20 Jul 2014

Hello! McFly!

Religious 12 Comments

I realize I am hardly unique in this observation, but it astonishes me when I think back to how naive and clueless I was, growing up. The things I feared, the people I tried to impress, the reckless decisions I made, the people I foolishly trusted, the times I shied away from doing what I knew was right…

When I go down this path, I often wonder whether “Future Bob” could have changed things. If only Present Bob could go back in time and have a talk with High School Bob or College Bob, wow the things I could tell him. Think about it: With the possible exception of my son, there is nobody to whom I would have given more careful, loving, and excellent advice, than my (say) 20-year-old self, from my current vantage point.

Yet here’s the kicker: What if right now, I got a knock on my door, and there was Future Bob? Even if he spent 30 minutes convincing me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was legitimate, and even if I could agree with him that he had my best interest at heart, and that he had an unbelievable advantage over me in knowing the effects of various courses of action I am currently considering…would I still unconditionally obey him?

No, I don’t think I would. And by the same token, I think High School Bob would say, “Thanks for the advice, but I think I’m still doing it this way. And, uh, holy cow what happened to your hair and weight?”

If any of this made you chuckle, I have one last observation: Even Bible-believing Christians often willfully disobey what they know God wants them to do. As Goldmember would ask, “Ishn’t zhat veird?”

12 Responses to “Hello! McFly!”

  1. JimS says:

    They recently did this in our local paper and I think on NPR.

    I thought much as you did; why would I listen to future Jim if I wasn’t listening to others around me then? Words of wisdom were there in many sources and I did not heed their teachings.

    I think it was Aristotle who said that education, or perhaps it was philosophy is wasted on the young. I tend to agree. I think we simply are not wired that way at that time in our lives. The same philisophical and religous works, as well as many of the classics have a far greater impact on me now than they did when I was first exposed to them. Perhaps it is our bad experiences that rewire us to be accepting to these lessons? When we are young, we act more on emotion than logic.

    Another question we may ask of ourselves; do we like who/what/where we are now? If the answer is yes, then it may be the sum total of our experiences that shaped us to be who/what/where we are and going back in time will not help that. If we are unhappy, the ability to recognize that and alter our lives is more meaningful, at least in my mind, than having never faultered or made a mistake. Again, Aristotle notes that virtue comes from recognizing the right choice and making it, not blindly making the right choice. A person who accidentally does the right thing is not necessarily virtuous in Aristotle’s view. Thomas of Aquinas and the Bible say similar things

    Think of it another way, would Adam and Eve have truly been doing the right thing in not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil having never known what good and evil was? I think the answer is yes, they would have been doing the right thing but they may not have been truly virtuous depending on the reason they refused. This then begs the question,; is Bob a better person for having dealt well with his errors, or would he be a better person by haphazardly having made the right choices unknowingly? I tend to side with Aristotle; Bob is better for having made mistakes but overcome them to become a more virtuous person by making more knowledgeable decisions in the future. This brings us to Socrates who said, I drank what?” but also said “A life unexamined is not worth living.” The fact that you think back or examine your life give it greater meaning and how unbearable you would be if the examination of your life were an egotistical, Hey, Look at all the great decisions I made!

  2. Innocent says:

    The journey is what teaches us. Words are just that. The problem is that 20 year old Bob would not ‘know’ what current day Bob knows. This is because current day Bob cannot put his experience into 20 year old Bob. Maybe someday this will be possible, to insert experience, knowledge, etc into other people. Until then we can only persuade and even then without the experience of trial it is meaningless.

    As for the hair and weight… I cannot help the hair, but I know that the weight is manageable. If you want all you need to do is decide on a diet you can enjoy and stick with it. I would suggest making it taboo to eat anything that you have not purchased yourself and then restrict your cash allowed for food to whatever would allow you to purchase what you need for said diet. You spend more you go hungry. Went on a diet where I targeted full nutrition, targeted 1800 calories per day and ended up losing 30 pounds in 90 days.

    Just saying.

    As for disobeying God, heck I disobey myself when I KNOW something is bad for me, let alone God. It is the old, well it is ‘okay’ for me to eat one more bite of food, it is ‘okay’ to have one more slice of pie. Heck staying up late is a bad idea, procrastinating is horrible. All things I do to this day. Let alone listening to God at times.

    Sometimes I am simply foolish.

  3. BVS says:

    Right on!

  4. Slappy McFee says:

    You would be best to ignore whatever advice Future Bob gave you as the advice he gave you would have resulted in the Timeline necessary for him to come back to advise you. If the advice he gave you was any good, he wouldn’t have needed to come back.

    • Harold says:

      Perhaps we can consider this a parallel time line, to avoid the paradox. In the absence of future Bob, everything would work out exactly the same.

      Given that people have time preferences, it is natural that future Bob and young Bob will have different priorities. Future Bob may suggest saving a bit more so future Bob is a bit wealthier. Now, this could be because future Bob thinks money now (with interest) would be more valuable than the smaller amount was to young Bob. In this case, young Bob should presumably reject such advice. However, if future Bob genuinely regrets not saving more, then should young Bob listen?
      Same with diet.

      Some things could be usefully communicated, but as a resolution of probabilities. Should young Bob have that extra drink at the party? After all, the chances of crashing or getting stopped by the cops is very small. Definite pleasure gained may be greater than the probability of mishap. Older Bob can inform young Bob that though unlikely, Bob does indeed get stopped. That extra drink is definitely not worth it. Young Bob would be a fool not to listen to this sort of advice.

  5. Future Bob says:

    Present Bob,……..oh, nevermind.

  6. Future Krugman says:

    Give it up now! You lose in the future!

  7. Matt M says:

    Yeah. I used to think about this quite a bit and came to basically the same conclusion. Even if I could go back in time and talk to my past self, I’m sure my past self would not listen. I used to think that was somewhat unique to me in that I’m maybe a bit more arrogant or stubborn than the average person, but it’s probably somewhat universal. We all think we know what we’re doing at any given moment in time, only to look back years later and say “Well, I probably should have handled that differently…”

  8. Scott H. says:

    Of course you aren’t going to listen to yourself! That’s why, when imagining these things, you need to imagine taking your present day conscience and completely occupying your younger body. It’s a lot more fun to imagine what you would do differently and how that would have turned out, versus realizing that you were just too bull-headed to take good advice.

  9. Wonks Anonymous says:

    Robin Hanson had a number of posts exploring this concept back in the day:

  10. Joseph Fetz says:

    You’re human and ultimately stuck in the *now*. Welcome to life!

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