I wish I knew now what I’ll know then
Yesterday I read this New York Times article which explains the so-called “end of history illusion,” a fancy way of saying that as we acknowledge having changed a lot in the past, we project more of the same into the future.
I guess this is supposed to mean we always see the present moment as the end of history. From the article:
“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
For the record I thought my teenage self was pretty awesome, and it was the moment in my life where I actually lived as best I could avoiding hypocrisy. I never laugh at my teenage self, and I’m always baffled that other people do – think of everything we had to understand and deal with all at once! But back to the end of history.
Scientists explain the phenomenon by suggesting it’s good for our egos to think we are currently perfectly evolved and won’t need to modify anything in our beliefs. Another possibility they come up with: we are too lazy to do better than this, and it’s easier to remember the past than it is to think hard about the future.
Here’s another explanation that I came up with: we have no idea what the future holds, nor whether we will become more or less conservative, more or less healthy, or more or less irritable, etc., so in expectation we will be exactly the same as we are now. Note that’s not the same as saying we actually will be the same, it’s just that we don’t know which direction we’ll move.
In other words, we are doing something different when we look into the future than when we look into the past, and the honest best guess of our future selves may well be our current selves.
After all, we don’t know what random events will occur in the future (like getting hit by a car and breaking our leg, say) that will effect us, and the best we can go is our current plans for ourselves.
Even so, it’s interesting to think about how I’ve changed over my lifetime and continue the trend into the future. If I do that, I evoke something that is clearly not an extrapolation of my current self.
In particular, I can project that I will be very different in 10 years, more patient, more joyful, doing god knows what for a living (if I’m not totally broke), even more opinionated than I am now, and much much wiser about how to raise teenage sons. Come to think of it, I can’t wait!