The future, whether personal or historical, is as impenetrable—as impossible to experience—as the past. We can at most, by reasoning by analogy, or by letting ourselves be carried along by the rhythm of habit, deduce or imagine what it will the immediate future be like. We can say, for example, that the road will be covered with ice tomorrow because it has just rained this evening and then the thermometer has suddenly dropped below zero centigrade; or that the price of food will rise because the strikers in the transport services have obtained satisfaction; or that such and such a shop, ‘open every day except Monday’, will be open next Thursday. On the other hand, it is totally impossible for any human being to predict what Europe will look like in three thousand years’ time, just as nobody in the Bronze Age could imagine what the same continent will look like today, with industrial cities in place of its ancient forests.
This does not mean that the future does not already ‘exist’ in a certain way, as the only set of virtualities destined to be realised, and that this ‘existence’ is not as irrevocable as that of the past. For a consciousness freed from the bondage of the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ everything would exist on the same basis, the future as well as the past, in what the sages call the ‘eternal present’, the timeless.
To predict a future state or event is not to deduce it from known data, at the risk of making a mistake (by omitting to take into account certain hidden, even unknowable, data); it is to see it, in the way that an observer, seated in an aeroplane, grasps a detail of the earth’s landscape, amid many others that he apprehends together, whereas the traveller on the ground can only distinguish it in the course of a succession of which he himself is a part, ‘before’ one detail, ‘after’ another. In other words, it is only when seen from the Eternal Present that what we, the prisoners of Time, conceive something as a debatable possibility that it becomes a real fact: a ‘given’, as irrevocable as the past. It is a matter of perspective—and of clairvoyance. Even when viewed from above, a landscape is clearer for the observer gifted with good eyesight. But it is enough that he stands above to have a global vision, that the man on the ground lacks.
History relates that on 18 March 1314 Jacques de Molay, before going to the stake, summoned ‘to the tribunal of God’ the two men responsible for the suppression of his Order: Pope Clement V, ‘in a month’, and King Philip the Fair, ‘within a year’. Both men died within the time allotted, or rather seen from the perspective of the eternal present by the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. And more than eighteen hundred years earlier, Confucius, when asked by his disciples about the influence his teaching would have, answered that it would ‘dominate China for twenty-five centuries’. With a margin of fifty years, he spoke the truth. He also had, in the same perspective of the sage who rose ‘above time’, seen from beginning to end an evolution that no calculation could predict.
But I repeat: the wise man capable of transcending time is already more than a man. The future, already ‘present’ for him that he reads, remains, in the consciousness subjected to the ‘before’ and the ‘after’, something that is built at every moment in prolongation of the lived present; that becomes at each moment present, or rather past—the ‘present’ being only a moving limit. It is unalterable, no doubt, just like the past, since there are rare consciousnesses that can live both in the manner of a present. Nevertheless, as long as it has not become the past, it is felt, by the man who lives on the level of Time, as more or less dependent on a choice of all moments. Only with the past does a consciousness related to Time have the certainty that it is given, irrevocably: the result of an old choice perhaps (if such is believed), but that it is too late to want to modify, however we go about it.
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Editor’s Note: A time in my life I was involved in parapsychology, which includes the purported study of retrocognition and precognition (before George Martin wrote his novels, I really wanted to become a sort of Bran). I entered the field as a believer and came out sceptical. Now it seems clear to me that parapsychologists have not demonstrated the reality of retrocognitive or precognitive phenomena, or even that there are psychics or gifted people who have had these powers.
But I still love to play with the idea even if it is pure fantasy. The ultimate truth about Time is unclear, and while parapsychologists have failed to scientifically prove their claims, that doesn’t automatically mean that extrasensory cognition doesn’t exist. It just means that there is no reliable evidence yet.
Anyone who wants to get acquainted with the subject could start with sceptical books like Nicholas Humphrey’s Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation.