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Posted: June 05, 2013

The futurist: Piercing the field of knowability

It's time to talk about time

Thomas Frey

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” – Albert Einstein

As a futurist, I’ve always been interested in our relationship with the future. But lately, I’ve become obsessed with understanding more about the dividing line between the present and the future.

I constantly find myself asking questions like, “When does the future end and the present begin?” and “How does the future become ‘now,’ and where does it go from here?”

When thinking about this topic, it’s easy to slip in thoughts about premonitions, ESP and similar unexplained phenomena. But that’s not what this is about. Instead, I’m searching for a hard-science approach to the unveiling of the present.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a theory about what I call the “Field of Knowability.” Parts of this were described in a column I wrote on the “12 Laws of the Future.”

My theory begins with the assumption that there is a small gap in time between when the future is formed and when we know about it. The point when we become “aware of the present” is what I refer to as the "field of knowability."

This means that the “present” would exist for a tiny period of time, perhaps just a fraction of a second, before we ultimately experience it. Think of it as a staging area for what occurs next.

Here’s why I think this is important. 

Explaining Time – We Can’t!

The concept of time is a human construct that works well enough for us to measure duration of events and intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, science and philosophy. But all theories of time are riddled with unanswerable questions and eventually break down.

Some simple, relatively uncontroversial definitions of time include “time is what clocks measure” and “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

Two contrasting viewpoints on time come from Isaac Newton and Immanuel Kant. Newton’s view was that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe—a dimension independent of events in which events occur in sequence. This explanation has become known as Newtonian time. Kant believed that time was neither an event nor a thing and therefore not measurable nor travelable.

Putting those definitions aside, time remains one of the seven fundamental physical quantities in the International System of Units used to define our world.

Separating the Present from the Future

Einstein described it this way. “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

The present is constantly forming around us. We are continually immersed in “presentness.” In many respects, we are swimming in the present. And like fish immersed in water, we have no way of gaining an outsider’s perspective of something we are continually submerged in.

But where does the present come from? How does it get formed? Who decides what form it takes?

The movement or progression we experience from one moment of time to the next is driven by what I call inertia.

The inertia that is in place as we leave the present is still in place as we enter the future. If we witness the act of someone throwing a baseball, using a superfast strobe light, each billionth of a second motion is tied directly to the next billionth of a second motion. Our inertias give motion to the present and direction to our future.

On a personal level, we are each dealing with the inertia of our body and the inertia of our mind. Both are constantly in motion. At the same time, our personal inertias are taking place inside the context of every other person’s inertia, as well as the inertia of every other thing around us. Nature has its own sets of inertia, with the forces of nature providing the inertia for every living and every non-living molecule in the entire universe.

Using that basis of understanding, is it possible to know something-anything about the present before it happens?

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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