Why Living In The Present Is Actually A Terrible Idea

“Every person, if he so wills, can become a paradigmatic human being, not by brushing of his accidental qualities, but by remaining in them and ennobling them. He ennobles them by choosing them.” —Soren Kierkegaard

In A Nutshell

According to researchers from Harvard and Virginia Universities, all of mankind is laboring under a sort of species-wide blind spot. We’re well aware that we’ve changed and evolved as individuals throughout our lives, but we’re almost completely incapable of realizing that in the future, we’ll be changing just as much. This denial of future change is likely a major contributing factor when it comes to making poor decisions that hurt us in the long run, and being aware of it can at least help us make those decisions a little bit better.

The Whole Bushel

If I’d only known then what I know now . . . 

How many times have we said that about our younger selves? When we look back at who we were 10 or 15 years ago, we tend to admit (sometimes grudgingly), that we’ve changed quite a bit. Whether we’ve graduated college, started a family or embarked on a new career, chances are we can look back and reminisce—or at least laugh at—the person that we were.

In other words, we’re aware of how we change and grow as a person, but strangely, it only seems to work in retrospect.

When social psychologists wanted to find that moment when each of us become the person that we really, truly are, they found that the answer is always “right now.” With a sample group of more than 19,000 people, they took a look at how everyone’s personalities, likes and dislikes, and opinions changed over the arc of their lives so far—and then asked them to estimate what would happen to their personalities in the future.

They found that no matter how old they were, the pattern was the same. People were able to see that they changed over the course of their lives, but overwhelmingly predicted that 10, 15, or 20 years into the future, they were going to be pretty much the same person they were at that moment.

The people polled ranged in age from 18 to 68, and they were asked everything from what they thought of the evolution in their taste of music to what kinds of friends they chose. Almost across the board, no matter what age group they were in, people believed that they were in their watershed moment, where they had finally reached the pinnacle of their personal evolution (or pretty close to it).

It’s a pretty odd phenomenon with some pretty staggering consequences, and it explains a lot about why we do the things that we do. When we’re faced with a pretty permanent choice, we think that how we feel about it in the moment is how we’re going to feel about it down the road. Take getting a tattoo, for instance. Most of us choose something that’s meaningful in that moment, assuming that its going to hold onto its appeal.

And we do it all in the face of some pretty blatant clues that that’s not the case. We can see the pattern in our past, but we’re completely unable to project that into the future.

It’s called the “end of history” illusion, and researchers from Harvard and Virginia Universities have suggested that this is why we make many of the mistakes that we do. We’re simply not accounting for the fact that we’re going to change as much in the future as we did in the past—no matter what age we are—and that’s all there is to it.

The past is in the past, but we think of the future as simply more of the present.

Researchers are still trying to decide just what to do with this information, but it’s possible that just being aware of this massive blind spot that seems to exist in all of humankind across the board might make us look differently at some of the choices we make in our lives.

Show Me The Proof

“The End of History Illusion,” by Quoidbach, Gilbert, and Wilson
Psychology Today: On the End of History Illusion
The Guardian: This column will change your life: the end-of-history illusion

  • DanielSanCarter

    The present doesn’t exist….. And yes, I can “prove” this.

    • The present does exist at the termination point of the electromagnetic spectrum, and occurs about 80 milliseconds in the future from our subjective interpretation of “now”. The present never moves; it is the center of the universe.

      • DanielSanCarter

        But the present occupies such a small space in time. By the time it exists, it no longer exists.

        • It also exists at different times depending on the particular frequency the observer is occupying. Our neural oscillations reside in the extremely low-frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum; higher frequencies are closer to the present moment.
          What we consider the past is merely information accumulated by the subatomic particles that comprise our brain oscillating at the frequency of our perception. The particles themselves only exist in the present, and they really only exist when we observe them.
          Consider the implications of the double-slit experiment and the fact it takes about 80 milliseconds for our brain to even be aware of the present moment. Matter itself depends on our observation to be actualized, and our perception lags behind the present moment. This seems to negate the possibility of the present, except for the fact the past and the future most certainly aren’t composed of anything other than our perception, and everything must exist somewhere, so it exists only in the present.
          We don’t move through time; we create the perception of time. We really occupy the same general time as everyone else who has ever lived, only at a slightly different frequency.


          • DanielSanCarter

            *collapses* I’m just a child.

          • Didn’t you have the Kurt Cobain avatar a while back? Well, don’t listen to me, anyway; I’m just crazy. You should check out that video, though; you’ll have a better understanding of reality than most people after watching it. It’s a pretty good deal for under three minutes!

          • DanielSanCarter

            Yes I did. Then I was like. Lemme do a Schrodinger’s cat thingie. And I haven’t felt like changing it since.

          • Whoa… that’s crazy! The double-slit experiment and the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment are very closely related. The double-slit experiment demonstrates wave-particle duality, and Schrodinger’s Cat is really just a way the implications of wave-particle duality can be interpreted. I didn’t even realize your new picture was of Schrodinger’s Cat.
            Here’s an interesting article. I don’t expect you to read it, but check out the title.


          • DanielSanCarter

            I read it. Yes. There are other theories that have the same sort of idea. In a way I think they’re all right. Take, for example, color. What is the color red? Also, on color, I read a statistic in the Guardian that said that some people no longer see skin color.

          • Well, I’m pretty sure everybody that can see color does see skin color; it probably just doesn’t matter to them, so they see people.
            I can’t remember what the color red is; I know it’s a longer wavelength than the other colors. I think objects that appear a certain color just absorbs the energy from all the other colors. I’m not sure, though.

          • DanielSanCarter

            See but how do you describe what it looks like. That’s the point. When someone says what does the color red look like? You can’t describe it except that it’s red.

          • Hiba199

            Simply fascinating. I think I will major in physics just to spend the rest of my life contemplating abd attempting to figure out the complexity of the particle-wave duality. The article is brilliant…thank you. Are you by any chance a physicist?

          • No, I’m just a crazy person; crazy people love quantum physics. I used to be daathsurfer, but now I control everything. How’s it going, Hiba?

          • Hiba199

            I understand the crazy part. Nothing much, I’m a senior now and I still haven’t applied to colleges or anything, I dont know what major I should pick, I’m in way over my head with school and stuff. I’m not freaking out or anything but…I am. Umm…How are you doin?

          • I’m doing okay. Not much going on here. It’s a bit cold, but it’s warming up. Time to start work again very soon.
            At first glance I thought you were saying you were a senior citizen who hasn’t been to college. I knew this wasn’t true, but that’s how I read it. Yesterday I was watching a documentary about something or other, and I just accepted the fact some guy was sitting inside a fireplace and talking to the camera. When I considered the absurdity of that, I realized it was just a little alcove or something.

          • DanielSanCarter

            Just watched the video. Pretty interesting. I think I’ve read about that experiment before.

        • Azeael

          Well technically, time is relative. So someone’s present might not be yours :S

          • DanielSanCarter


    • Azeael

      The present exists. In the Past.

      • DanielSanCarter

        And thus, tis no longer the present.

        • Priti Mishra

          past exist ,well time is relative so we can’t say dat whatever we are doing today in present will exist or not or someone’s present will be yours

          • DanielSanCarter

            “everything is relative to me and, relatively speaking, you.” -Me, relatively around 10:40 about the relativity of time in the relative relation to the present.

  • L.kuro

    Everytime is the present, past, and future.