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The reality of past present and future

  1. Jun 4, 2004 #1
    After some sixty plus years of observation, I'm starting to believe that every single action is destine to happen based on any number of prior events leading up to that point in time. And, we have no control over the outcome.

    The other day I was doing a thought experiment about "time" as relates to the concept of past, present and future. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that there is no present. At least, in an absolute frame of reference. I was thinking of time moving at the speed of light. I then interperted this as a constant transition from future to past. Of course, we usually reference a handy block of time that satisfies a particular situation such as day, month, year, etc, etc. Continuing with This line of reasoning, I accept the fact that we cannot change the past. Then, I asked myself if I could change the future. I thought, how can anyone change something that has not happened yet. So, I thought, if I can't change the past or the future, and can't possibly keep up with the present (I'm over 65) how do I have an impact on anything?

    I have an idea, but I'm not completely happy with it.

    Would someone please help out a poor old man that can't keep up with this time line.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 7, 2004 #2
    This issue has always facinated me, the reality of time.

    I have asked so many questions and received so many replies....

    The physics explanation of what you seek regards the speed the future becomes the past can be found if you research "light cones" Here you will find that the transition does in fact have a universal velocity of 'c'.

    IN my opinion the present is in fact the centre of time between the future and the past. But in itself doesn't have a value or is absolute nothing.
    There is no line or point in time between the future and the past so it doesn't exist and yet it is all we percieve.

    If everything we do was determined by the past we would effectively be able to predict what people are going to do and think. And whilst some times we get close it is amazingly difficult to acheive any accuracy.

    your question is one that borders on the issue of free will and determiniism.One of those endless discussions that has no real solution except to say that both are valid.

    WE always have the ability to do something outside the box and this is spontaneously inspired and sometimes deliberate.
    This ability to think and act outside the box affords us the freewill and escape form determinism that we normally seem to voluntarilly follow.
  4. Jun 7, 2004 #3
    I can see the future, it is hell or maybe it is hell to see the future. In either case, live in now for now is the only reality that will ever be. There was a vision that saved saved my life one day, beyond all doubt and that was it. The destiny of our lives is the trials it gives. In that realization, centered in it, the future is not so bad. Live outside it and you will enter the gates of hell. Hell is real, so is heavean, both are relative, there is someting that is not. Understand these words, you will not have to ask someone else for answers, for no one else can give them to you.
  5. Jun 7, 2004 #4


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    If you feel like you can't keep up with the present, you're actually right on the money. We're all a moment behind, because of the time it takes information to get from our environment to our attention ;) No one has ever seen the world as it is, but always as it was. (Sorry, I'm in a wispy mood.)
    When I've talked myself into confusion, something as simple as using different words can help. Memories and expectations, is there anything else?
    Happy thoughts
  6. Jun 7, 2004 #5

    I'm closing in on ya! 63 next month. (so, one olde fart to another)

    All we have is the present. To me, this present is the focus of my past experiences and my future expectations.

    I also believe that we do change the past. I remember what i thought was a very bad time growing up. As a grew up and reflected, understood what was going on back then, those bad time weren't so bad. in fact, they were necessary to motivate my creativity or initiative. To me, it was more than a psychological change. Someone once said as you change your view of something, the something changes. (i paraphrase poorly)

    so, IMHO, today is all i got. i will make decisions to create a nicer future without sacrificing my beliefs or the quality of this moment.

    maybe they should start a new thread or section for us geriatrics so we don't have to put up with these young wipper-snappers!

    olde drunk
  7. Jun 7, 2004 #6
    Thanks for the response everybody,

    Sometimes, I just like to look at the lighter side of things. It feels good to find nice folks that can stop a minute and just reflect.

    Happy thoughts.
  8. Jun 10, 2004 #7
    For me, the concepts of fatalism, determinism, and free will are all relative. The reality we observe can be described, but the map is not the territory. Just as up and down actually describe a single thing, a dimension, free will and fatalism describe a single thing: our existence. Einstein proposed much the same thing, that time and space are relative concepts used to describe one thing, existence.

    Existence is one of the slipperiest concepts ever devised and everyone from religious sects to philosophers to politicians and encyclopedia salesmen have claimed to have the answers to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. In my humble opinion, the minute you think you have the answers, you're wrong! Life is not merely some kind of puzzle to solve and then be bored with once you have found the solution. It is not only stranger than you think, but stranger than you can think.
  9. Jun 10, 2004 #8
    there are those which suggest the quite opposite. there is no past or future other than in the realm of idea, and there exists only the present. it is only the mind that is linear. Present is true, ideas about the past false, and mystery lay in the future...

    opps! I'm runnin' late! gotta run!

  10. Jun 10, 2004 #9
    Hi Scott;

    I do take exception to a couple of items you mentioned.

    1st, in reference to knowing what people are going to do or think. I disagree because of the infinite number of variables related to the zillions of processes in progress at any point in time. The limitations are our inability to gain exposure to everything much less absorb all of this activity.

    2nd, in your reference about thinking outside the box. If an action is initiated as a result of a thought process, conscious or otherwise, it must have occured in the past. Using the following two items for my conclusions.

    1) cause and affect
    2) every action causes an equal and opposite re-action.

    Actions and re-actions are not always evident. In many cases, over time, alot of actions can be hidden from site for a period of time in some form of kinitic energy (maybe wrong analogy) and reach a point it can no longer be contained. I don't necessarily like these findings, so please prove me wrong.

    Thanks for any comments.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2004
  11. Jun 10, 2004 #10
    Force 5
    I take it you are referring to an absolute form of determinism. IN that all action is a reaction or ultimately all action is an effect of a cause.

    This of course is one of those constant areas of debate, being freewill vs Determinism.
    Personall I find that both co-exist quite well.

    I some times think of freewill using the analogy of Random access memory ( RAM)

    IN that we the operator have a choice that we have relatively full control over to react to teh choices presented based on how we feel about those choices. All are considered determinable if the full information was available yet......we have at all times the ability to reject the choices we actually would like to take for simply the reason of challenge of "pig headedness"
    WE have the ability to reject what we want and go against the grain.

    So in a cirlcle of thousands of choices we can make our choices or "heaven forbid" not choose to choose. And it is that ability ( to say 'No") that allows us to achieve self determination rather than just extro- determination.

    WE are essentially self inspired to react as we see fit to our environment.

    Of course our self inspiration has been determined but the ability to say "No" is the ability that gives us freewill thus our unpredictability.
  12. Jun 11, 2004 #11
    something I think about at times is the difference in 'what I thought about and did as a reaction, and, what I thought about and didnt do as a reaction'. Was what I actually thought to do and did predetermined by the original action? (if there is such a thing). And were the alternative thoughts going through my mind at the time (which I didnt choose to act upon) just an illusion of free-will?? e.g., something that didnt happen??
  13. Jun 11, 2004 #12
    If every action is a reaction of another action, and every reaction is an action for another reaction, in other words:
    action = reaction
    reaction = action

    Then action and reaction, e.g., cause and effect, run both from past and future directions. Then, every action might have already been determined!

    Also, if an instance in time, for example the 'present', can be divided infinitly as a decreasing fraction, and for every reaction, there is an action, then infinity runs infinitly small and large, as an instance in time. Therefore, maybe time has no beggining or end and has already been predetermined.
  14. Jun 11, 2004 #13
    I think we must accept the idea that evolution has alot to do with whether or not this subject can be discussed factually. I think most would agree that the likelyhood of free will deals directly with human brain function.

    So my first question is, if free will is just a human trait and we accept evolution as a natural science, at what point in history did we become human and develop free will?

    Based on recent studies, it is believed that about 100 thousand years ago in southeast africa, one female produced the genetic mutation that resulted in our current population of humans.

    My second question is, what are the differences in the way we process information as compared to a computer?

    I "think" it has alot to do with perception. Our senses provide a method of input far superior to existing computer devices. The brains method of organizing and correlating information results in not only updating our memory but also modifing our programs. In other words, in computers, the programs and the information are separate, whereas in humans, the programs and information are intra-woven and crossed indexed in a way that allows us to fabricate numerous scenarios to fit the situation. In some ways, our response is more acute if we sense some sort of threat that initiates the fight or flight instinct.

    I always just assumed that our degree of awareness implied that we had the ability to reason things out and make choices as required. Now, I ask myself, if having the ability to review historical experiences (in my mind) is the definition of free will, then we have free will. In this case, free will and determinism are not the same thing.

    I hope this makes sense. I think I need a treat!
  15. Jun 11, 2004 #14
    So, your saying that although I may have free-will to think about whatever I choose, I don't have the free-will to take action. But I'm saying that maybe our very thought process that seems to be free-will is still determinism, and everything I think I freely choose to think about is happening because, 'it already has happened', in a relative future instance.

    We are very advanced species of computers indeed, but maybe not advanced enough to recognize these patterns in the nature of our own thought. The thoughts we have still seem to be random to us because we are not in tune to the patterns, 'the patterns in the chaos'.
  16. Jun 12, 2004 #15
    Mike, first of all, i'm not saying you have free will to do anything! I said if that's someones definition of free will, then, so be it. I have indicated throughout this thread that I am convinced that the idea of free will is simply a mis-conception. From the way I understand your comments, I think we are in agreement!

    Your references to the "future" make on sense to me. I don't understand what impact the future has on anything, until we get there. Please explain this "future" comment a little more. I'm a slow learner.

    Thanks for your input on the subject.
  17. Jun 12, 2004 #16
    hmm, I'll have to get back to you on this one, I don't want to contradict myself. This is a very tricky puzzle of logic. Talk to you later.

    ok back now, I starting to get a little further in digesting this puzzle, and I'm thinking that if the future is predetermined for a present, as a past is determined by itself, (then both past and present and future being equally existant, although outside of a particular 'present'), then all that has or will happen in a present is happening simultaniously (yet timelessly and motionlessly within an self-overlapping infinity).

    If this is so, then cause and effect run infinitly in every possible direction of percieved time. Therefore, a relative future event is an effect of a relative past event, and a relative past event is an effect of a relative future event. e.g, The sun rose, therefore it will set, and the sun set, therefore it rose. (although extrememly broad this relation is, I think it sums it up pretty well.

    If this is so, then the remaining question for me is, "Why do we percieve time in a direction from past to future?" "What is the purpose of this percieved direction if, in my assumption, time has 'played' itself out 'already'?"

    Perhaps many different pasts and futures 'exist' in this overlapping eternity. Then what determines the probability of an outcome of a present instance, when all outcomes are possible (existant within the eternity)
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2004
  18. Jun 12, 2004 #17
    Hi Mike.

    I think I understand your point. But, i'm not sure I can agree. Maybe I'm just narrow minded, but, my image of things can only see processes moving in one direction, at least, where time is concerned. In other words, the past is history and already been written and can not be changed in any way. Whereas, The future may already be determined but it still has to play itself out. We can look at past events and in some cases have a fairly good idea what to expect.

    Thanks for your perspective. I like considering all possibillities.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2004
  19. Jun 12, 2004 #18
    What you just said completely agrees with what I just said. That cause and effect don't just run from percieved past to a percieved future. Although my theory goes a bit farther in suggesting a structure of the instances of time. (Which are all 'presents' relative to an experiancer, but not to other instances).

    Imagine a complex game of 'connect the dots' where all dots are connected to each other in every possible way. In this example, the dots represent instances of time, and the lines connecting them all represent life paths. A life path is a path in which a 'soul', or 'subconciousness' takes. (Sorry, I realize I'm getting a bit metaphysical here, which is unscientific of me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not 'claiming' that any of this is true, just a creative idea of mine).

    Now, if a structure like this is anything like how reality on a higher level really is, then such a simple example like 'connect the dots' is entirely insufficient. A proper model would be infinitly complex.

    I'm happy to go further in depth on this theory, but I don't want this thread to shift focus to much. I am glad to hear anyone's opinion on the true reality of time.
  20. Jun 13, 2004 #19
    i think that it is important to emphasize that the past and future contributions to the present are the "expectations" contained in the past and future.

    if, for example, i experience a present that was not wwhat i expected, i will change my future expectation and change the next present.

    each present is fluid. i suspect that we have even changed our past and it's expectations. ever have a bad past experience that haunted you until your thoughts - view of it changed. then with that insight had a better future experience. for me the best examples are lost loves and how we screwed up the relationship(s), only to find that our unconscious (sub-conscious?) screw-up was necessary to bring about this present. the bad experience was necessary to motivate the rethinking of ideas and behaviour.

    so, to me, the present is the product of past and future expectations. in fact all three are interdependent. the past is a product of present and future expectations, etc.

    olde drunk
  21. Jun 14, 2004 #20
    What about the changing views and expectations of the past and future being already written to be (predetermined), and thats why they happened. Not because of some sort of mental free-will.

    For example, I lose a loved one. I feel guilt at first. Later, I feel settled. (Is this what you mean?) Perhaps the change in perspective on the unfortunate event of the past, was certain to happen.

    Perhaps it is 'written' that I will change my mind several times about the idea of raising children. This will not change the past or the future, but simply play it out as it has been predetermined to be that way.

    Maybe I don't understand your point. It's hard to do so in such a 'playing tag on the internet' manner.
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