Anda di halaman 1dari 4

The Nature of the Past

THE present is not the past and the future. The distinction which we make between them is evidently
fundamental. If we spread a specious present so that it covers more events, as Whitehead suggests, taking
in some of the past and conceivably some of the future, the events so included would belong, not to the
past and the future, but to the present. It is true that in this present there is something going on. There is
passage within the duration, but that is a present passage. The past arises with memory. We attach to the
backward limit of the present the memory images of what has just taken place. In the same fashion we
have images of the words which we are going to speak. We build out at both limits. But the images are in
the present. Whitehead's suggestion that rendering these images sufficiently vivid would spread the
specious present is quite beside the mark. No memory image, however vivid, would be anything but a
memory image, which is a surrogate merely for what was or will be spoken.

The actual passage of reality is in the passage of one present into another, where alone is reality, and a
present which has merged in another is not a past. Its reality is always that of a present. The past as it
appears is in terms of representations of various sorts, typically in memory images, which are themselves
present. It is not true that what has passed is in the past, for the early stages of a motion lying within a
specious present are not past. They belong to something that is going on. The distinction between the
present and the past evidently involves more than passage. An essential condition is its inclusion in some
present in this representational form. Passage as it takes place in experience is an overlapping of one
specious present by another. There is continuity of experience, which is a continuity of presents. In this
continuity of experience there is distinction of happening. There is direction. There is dependence or
conditioning. What is taking place flows out of that which is taking place. Not only does succession take
place, but there is a succession of contents. What is going on would be otherwise if the earlier stage of the
occurrence (236) had been of a different character. It is always a passage of something. There is always a
character which connects different phases of the passage, and the earlier stage of the happening is the
condition of the later stage. Otherwise there would be no passage. Mere juxtaposition of events, if this is
conceivable, would not constitute passage. The connection involves both identity and difference, and it
involves that in the identity which makes the condition for that which follows. The immediate position of
a moving body is conditioned by that which preceded it. Continuity is involved as a presupposition in
passage in experience.

Although apparently sudden dislocations take place, back of these we imply continuities within which
these dislocations could be resolved into continuities. The spatio-temporal connections which these
continuities express involve the conditioning of any spatio-temporal position by a previous set of
positions. This conditioning is not complete determination, but the conditions that are involved in the
continuity of passage are necessary. That which is novel can emerge, but conditions of the emergence are
there. It is this conditioning which is the qualitative character of the past as distinguished from mere
passage. Mere passage signifies disappearance and is negative. The conditioning, spatio-temporally
considered, is the necessity of continuity of relationship in space-time and of characters which are
dependent upon space and time, such as velocities and momenta. The discontinuous is the novel. When a
force is applied which is responsible for an acceleration, the moment at which that force is applied may
be as respects its appearance an emergence from a continuous past, but the spatio-temporal continuities
set conditions for the accelerations which result from the application of the force.

There are other continuities which we look for besides those of space-time. These are those of the so-
called uniformities of nature. The embedding of any two successive events and their characters, however
fortuitous they may seem, within a continuity of happening registers itself as carrying some conditioning
of their happening in the succession within which they have appeared. The physical sciences push this
conditioning into spatio-temporal form as far as it is possible. They attempt so to state the two happenings
that the mere fact that one occurs at a certain place and time determines in some degree that which
follows upon it. The ideal of this presentation is an equation between a situation at one moment and that
at the next. We seek such a statement that the mere (237) passage of experience will determine that which
takes place. Where this can rigorously be carried out we reach what Whitehead calls the Aristotelian
adjectives of events, but where it is impossible to so present the happenings that the continuity of passage
determines what will take place we have in his terms pseudo-adjectives of events. But that the
continuities of space-time do carry with them conditions of that which takes place is a fundamental
presupposition of experience. The order within which things happen and appear conditions that which
will happen and appear.

It is here that we find the function of the past as it arises in memory and the records of the past. Imagery
is not past but present. It rests with what we call our mental processes to place these images in a temporal
order. We are engaged in spreading backward what is going on so that the steps we are taking will be a
continuity in the advance to the goals of our conduct. That memory imagery has in it characters which
tend to identify it as belonging to the past is undoubtedly true, and these characters seem to be frequently
independent of its place in a continuous order. A face or a landscape may flash upon the inward eye with
seemingly intrinsic evidence of past experience, although we may have great difficulty in placing them.
The evidence is not necessarily of an immediate character. There are certain sorts of images which belong
to our pasts and we are confident of them because they fit in. And there are sorts of images which betray
the operation of the imagination. A memory may be recognized as such by a method of exclusion,
because it has not the fashion of the fancy -- because we cannot otherwise account for it. The assurances
which we give to a remembered occurrence come from the structures with which they accord.

What is, then, the immediate occasion for this building out of specious presents into a past? These
presents themselves pass into each other by an overlapping process. There is no break except under what
may be called pathological conditions. We do not build out into the past to preserve mere continuity, i.e.,
to fill out breaks in reality. But it is evident that we need to complete something that is lacking in that
which is going on. The span of that which occupies us is greater than the span of the specious present.
The "what it is" has a temporal spread which transcends our experience. This is very evident in the pasts
which we carry around with us. They are in great part thought constructs of what the present by its nature
involves, into which very slight material of memory imagery is (238) fitted. This memory in a manner
tests and verifies the structure. We must have arisen and eaten our breakfasts and taken the car, to be
where we are. The sense of this past is there as in implication and bits of imperfect scenes come in at call
-- and sometimes refuse to arise. But even in this latter case we do not feel that the past is lost.

It may be said that the existence in experience of affairs that transcend our presents is the very past under
discussion, and this is true, and what I am endeavoring to make evident. The past is an overflow of the
present. It is oriented from the present. It is akin on the one side to our escape fancies, those in which we
rebuild the world according to our hearts' desires, and on the other to the selection of what is significant
in the immediate situation, the significant that must be held and reconstructed, but its decisive character is
the pushing back of the conditioning continuities of the present. The past is what must have been before it
is present in experience as a past. A past triumph is indefinitely superior to an escape fancy, and will be
worn threadbare before we take refuge in the realm of the imagination, but more particularly the past is
the sure extension which the continuities of the present demand.

The picture which Bergson gives of it seems to me to belie both its character in experience and its
functional character -- the picture of an enormous incessantly accreting accumulation of "images" against
which our nervous systems defend us by their selective mechanisms. The present does not carry any such
burden with it. It passes into another present with the effects of the past in its textures, not with the
burden of its events upon its back. And whatever account we give of our exiguous imagery, it is marked
by what Bergson has himself emphasized, its function of filling out present perceptions. It bears no
evidence of the richness of material which Bergson predicates. It is hard to recover and disappointing in
its detail. Imagery plays the same rle in the past that it plays in the present, that of supplying some
element of detail that makes the construction possible.

The inevitability of existence is betrayed in its continuity. What follows flows from what was. If there is
continuity, then what follows is conditioned by what was. A complete break between events would
remove the character of inevitability. The elimination of continuity is the gist of Hume's attack upon
causality. While the recovery of continuity in passage is the gist of Kant's second deduction of the
categories. If there (239) were bare replacement of one experience by another, the experience would not
be that of passage. They would be different experiences each wrapped up in itself, but with no
connection, no way of passing from one to the other. Even a geometrical demonstration involves passage
from situation to situation. The final structure is a timeless affair in the sense that it is a completed
structure which is now irrelevant to the passage by which it has arisen. Any passage is in so far inevitable
as earlier stages condition later achievements, and the demonstration is the exhibition of the continuity of
the passage. One route when it is once taken is as inevitable as another. The child's whimsical movements
of the men upon the chessboard is as inevitable as the play of the expert. In the one case its inevitability is
displayed by the psychologist and in the other by the logician. Continuity in the passage of events is what
we mean by the inevitable.

But are continuity could not be experienced. There is a tang of novelty in each moment of experience.
Kant reached this by the Mannigfaltigkeit der Empfindungen, an unordered sensuous content which
becomes experience when it is placed within the forms of the understanding. Without this break within
continuity, continuity would be inexperienceable. The content alone is blind, and the form alone is empty,
and experience in either case is impossible. Still Kant's chasm between the two is illusory. The continuity
is always of some quality, but as present passes into present there is always some break in the continuity -
- within the continuity, not of the continuity. The break reveals the continuity, while the continuity is the
background for the novelty.

The memory of the unexpected appearance of a supposedly far distant friend, or the memory of an
earthquake can never recover the peculiar tang of the experience. I remember that there was a break
which is now connected with just the phases of the experience which were unconnected. We recall the joy
or the terror, but it is over against a background of a continuum whose discontinuity has been healed.
Something was going on -- the rising anger of a titan or the adjustment of the earth's internal pressures
which resulted in that which was unexpected, but this was not the original experience, when there was no
connection between the events before the occurrence and the sudden emergence. Even if no qualitative
causal connection appears in the memory, the spatio-temporal connection is there to be developed as
thought or imagination may refashion it. (240) Redintegration of the past can never bring back the
unexpected. This is just the character of the past as distinguished from the passage of presents into each
other. The primal break of novelty in passage is gone and the problem of bridging the contingent factors
is before the mind, though it may go no further than the oppressive sense of chance or fate. The character
of the past is that it connects what is unconnected in the merging of one present into another.

The corresponding character of the future is still more evident. The novel is already there in the present
and introduced breaks into the continuity which we must repair to attain an approach to certainty in the
future. The emergent future has therefore a hypothetical character. We can trace the spatio-temporal
continuities into it and the less rigorous continuities of other uniformities, but the particular aspects they
will assume depend upon the adjustments which the present with its novelties will call out. Imagery from
past continuities, such as the concluding words in the sentence we are speaking, or the house around the
corner which we are nearing, approach the inevitable, but we may break the discourse and an explosion
may send us down another road. The inevitable continuities belong to the structure of the hypothetical
plans of action before us.

What is now to be said of these pasts and futures, when we seek them outside of human experience in
terms of which we have been considering them? In the first place we can say that the only pasts and
futures of which we are cognizant arise in human experience. They have also the extreme variability
which attaches to human undertakings. Every generation rewrites its history -- and its history is the only
history it has of the world. While scientific data maintain a certain uniformity within these histories, so
that we can identify them as data, their meaning is dependent upon the structure of the history as each
generation writes it. There is no texture of data. Data are abstractions from things and must be given their
places in the constructive pasts of human communities before they can become events. It is tempting to
illustrate this in the shifting histories which our present generation has constructed of its habitat --
including the whole universe, so far as it has been able to survey it, but the phenomenon is too evident
and striking to call for illustration. Every advance in the interpretation of spectroscopic observations of
the stars, every advance in the theory of the atoms opens the door to new (241) accounts of the millenia of
stellar history. They rival at present the rapidly changing histories of human communities. The immutable
and incorruptible heavens exist only in rhetoric. Minute shifts in the lines of the spectrum or the readings
of the spectroscope may add or subtract billions of years to the life of the stars.

The validity of these pasts depend upon the continuities which constitute their structure. These
continuities in passage are the essence of inevitability, and when we feel the continuity we have reached
the security we seek. It is an error to assume that the security depends upon the form of the continuity.
For the Psalmist the only form of continuity that gave security was that of the Everlasting Hills and for
the Greeks it was the Unchangeable Heavens. We find greater security in the laws of stellar evolution
because it knits the continuities of the atoms with the continuities of the stars. The continuities of process
are more universal than those of structure. More particularly we have swept away the cosmical and
metaphysical chasm between the changeless heavens and the contingent earth. Ancient metaphysics
divorced the two inseparable components of passage -- the continuous and the emergent. The doctrine of
evolution has obliterated the scandal from the union out of which arise all objects in experience. There is
no more striking contrast in the history of thought than the gathering security with which we control
events by rapidly reconstructing our histories, which reveal our dependable continuities when we stretch
them out into their implied pasts; and the helplessness of ancient and mediaeval thought that found
continuity only in a changeless order and an irrevocable past.

The conclusion is that there is no history of presents that merge into each other with their emergent
novelties. The past which we construct from the standpoint of the new problem of today is based upon
continuities which we discover in that which has arisen, and it serves us until the rising novelty of
tomorrow necessitates a new history which interprets the new future. All that emerges has continuity, but
not until it does so emerge. If we could string together the presents as presents we would present the
conditions under which the novel could arise but we would not deduce that which arose. Out of the
discovered continuities of that which has arisen with all that has gone before we can reconstruct it -- in
the future, and we obtain the field for this reconstruction by stretching backward in history the new-found
continuities. Within our narrow (242) presents our histories give us the elbow room to cope with the ever-
changing stream of reality.

If the novel emerges, there can be no history of a continuity of which it is a constituent part, though when
it has emerged the continuities which it exhibits may enable us to state a succession of events within
which it appears. Let us assume that life has emerged. In a genuine sense the conditions which allow of
this emergence determine its appearance. It could not have appeared earlier than these events. The history
of life will relate it to these events, which have now become its conditions, but previously were not its
conditions, for there was no life to constitute those events the conditions of life. The setting up of the
relation between the events which have become conditions and the emerging life is an establishment of
continuity between the world before life and life itself, which was inconceivable before life appeared, as
one establishes in his memory a continuity between the moment before the earthquake happened and the
earthquake, which in its unexpectedness permitted in its happening no such connection. The past thus
belongs to a generalized form of experience. It is the arising of relations between an emergent and a
conditioning world. Any organism, taken in its widest Whiteheadean sense, maintains itself by means of
relationships which, extended backward as well as forward, constitute a history of the world, but
evidently it arises only after the appearance of that which gives to the world this value. The past consists
of the relations of the earlier world to an emergent affair -- relations which have therefore emerged with
the affair.