Sometimes, in my editing workshops, I instruct participants: “Don’t think about a horse.”
They snicker. Because the first thing that pops to mind is a horse, of course. We humans can’t not think of something; we can only think of something else.
The same holds when someone asks, “What are you thinking about?”
You reply, “Oh, nothing…”
But you’re not really thinking of nothing—you’re thinking about things that don’t seem worth mentioning.
If you really want to try thinking about nothing, imagine what’s out there beyond the end of the universe. That’s right—nothing
How far does that nothing extend? Nowhere. Because there’s nothing there to extend to anywhere.
In nothing, there’s no length or space. No mass or volume. No time. So there’s no way of measuring how long what isn’t there hasn’t been there.
You find that confusing? Of course. Because we can’t imagine nothing.
So when we ponder the beginnings of the universe we live in, we can’t help wondering what was there before the beginning. But before the beginning, there was no before. Because there was no time.
That’s equally hard to get our heads around —no time? We can, with some effort, imagine a vacuum—provided it’s inside a container. But we can’t imagine the absence of time. Even in a coma, we age. It’s the one inexorable dimension we all deal with. Nothing that we can do stops it, or delays it, or reverses it. Time always flows in one direction, onward.
But time is not a thing, an object. It’s not like a road, which exists over the horizon even if we haven’t gotten there yet.
Time has a past. Time has a present. But it has no future, because the future hasn’t happened yet. By the time the future happens, it will be the present. Or the past.
The future doesn’t exist—yet.
We create the future, by everything we do. Each breath I take affects, however infinitesimally, the atmospheric composition my grandchildren will inhale 50 years from now. If I dump toxic chemicals down the drain, I affect the water they will drink some someday. If I start a war, I remove certain people and their descendants from everybody’s future.
Everything we do, everything we say—perhaps even everything we think—shapes the future our successors will live in.
Does that make sense?
If it does, you should recognize that it conflicts with the notion that a Great Engineer In The Sky designed everything in advance.
By that understanding, God wound up the universe and set it ticking, long ago, with every eventuality laid out in its gears. That road over the horizon already has its accidents in place, just waiting for you to get there.
I don’t believe that concept any more. If living creatures have free will—however that free will was granted—then whatever they/we do creates the future. The future has no form, until we form it as we move onward through life.
That’s why it matters what we do here and now.