A Future Of Nows – Redux

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Well this is embarrassing. I re-published my math column under this name I had for a philosophy one. So uh . . . let’s post the right one.

The future is fundamentally unknowable, but we seem to work very hard to live there. My friend Serdar explores this in an epic, poetic post at his blog that you should read and reread. We are only ever in this present moment, so any extrapolations on the future are phantasms, if well-directed ones. Our predictions are partial by definition.

This may sound troublesome, but it brings us to a lesson many a mystic has stated – we need to be more aware in this present moment. If you’ve ever practiced meditation for some time, you know that moment of being “here.” Those are the only times in our life we can act, the now.

If you give up on needing the future to be solid, then you can get to where you are. Too many times, we’re somewhere else than the only place we can be – living now.

But the future still vexes us. What can we do about the future, because we wish to have one. Indeed, if you are any kind of meditator, you’ve probably come to realize the only world we have is the one we make for all.

The answer to this, I have found by hard experience, is that we are best off setting goals for a future. Prediction is all well and good, but a prediction can be a trap for arrogance or fatalism.

Thus we can make decisions each there-moment to advance towards our goals. With the future we want in mind – however solid or vague – we can make progress with every second, every minute, every bit of awareness. You build the future in tiny increments of now.

This build-a-future-in-bits even keeps us aware of the now, the only moment we know.

It is with no irony I note this is one of the lessons of Agile philosophy and methodology. Agile approaches emphasize setting goals but knowing we face unknowns and changes. With our future goal in mind, we navigate bit by bit towards what we want, evolving both our approach and what we desire.

An excellent way to live – and perhaps the only one we can do with any sanity, humility, and responsibility.

Sure, it may sound strange to combine mysticism, the human condition, some Zen and Agile. Certainly, I hadn’t foreseen I would write something like this last week.

But as I noted, the future isn’t as easy as it seems.

Steven Savage