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Conceptually, what is "the Future"?

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We all have an implicit sense of the 'future', but in Epistemology how is the word 'future' defined?

Some people loosely use the word, in a sense that it has no connection to the present. As if the future is going to be set in a different universe.

What is the future? And how can it be grasped, in terms of what one is concious of, till the moment?

Another question: Is there a word for: 'what one is concious of', 'the items in reality that one is conscious of' ? Something like cognosants or something?

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I've had this discussion before and it wasn't incredibly productive. Off the top of my head, I'd say the future is those actions and states of entities which will follow from those at present.

The last discussion I had about this got caught up in whether this is circular, insofar as it depends on knowledge of one thing following another. I don't think it is. Even at a perceptual level, we can observe one thing happening after another: motion, causality, etc., are all perceptually evident -- they fall within the category of the "given". The above definition could be refined to make more clear the idea that it is really a sort of perspective on causality, and that it is defining the future in terms of the present. (As, I think, it has to, since the future does not yet exist.) But it's a good working definition so far as I can see.

As for your last question, the only thing I can think of is "facts." I don't think it's quite what you're getting at, since you want a term that is limited only to what one knows about. But in practice, I think "fact" usually works this way: while it's true that there are things we are not aware of, it would be nonsense to say "x is a fact and I am not aware of it". But I'm open to better suggestions.

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Existence exists. This axiom does not specify the exact nature of the entities of existence, but rather, just that they exist.

The concept future represents the entities (and actions, relationships, qualities, etc.) which WILL exist but omits their particular measurements (which includes what these entities, actions, etc. are causally based on).

This is the simple definition of the concept "future."

Making a prediction about what will occur IN THE FUTURE, is a completely different matter than simply using the word, "future," which merely denotes anything that WILL exist (including entities, actions of entities, relationships, etc.) but omits their particular measurements.

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The word would be entity or existent. Everything that you observe will be just that a thing an entity. There are many words for it but thats the concept.

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Yes, the proper term is "existent"; "entity" is a term pertaining to an existent as perceived, and it could be entirely inaccurate to bring that into the definition.

I still don't think it's a good idea to remove some reference to the states of the existents and their causal connections to the present. If you were to remove the Objectivese from your definition, it'd be: "those existents which will exist." (There's no need to specify the omitted measurements in a final definition, since they're omitted.) This definition implies that you're talking about *different* existents than those in the present. But existents don't pop up out of nothing. The future is the same existents as the present, just in different states, doing different things. In fact, it might be better to *add* something to the definition: "The future is those states, actions, and relationships of existents which follow causally from the present." I think that's fairly comprehensive, and it avoids any confusion about the fact that existents exist, they are neither created nor destroyed -- they merely change.

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Guest Tom Rexton

This question is really a part of the bigger question: What is the concept "time"? How did we form it? What do we mean by "past", "present" and "future"? (This is one of those moments when I wish we had an Objectivist Dictionary of the English Langauge :))

I do know that such concepts are relative to a particular state of consciousness, since that which is "past" to me is "future" to those who died long before I was born.

If the "future" is the state of existence that arises causaly from the "present", then the "past" is the state of existence that causaly gives rise to the "present". The "present", then, can be defined as the state of existence that causaly arises from the "past" and causaly gives rise to the "future."

Observe that all three concepts of time are defined in terms of causality and the state of existence. They are also relative to each other, i.e., the present is defined in terms of both the past and the future, while the past and the future are defined in terms of the present. Past, present, and future are all relative to a human consciousness, which I think needs to be included in their definitions as well. I'll figure out how to do that later.

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Whoops, I forgot to log-in again (that was I in the previous post by a Guest).

Anyways, how can the mind be included in the definition of the present? I think it can be done thus:

The present is the state of existence that a mind perceives, that causaly arises from the past and that causaly gives rise to the future (see the previous post for the definitions of past and future). The key here is perception, since only the present can be perceived. The future is but a projection, a prediction of the state of existence from the present. The past is but a memory, a sequence of events that initiated the present state.

--Edit--

So the definitions are as follows:

present: the state of existence, perceived by a consicousness, that results* from the past and initiates* the future.

past: the state of existence that initates the present.

future: the state of existence that results from the present.

*The verbs "initiate" and "result" both imply causality.

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I don't think there is a problem with pointing at something and saying "that entity." I also don't think there is a problem with saying "an entity with this attribute will act in a certain way." Saying both depends on the fact that I am observing existence. An entity is the concept of a set of existents.

The question was about 'what one is conscious of.' Can a person be conscious of a new entity that does not exist. Yes, but in order for it to exists he has to find the existents that will be combined to make it an existent. A person can also be conscious of entities that don't exists like god, gosts, and the matrix.

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I don't think there is a problem with pointing at something and saying "that entity."  I also don't think there is a problem with saying "an entity with this attribute will act in a certain way."  Saying both depends on the fact that I am observing existence. An entity is the concept of a set of existents.

The question was about 'what one is conscious of.' Can a person be conscious of a new entity that does not exist. Yes, but in order for it to exists he has to find the existents that will be combined to make it an existent. A person can also be conscious of entities that don't exists like god, gosts, and the matrix.

No, such things cannot be perceived. They are only imagined. To be conscious is to perceive a part of existence--the present state of existence.

"If that which you are conscious of does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness." --John Galt.

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Someone imagined the entity "car" before it was an existent. Is the imagination not part of consciousness? Isn't the imagination an observation of what something should be? For instance a motor should be put in use for travel which means it must have wheels, some seats, a frame, some connection between the motor and wheels, and a way to control it’s speed and direction. These all can be observed without actually making the existent car but it is still a concept of a new entity.

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Someone imagined the entity "car" before it was an existent.  Is the imagination not part of consciousness? Isn't the imagination an observation of what something should be?  For instance a motor should be put in use for travel which means it must have wheels, some seats, a frame, some connection between the motor and wheels, and a way to control it’s speed and direction.  These all can be observed without actually making the existent car but it is still a concept of a new entity.

Be careful with your using the terms "observation" and "consciousness", because both imply perception.

Yes, imagination is a function of the mind, and yes the car was an imagined concept before it existed in reality. So too were airplanes and space ships.

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Yes, it would be more appropriate to use the verb "imagine".

One can imagine thing that do no exist in reality. But one cannot observe or be conscious of things that do no exist in reality, because only reality can be observed and perceived by a consciousness.

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You are leaving out the part where one can observe things (entities or an entity) which is what started the argument in the first place. The question is what do you call the things you are conscious of. I said existents or entities. I still believe both are valid.

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This question is really a part of the bigger question:  What is the concept "time"?  How did we form it?  What do we mean by "past", "present" and "future"?  (This is one of those moments when I wish we had an Objectivist Dictionary of the English Langauge :))

I do know that such concepts are relative to a particular state of consciousness, since that which is "past" to me is "future" to those who died long before I was born.

If the "future" is the state of existence that arises causaly from the "present", then the "past" is the state of existence that causaly gives rise to the "present".  The "present", then, can be defined as the state of existence that causaly arises from the "past" and causaly gives rise to the "future." 

Observe that all three concepts of time are defined in terms of causality and the state of existence.  They are also relative to each other, i.e., the present is defined in terms of both the past and the future, while the past and the future are defined in terms of the present.  Past, present, and future are all relative to a human consciousness, which I think needs to be included in their definitions as well.  I'll figure out how to do that later.

Hmm, I had a really good definition of time a while ago and I don't recall exactly how I phrased it. Off the top of my head, "Time is the measurement of (non-simultaneous) action using a single, regularly repeating occurance as the standard." (Of course, as with any standard, once it is fixed it does not depend on the continuance of the original reoccurring event. If humans colonize the galaxy and live past the destruction of this solar system, they could still use the revolution of the Earth around the Sun as a unit of time.)

The concept of time is formed after observing that some events reoccur in predictible durations, and after the realization that such an event can be used as a unit by which to measure other actions. So for example: imagine you were locked in a dark box and alternately given stimulants and tranqualizers. (The first to remove the day-night cycle, the latter to remove the regularity of sleep.) You are fed at irregular intervals, etc. You would be able to observe one action following another, and another, but you would be unable to form the concept of time -- or if you had already formed it, you would be unable to use it in the absence of a standard of measurement. (Incidentally, such sensory deprivation has been tried in experiments, and even if sleep is not disrupted, one's sense of time IS set completely askew.)

I can't see any real problems with Tom's definitions.

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That's a pretty broad question, 'what is the future'.

First off, you can start with the basics - the smallest particles we know (quarks for now) hold an energy which interacts with their neighbours and the result is a 'direction' - forward, back, etc are irrelevant at this point - but the 'building and combining' en masse into that direction is what we'd call 'forward'. Many think that there are existences (or base element reactionary energy combinations) which force their 'forward' into a direction lateral, opposite, etc direction to ours, and that the possibilities are infinite... but in 'our direction' things combine and react in tandem to create the world we see around us.

Now for us, the 'future' is our interpretation of the outcome of the above, or in other words our prediction, as beings capable of abstract thus projectionary thought, of what that 'building' will be. You can apply this to the smallest and simplest particles (hydrogen mixing with oxygen, eg), or things as massive and complicated as the possible outcome of the interaction of two peoples forced into sharing the same land. Both involve defining what is now and combining them in one's head, almost as a physical (practical) experiment, to see what the outcome will be. The future of 2 and 2, if they are combined, will be 4. Most thinkers believe that we as humans are almost alone in having 'future' as a concept. Future is a leap above the animal 'action-reaction', 'future' is 'what if', future is thought.

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The one problem I see in my definitions is that they seem to imply determinism.  I'll have to think about this later.

Ehh... They're abbreviated. I don't think they imply determinism, just causality, which is proper. The future is the result of changes in the states of existents, i.e. actions of existents; remember, even volitional action is caused by the organism which undertakes it, and the existence of that organism depends on a series of causal interactions extending indefinitely into the past.

You can't work too much into a definition or it becomes unwieldy. All definitions depend on a certain cognitive context. Given that you understand how causality works, that you don't equate it with determinism, those definitions are fine for you. (Unless you think there is something so essential that it *needs* to be made explicit?) If you were trying to explain it to somebody who wasn't familiar with the Objectivist metaphysics, it would require more elaboration.

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...So the definitions are as follows:

present: the state of existence, perceived by a consicousness, that results* from the past and initiates* the future.

past:  the state of existence that initates the present.

future: the state of existence that results from the present.

*The verbs "initiate" and "result" both imply causality.

I don't know if I'm comfortable with the concepts "past", "present", and "future" being defined in terms of one another. It seems to me that these are correlative terms, and thus defining them in this way is circular (sort of like how "cause" and "effect" shouldn't be defined in terms of each other).

Of course, those definitions are still better than this:

First off, you can start with the basics - the smallest particles we know (quarks for now) hold an energy which interacts with their neighbours and the result is a 'direction' - forward, back, etc are irrelevant at this point - but the 'building and combining' en masse into that direction is what we'd call 'forward'. Many think that there are existences (or base element reactionary energy combinations) which force their 'forward' into a direction lateral, opposite, etc direction to ours, and that the possibilities are infinite... but in 'our direction' things combine and react in tandem to create the world we see around us.

Now for us, the 'future' is our interpretation of the outcome of the above, or in other words our prediction, as beings capable of abstract thus projectionary thought, of what that 'building' will be. You can apply this to the smallest and simplest particles (hydrogen mixing with oxygen, eg), or things as massive and complicated as the possible outcome of the interaction of two peoples forced into sharing the same land. Both involve defining what is now and combining them in one's head, almost as a physical (practical) experiment, to see what the outcome will be. The future of 2 and 2, if they are combined, will be 4. Most thinkers believe that we as humans are almost alone in having 'future' as a concept. Future is a leap above the animal 'action-reaction', 'future' is 'what if', future is thought.

Granted, the above is no doubt not intended to be a definition. But even so, most of this is irrelevant (at best). Whether there are quarks, and what directions they travel, and such questions are worse than pointless for the layman's conception of time or the future. Then bringing in philosophically dubious ideas such as "existences (or base element reactionary energy combinations) which force their 'forward' into a direction lateral, opposite, etc direction to ours," and "infinite possibilities" is a big step backward in discussing this issue.

Scientific ideas are not necessary for a discussion about the basic concept of time or the future. The concept of time is pre-scientific, and even pre-philosophic, as it was around long before the classical period of ancient Greek culture. Time is a perceptually-evident phenomenon, and bringing the rest of this stuff into the conversation only serves to obscure it.

I think Matt's proposed definition is the best thing so far in this thread:

"Time is the measurement of (non-simultaneous) action using a single, regularly repeating occurance as the standard."

Although it could probably be improved upon (I'll have to think about it more), this seems to be on the right track, and is pretty good for just coming off the top of his head. I think if one wants to give a non-circular definition of the future, it would help to start with this approach to the concept of time.

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Granted, the above is no doubt not intended to be a definition. But even so, most of this is irrelevant (at best). Whether there are quarks, and what directions they travel, and such questions are worse than pointless for the layman's conception of time or the future. Then bringing in philosophically dubious ideas such as "existences (or base element reactionary energy combinations) which force their 'forward' into a direction lateral, opposite, etc direction to ours," and "infinite possibilities" is a big step backward in discussing this issue.

...I am not a 'professional philosopher', so I don't use the 'usual' terms. To treat this as irrelevent because of that is - er, could be insulting. The first part is the metaphysical description of what we know about matter - the 'direction' in which it's action-reaction 'progresses'. The second part is how we as humans treat what we see, as we are 'progressing' in the same direction as the world we see around us (physicists would argue 'direction' into 'future and past' arguments), how we comprehend what 'will happen' by what we see now. 'Seeing the future' Unless of course the question was 'what is the future without a human point of view'.

Scuse me for getting a bit impatient, but do you guys do anything more here than try to outdo each other in how well read you are in someone else's works, or do you actually do some thinking with a conclusion as a goal?

Matt's description sounds good to you - fine, but so what? It's an exercise in progressive thought, only to be encouraged and contributed to by others, but I would say that "Time is the measurement of (non-simultaneous) action using a single, regularly repeating occurance as the standard." sounds pretty vague at best. Simultanious, regularily repeating? Really? Sounds nice, but the phrase as a thought assumes a lot and concludes nothing. This merits, at best, more thought and development, not applause.

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I don't know if I'm comfortable with the concepts "past", "present", and "future" being defined in terms of one another.  It seems to me that these are correlative terms, and thus defining them in this way is circular (sort of like how "cause" and "effect" shouldn't be defined in terms of each other).

The present can be defined--without in terms of "past" and "future"--as that state of existence that a conscious being perceives.

But what about the past and the future? They are both relative to the present, which is relative to the mind of a conscious being. I don't see how one could define them without the present.

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...I am not a 'professional philosopher', so I don't use the 'usual' terms. To treat this as irrelevent because of that is - er, could be insulting.

I didn't intend it to be.

The first part is the metaphysical description of what we know about matter - the 'direction' in which it's action-reaction 'progresses'.
A metaphysical description of what we currently know about matter, that has not been shown to be relevant to the current discussion, coupled with some current speculation that is not only irrelevant but rather arbitrary, so far as I can tell.

The second part is how we as humans treat what we see, as we are 'progressing' in the same direction as the world we see around us (physicists would argue 'direction' into 'future and past' arguments), how we comprehend what 'will happen' by what we see now. 'Seeing the future' Unless of course the question was 'what is the future without a human point of view'.

Again, I'm not sure how this is relevant. We can give a perfectly good consciousness-based account of how we can project the future without bringing in complex scientific theories. That may be fine for your context of knowledge, but most of us here aren't physicists, and we are neither looking for nor need that sort of definition. In fact, if one were given to us, it would be a floating abstraction since we don't have the background to fully concretize it. (As a side note, it seems like a lot of the current hypotheses in physics are floating abstractions--and this serves as a perfect example of why physicists should stick to physics and stay out of philosophical speculation, unless they have an appropriate background in the latter field, but why they should also have enough background in philosophy to understand proper scientific techniques, etc.)

Scuse me for getting a bit impatient, but do you guys do anything more here than try to outdo each other in how well read you are in someone else's works, or do you actually do some thinking with a conclusion as a goal?
Scuse me for getting a bit impatient, but I don't recall referring to anyone else's works in this discussion. I was simply making a few observations. Which is also what you were doing, except that you then brought in what "physicists would argue" (without even hinting at their grounds for doing so)...seems a bit hypocritical.

Matt's description sounds good to you - fine, but so what? It's an exercise in progressive thought, only to be encouraged and contributed to by others, but I would say that "Time is the measurement of (non-simultaneous) action using a single, regularly repeating occurance as the standard."  sounds pretty vague at best. Simultanious, regularily repeating? Really? Sounds nice, but the phrase as a thought assumes a lot and concludes nothing. This merits, at best, more thought and development, not applause.

On the contrary, if one understands the terms involved, Matt's definition is not at all vague. It's quite specific. I guess anything not dealing with the smallest units of matter of which we're currently aware is too vague for your tastes. And that understanding of the terms used is all this definition assumes. And as far as concluding nothing, I'm not even sure what you mean by that. I agree that it merits more thought and development; what I said was that it was a good start (certainly the best one we've seen so far in this thread).

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The present can be defined--without in terms of "past" and "future"--as that state of existence that a conscious being perceives.

But what about the past and the future?  They are both relative to the present, which is relative to the mind of a conscious being.  I don't see how one could define them without the present.

Tom, I agree that as long as the concept "present" is defined independently of "past" and "future", it is probably all right to define the latter terms in relation to the former. I think that the reason your definitions struck me as circular is because you initially had defined all three of them, including "present", in terms of each other.

Also, I'm not sure that we should make the definition relative to some conscious being. After all, the future is the future; what hasn't happened yet hasn't happened yet, regardless of whether it will have happened relative to some future moment of perception. I don't think we can assume the continued existence of conscious beings in the future--even though it is perfectly fine to assume the existence of a future. If all conscious life were to cease, time and the future would continue to exist (even though the concepts of "time" and "future" would not). So maybe our point of reference should be outside of our own perception. In other words, I think we can abstract away consciousness--I don't think it is essential to definitions of "time", "future", etc. (The same goes for "past"--what has happened has happened, and that will continue to be the case regardless of whether there are entities capable of remembering it. And "present"--what currently exists currently exists, regardless of whether there are any entities capable of perceiving it.)

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