We are connected with the distant past and the faraway future. The atoms in our body, all cooked inside ancient stars, link us back to the beginnings of time; our evolutionary history imprints our minds, behaviors, and beliefs; and culture, an outgrowth of our chemistry and biology, is itself a creation of the past. The past is embedded within and surrounds us as a shell. Every existent thing, from stars to genes to culture, is the result of something that happened in the past.
But culture allows us to escape from and transcend the past. Science, art, music, religion, and all the elements of culture introduce novelty; the arrival of culture transforms. Like a child who progressively constructs new numbers—negative, irrational, and imaginary—we too abstract from the given and leap beyond, fashioning the unconventional in the process. Through our imagination and creativity, along with our care and concern, we connect with the future; we create the future now; we live in the future now. And if anything in this whole world matters, it is this. We carry the past and the future inside us; we are the past and future. And surely there is something profound in this.
THE INNER LIGHT
One finds a moving tribute to these ideas in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode: “The Inner Light.” In it, a probe scans the ship and an energy beam renders Captain Picard unconscious. He wakes to find himself living on the planet Kataan with a loving family and friends who tell him he is Kamin, an iron weaver recovering from a feverish sickness. Picard talks of his memories on the Enterprise, but his wife Eline and their close friend Batai try to convince Picard that his memories were only dreams. Slowly he acclimates himself into their society. Picard begins living out his life as Kamin in the village of Ressik, starting a family with Eline, and learning to play his beloved flute.
As the years pass, he begins to notice that the planet is suffering a worldwide drought owing to increased radiation from the planet’s sun. He sends reports to the planet’s leaders, who seem to ignore his concerns. Ultimately Kamin confronts a government official who admits that the government already knows this but wish to keep it a secret to avoid panic. The official points out to Kamin that they do not possess the technology needed to evacuate even a small colony’s worth of people before their planet is rendered uninhabitable.
Years pass and Kamin grows old, outliving his wife. Kamin and his daughter Meribor continue their study of the drought. They find that it is not temporary; extinction of all life on the planet is inevitable. One day, while playing with his grandson, Kamin is summoned by his adult children to watch the launch of a rocket, which everyone seems to know about accept him. Here are the final moments of the episode:
The past lives in the present, which creates the future, which represents our hopes.