Future Perfect


“It makes no more sense to talk of changing the future than it does to talk of changing the past. Suppose that I decide to change the future, by having coffee for breakfast tomorrow instead of my usual tea. Have I changed the future? No. For coffee for breakfast was the future. It has been objected to me that the above argument is perhaps misleading. For, it has been said, there is quite clearly a sense in which I can change the future and not the past, and this is because my acts of will determine the future and not the past — I cannot undo what has been done. Now I do not wish to deny that we can causally affect the future and not the past, and indeed this causal directionality of time is part of the problem of the ‘direction of time.’ Nevertheleless I would reiterate that the fact that our present actions determine that future would be most misleadingly expressed or described by saying that we can change the future. A man can change his trousers, his club, or his job. Perhaps he may even change the course of world history or the state of scientific thought. But one thing that he cannot change is the future, since whatever he brings about is the future, and nothing else is, or ever was.”

— J.J.C. Smart, Problems of Space and Time, 1964