In Retrospect

Forward looking thoughts about the arrow of time, ironically written in the past. Only in retrospect can you decide whether reading this article was worth your time.

Majority of decisions we encounter in our lives can be reduced to optimization problems.

But as frequently encountered in reality, the cost of setting up and solving an optimization problem exceeds the benefit from the solution itself: a situation referred to as ‘analysis paralysis’.

And only in retrospect can we look back and confirm whether a problem could be solved. It is impossible to know in advance, whether trying to solve a problem is worthwhile.

rear view mirror

Similar is the case with the laws of nature. Just as you can never be sure if all swans are white, you can never be sure if the currently formulated physical law is 100% correct. 

Only in retrospect, when you’ve discovered a better law, can you look back in time and realize how the earlier law was merely an approximation. And how the new law presents a better version of reality. It is impossible to say if all swans are white. And it is impossible to know whether we will ever find an exact approximation of reality.

Only in retrospect can we decide whether a Turing machine stops. And only when we conceptualize the time domain can we see clearly differentiate between P and NP problems.

Kind of makes me wonder, what if the arrow of time is suddenly reversed?

If the universe pressed the rewind button right now, will I be forced to do what I just did backwards in time? Will I be forced to “unwrite” this article? Or do I get a choice? Do I only get free will while moving forwards in time?

The universe works in mysterious ways and only in retrospect will we be able to find out whether free will actually exists backwards in time.

Or forward.

time spiral

Only in retrospect can we see the past. The arrow of time moves as entropy flows into the universe. Delusional are those who think the nature of occurrence in our world is cyclic. History never repeats itself and only in retrospect have we realized this.

Data and knowledge can only be accumulated with time. Even chance is a slave of time. What does probability mean without the arrow of time? In the absence of time, is everything deterministic? What use is a coin toss experiment if everything is already known across the time-domain?

It is only because of time that we can slowly assemble the greater puzzle of knowledge as the curtain of experience unfolds revealing shiny new jigsaw pieces.

But let us face it. There is no future. There is no past.

There are speculations and dreams which allow our imaginations to wander across a future landscape. There are memories which convincingly provide us with a false sensation of there being a meaningful past.

  • If there were no thoughts, would there be a future?
  • If there were no memories, would there be a past?
  • If there were no humans, would there be time ?

In retrospect, someday, I would be glad to know the answers.


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