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by Melanie Anne Phillips

Our sense of the future is no more or less accurate than our sense of the past. At first, this seems to be untrue. We have no idea of what lies ahead and a clear idea of what occurred in the past. However, when we feel this, we are using only a binary manner of evaluating our understanding of the two directions of time.

We look to the future and see that we cannot predict events with accuracy. We look to the past and see absolute knowledge of the events that occurred. But think for a moment. How often have you been forced to re-evaluate a past event based on new knowledge that comes to light. Have you ever gone out to your car in a parking lot and walked right to where you left it, found it missing and for a moment thought it was stolen, only to realize you had forgotten that you had moved it when you went out for lunch? What about evaluations such as seeing a mother slap a child, only to learn that a wasp had just landed on the child's arm? The inaccuracies of the past spring from the omission of information essential to perceiving the true meaning of events. There is no doubt that the child was slapped or that you had parked the car in a particular spot and found it missing. However, additional information essential to a more complete understanding of the situation was in each case lacking.

The moment we accept givens, we build upon them. Any time a given is proven to be erroneous, therefore, it calls into question all that followed - all that was determined based on the erroneous assumption. The breadth of meaning spirals out, cross-referencing, re-proving, constantly redefining and re-ordering our understanding of what was. And yet, there is always that possibility, however slim, that any given fact, no matter how devoutly it is held, may someday prove to be false.

On one hand, the longer something has existed as a truth, the more confidence we can have that it will not change, as it has withstood the test of time. On the other hand, the longer something has existed, the more obscure it becomes in detail, tending to round its edges and becomes a conceptual symbol with less and less relationship to the physical world with each passing year. So, the price of longevity is loss of detail and therefore loss of meaning, which is itself a primary cause of historic inaccuracy. We no longer perceive the true essence of an event but only an abstract construct designed to represent its principal characteristics. This is fine as a road marker, but loses all usefulness in understanding the holistic nature of interrelationships between events whose impacts ripple through each other.

Clearly, the smaller the scope of our concern with the past - the less we look for meaning but rather focus just on what happened, the more accurate our appraisal of what was. In other words, the more we see to understand connections in the past, the more open we are to chaotic surprises that force us to redefine those connections.

In contrast, yet of a similar nature, are the inaccuracies of the future. We can indeed predict the future. So far, not a human who ever lived inaccurately predicted before bedding down that the earth would still be here in the morning. We can accurately predict that if we stick a pin into our arm we will feel pain. And yet, on a rare occasion, internal physiologic events may conspire to prevent pain and invalidate our prediction.

Just as accuracy in the past depends upon how broadly we wish to define the object of our concern, so too does accuracy in the future depend upon taking a macroscopic view. The larger we make our prediction, the less frequently we find ourselves contradicted by actuality. In fact, when we predict that by the end of the day we will be alive, we will be right on all but one day.

The nature of things is the most predictable both in past and future. When we simply define that something exists (existed) or does (did) not, we have the best chance of being accurate. We can rely on structural issues such as these to have the greatest inertia in the physical state. However, just one step away is the interaction of one object with another. Suddenly we have a process, and like any process it is subject to influences from items outside our consideration that change its nature and impact.

When we look at an object, we are defining it by the fractal structures within it, so that unless it is a volatile object, we can be more or less certain of its continuation. Yet, wood burns, and people die. Clearly we cannot be 100 percent certain! Still, we are more confident in this realm that the realm of interactions, which by their very nature are more unstable than objects.

In the past, processes appear as the force that pulls things into a new arrangement, and they can be pointed to as the cause of various aspects of change. In the future, processes appear as tendencies, since they have a certain inertia of their own, yet are susceptible to change in their pull through outside influence or interference.

Keeping this in mind, we see how the accuracy of our past view that focuses on meaning is no more accurate than our future view which focuses on prediction. The pull of processes in the past, and the tendencies of processes in the future are equally inaccurate, one in terms of order (meaning) the other in terms of sequence (prediction).

The past is at the mercy of spatial chaos that changes how we perceive things to be related and is best described by fractals. The future is at the mercy of temporal chaos that changes the sequence in which we expect things to occur and is best described by frictals (a blending of friction and fraction).

So, the past is a spatial sense to the human mind, and the future a temporal. As long as we believe both past and future to refer to time, we are bound to misinterpret the accuracy of the future compared to the past. Only when we realize the past is a map of relationships and the future a pecking order of occurrences can we perceive the equal accuracies and inaccuracies between the two.

We stand in the present, which changes through progress. Progress that is perceived by ordering relationships becomes our sense of past. Progress that is perceived by ordering sequences becomes our sense of future. On either side of the present, events of equal distances from "now" have equal accuracies.

In conclusion, one might wonder why we look in two directions with a different measuring stick for each. In fact, we are looking in only one direction and seeing it with two different filters. There is no future, there is no past. There is only that which is within us and that which is without. When we look from the inside out we see space, when we look from the inside in we see time.

Both time and space are means of imposing order upon a chaotic and random universe. It is the subjective process of accepting givens based on experience. When we seek to find meaning, space must do the job. When we seek to anticipate, time is in order. A species that possesses both abilities will flourish compared to one that sees only one side of the issue.

Blind spots are dangerous to survival so it is no wonder that a form as stable as "higher" organic life should evolve two points of view, not unlike two eyes with which to triangulate on the unknown.

In fact, it is the resonance and dissonance between space (past) and time (future) that creates the interference pattern serving as the volatile atmosphere in which self-awareness spontaneously erupts.

We end with a poem appropriate to this place in the moment:

Mental Combustion

The fuel of space,
in the rich atmosphere of time,
through friction between them,
ignite consciousness,
which consumes them both.

--Melanie Anne Phillips

Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips

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