If you could meet a previous self of say twenty years ago how close would you feel to that person? Would you feel comfortable for example in sharing the same clothes or toothbrush and if not how close would the gap in age have to be? You might or might not understand them – would they understand you? We inherit from our own past just as from our parents but in the same way feel ourselves changed and separate.
Going the other way will the person you are now fully exist a decade or two hence? Or would there be a steady fading out of that consciousness not just in the bodily cells but in all we rightly or wrongly consider lies mysteriously beyond them?
Throughout life through steady change we continually give birth to a new version of ourselves, becoming our own descendants. It’s a relay run by a sequence of selves with memory as the baton exchanged. Or a decades long daily performance of a play where the cast have been changed many times and the script is passed down from memory.
Consider how aging and death disliked as they are would each be unbearable one without the other.
It’s been discovered we use the same cerebral mechanism to commune with a future self as we do to empathize with strangers so that self control can fairly be called empathy in time rather than in space.
Physically we will likely want to stay the same or even regress some but psychologically we wouldn’t go back in time for even a minute. We hold our memories tighter than our bodies, indeed we identify completely with these thoughts of the past, recordings that are less fixed and trustworthy than we believe.
We’d like to keep our memories while changing past events but unfortunately there’s no dress rehearsal for life, no chance to do it all again this time for real, avoiding previous mistakes this time – or indeed deliberately repeating them.
Contrary to how we usually verbalize it we don’t really face the future at all but face the past as we travel backward through time. It’s only the past we can see and consider – and often a distorted incomplete view at that – while the future is behind our field of view and must be unknown.
The idea commonly held of a constant self through life is the wrong model not just for the physical cells but even for the psyche. Our cherished memories, pleasurable or not, are really from another being. To cease identifying with previous selves is not only saner but more effective in daily living.
A fuller engagement with the present fades out not just previous selves but the current one too so providing space for the here and now. Memory, the use of information, is still vital but impersonal and objective with a lowering of emotional temperature. We can even consider – pretty much the reality – that our pasts have happened to someone else.