The unbearably human “what if” attitude

painting by Bertha Wegmann

The word “human” is often referred to as the conscious being and probably so far, the only one. Consciousness, as the French philosopher Henri Bergson defines it, is historicity. It is the capacity of being aware of time. Moreover, humans live consciously in the time and have a special relation to it. This is why, we invented the watch, the calendar and timetables; but also we have deadlines, memories, projections and so on.

Consciousness is memory, a link between the past, the present and the future which allows us to go back and forth and to anticipate the future while looking back at the past. in Bergson’s words:

“In reality, the past is preserved by itself automatically … the pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory”.

Is this ability a heavy weight? Isn’t the cause of constantly saying to ourselves “what if”?

Mainly there are two consequences of this: resentment or pro-activity.

Resentment is the sum of negative feelings like regrets, remorse, jealousy and persecution. What if I did this instead of that? What if people hate me? What if I am fundamentally stupid? What if I will never make it? All are legitimate questions which can become psychologically lethal if one is entangled in this obsessive attitude, feeding all kinds of negative feelings. We can easily desire to be constantly feeling bad.

On the other hand, these questions can become the way to a better living only if there is a desire to change and face the new. Bergson said it better:

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly”.

11 thoughts on “The unbearably human “what if” attitude”

  1. The past is something that refers to fear. In fact, the past is what we fear may become the present, until it, like Bergon said, devours the future. Look upon the alcoholic who does not want to face the future, though would prefer to drown the past deeper below. Whatever the alcoholic faced in the past, he or she now fears it creeping up to become the future. As in, the alcoholic fears making the same mistake, over.

    In everything we fear, is something we have moved past from, or something we have matured from, or have developed past, so that the future is faced with more preparation. All of the third world countries are looked upon by first world countries, as though they need to set aside their traditional ways, to look at development. However, first world countries are usually blind to the fact that they are delicate, with generations not born from hardship. Thus, first world nations are fragile ones, with obsessive leaders wanting to keep things in the tightest control. The simplest mistake could send everything within a first world nation to tumble backwards, in the past, to barbaric times.

    To what the consciousness is, it is a memory. Because, a memory is always more certain than the future. Just like fear is more certain than clarity. Or, just like death is more certain than love, it is the same.

    If humans are going to embrace the future to say that our death is the only certain things, then we’ve never fought for the future. We’ve only ever fought to stay the same, to say that the past is just as certain as the future. That is not something to fight for. To create a memory that will live on, after death, is something to fight for. All the records of human history were born on deeds, not simply who we are.

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    1. You are right and you say it beautifully. But resentment destroys more than it builds whereas the ability to overcome and be productive is the way to build future memories. Thank you for reading and commenting

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It seems to me that everything here correlates to human emotions. Even memory which before being stored is tagged with an emotion personal to you. You can easily recall multiple sad past events, happy ones and all in between. In fact trying to recall any long-term memory totally sans of any personal emotion will be quite difficult.

    Perhaps that is what the living of our lives is to us. Snapshots from the past, tagged with our own individual emotions and laid out in order on a grand table of linear time. And perhaps consciousness is that which allows us to perceive this line of past memories and to use it to help facilitate our options and outlook for the future.

    The past is gone. So should we allow the negative emotional baggage tagged to it as well. The what if’s as you’ve stated. Accepting our emotions as part of our human make-up and understanding how and why they occur may in the long-run be the most beneficial thing we can do for our personal well-being. Then positive change in oneself — has already begun.

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