Got Self? Got Future? (Got Duck Food?)

4 Minute Read

The thing to remember about the future is that it often comes at us first.

Got Self? Got Future? (Got Duck Food?)

If you can answer the first question, you’ll intuitively ace the second.

As to the third…

A duck walks into a bar. Duck: “Got any nails?” Bartender: “Nope.” Duck: “Got any duck food?”

Now that you know the punchline, you can find the joke by searching “A duck walks into a bar.” That’s the thing about the future: it often comes at us first.

When I lived in France, a friend of mine taught me a French proverb which, translated into English, goes something like this:

Prophecy is history in reverse. And of the two, prophecy is the more sure.

You won’t find the proverb if you search for it. Even in its original language:

La prophétie c’est l’histoire à l’envers. Et des deux, c’est la prophétie qui est la plus sûre.

Except that now that I’ve published it, you can find it online in the previous sentence. (My friend was in the prophecy business, you see.)


In my next five Change Sayings, I will describe—I’m prophesying here— the Self as impossible to crack and then shift without two things.

The first is a rudimentary understanding of what natural philosophers used to call Time’s Arrow, the self-intuitive notion that cause precedes effect as the night the day. But now that today’s natural philosophers—theoretical physicists—conceive the future, the future self, or for that matter the entire self, like the subatomic particles that comprise it, as only tending to exist. For them, the idea of Time’s Arrow, as in ‘time flies like an arrow’ (even if fruit flies still like a banana) has all but gone out the window. But since the second law of thermodynamics still succeeds in explaining why, if you’re a cloud hovering the antipodes, rain falls up instead of down, from the perspective of most places in the galaxy, the probability that the present precedes the future remains thankfully high.

The second thing to know about change is that it does not exist outside of the inside of the thing being changed. This is because most things, including people, are just too big to change. Since the Self can be said to be no more than a roll-up of its numerous sub-selves—think cells, thoughts, emotions, and, as we’ll later discover, a boatload of other stuff—it, the Self, does not change in and of itself. Rather, as Darwin once quipped,

If I only had a better microscope, most of what I’ve been saying all this time would be rendered obsolete.

(You’ll search in vain for that quote outside of this post and a book by microbiologist Michael Behe called Darwin’s Black Box.)

Put another way,

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

(For want of an author, the above 14th-century proverb was eventually attributed to Benjamin Franklin.)

Put yet another way, since we humans are nothing without our inner selves, we cannot change until they do. And there’s the rub. While our inner self might only tend to exist, the bits that comprise us tend also not to go quietly into the good night we know as change.

Putting the future first, then, over the next five weeks we will attempt to Say the Change we wish to see inside our Selves, namely, in our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our wills, and something I will provisionally call the gap between what we know and don’t know of just about everything.

Five posts is a boatload. Let me prophesy it here in just two words.

Implicate, noun, entanglement.

Explicate, noun, extanglement.

(Extanglement, noun, if such a word exists—and now that I’ve said it, maybe it does—the bit parts that, extracted from their whole, have no meaning outside their original context but that, like the nail hole that sabotaged the shoe, matter a great deal to the kingdom.)

Search Implicate (the noun) and you’ll eventually be led to a theoretical physicist named David Bohm. Einstein’s Princeton apprentice, Bohm envisioned a universe where all things are made up of still other things such that even those with eyes to see will grasp only what its Implicate Order wishes to unfold. If you believe that’s how the real world works, you’ll understand why I say We don’t change. It is only our explicate bits that do.

And so, over the next five weeks, we’ll be declaring, wearing, tearing, and repairing each of the bits that comprise us. (That’s a boatload of change.) Only then will we, the future of us, anyway, understand (short of finding a better microscope) who we are. And how that tends to shift over time.

One more thing. (And maybe I should have led with this.) If you’re reading this article after the five bits I’ve just mentioned have been posted, it may be that you encountered it in reverse chronological order in relation to them. Not to over-entangle. Since, as Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist, philosopher, and father of the theory of quantum gravity, explains, only where there is heat—a condition not entailed in the frictionless rubbing together of even a billion thoughts—does the second law of thermodynamics apply. And where that law does not apply, the probability that the future precedes the past is equally likely to the one where it follows it. (Although Rovelli is Italian, he currently teaches in France where he might have encountered—or may yet encounter—my friend’s proverb about the quantum gravity of prophecy.) That said, if encountering this post after coming across the other five, you’ll understand literally what Rovelli means when he says that in some situations, as improbable as it might seem to our limited filters, rain does indeed fall up.

This post is from a series of “Adventures in Transformation,” written as part of a LinkedIn Newsletter called How We Change. You can access the entire series here.

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