Travelling to the past

Philosophers unreasonably question the obvious. “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.“ What is so tricky about time? We certainly know that there is an arrow of time, that the only direction of time is forward. There is no time travel to the past. That much is for sure. Isn’t it?

Philosophers try to blur such obvious things. Parmenides enigmatically says in one of Plato’s dialogues: “That which is growing older than itself is growing simultaneously younger than itself” and the surprise of his partner sounds very natural: “What on Earth?!” There is clearly no growing younger, everything is only growing older! Nobody can change the past. It is no use crying over spilt milk. Whatever happened, happened.

We are in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of people have died, the health of even more people is ruined, the education of children is seriously affected, economies are in recession. It is a catastrophe. However, if we are able to draw important lessons from the pandemic and prepare ourselves better for future (corona)viruses, if we learn how to look after the fragile yet very dear achievements of modern societies, if we learn how to face future problems like global climate change, wouldn’t it affect what the Covid-19 pandemic really is?

Couldn’t you change the past by being someone and doing something in the future? If I did something disgraceful in the past, but I regret it deeply and change myself in a way which wouldn’t be possible without previously committing such a disgraceful deed, doesn’t it affect what I did in the past? If one could affect one’s past in a positive manner, it is very reasonable that the past can be affected in a negative way as well. Some politicians have ruined their legacy by what they did at the end of their careers, they cast a shadow upon what they did in the past. If the invention of the internet leads to the fragmentation of society and to the destruction of the common world, it would be terrible, but if the invention of the internet leads to a better informed society, better control of those in the position of power etc., it would be a very different story.

Aristotle thought that we can see the happiness of someone’s life only after his life is over. Maybe only after everything is over, it has its final and fixed meaning. However, perhaps there is no such sealing and closure, and perhaps everything that happens, everything we do, and everything we are, both now and in the future, perpetually and endlessly changes the meaning of the past. Not only is the present shaped by the effects of the past, but the past is also and always will be reshaped by the present and the future.

Ondřej Krása