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.
In the game of chess, every move counts. Each action you take can drastically change the way the game will play out from there on. By the second move, there are 72,084 possible games. By the third move, 9 million possible games exist. By the fourth, there are 318 trillion possible games. Essentially, after the first move, the game becomes nearly impossible to predict. There are more possible games on a chessboard than there are atoms in the universe. What spawns all of these possibilities is the first move.
This makes the first move all that terrifying. One mistake and you have destroyed countless possibilities where you are victorious. On the last few moves of the game, the results are much more predictable as the possibilities have been weeded out. Therefore, you can have more confidence in your moves. But the first move is as far as you can get from the end move, with an infinite sea of possibilities between you and the other side.
The corollary to this is that if you do make a mistake on your first move, then you have infinite ways to fix that mistake. So don’t be afraid of taking the first move – simply relax and play the game.
(inspiration/paraphrased from Harold Finch, Person of Interest)
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.
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.
A “good fortune teller” is not an “accurate” fortune teller. A “good fortune teller” is a fortune teller who “says good things”. A fortune teller who tells fortunes that are too real, despite warning people of the dangers to come in the future, tends to be ignored and hated on just like Cassandrafrom ancient Greek mythology. Human beings say they fear uncertainty in the future and want some certainty, but they do not want to hear about an unhappy future. This is a normal response. Who would want to hear that they will soon be diagnosed with a terminal illness, or that they will break up with their lover? However, people are fascinating in that they still try to know the future. We go to fortune tellers and read horoscopes to try figure out what will happen to us. But if they receive bad news such as “you will fail your next exam”, instead of studying even more they curse at the fortune teller for giving them a bad prediction. Thus, human beings live among curiosity about their life and fear of the unknown future, while celebrating good fortunes and actively denying bad ones.
The reason why we like to have our fortunes read is similar to why we watch previews of television shows: we are curious about what will happen. But if you ponder this deeply, you soon come to a great epiphany. The further you look out into the future, the clearer this becomes. Everyone eventually dies. A person’s life span is typically not much longer than a hundred years, with everyone meeting the same fate some day.
A fortune teller predicts the ups and downs of a person’s life. If you think about it, life is composed of a series of peaks and troughs that eventually result in death. No matter what misfortune comes your way, it will pass just as seasons come and go. A person who passed an exam is happy and leads a good life, but even if the person fails, they somehow make it through. Unless you give up, a person will continue to live on. C’est la vie. Life is as simple as that.
If the best fortune teller in the history of mankind told your fortune, they would say the following: “nothing matters, live the way you want”. Whether your fortune for the week is good or bad, you will eventually die. There is no point scaring yourself with fortunes, live every day as if it was your last. An uncertain future may be scary, but it also represents infinite possibilities. Just like Schrödinger’s cat, our tomorrows are both alive and dead at the same time. Until tomorrow comes and the box is open, we can never know what the future holds.
So as long as it does not harm you or anyone else, do whatever the hell you want.