The Future is a Strange Beast

Photo Credit: Facundo Gastiazoro

The Future is a Strange Beast

👤Matt J. Simmons 🕔Sep 11, 2017

The future is a strange beast. It holds limitless possibilities of life and love and death and sorrow. It is everything and it is nothing. The great physicists say the future doesn’t even exist—the concept is simply, in Einstein’s words, “a stubbornly persistent illusion.” And yet, whether mirage or reality, we live inside that illusion and our subjective experiences of time are all we have. So we think of what’s yet to come; we plan, we dream.

I’ve never been very good at looking ahead. It’s not that the future doesn’t interest me—it does. It’s strangely compelling to wonder what changes to my world are yet to come. Where will I be? What will I have accomplished? How will my daily life be different than it is now? And yet, I rarely ask those questions. I dodge the thoughts when they arrive unexpected in the middle of the night. I think sometimes I’m just too wrapped up in the present. Or, maybe the future is so scary, I’ve built myself a mental turtle shell to stay sane. Hide your head, boy—this is all a bit too much. Because it’s easy to think all is bleak. Here we are, facing climate change with all its chaotic implications, overpopulation, mass extinctions, global unrest and violence, and an increasing divide between the very rich and the very poor. The newest generations retreat further into virtual worlds, glowing screens commanding attention while shortening attention spans. And on and on it goes. But fear of the future is pointless. There’s no escape from our perceived passage of time. “At some point the future becomes reality. And then it quickly becomes the past.” Haruki Murakami.

What will northern BC look like in 100 years? Maybe the spread of urbanization will penetrate further into our northern landscapes as life becomes increasingly unaffordable for our southern cousins and technology continues to free us from the need to live where we work. Or that urban growth will stick to the cities, towering upwards and outwards, and the north will remain a green ocean.

When I watch how quickly deciduous trees reclaim garden beds, lawns, fences, even buildings, casually and efficiently taking back a landscape, I can readily imagine a future where nature is boss. After all, it really is. As author and activist Naomi Klein puts it,  “It is we humans who are fragile and vulnerable and the earth that is hearty and powerful, and holds us in its hands. In pragmatic terms, our challenge is less to save the earth from ourselves and more to save ourselves from an earth that, if pushed too far, has ample power to rock, burn, and shake us off completely.”

The future isn’t all doom and destruction, of course. There’s always hope. Murakami again: “What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.” Human beings are out there right now accomplishing much that will positively affect our future selves. Have you heard of Taylor Wilson? At age 14, he achieved nuclear fusion in a homemade reactor built in his parents’ garage. He’s 23 now, and simultaneously working on projects to cure cancer and solve the world’s energy problems. And he might just do it.

All across the planet are incredible youth changing the way we think and creating a new future for us all. Babies are born today who will one day change the world. Books will be written, songs will be sung. And through it all, the persistent illusion will persist.