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Nostalgia for the Future

Photo Source: Pintrest / Photographer Unknown

Ships that sail across the open sea, gazing into vastness before them, a human looking at a space rocket fly into the vastness of the universe, an adventurer, hero, that stands on the hill, looking down at the new, unknown land, a young person gazing at the city from their balcony - all of these images combine a similar sentiment, and that is the sentiment of the longing, and desiring for the future. The future that is longed for or desired, may as well not exist outside of the mind, but even the mere entertainment of the idea brings about the excitement, hope, and longing. The seductive allure of the unknown, illusory, and imagined is difficult to resist - it is used to seduce us in films, advertisement, music, and art. Perhaps it points to something deeply, probably essentially human - and that is that human is not a being that of mind or of feelings, but that human is the being of imagination. "I imagine therefore I am", is perhaps more uniquely human than "I think therefore I am".


The Past, the Present, the Future

Time is a great mystery of the existence and many different fields that strive towards understanding and knowledge, have taken interest in it - physics, metaphysics, theology, philosophy, and others. The debate of whether time is linear, circular, both, or both but with curves that go up and down, has often been debated. The theory multiple timelines happening at the very same moment, was also entertained. In his diaries, Andrei Tarkovsky, the famous Soviet and Russian film maker, contemplates the question after he had read the speculation about possible electricity existing in Ancient Egypt and other ancient civilisations. These speculations assert that these inexplicable inventions of the Ancients came as a result of aliens interfering with humans. Tarkovsky says, and I will paraphrase here, that probably "humanity has crashed into itself"; that is, different timelines, at least for our minds that demand linear explanation of things, have come together. What we consider "future" or "past" has met, and that journey is constant process of evolution and devolution, of forgetting, and remembering. Platonists and neoplatonists suggested that all knowledge is memory - anything we come to know, invent, or accomplish, is an act of us remembering, or activating a part of ourselves that we thought was not there. There is no "invention" in that context, there is only discovery.

The scenes of longing that I had described in the beginning, as well as that which Tarkovsky mentions, seem to reflect a sense of "memory of the future" - as the human gazes into unknown, for a short moment, it does not feel like unknown. There is certainty, or faith, that something will be found - be it can be a new continent, a new planet. Before it materialises, the vision exists only in the imagination - and we may be called madmen or madwomen if we are of blind faith in the fact that humans will colonise the space. The allure of the unknown turns into desire to make it known, and from this marriage of the imagination and the unknown, rises the human as the explorer. Living the comfortable, predictable lives that many of us have now, we seem to forget this unique quality - reminded of it only when the topics of space exploration arise. To imagine, and to explore, is also to create, and to invent.


Illusions and Disappointments

Our imagination and longing is not activated only when we consider the idea of grand discoveries - it appears in daily life. We often dream of ideal - ideal selves, ideal life, ideal bank account, ideal family, and because of this dedication to the imagined self or life, we are ready to spend our money and time. Instagram has probably taken the best advantage of the human longing for the illusion - everyone knows that Instagram lifestyle is hardly real, yet millions of people buy products offered by influencers every day, hoping that the product is the door towards the lifestyle it is associated with.

The illusions in marketing and advertisement, touch the very core of human ego identification - and that is the sentiment of lack. Our ego always feels it lacks something - only if there were more money, only if you had the right dress, only if you had the right job, then everything would be complete. Sometimes we get the money, dress, or the job, only to be disappointed that it does not feel as good as it promised to do, and we quickly find another thing (or a person) to long after, and be disappointed with. We enter the loop of high and low, and most of us know from experience, that rare things are as addictive as the highs and lows.

Perhaps, we can then differentiate between two types of imagination and longing, one is concerned with vision, an image of the future, and it creates an explorer, and there is another, concerned with illusion, and fantasy, and it creates a customer and a mindless consumer. Both probably come from the same part in a human - if we cannot explore new lands, at least we can try to explore new lifestyles, restaurants, and clothes. We live in an age in which it is hard to believe in the future, especially a bright future - and maybe we will be disappointed with new planets, as we are disappointed with new gadgets, and jobs, yet without this very impulse, we would probably hardly go towards anything, and would remain forever stagnant. Somebody has to get on a ship, and sail into unknown, and eventually transform it into known.

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Lionel Chan
Lionel Chan
Sep 06, 2021

Peace Friends,

In an essay Naida recommended on, Cologero speaks of vision as being of the middle between hearing revelation/the Intellect and feeling the sensual/corporeal. In classical Chinese Medicine, the "Ministerial Fire" has a strong link to fantasy, imagination, desire and the image. It was known to come from the same source as that which produces what I believe is something like "being rooted to the origin", and many diseases arise from having all resources divert only to the former.

Perhaps consumerist visions of the future are basically image-inations that forget that it is merely a (however centrally human) middle. Salaam.

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