Home » Archive » The future of now

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

We have two boys. Keaton is four years old. Kesler just cleared his first birthday.

I love watching the boys play. There is something so tangible in their games. It feels like we’re always on the verge of some monumental discovery.

When we only had Keaton, and Keaton was Kesler’s age, I often felt challenged by his little version of “presence”. He always seemed inside his moments when I was outside mine. He didn’t struggle with the future as I tend to do.

But lately, when I watch the boys play, I see the future intruding on Keaton’s joy. When he knows Grandpa and Grandma are coming – he is conscious that they’re not here yet. If he knows that he and I might go get a movie later – he feels impatience if he has to wait. We might play outside, but after lunch, and that frustrates him.

He might be playing with his favorite rocket and then something yanks him into the future. His moment gets shared with something that ‘will be’. And, to me, something is lost.

I probably wouldn’t notice if Kesler wasn’t here too. But there he is, busily playing away – pudgy hands search for blocks, crooked fingers point at birds, a little lisp extols the virtues of Cheerios taken neat.

Kesler is utterly in his moment; Keaton is mostly in his.

In 1985, D.H. Ingvar wrote an article for Human Neurobiology called “‘Memory of the future’: an essay on the temporal organization of conscious awareness.” In the paper he explores the concept of time (past/present/future).

Ingvar discusses how our minds handle the three categories of time. The past is related to our memories (obviously). The experience of a present or ‘now-situation’ is mediated by sensory input. And the same part of the brain used to direct behaviour and the mental process of knowing (awareness, perception, reason, and judgement) is used to house action programs for the future.

Action programs for the future can be retained and recalled. Ingvar calls these “‘memories of the future'”. “They form the basis for anticipation and expectation as well as for the short and long-term planning of a goal-directed behavioural and cognitive repertoire. This repertoire for future use is based upon experiences of past events and the awareness of a Now-situation, and it is continuously rehearsed and optimized.”*

Our ‘inner future’ is made of our past and perception of meaning in the “massive sensory barrage” to which we are constantly exposed in the present.

So back to my boys.

It’s cute when Keaton hears that Grandpa and Grandma are coming and resolves to park himself at the window. He refuses to move despite vigorous threats and cajoling. He’s convinced they will arrive any moment – though they live hours away and won’t leave until after Supper.

But look at this from his side. His future is built of maybe two similar experiences. The last of his two experiences involved Grandpa and Grandma suddenly arriving. One moment there was LEGO and the next, Grandpa and Grandma.

He’s got that and whatever he has in his new Now. Today he just ate (Breakfast). Eating is eating – Breakfast, Lunch, Supper – these are the same. That he ate means Grandpa and Grandma are imminent.

All this being true: Might as well wait it out. Keaton’s “memory of the future” hasn’t got much to play with but, given what he’s got, his behaviour is rational.

Have you ever seen an economic recession before? Have you ever watched your profits race to zero? Have you ever seen China sponge up all your production? Has the price of oil and a turn in environmental sentiment ever obliterated your business plan in a matter of weeks?

Once? Maybe twice?

And, as you sit by the window, waiting for things to turn around – what does your ‘now-situation’ look like?

It was easy to smile at Keaton. Are you so different?

____________________________________
*Ingvar, D.H. (1985) ‘Memory of the future’: an essay on the temporal organization of conscious awareness, Human Neurobiology, vol.4, pp. 127-136.

Commentary

[…] In the interview they talk about gratitude. They talk about giving versus getting. They touch on presence. […]