Sunday, August 3, 2008

Present and future

One religion system corresponds to one value system. Very often, our value system is instilled to us at youth, when we absorb things without questioning. It can become part of our subconscious, our psyche. Later in life, when facing with related situation, we can react intuitively from our subconscious, make judgment of right or wrong. Such subconscious might accompany us for life, very difficult to be changed. That is our value system. Very often, it is the religion system determines the value system. But there is one value system which seems to control all the religions. That is our emphasis on future.

This emphasis on future is probably also rooted from our human nature, selected from the evolutionary process. Human is different from other animal by our ability to think. This leads to long term planning in our brain. There is probably not a second specie on the earth which can plan ahead for a long time in the future. Our ability of long time planning gives us a big advantage in our competition with other species. With this ability, a natural result is the emphasis on future, not present, while probably most other animals can only focus on present, the current moment.

But the emphasis on future creates a serious problem in our thinking. What about death? We will all die. Do we have future after the death? If death means the end of future, then there is no ultimate future for the near term future to anchor on, does the near term future (which means tomorrow, or next year) still make any sense? To solve this problem, different religions create different answers. Either it is the heaven, or the incarnation, in one word there is no death. Curiously, one Confusionism, which is almost an secular value system, which seems not to bother with this question, and its emphasis is also not in the future.

But science tells us there is really no future, and our death is the real end for our individual. For our Cosmo, there will be an end. The current understanding is that the universe will expand forever, actually its expansion is accelerating. After hundreds of billion years, everything will cool down, galaxies will collapse into big fire balls, and other fire balls will be outside the event horizon from us, which means we cannot even see them. Eventually, everything will be so cold that no meaningful information and manipulation of information will be possible. That means, theoretically, there could be no intelligence, earthly like or other kinds. In any case, the earth will long be destroyed (by the swelling of our sun) and the human being probably will only exist for several million years. All these mean there is no future, at least no future like what we planned or wished.

Given these facts, what should we do? Where is the hope? The only hope is that we change our expectation, we change our emphasis of future, instead we should emphasis the present, like most of the other animals, and be happy. Actually, from a bigger perspective, there is no prior reason why future is more important than present, and why we care about the future. The only reason is that, as a specie, we have been using this strategy to help us plan, which turns out to be more success in our competition with other animals, and perhaps with each other. But time has changed. Competition with other animal is no longer a concern. Even prosperity, defined as the increase of our population, is not a concern. In the contrary, we need to control our population. What is the concern is our happiness, is our well being, and is to straight out our thought. After considered all this, we should put present as the ultimate emphasis, as the ultimate focus of our value system.

Our existence is a process, a transient process. Present is one point on this process. Emphasizing present is emphasizing this process, and emphasizing our own existence. As we know, happiness is also a process. It is the measure of the well being of our existence. Thus, emphasizing present will be compatible with emphasizing happiness. This will be the central value of our religion. Knowing that things will end, we will not be so unsettled about death. Death only means we will not be in the time range beyond our death, much like we will not be in the place we haven’t visited. But that is okay, because our existence is finite.

As for our planning habit, we will still do, because that is part of our thinking. We still plan, since we know we can live for a finite stretch of time, and we also know after we die, the world still exist, and other people we care about will still exist. That will give us enough reason for planning ahead. But the planning is not for any ultimate future, it is just for the well being and the happiness of the finite future, of the process. At the end, what we emphasize is the process, is the present, is the happiness.

I am sure, if we start to teach our kids about the importance of present, and the finiteness of life, and any other existence, they will have a very different perspective towards life, and they will not be scared by death.