When you buy clothes, do you buy clothes that fit you, or do you make your body fit the clothes? Of course, you find clothing that fits you well, or better yet, get it fitted to your size. This seems like such a basic principle when it comes to clothing, yet we seem to do the opposite when it comes to life.
How often do we try to fit ourselves into a life of the wrong size? We are constantly under pressure from our friends, family and society that we should be living life a certain way. We feel like we need to buy a house, get married, have children, find a stable, well-paying, respectable job…
We keep comparing ourselves to the lives of others and feel anxious that we are a step behind. Instead of searching for the kind of life that we want to live and things that make us happy, we have a tendency to force ourselves to fit an image of what other see as the ideal life.
But you’d never purposely buy clothes that are too tight or loose on you, or have a completely clashing colour scheme with your skin tone. So why would you try to do the same for something as important as your life? Instead of trying to force yourself into wearing a life that is the wrong fit for you, think deeply about what you want and tailor your dreams and future to fit you.
Don’t let reality, society and the people around you dictate your style. As long as you won’t have regrets on your deathbed about the choices you made, or hurt others or yourself, live life the way you want. Because you’re the only person that knows what you really want out of life.
If time travel was possible and you could go back in time to change one thing in the past, what would you change?
Would you try to change the world by attempting to kill Hitler before World War 2 starts? Would you buy stock of a company you know is doing extremely well in the present? Would you take a leap of faith that you never did, such as asking out someone you didn’t have the courage to, or moving to a city that you always wanted to live in?
If we ignored the numerous hypothetical troubles that come with time travel, such as the grandfather paradox and chaos theory, the possibilities seem endless. This is because hindsight is 20/20 and we have a tendency to obsess over roads not taken and missed opportunities. Even though we cannot change the past, we lament how if we had the choice, we’d make so many changes to make our present and future better.
Now ask yourself this question: if you from the future could travel back in time to now, what changes do you think they’d want to try to make? The thing with time is that it marches on linearly, making every moment a past of the future. A major difference in this scenario is that unlike the first scenario, we actually have the power to change in the present and the future.
So whenever you catch yourself regretting how life would be different if you had made different choices in the past, change your frame of mind. Instead, consider what changes you could make now to make your future self have less regrets. Maybe it is treating yourself (within reasonable limits), or finally taking that trip you always dreamed of, or taking a chance on something you are unsure or anxious about, or keeping resolutions on living a healthy, better life.
Although physics (currently) dictates that time travel is impossible, our minds have the power to travel in time virtually from the future to now, letting us make choices and take actions so we can live with less regrets.
A key tool that evolution gave human beings to survive is the ability to plan for the future. We are able to analyse the information available to us to simulate and predict the future. This allows us to make better choices as we can delay gratification, find optimal solutions and work towards a common goal with others.
However, our ability to predict the future is far from perfect. We are still slaves to our base desires and numerous cognitive biases. We are often either too cynical, thinking of every reason something may fail, or too optimistic, thinking of the best-case scenario. Sometimes our emotions cloud our judgement, while sometimes we rely too much on cold logic, ignoring what our hearts really want.
Another problem is that sometimes we overanalyse things. We may become insecure that a certain problem will cause more issues and heartbreak down the line. We let our fears and anxieties create a chain reaction leading to the worst possible scenario. Instead of trying to work through the problem, we decide to not even try.
We start to preempt the preemption.
But the thing about the future is that it is inherently unpredictable. There are too many variables and random probabilities involved that no matter how hard we try, we cannot perfectly predict what will happen. What is certain is that if you do not make an effort and pursue something, it will certainly not happen.
Consider the last time you made a major decision, such as deciding to change jobs, or to date someone, or to move to a different city. Did things work out exactly as you planned? Now think back to the times when you gave up on something before even starting because you didn’t think it would work out. Do you think things might have gone differently had you not given up?
It is perfectly reasonable to make a conscious choice not to act or pursue something. But every now and then, even if you feel that things won’t end perfectly, take the leap and make a daring choice. Whether the outcome is good or bad, you gave the future a chance to prove itself.
Life is like a lottery, and you can’t win anything without buying a ticket.
The end of the year is as good a time as any to reflect on the days that have been and who you are now. Time to reflect is hard to come by, as life keeps us busy and on our feet constantly. But that is not enough of an excuse. We are defined by our experiences and connections, meaning that we are constantly changing to some degree. If we do not reflect, we cannot learn from our mistakes, or know what direction we are heading in because we lose sight of what we need or what is truly important to us.
Reflections can take many forms and everyone will have their own preferred style. But if you are not used to it, try the following method. If you cannot recall the last time you truly reflected on yourself, then you should definitely give reflection a try before greeting the new year.
First, consider the past.
What were the highlights of the year? When were the moments you struggled through? What relationships were made, changed or broken? This is an important step as we take inventory of all of the experiences, emotions, connections, hardships and things we learned – that is, the ingredients that you are made of. Only then can we process how these things affected us.
A loss or an ordeal may traumatise us, but they make us more resilient as we remember that despite the grief and stress, we survived. Wonderful memories remind us of the things we should be grateful for. Moments that we are proud of remind us how much we have grown. If we do not reflect on the past, you might as well have wasted the year, because it would not have added to your life in any way.
Second, consider the present.
How are you feeling right now? Are you miserable and confused, unsure of who you are and where to go from here? Or are you content and happy with how things are going? How is your relationship with your loved ones and, most importantly, with yourself? What concerns hang around in the back of your mind? What kind of person are you right now, and is it the kind of person you wanted to become? What is most important to you at the moment?
The present is a fleeting moment between the infinite past and future, but it is just as important, because we live in it. This is who you are. Too often, we are so preoccupied by our past mistakes or grand dreams of the future that we lose track of who we are right now. Make sure you have a good understanding of the present you, so that you have a solid anchor for your future self.
Lastly, consider the future. You don’t have to have the rest of your life planned out, but it is always good to have some idea of the general direction you want to head towards in the coming year. What are the things you want to leave in the past? What are the things you want to carry forward, or improve upon? What are some things you are looking forward to? What changes should you be making for your happiness? What kind of person do you want to grow up to become?
The future is wild and unpredictable. We cannot possibly know what surprises await us there: happiness, sadness, madness, death. So there is no point being anxious or afraid of the future. All we can do is be prepared by having the skills and resilience to survive through whatever the future may throw at us. Hopefully, it will be an enjoyable ride.
If this is too difficult to do just in your head, try writing a letter to two people: you from the start of this year, and you from the end of next year.
To your past self, tell them the stories from this year, the person you have become and how they will be alright.
To your future self, tell them to leave your bad habits and worries behind, while moving forward with the good connections and positive habits you have cultivated. Writing things down is a good way to process these complex reflections.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how you go about it, as long as you have given some thought about your life. Life is not a movie that we watch from a couch with a bowl of popcorn. It is your personal adventure full of decisions, actions and consequences. We cannot let it pass by like a TV show. Instead, we need to be conscious of the role we play in our own lives and actively try to make the most of it.
Most people working a standard Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 job will say that they prefer Saturdays. A common reason is that Saturdays begin after a fun or relaxing Friday night and a bit of a sleep in. Then, you can do whatever you want for the whole day, even if it means staying up late as you have another day to rest.
On the other hand, Sundays start with a relaxing morning, but followed by the stressful thought of having to return to work on the dreaded Monday.
Simply put, Saturday feels better than Sunday because we don’t have a Monday hanging over our heads. But why should this be the case?
Technically speaking, both Saturday and Sunday are days of rest. Sure, the night ends earlier on Sunday as we need to wake up early for work, but the rest of the day should be equally free and relaxing as a Saturday.
What keeps us from enjoying Sunday is our dread and anxiety for the next day. Because we stress about tomorrow, we fail to enjoy today.
When we focus on the present rather than the future, we can truly enjoy the precious hours of rest amongst the business of our lives. Don’t count the hours till you return to work. Instead, just enjoy the fact that you are not working right now.
If you change your perspective, every day can be a weekend.
Humanity has always been interested in trying to predict the future. Even if the future cannot be changed, we seem to have a primal craving to know something that should not be known. The history of fortune telling can be traced back to ancient times in almost every culture.
The ancient Greeks were particular fans of divination – the art of foreseeing with the inspiration of a god – and the most famous example is of course the Oracle of Delphi. The priestesses of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi were known to give very accurate, yet cryptic, prophecies inspired by Apollo. For example, when Croesus, king of Lydia, consulted the Oracle regarding his invasion of Persia, he was advised:
“If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed”.
Croesus believed this to mean that he would conquer Persia, but ultimately, the invasion failed and his own empire was destroyed by the Persians instead.
However, as the Oracle of Delphi would only give prophecies on the 7th day of every month, most commoners could not afford to have their fortunes told by them and would instead turn to seers. Seers told fortune through variable method, all with the purpose of interpreting “signs from the gods”. An example would be a haruspicy – divination through the inspection of an animal’s organs, commonly a sacrificed sheep’s liver.
Divination was an important part of Native American cultures. Diviners would use potent hallucinogens to reach an altered state of mind to derive visions. Scrying was also common – the practice of “seeing” the future by using reflections in mirrors or water surfaces.
In ancient China, oracles would read the future by reading the patterns of cracks on a burnt turtle shell (plastromancy). Nostradamus, the famous French seer, would scry the future in a bowl of water. The most classic, stereotypical image of a fortune teller is a gypsy woman gazing into a crystal ball or reading the palm of a person to foresee an individual’s future.
Fortune telling still plays an important role in the modern world, with a significant proportion of people in multiple cultures believing that the future can be predicted by fortune tellers. In the Western world, horoscopes are a common feature of newspapers and astrologists and tarot card readers are frequented by people seeking advice. In countries such as Korea, China and Japan, a significant number of people will seek fortune tellers to see how “well-matched” a couple are before marriage is decided.
There has been zero scientific evidence to suggest that clairvoyance is real. However, perhaps that is not the point of fortune telling. Another name for fortune tellers is soothsayers – perhaps having our fortune told gives us a sense of comfort as it eases our morbid curiosity for what the future holds. The future is an endless sea of possibilities and the realisation that anything could happen can be crippling. So maybe the aim of fortune telling is not to predict the future, but to temporarily treat your fear of the future so that you may live in the present.
You are not afraid of the dark. You are afraid of what is in it.
You are not afraid of heights. You are afraid of falling.
You are not afraid of trying. You are afraid of failing.
You are not afraid of being in love. You are afraid of not being loved back.
The natural response to fear is fleeing from it. It is an instinct designed to preserve our life. But fear – like all emotions – is an irrational thing. Sometimes we fear something not for what it is, but what it could turn out to be. Therefore, the greatest fear is the fear of possibilities. Because we are scared of a certain possibility, we avoid the precipitant to prevent the possibility from happening.
But the possibility you are afraid of is merely one of many branches on the tree of possibilities. You might find the dark room holds a surprise party for you. You might find the height will not lead to a fall to your death, but show you the greatest scenery you have ever seen. You might find that the person you were too afraid of asking out may have been in love with you all along.
By not opening the proverbial box, you extinguish all of these wonderful possibilities. No matter how scary it may be, give the future a chance and take a shot.
Why is the sky blue in the day, yet it becomes dyed bright red at sunset? The reason is that the atmosphere splits white light into the colours of the rainbow like a prism. Short-wavelength colours such as blue and green tend to scatter more, making the sky blue usually. But as the sun sets, the angle at which sunlight enters the atmosphere changes and the light has to travel through more atmosphere before hitting Earth. The more the light travels, the more it scatters and blue-green light is scattered so much that it can no longer be seen. At this stage, the dominant remaining colour are orange and red, which have longer wavelengths.
But this alone would only give the sky a dull red colour. The brilliant splash of red and orange across the sky every evening is thanks to the scattering of light in a certain way by cloud droplets and other particles. This is why an exceptionally bright orange sunset can suggest rain the following day.
A “perfect” sunset requires the alignment of various factors such as the angle of the sun (affected by time and season), humidity, temperature, air component and the surrounding landscape. Depending on these factors, the sunset can range in colour from a deep red to a bright orange, to a pastel yellow to baby pink or purple (or at worst, a piddly dull yellow light). This means that a perfect sunset tends to only happen at a single moment in time when these factors align to your preference.
The corollary to this is that a perfect sunset is always a fleeting moment. No matter how much you want to hold on to it, time marches on and the sunset slowly fades away. It is futile to stop the moment from passing – to cling to the beauty of the moment. All you can do is enjoy that single moment while you can. It is a time when the past day comes to a close, while the future is getting ready to start. In that moment, do not think about the past or the future – just focus on the present. Take in the brilliant colours with your eyes. Listen to the chirping of the birds returning home. Feel the cool breeze brush past you. When the sun finally sets, despair not the passing of the beautiful moment, but cherish the fact that you had such a great moment. Because as you know, another sunset awaits you tomorrow.
Author Bernard Werber (the inspiration for this Encyclopaedia) posited the following theory: if we could see the future, would we not actively build towards a better future? Imagine a tree soaring high into the sky, stretching countless branches in all directions. The many branches of the tree branch off into smaller branches, which branch into even more smaller branches. At the end of each branch, there hangs a leaf. This tree is not a normal tree; it is a Tree of Possibilities that represents the flow of time from the beginning of the universe to the distant future. Each split in a branch represents the creation of two different futures due to a choice or a change, while a leaf represents the final future created from the cumulative effects of these changes. Thus, the Tree of Possibilities is the ultimate crystal ball showing all the pasts that could have been and all the futures that can happen.
Of course the Tree of Possibilities is a fictional model created in our imaginations. But what if we could actually make this tree? First, we would create an organisation of the greatest scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, historians, philosophers, science fiction writers etcetera that represent the many fields of knowledge. These people are gathered in a location far from the reaches of governments and the media, where they can discuss without any interference. These specialists will debate over all sorts of topics, amalgamating their knowledge and intuition to generate a tree diagram as mentioned above. This is a diagram free from ethics, morals, laws, optimism, pessimism and individualism – the ultimate objective view of all possible futures that humanity and the Earth may face. The experts may agree with each other at times and disagree at times. There is ample possibility that their postulations are wrong. But none of these matter. The important point is not that the Tree is “accurate” or not, but that it is an extensive scenario database of all the paths humanity can walk on towards the future.
The Tree of Possibilities will have various conjectures such as: What if nuclear war broke out? What if artificial intelligence is perfected? What if chimpanzees reach the intelligence levels of human beings? What if we build cities on the Moon? However, the future is altered much more easily that you would think. Thus, there will also be branches representing much more trivial and ordinary (even bizarre) postulations as well: What if smoking is banned? What if the average age women gave birth is older? What if rhinoceroses were domesticated pets? What if pianos do not exist?
On analysing these numerous postulations, a branch bearing the leaf with the ideal future will be found. Ergo, we can choose to follow a path of least resistance, where all the choices we make will ultimately lead to that ideal future. Essentially, the Tree of Possibilities is a tool that is used to predict the future. However, it is not “fortune telling” as it is based on logic rather than magic and divinity to see into the future. The future the Tree tells is not a set “destiny”, but rather one “possibility”. Thus, instead of fearing the future like we do with fortunes, we would instead feel excitement over the potential of finding the ideal future. If the path we are currently on is fated to an unhappy ending, then we can simply jump onto a different path with the guidance of the Tree. Unlike fortune telling, which destroys all uncertainty and any other possibilities in the future, the Tree of Possibilities provides humanity with the greatest gift: dreams of a better future.
As you could imagine, the possibilities of the future are infinite so a drawn-out diagram of the Tree of Possibilities would take up extensive amounts of space. Ergo, the ideal form of the Tree of Possibilities would be a computer program. As computer programs only need sufficient storage space, it provides a perfect environment in which the Tree may grow. The program would generate a Tree based on the information provided by the scholars, drawing out each branch and leaf, while also calculating the effects of any action on each of the possible futures. If we further applied the engine used in chess programs to predict the next few moves, then we may be able to create a program that can calculate the ideal future and the path of least resistance for humanity.
My ideal future is this. There is an isolated island, far from any interference, with a large building. At the centre of this building, there lies a supercomputer running The Tree of Possibilities. The computer is surrounded by lecture theatres, conference rooms and residential areas. Thus, specialists of each field may come to stay and use their knowledge to water the Tree and foster it. This island will provide humanity with hopes and dreams, leading them towards the best possible future based on logic and imagination.
The Tree of Possibilities will radically change our day-to-day lives. One of the greatest weaknesses of human beings is the inability to see the long-term happiness and sacrificing it for short-term gain. However, if we were able to see precisely how our actions will affect the future, then would we not act differently? Armed with insight and foresight, people will understand what is best for the future, and instead of the current near-sighted attitude of only seeing the gain right before our eyes, they will act in the best interests of their children and grandchildren. Politicians will see how useless bickering over trifling issues is and instead focus on policies that take a while to show the effects (yet nonetheless important), such as environmental conservation. The Tree of Possibilities will help us make rational decisions to create a world that the future generation will be happy living in, without being swayed by emotions and selfish greed. And so, we will build towards a utopia.
The greatest weapon a person has is imagination that can build the future.