Saturday 27 April 2019

Can The Past be changed?

Obviously Not!

But is an interesting matter to speculate why it has been claimed so often through history that The Past is not fixed, can be changed. It is presented as a deep, sophisticated, spiritual kind of thing to say.

It is easy to say, to assert, to say the words that The Past can - even should - be changed - and this may itself slip past our error detectors. Partly because it is so outrageous that we assume we are missing-something; partly because there is often a confusion between The Past and our memories; and of course memories can be mistaken, can changed, can disappear.  So (it goes) if memories change, then why not The Past as well?

Then again there may be - perhaps indeed ought to be - powerful negative feelings such as shame or guilt in people about aspects of The Past. It is psychologically understandable that someone would want to escape from these negative feelings by undoing the past acts that led to them. "I wish I had not done that" literalised into "It never happened".

There is also a strain of yearning or manipulation among humans that wants life to be a matter of indifference - that wants to be able to say that neither what we choose, nor what we do, Matters. This 'liberation' strain is currently very powerful - although perhaps it reached its peak of intensity in the late 1960s; with an explicit doctrine of Anything Goes.

The idea was that there were no mistakes, no sins; and everything will always work out for the best - in the end. This is, in its crude way, asserting that the enlightened Man (the Good Man) lives outside of the petty changes of this-life, lives indeed outside of Time; sees past-present-future as one. It - by-the-way - eludes all personal responsibility by asserting that there is no such thing.

So, the idea that The Past can be changed is part of a complex of ideas that - in a nutshell - eliminate the significance of this mortal life: This life.

...Anything and Everything can be changed or eliminated, therefore nothing has any significance - one consequence of which is that 'I' can do whatever I happen to want to do, because 'ultimately' it doesn't matter.

The price of this licence of hedonism/ selfishness/ short-termism is meaninglessness and purposelessness - we can do anything we like, but nothing matters (because nothing matters).

Nothing we ever experience will ever stand. Anything might/ can/ will/ should be eliminated - at some point. We eliminate the weight of mortal life, at the cost of eliminating all possibility of any kind of significant life. 

We eliminate any possibility of decline or corruption, by ensuring that there can be no progression of any kind.

When The Past can be changed, the individual self goes too - since you or I may be fundamentally changed or unmade - we may be made such that we Never Were...

It is indeed a terrible, demonic doctrine - to say that The Past can be changed!


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Note that even understanding the question "Can the past be changed?" -- regardless of whether one's answer is yes or no -- presupposes an at-least-two-dimensional model of time. Otherwise, it makes no sense to ask whether, for example, 1980 might be different in 2020 than it was in 2000.

William Wildblood said...

If the past could be changed then nothing created would be in any way real which would be a dreadful thing.

Bruce Charlton said...

The idea hardly makes sense to me; and is - overall - horrible - yet I have heard it being asserted as an 'esoteric fact'... with considerable certaintly and smugness! Clearly, the idea has some function for some people.

In some ways it resembles the pseudo-compassion, pseudo-rationality of 'enforced' universal salvation.

Robert Brockman said...

One of the interesting things about time travel is that from a physics perspective, matter goes backwards in time routinely. For example, a positron (an anti-matter electron) is simply a normal electron that has reversed the direction that it travels through time. However so far as we can tell (and physicists have tried real hard), *information* never travels backwards in time, or for that matter in any way that could cause a causality problem or other kind of coherency issue. These results are of course very good for all of the reasons you mentioned.

It thus appears that physical systems can go backwards in time, but *you* cannot, thus demonstrating that you and your subjective conscious experience are not physical systems. My suspicion is that the unceasing flow of subjective time forward, our subjective experience of gaining access to new information as a function of time, and the relentless increase in entropy as a function of time are all aspects of the same fundamental principle.

-- Robert Brockman