We know the present, what is happening now. We know by memory something of our own past, and by history something of the world’s past. But the future, what will happen but has not yet happened, we know not. The future is a closed book; or rather, a book that has not yet been opened. To-morrow never comes, and no one has ever seen it.
Yet our blindness to the future is not quite complete. Some future events are certainly known. For example, astronomers, from their knowledge of the laws governing the movements of the heavenly bodies, can accurately predict an eclipse of the sun or the moon, and the appearance of a certain comet, and that many years before. The times of high and low tides, too, are known beforehand, to the very hour.
Moreover, we can foretell with fair accuracy, from our knowledge of the laws of cause and effect, what will happen in certain circumstances if certain things happen or are done. For example, if a man takes a sufficient dose of poison he will die. If a farmer does not sow his fields he will reap no harvest. If a student does not work at his studies, he will fail in his examination. But even here there is not always complete certainty about the future. There is at best only a very high degree of probability; for the unexpected often happens. Still, such knowledge helps us to prepare for the future.
In general, then, we are blind to the future. This blindness worries some people. They are forever asking themselves what is going to happen to them. They may guess and speculate and calculate, but they want to know. It is from these over-curious people that professional fortune-tellers make their money. Silly people go to them, thinking they have some miraculous knowledge of the future. But this is, of course, only a waste of time and money. The fortuneteller really knows no more of the future than they do themselves.
On the whole, our blindness to the future is a blessing. If a man knew from the beginning the whole course of his life, and the date and manner of his death, most of the joy and adventure of life would be gone. Life would be an uninteresting straight road, the end of which could be seen from the beginning. Much better not to know, but to travel on hopefully day by day.
Alexander Pope expresses this well in his well known lines;
“Heav’n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescribed, their present state,
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know,
Or who could suffer being here below?
Oh, blindness to the future! Kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked by Heav’n.”