The Reality of the Future: Probabilistic Potentialities
How can time be unreal if humans can both perceive and conceive of it? Does time exist outside of human minds at all? If time is singularly linear, that is, there is only one future, what’s the purpose of any human action? Contemplating the nature of the future often leads to ostensible paradoxes. To Aristotle, the future only existed potentially, not actually, because it was impossible to determine true and false statements about the future. To St. Augustine, neither the future nor the past was real because everything could only be perceived in the present time. I believe that there are many possibilities for the future, and all of them are simultaneously real until one becomes the present. Those multiple possibilities are what make freedom and responsibility real and relevant, because individuals can influence the likelihood of each potential outcome.
How can multiple futures be real? Aristotle says, “the predicate cannot both belong and not belong to the subject at one and the same time with regard to the future” (Paragraph 2). His solution to this was that the future must not exist, because “to say that neither the affirmation nor the denial is true… is to take up a position impossible to defend” (Paragraph 5). Well, I say that both the affirmation and the denial are true—one of them becomes false once the event in question occurs in the present. This works only if you accept many subjects and many predicates as separate units, or series. Each potential future has its own set of true and false propositions. However, bivalence still applies in regards to the present and the past.
Once the future becomes the present and subsequently the past, it is set, even if no one ...
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...now what that predetermined path is. It won’t be “true” freedom, but the belief in true freedom is what’s important. The fact that people think they have a responsibility to influence good outcomes is what keeps society functioning. And yes, it could be a lot better, but it could also be significantly worse. If everyone believed in fatalism, then nothing would ever get done and happiness levels would plummet. So regardless of whether there is truly one possible future or many, it’s better to believe in many, both for personal wellbeing and greater prosperity.
The existence of multiple possibilities for the future is what motivates humans individually and as a society, and inherent in that concept is the ability of human action to determine future outcomes. The past can help to guide action, but ultimately it is up to us to try and make the best future become present.
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