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The more you expand your past, the more you also expand your future

In the final chapter of his 1932 book about 18th century philosophers, American historian Carl Becker argues (and I agree with him) that the more you expand your consciousness of your own past (both personal and historical), the more you also expand your own future.

Specifically, according to Becker, “The more of the past we drag into the present, the more a hypothetical future crowds into it also”. Goethe said something similar when he suggested that if you don’t know 3000 years of history, you will be wandering in the darkness of the present.

Becker again: “If our memories of past events are short and barren, our anticipations of future events will be short and barren”. He also explains that the richness and extension of the future depends on the past having those two same characteristics.

Let’s accept what Becker proposes, that is, that the duration and depth of our past determines or at least anticipates with a high degree of probability the duration and depth of our future. What that thought means for us, citizens of the 21st century living trapped inside an ephemeral present, so ephemeral that it becomes immediately obsolete?

Perhaps it means that our future is also ephemeral and automatically obsolete. After years of researching the topic, I believe that’s exactly the case.

If everything we are aware of is the “now” and if that “now” is decontextualized and ahistorical (that is, we don’t know why what is happening today is happening today), then we are not aware either of the emerging future, which is no longer a continuation from the past.

In other words, as Becker argues, the past is not something that already happened, but the consciousness in the present of a past event. From that perspective, all past and all history are present. For that reason, the future is not something that it hasn’t happened yet, but it is something already present in the present, even if we are unaware of its presence.

But if we are not even aware of ourselves, if we live in a perpetual state of self-alienation and oblivion, if we fight against our own metamorphosis thinking, as the caterpillar does, it is a disease, then we will never be able to connect with the source of our being. For that reason, we won’t be able to connect with our best future version to bring that version of ourselves to the present.

That situation doesn’t mean we are living or miserable lives, or that we are bad people (or good people, for that matter.) It means we have adopted a self-limiting pattern of events.

As Becker said, “Memory of the past and anticipation of future events work together, without disputing over priority or leadership”. From that perspective, the awareness of the present is a pattern of thought where there is an interconnection between memories and anticipations.

In other words, if we don’t remember our gran parents (our ancestors), we won’t be able to think about our grandchildren (our descendants.)

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