Sunday, October 8, 2017

I leave to the various futures ( but not all) my garden of forking paths


Today I read in the Washington Post an editorial by J. Peter Scoblic called "Seeing so much of the present through Watergate makes it harder to see the future."

Scoblic says this is a mistake. He says "Analogy encourages us to see the past as static, when it was in fact a dynamic collection of possible futures that just happened to gel into the present we know. That mistake blinds us to our own potential futures - and what we might learn from them. In trying to reduce uncertainty, we may have ensured that Trump will surprise us even more than he already has."

Scoblic continues on in this vein, saying that we take our experience of time for granted.  He says "the past - like our present - was a froth of potential futures."

The entire essay fascinated me, and not just on a political level.

It reminded me of Borges' short story "The Garden of Forking Paths."  One of the characters constructs a labyrinth that is actually a virtually indecipherable novel, and in it he says

 "I leave to  the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths."
We have no idea of the outcome of Donald Trump's presidency.  I am expecting a nuclear war with North Korea that will destroy our country and perhaps the whole world.  But I tend to "catastrophize."

Then I think about some of the words of an old Carly Simon song:

"We can never know about the days to come,
but we think about them anyway..."

The Scoblic essay is actually more hopeful than my forecast.
He says "Our expectations of the future are central to the concept of choice .... We can envision different versions of the future and work backward to discover what conditions would produce them. In that process, we forge new beliefs about causal relationships, new mental models...
"that, then, is how we may learn from the future... to see time as a stream in which the future is constantly on the verge of becoming the past. Amid the chaos of the present... we must pause to 'ponder possible futures."

I want to think about this more.


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