How does anyone answer the question, What is “Time?” Do past and future exist?
In nineteen eighty-five I was a forty year old computer design engineer with a mind wrapped tightly around technical things. I was learning Taoist philosophy too so things like time and its relationship to life and what Winnie The Pooh thought about Egor's chance at being happy were big thoughts too. The Tao of Pooh is a great way to start an understanding of Taoism.
Someone at work asked me, "What is the future?" Being the engineer I am I started explaining about time and quantum physics and string theory until I saw their eyes starting to defocus and listening to what I was saying I discovered I had no idea what I was talking about, that I had no idea what "The Future" was.
I started reading every thing I could find and soon realized I wasn’t alone, no one else knew what it was either. There were a few that had glimpses and a couple ideas and some actually made sense.
One idea I like says the past stretches out behind us in memories like a movie unrolling frame by frame as a ribbon into the past. Some frames stay sharp and clear, others fade or details shift around from frame to frame so we remember them incorrectly.
Another says, "...there is no such thing as the future...,” which I'm starting to understand. It mildly worried me at first though, maybe frightened is a better word. If there's no such thing as a future what was I supposed to do, give up and sit down contemplating my belly-button? I could envision myself turning into one of the Unwashed and spending my time in a daze trying to understand life
After several months of reading and thinking I discovered there is no past or future, only the present. We are here and what we think and the decisions we make create what we think of as the future. We live in each minutest instant until they becomes our remembered past, all of the images and frames of the movie of our lives. We have total control over that, to shape it into what we want, but we can only experience that instant of time, that right now, infinitesimal instant of our lives in an unstoppable progression of frames from birth to death.
I spent some time thinking about that and tried to come up with something that showed the progression from present into past then the future rearing its head to show what it might have in store. The closest I could find was the sun.
Watch a sunset. The sun as it settles quietly to the horizon in brilliant shades of gold to rose pink then red and slips slowly beyond the horizon then with a final wink the present becomes the past. The light during each day is our present which we make be what we want, then as it settles into memory and starts fading it magically becomes "The Past!"
Each and every instant!
You can never effect it again, no touch or sound, no smells, nothing, only memories. All you can ever effect is the present, until it becomes the past. That thought effected me a great deal and I started becoming even more aware of my words and actions and how they effected others.
Now turn and face east where a sunrise will occur. The sky starts to lighten, then gets pink and brighter until that first brilliant spark of sun peeks up over the edge, looking at you, making you squint at its brilliance.
That's the present.
You have absolutely no idea what it contains. From when the first light appears until another day of the present becomes the past again, from each smaller than a fempto-second of time to the next, you do not know what will happen. All you have is the "Hope" that it will be what you planned for. There are no guarantees either, the sun may not rise, the world could end for everyone, or just for you.
I read comments that said, "I want to live a life so that anyone saying something bad about me would get a lot of argument to the contrary.", and, "When I die I want everyone to regret me not being there." I've decided that's what I want.
I discovered what a magical thing hope is. I spent a lot of sunsets and sunrises thinking about that and I could not find any arguments against it.
Hope is the only future! It's our way of framing life into something that makes sense to us, that we do what we consider the right things to do, then just doing what it takes to make them into a past we're glad to remember.
Now I see sunrises totally differently. Where they had been just another day where pleasure or pain could happen they're now a new day that I can make a good day and create memories I want to keep. I'm in charge of my future, no one else. I consider how my actions may effect others and try to ensure they do not hurt anyone.
My future is wonderful now, each instant always a beautiful new sunrise.
Hope is great.