The Magic of Numbers – Serial 12

What is past, present and future?

The phrase past, present and future is called the arrow of linear time and is deeply integrated into the vocabulary of most languages. Languages won’t make sense if we don’t have the grammar structures past tense, present tense, future tense.

The previous serial described that we are able to remember events or plan events due to our consciousness. An event can be described as a series of intervals that have happened or planned/scheduled to happen or is already happening like heating a bowl of water so that it can boil. So the word “event” is synonymous with “interval”. Events can be called scenarios too.

As we have seen in the previous serial, we were able to remember intervals that happened, that means we keep them in our memories. Intervals we have done can be anything from the memory that boiling water has finished, you waited for a planted seed to germinate, read a book or played games with your friends. Since they happened or nothing can change them we call it the past.

Based on our memories, and what we we want to achieve or explore, we plan events. Examples of plans are: You have not been to your friend’s house so we want to go there and see it. A friend has recommended a website and you said you have not checked it yet, so you want to visit it. The word plan is synonymous with the word future that it is redundant to say “future plans”. Instead it is better to say “plans”.

What is the present? The present is the interval we are currently experience now, with the awareness of our five senses. As we explore a place we have not visited, we won’t know where it will eventually lead us, so we use our full awareness from our five senses. This is also the same when we explore the contents of a webpage we have not visited.

When we have experienced something like doing housework, the procedures we remember from that past experience also augments anything the house work you do now and improve on it. So the word “now” is associated with the word “present”.

We remember the events we have experienced in the past from our memory and we store our expectations of future in our memory. Therefore, what we call the past and the future is entirely in our memories, so they are objects of the mind and they are entirely in our imagination.

We experience new interval/events in the present with our five senses. We also think in the present. Thinking of our past, which is pure memory, is done in the present and thinking of plans also occurs in the present. This means thinking happens in the present. Discovering the contents of the book is essentially discovering the memories of the author. Discovering new knowledge happens in the present. So the present is all we have.

The semantics of past, future and present.

So the phrase “past, present, future” has a semantic problem, because even our plans may have a lot of preconceived notions from our memory and all planning is based on our memory. Our eagerness to experience what others have experienced, for example, we want to do the experiments in a science book is also based on the memories of the author. It is better to rephrase it as “past, future and present”.

So the experimental procedures in a science book or the recipes in the cookbook are just memories too (of the various authors), in written or printed form. Semantically, the word “experiment” is similar to the word “try”. We simply recreate the experiments or the cooking in the present by trying them. Things only manifest in the present.

Plans are expectations, so what we might not expect may not be taken into account, hence the popular saying “expect the unexpected”.

This arrangement (past, future and present) also emphasizes that the present is all we have. It also emphasizes we can do something nobody has not done yet.

To fully break the arrow of linear time, must substitute the words past, future and present with their respective synonyms:

Since all of what we call the past are just memories, we can safely substitute “past” with “memories”. Even the events eloquently described in history books and the discoveries in science book are from the past, so they are memories.

Since all of what we call the future are expectations, we can safely substitute “future” with “plans” or “scenarios”. Even what we expect are just based on educated guesses and proven experiments, which are memories too. Even engineering projects need something proven (based on what the current empirical science has achieved so far) so that it can be executed. There can be another plan (Plan B) if the desired plan (Plan A) is not satisfactory.

“Present” as “creation” or “exploration”. What we eventually create will not always exactly match the plan, so we might need to change the plan slightly as we do the project. This means it will help if you are not attached to any expectation because things unfold in the present. We explore new information or new places at the present with our five senses. Memories and scenarios only involve thinking and writing. The experiences matter more than the preconceived notions you might feel because you have creative impulses.

So the phrase “memories, scenarios and creation” emphasize the fact we are creative beings. But the so-called “arrow of linear time” (past, present and future) implies determinism and is prone to preconceived notions that don’t help in the creative process.

The new phrase also emphasizes the existence of cycles in everyday life and linear time is just a counting system. The table below lists some synonyms to memories, scenarios and creation.

If we view the “arrow of time” as a counting system, it will go like this: The past is what we have counted. The future is the last numeral to speak, say 70. The present is the numeral you currently speaking, say 64.

It is better to give priority to acknowledging that natural cycles exist than to contemplate the reversibility of linear time. This is often described as time travel or going back in time. Natural cycles are the only real thing. Linear time and counting systems are objects of our minds, which we use as tools to gage/measure the interval of natural cycles.


A cycle is a sequence of events that maintains itself and is repetitive. We know the nutrient cycles in the ecosystem called the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle maintains ecological balance, unless it is disrupted by human activity.

Since we can also count backwards, this lead to the idea of rewinding a video of a dish falling into the floor. The broken dish seems to magically become a whole dish again as the video rewinds. Counting backwards and rewinding videos ultimately led to the idea of reversibility of time, but instead we will call it reversibility of intervals.

But we have better things to do than seek to reverse intervals. Instead, it is better to acknowledge natural cycles govern our lives. Day and night is a cycle, we use the interval of this cycle as a reference point for linear time. The four seasons are also a cycle. The rotation of the earth around the sun is also a cycle.

We know there are every step in the sequence of any cycle is vital to keep the cycle going and each step takes an interval. This is true in the nutrient cycles in the ecosystem. If we impede a step in the cycle it will go wrong and equilibrium will be spoiled.

We can only measure how long each step of the cycle is, so ultimately linear time alone cannot fully describe the sequence inside cycles. So to only think of the “arrow of linear time” is a short sighted act, so we must think also of the sequences in a cycle.

Also, the money system is how we measure the value of natural resources. Like linear time, money is a short sighted tool because it only emphasizes numbers and also is a counting system, which have their origins in comparing.

The money system is ultimately derived from the 5-star like and dislike rating system. Like and dislike are aspects of human consciousness and how we react to surroundings and it can be short sighted to accurately determine the importance of cycles due to our experiences, preconceived notions and memories. Via your consciousness, you determine how important cycles are to yourself. This will be discussed in a later topic.

If we acknowledge there are cycles, the only way to recombine the broken dish to is to melt the broken pieces. Clay is the raw material for making dishes. The broken pieces have to go through the process of making dishes again.

This is often called recycling. Recycling refers to reusing the raw materials of things we cannot use anymore like broken dishes. Ultimately our ecosystem recycles itself via the nutrient cycles, which won’t be discussed in detail here, that is why Earth seems to last forever, unless we spoil it due to our faulty memories.

Upward spirals and downward spirals in human behavior

Some cycles can lead to downward spirals till it gets very serious. They can be called vicious cycles. Example: Addiction to food and stuff is a cycle too. Eating when you don’t feel good is called emotional eating. This is a common pattern in consumerism too, thinking buying stuff makes you happy. Ultimately, they are just habits that can be broken.

To break the emotional cycle of emotional eating and consumerism, eventually you have to seek help from your friends or read a motivational book. You can apply those memories (past events in book form) from other people and create a brighter scenarios for yourself. Worse yet, a wake-up call event eventually motivates you to break the cycle. Notice we often call brighter scenarios as brighter “future”.

The word “future” implies we cannot choose but the word “scenarios” can better imply we can choose: break the cycle and create upward spirals or continue the downward spiral. This is the disadvantage of the deterministic “arrow of linear time”.

Some cycles can lead to upward spirals. They can be called virtuous cycles. If we have gone very far in breaking a habit, we feel motivated to achieve our goals. You reminisce the successful steps in your habit breaking strategy than the memories of yourself in a downward spiral. Eventually there are more motivating memories than demoralizing memories, and those motivating memories occupy the foreground of your thinking.

The more you feel you are successful in every strategy, the more you want to continue creating more strategies, ultimately you achieve it. Sometimes you get more than you expect. This is called gaining momentum, this implies the increase in your mental strength.

← Previous Chapter  |  Next Chapter →