Do you ever leave things up to future you? I do. Future Jim is usually okay, though he can be unreliable on certain issues, like the dishes. Present Jim wants to do other things, like write music or play Minecraft (because Minecraft again, oh yeah), and I say “Future Jim will take care of that.” It’s a sort of passive-aggressive procrastination, because Past Jim informs me that Future Jim will inevitably have more things to deal with than Present Jim, and the fact that Present Jim doesn’t want to do his laundry or write a post shouldn’t impact Future Jim and his endeavours, especially since he’s me.But there’s two key problems with relying on Future Jim.
At least one of us might be a jerk. Also, he might not exist.
I want to hit the latter problem first. Future Jim can only be real to be relied upon if we move foward in time to the future, and that wasn’t always the case. To ancient writers, including most of the Greeks as well as early Christian philosophers like St. Augustine, time doesn’t work that way. To them, every person is like a stone at a bend in a river. Time flows around the bend from the future, where you can’t see it, into the present, where you can act, and then into the past, leaving a record. It would have been entirely weird to them for us to suppose that we move forward and time stands still. People don’t act on time, time acts on people. This is the era that gave rise to schools of thought like stoicism and fatalism, so what can you do?
But if time moves like that, then Future Jim is by nature unreliable, because he doesn’t exist. Neither does past Jim. There is only Present Jim, and so it falls to Present Jim to get everything done. Future Jim isn’t even a thing, and Past Jim used to be Present Jim, so if Past Jim didn’t do it, it’s because Present Jim is a slacker.
Happily, modern physics has an answer to this. Time doesn’t flow from the future, because there’s nowhere for it to come from. The universe has a beginning of sorts in the Big Bang, and moves forward with entropy ever-increasing as it goes. So we are in fact advancing into a brave new future, and Future Jim is real. He is the me yet to be, as you might expect. So it makes sense that I can assign him tasks, whether I really intend to do them or not. His whole existence depends on what I do now. I can make Future Jim’s life pretty miserable if I try. You’d think he’d be more respectful of that. Of course, you’d think I’d be more respectful of that.
I say that Future Jim is a dick for being occasionally unreliable, but there’s a question I’m not asking here. What obligations do I have to Future Jim? He’s vulnerable. He’s a stakeholder in what I do if there ever was one. He’s me, but an instance of me that doesn’t exist yet, and I separate him from myself in a sort of Parmenidean fashion to compartmentalize time. But given his vulnerability, I might be doing something wrong put dropping jobs on his shoulders. But I’ll talk about all that next week, with the ethics of future selves.