Part Three: The Future

The theory of natural selection has application beyond speciation and biological morphology, it can describe cultural and social institutions as well.  Take for example, the Roy Rogers restaurant chain.  Their fixin's bar is one of the great achievements of American fast food.  At one time, there were some 650 locations primarily in the mid-Atlantic region of the east coast.  Today, there are 52.  Almost half are located in a kind of commercial archipelago--the expressway service area.  Just as marsupials in Australia (the island continent) were shielded from the rise of placental mammals by the oceans, so Roy Rogers have only been able to survive in an economic niche.

Another example is language.  Words are tools.  Like any tool, it is kept in the box only as long as it retains its utility.  Once it no longer plays a role in our conversations and commerce, it dies.  It becomes extinct.  Some words can be seen as "living fossils".  Take "dialling" a phone.  The word has retained its usefulness longer than the device from which it got its meaning.

We can learn about the history of an animal by looking at its features.  A species with eyes descended from an ancestor that lived in an environment with light.  An animal with gills, an aquatic environmental, etc.  Which brings us back to the subject at hand.  McTaggart's A-series and B-series times are reflected in human grammar.  Some languages, like Japanese, use only 2 verb tenses, the perfect (used for actions in the past) and the imperfect (for actions in the present and future).  Contrast this with the 3 tenses employed by romance languages, one for actions in the past, one for actions in the present and one for actions in the future.

In the same way that vision evolved in response to the physical world around us, the evolution of the use of the 3 verb tenses reflect actual features of time.  Animal intelligence, feeding and reproductive functions only serve the needs of the animal in the future.  An animal eats in the present so that it will have energy in the future.  For such behaviors to have evolved reflects the actual existence of the future as a distinct part of our universe.

Supporters of Presentism argue that things in the present are the only things that can be described as real.  This is an attractive proposition if you believe the test is "Something is real if it can be physically interacted with".  Interaction includes observation.  Since we can only interact with things in the present, only things in the present are real.  We can interact with the evidence of the past but not things in the past themselves.  You cannot interact with a live dinosaur, but you can interact with a dinosaur fossil. 

We can describe the past as less real than the present but more real than the future.  If the present is the only moment in which things are truly real, and time's arrow moves in one direction, all things in the past were real at one point.  Things in the future, however, are not real until they become part of the present.  Since we cannot explain what mechanism underlies time or any other fundamental element of existence, we can only speculate based on observations of the present what a future moment will look like, or that that future moment will ever come at all.  Only once that moment arrives in the present can we say that moment is real because only then, can we say that we can observe it--and not theorize about it.  This is the difference between the less real past and the less real future. The past moment has existed already.  A future moment may never come at all.  For all we know, whatever it is that animates the universe has set the date for everything to stop next week. 

If we change the above test to "Something is real if it can be affected by us or affect us."  The difference being the unidirectional nature of this as opposed to the mutuality of the term "interact".  This definition of real would include the past because it affects the present, and the future because the present affects the future.  This definition might appeal to eternalists.

The present is a meta event.  It is a future engine.  It takes the past as cause and produces the future as effect.  Events only occur in the present.  Events that occurred in the past, are "surreal".  They can be inferred by observing the present, but they themselves are no longer fully real.  Events in the future can also be inferred by observing the present, but because we cannot be certain that any future moment will ever come, future events are "potentially real". It's the same difference between an election and an inauguration.  Candidates may have won an election, but they don't hold offices until the they are sworn in.

If we live in a deterministic world, the future events are not potentially real, but "subsequently real".  The past events are not surreal, they are "persistently real".  The present must retain all information about the past in order for the the present to be deterministically linked to it.  It must also contain all the information about the future in order to be deterministically related to it.

We live in a deterministic world. There is free will.  These statements are not contradictory.  Free will exists because humans have had, continue to have, and for as long as we exist, will always have imperfect knowledge of reality.  If humans had perfect knowledge of the present, we would be able to perfectly predict the future.  We would then know the exact results of any act in which we engaged.  We would not only know the effects, the would know the actual decisions we would make before hand.  Such a human would not possess free will.

A human batter guesses, based on his experience and observations of the pitcher, himself, the game situation and other conditions, where to swing.  If God were at bat, he would know everything about the factors that go into the situation and would always hit a home run, if that were his intention.  God cannot possess free will.  He knows in advance what his decisions will be.  He knows if and when he is going to change his mind.  It cannot be said that God decides anything.  He is a kind of self-automaton, playing out his pre-determined actions as time's arrow dictates.

Fortunately, perfect knowledge is not a requirement.  The tools we possess allow us to predict where to swing at the pitch well enough to hit a home run almost once every 12 at bats (if you're Ryan Howard).  Accepting that there will always be limits to our knowledge is both a blessing and a curse.  Knowledge, in the form of experiential memories long predates humanity.  Learning does not require an awareness of an animal's own lack of knowledge.  It only requires the animal to experience an event and remember the cause and effect.  A single meeting with a vacuum cleaner will teach a cat to run under the couch when you pull it from the closet.  This doesn't require an awareness of the cat's own lack of understanding to happen.

Some human, proto-human, or perhaps more distant relative realized that he or she didn't know enough about something for his or her purposes.  This realization led to the blessing: the scientific method.  Theory is a statement of potential knowledge.  As a concept, it requires the ability to discern the known from the unknown.  Without this starting point, experimentation would not be possible.  Our antecedents didn't need the scientific method to predict the future, any more than the cat can predict what's in its future once the dreaded vacuum makes an appearance.

The greatest unknown is the future and what happens after death.  This led us to the curse: dogmatic religion.  Religion and science both attempt to explain the aspects of the world around us.  Religious descriptions of an afterlife are only possible because adherents not only have no knowledge of what will come after we die, but they know they don't.  This is why so much of religion concerns itself with that topic.  It is an experience we all know we will have, but don't know what to expect and the scientific method is incapable of helping for obvious reasons.

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