The past is as uncertain as the future.

Surely you can relate to the notion that the future is mysterious. This is troubling to many of us, in the form of anxiety.

Part of the unease with uncertainty is a false sense of certainty about the past. It’s as if after something happens, we are no longer uncertain about it.

But, ask yourself, what did you do a week ago? What did you do a month ago? What did you do a day ago? Likely, unless your past experiences are emotionally vivid, you can’t recall what you did even a day ago. Most of what we do disappears from our mind. At best we can try to recreate what we did, but that’s a reconstructive process. Even if we have pictures and video, it’s still a reconstructive exercise prone to interpretation.

Take a picture from childhood, will you really remember what happened exactly? Or will you tell a story? A story that might change over the years? Perhaps becoming more or less extravagant?

Take an memorable period in history, for example World War II. How much do you really know about it? Likely you aren’t certain about specific events but rather rely upon an overarching story. Even if you wanted to study this subject in detail, in any moment you can only keep in mind a dozen details. You have to extrapolate and compress those conclusions into an overarching story to make any sense of it. How do you go about verifying any of those details? You can’t, so you can’t really have certainty about much beyond an overarching story line.

The past is as uncertain as the future. Sure, we can have pictures of the past that give us hints. We can have documents and maybe even videos. But these capture at most a glimpse of the past. No more than we can picture what our future might look like. In fact we can take pictures from other people’s pasts and use them as pictures of what we’d like our future to look like. But again we have to tell a story and then we can work to bring that story to fruition.

Why bother to explore this? Well, if we recognize the fact that we are uncertain about the past and yet that rarely bothers us, perhaps we will be less inclined to be bothered by the uncertainty of the future.