is unalterable. It seems to exist whether we like it or not. However, it is not same for our memory of our past. Our memories of our past are altered by the emotional state of our mind. Therefore, the way we recollect our past depends our emotional state during the specious present. As a result, not only our specious present is influenced by our past, but even our recollection of past is also influenced by the specious present. On a moment’s reflection, one would realise that this is a disturbing situation. One would never really know whether one’s conscious mind selects a memory of some past moment just to suit itself or our subconscious mind would throw up a memory of a past moment to fulfill its own desire. No matter which of these possibilities is true, it is clear that what we think to be certain is not that certain. Our past is not cast in stone, at least its recollection is not. Therefore when we decide what to do next, our specious present, together with the selective memories, influences our decision making without us being aware of it. This is insidious indeed. Our freedom to decide is really not a freedom in a true sense.

As if this is not enough, our ignorance about our future also contributes to our predicament. Since we don’t know what the future holds, we try to imagine what future could be. Rational part of our mind tries to work out various scenarios and then makes an assessment of what the most likely scenario would be. Accordingly, our mind acts during the specious present. This is a routine procedure that we follow without even being aware of it. However, since we don’t know what future would be, we depend on our past experiences and their memories to build these scenarios. Since the recollection of these memories, as mentioned above, is not in our control, we act according to the emotions that the selective recollection of memories have generated. As a result, when we act proactively to actualize the future that we wish for, our actions are already biased by our selective recollection of our past. Therefore, our actions in the specious present are biased by our emotions. Even when we feel that we are acting rationally, we are actually acting emotionally. This is because our emotions eliminate some of the rational choices that would otherwise be available to us. Thus, our so called rational behaviour is in reality, a partially rational behaviour which is restricted by our selective recollection of our past memories.

It seems reasonable to think that it would have been simpler if our future too could influence our specious present. In that case, at least we would have a better chance of success. However, Nature does not trust human nature, at least not totally. Therefore we have sometimes intuitions about what is going to happen in future. However, such intuitions are rare and we are left with an unfair consequences of our past interfering our specious present. It would be an ideal situation if we could live only in the present moment uninfluenced by our past and unafraid of our future. However, we would not be human any more. Our existence is characterised by our imperfections and our struggle to overcome them. Maybe God could stand outside the cycle of time and decide impartially. However, for us, we are destined to be governed by this asymmetry between knowable past and unknowable future. Thus, our lives are governed by this duality of past and future, notwithstanding our angst.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of pessimism and optimism.


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