Does The Past Still Exist?

In The Langoliers by Stephen King, a plane flies through a strange wave of light and ends up landing at a deserted airport. Suddenly, strange creatures start consuming everything, including the ground. They surmise that they have somehow flown just slightly into the past, and the creatures are destroying the present. Once the Langoliers are finished, there is nothing left. The present has disappeared, consumed.

We think that there is a past because we can remember what happened and see the artifacts of the past – whether it is everything that is around us (that coffee shop on the corner that you go to was there yesterday, so it will likely be there again today) or our memories. We see the present, and we see the past in its artifacts. But does the past still “exist” as a place?

Much science fiction focuses on time travel. Quantum mechanics has shown that particles can travel back in time at the quantum level. Even the second law of thermodynamics states that entropy increases over time, and in the end, the universe will dissolve into nothingness and disorganization, uniformity. But life has anti-entropic effects. The fact that anti-entropic effects can be observed means that maybe time is malleable.

We are told by investment firms that past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you are at a roulette table and the ball rolls to red 100 times in a row, do you think there is a greater chance that black will come up next?

The chance is the same – 50/50 on a pure red/black wheel with no double-0. Our brains perceive a pattern, but there isn’t one. Once it has happened, the past does not NEED to predict the future.

What does this mean? Let’s say you want to drive change in your life or your organization. But you are seeing friction because “this is what you are like” or “this is what we have always done.” The reality is: that every morning, we decide to be the same person we were yesterday. We usually decide to be that same person again tomorrow. But we don’t have to.

What happens when we want to change? We have to fight our own inertia, “this is what I’ve always done,” or how we present ourselves to the world, “why are you acting like that, this is not like you.” The past drives our present and future, whether we like it or not. This is why we need to reframe the past.

Imagine if the past didn’t exist. When you woke up tomorrow morning, you can decide to be the person you want to be instead of the person you were yesterday. When we want to change, we can choose to forget the past, destroy the past like King’s monsters, and not let that past tie us to the person or organization we want to be.

Most humans fear change. Change means a today which is different from yesterday. Embrace a different today and an even more different tomorrow, and you just might be able to be different.