I recently heard a talk by an astronomer who discussed the confusing and terrifying concept of the universe and beyond. We hear all the time about the Big Bang and the expanding universe…a story whose numbers are so enormous that scientists invented new numbers—light years—to describe them. The astronomer said that many people are overwhelmed to think how enormous the universe is, and they are terrified to think of what’s beyond it! It’s been proven that the universe is expanding, but where or into what is it expanding?
The astronomer claims that the answer is simple: beyond the limits of the universe is Nothing…Nothing with a capital N. “Beyond the universe,” he says, “doesn’t exist.” The universe is expanding from its center, but it isn’t expanding into anything…the universe is everything. It expands not into a place, but it creates a place that didn’t exist before. There is no “beyond the universe”…there is only the universe. We live, the universe grows, and that is all there is to it…astronomers understand these ideas.
It occurred to me that the future is the same: the future isn’t a thing that exists, waiting for us to enter; we create it every second as we live. We have our futures to make, not futures to wander into. We are challenged to make the future whatever we can, whatever we dare. This contradicts the idea of fate and destiny, where people believe they will fulfill a pre-ordained future by living out a life that was supernaturally planned for them. I believe in Free Will, where each decision we make and action we take today influences tomorrow’s opportunities. The future is constantly forming before us…maybe we should have new numbers to describe the possibilities.
With that perspective, the future becomes very exciting…and terrifying, as exciting and terrifying as our imaginations dare to make it. For the cautious, someone pursuing their imagined future, the attitude may be like Red’s, (Morgan Freeman), in The Shawshank Redemption (1994); as he heads off to live what he’s dreamed the rest of his life will be, he thinks, “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams.” For the audacious, someone completely open to chance and possibility, the attitude is like the character’s, Karim, in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990); as he awaits his life in London; he thinks, “I was ready for anything.”
I think it is most productive to assimilate the past, manage the present, and invite the surprises of the future. The astronomer tells us that thinking about the universe and beyond can be overwhelming, terrifying; I think the future should be simply surprising! We live, we make our future, and that is all there is to it…we need to understand this idea.