Living Versus Imagining

| June 1, 2018

3pmxEidpWhat if one of the make-or-break achievements in life is learning how to grapple with the following challenge:

Live in the present, but imagine in the future.

What if that is much easier said than done? What does it take to really imagine in the future? How does one really assess the “present”?

What if the desire to align one’s actions/behaviors to an imagined future is really counterproductive? What if I could be undertaking much more productive projects if I committed more fully to a near-term agenda? (Is diversifying one’s actions a matter of hedging against an unknown future?)

And what if, instead of trying to imagine my way out of the present, I let me imagination wander more freely? What if I made grander assumptions about the future? Would that in fact help me choose better projects in the present? (Isn’t this really what I already do—but not really with much self-awareness?)

What’s a better direction to push in? Connect the present with the imagined? Or disentangle them further?

Isn’t it also a bit of a paradox to live without imagining the future? Where does the absurdity kick in? When I try to align my actions to things that haven’t yet taken place but could transpire in 10, 20, 30 or 100 years? And can one align one’s actions to things that seem unlikely to ever transpire? Would this be considered rational behavior?

It’s the economy.

A simple example that inspires this meditation is how financial markets allow investors to place bets on the future, thereby enabling businesses to use capital to make that future more likely to come transpire. Or money itself, really—an invention of human imagination that enables humans to align their actions in innovative and world-changing ways. We are able to use imagination to change the future—literally building the living conditions and constraints of not-yet-even-born humans.

This is both very banal (we determine the future!) and operationally unsettling (the quality of our imagination can determine every aspect of human livelihood!) in this matter. Particularly: how much can any one human really contribute to this reality-bending? And in a deeply pro-capitalist, anti-humanist society, how is the scale and scope of one’s contribution directly tied to their wealth?

We’re doomed?

What if we humans are just not that good at imagining complex things? (Or just not that good of thinking in general?) Or what if the humans that are good at imagining are systematically selected against (to lean on evolutionary terminology) when capital is distributed? Or what if the selection process that would eventually promote “good imaginers” (obviously a loaded notion) is just too slow?