The present informs the past.
I was recently listening to some of the mind-bending lectures from the philosopher Alan Watts’ audiobook for “Out Of Your Mind”.
At one point, Watts discussed how the present informs the past — the idea that the past is constantly changing with every passing moment.
“We must abandon completely the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we’re in and reverse our thinking and see that the past always flows back from the present. That now is the creative point of life. So you see, it’s like the idea of forgiving somebody. You change the meaning of the past by doing that … Also, watch the flow of music. The melody as it’s expressed is changed by notes that come later. Just as the meaning of a sentence … you wait till later to find out what the sentence means … The present is always changing the past.”
I like to think of myself as open-minded, but I listened to these ideas with some skepticism. Time, as I have experienced, is linear and only progresses. There is no rewind button, there is no changing the past. But the more I let the idea and Watts’ examples sit with me, the more I came to appreciate the truth in them.
Watts’ example of a melody resonated most. Every additional note changes the melody of the tune. So while the previous notes don’t actually change, the notes that follow change the tune. In that way, it’s a different tune than the tune in the past. And in that way, the past — or at least how we hear, see and understand it — has changed.
Some (chewy) food for thought as we near the end of the year and you take time to reflect on it.