I think it’s super weird we have a present self.
The most unfortunate part of life is that we are only presented with one of them. We are presented with many possible worlds in our many lives we could’ve lived, but at the end of the day, we only have one timeline that relentlessly marches forward. We grow up, and it is saddening to understand that it’s impossible to undo growing up.
At any point in time, including right now, we are attached to a particular set of memories unlike any other time. Our thoughts are subject to recency bias, so we are only able to access the events that happened most recently, even with traumatic events that have happened in the distant past. The further distant we are between moments of happening and moments of memory, the more opacity builds within the pipeline occurrence and remembrance. This luckily means that we aren’t defined by any specific instance of our lives, but it also means that the memories we access now will not move with us into the future. When the future comes around, we will have a different set of memories we cling onto, and our identity will be quite different when that time comes than it is now.
Things that bothered me in high school don’t really bother me now. Some things that bothered me in college still bother me now, but a lot less than it used to. We are bothered by different things at different points in our lives. As long as we understand that all identity is temporary, including all facets of irritation and insecurity, our world becomes increasingly detached from the present. Our present is a temporary reaction to the near past. But once the near past because the distant past, we develop a temporary reaction to another entirely different near past.
I remember living in a world where the future was brighter than the present. There were a couple of times in the near past when I looked into the oceanic horizon, I truly believed I would be able to walk over it and cross into another world where things could’ve turned out differently. But as I walk towards this world, its doors drift further and further away. The more we work towards this other world, the more we realize we are further than we thought we were. By the time we reach the middle of the sandbar — our feet trudging on at this promise we’ll have what we want if we walk far enough into the depths — we fear drowning before we reach the end. The door to what we want is on the horizon where the sky meets the sea. It is close enough where we can imagine ourselves holding onto this promise.
It’s weird to think of my previously optimistic self. I remembered, in high school, when I got into Penn I thought that would be the end to my sadness. There were a couple of other times in college when I believed I would be truly happy because I met someone or discovered a new philosophy. We ascribe these new beginnings as a source of happiness, but I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing inherent about new beginnings offering a solution to the problems from a previous period of your life. We react to our past, but there is little rationality in how we process our experiences. In actuality, there is little that is “circumstantial” in life. There is little that is the result of natural beginnings and conclusions; our lives are products of our choices and not natural flows of vents.
There are a lot of things that are supposedly insignificant in our lives. Things in high school seems insignificant when you’re in college, and things in college seem insignificant once you become a young professional in the workforce. Yet, nothing seems insignificant at the time. Everything that is significant to the present self is solely significant to the present self. The past and future selves could not give a fuck. Things only become insignificant when we are able to assign distance between what has happened and what we remember happened. The feeling of insignificance only comes when we are able to assign separation between our past and present selves. The logic goes: My past self isn’t my present self. My past self is not me. My present self is my present self. My present self is me.
One of the cool parts of being human is that we are able to separate our identity according to different modes. We have all heard the “I only did xyz because I was drunk” excuse because it is pretty universal to the human condition. We demarcate different selves because they feel quite different from our current self. We commit to different selves when we are around different people. We remember certain things when we listen to certain songs. But, universally, but conceptualize different moments in time representing different identities. Above all, we privilege our present self over all of time periods. In college, my freshman self is different from my sophomore self and so on. We react to different events that have happened at different points in life, and we draw different markers in identity from our thoughts in those individual moments in time.
A big source of regret in our lives is that our current selves always know more than our past selves. Some of those things are inevitable with the passage of time; I know how to play violin a lot better than I did in the past, but that took a lot of practice that I probably don’t have the willpower to redo. Other things are less clear, especially personality traits that are particularly conditioned. At one point in my life I idolized sadness and toxicity. Should I? No. But it’s hard to escape our sense of aesthetics when aesthetics is all we have in absence of understanding. Without conscious choice, there is not much allowing us to escape the set of reactions we have to near-past events that formulate our current identity. Present self is the product of the past self’s reaction to the near past events. Unless we actively choose to react differently our past selves move onto the present.
We seek convergence of past, present, and future selves because that would mean we won’t need to separate our identities anymore. Once we converge in identity, then regret doesn’t exist anymore. We reach a maximum of understanding and living according to our values, and there would be no uncertainty in choice anymore. Once we establish a concentrated value system, the set of recent phenomena we experience no longer has an effect on us. At that point in our lives, we lose the freedom to change, but we gain another freedom — freedom from worry that our current choices will not live up to the standards of our future selves. When we stop making subsequent separations between present and future selves, we can be happy.
I have no idea how to reach that state. At every moment in time, we question ourselves if we need to change — if so, how fast do we need to change? There aren’t answers to these questions because they are all the products of final identity, which we cannot access until we have reached that particular state. It’s one of those thoughts that makes you wish you could just fast forward to the end of your life, so you understand what you value and how to live accordingly to those values. Until, all we can do is figure shit out.