Monday, October 19, 2009

Back to the Future

"The past doesn't matter anyway."

We were in a business meeting today when a participant offered this seemingly blase observation. Indeed, it caused nary a ripple, resulting only in some mild nodding of heads. While he was referring to investment returns, we imagine many people would agree with this statement if applied to other aspects of life - the past, after all, has already happened, while the future--what with its endless possibilities--awaits.

And yet...what is the future but a series of pasts? Consider this example. When you look forward to a vacation, do you look forward to the trip itself, or the memories of the trip? Clearly the memories will last longer; further, you can choose to remember the good and forget the bad. This idea was behind the movie "Total Recall" (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) - the question is whether there is a difference between implanted memories of a trip, and one you actually took. If technology existed to mimic the brain changes caused by the trip itself, how would you tell the difference? Should you even care?

To our original point...if one agrees the past is irrelevant, then how can anything be meaningful? After all, what we think of as "the past" was once "the future," and our future will someday be the distant past. Further, as physicists have known for years (and as Einstein so eloquently put it), " the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

Ten minutes ago this post was in our future; now it is part of our past. What, exactly, caused it to become irrelevant in the interim?

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