You’ve been granted the power to predict the future! The catch — each time you use your power, it costs you one day (as in, you’ll live one day less). How would you use this power, if at all?
Warning: there will be references to the end of Harry Potter in this post. So if you read REALLY, REALLY slowly, or you are one of the few people who has come to the series late and miraculously managed to avoid spoilers, then look away! Look away now!
I’m not sure how attractive the power to predict the future would really be. Forget losing a day in exchange – would you really want to see the future anyway? You could check tomorrow’s lottery numbers and win millions of pounds, but apart from that I see little good in it. Mainly because it turns your life’s highlights – or low points – into some serious spoilers.
Now, I’ll admit to reading lots of theories about how the Harry Potter series was going to pan out. My sister hated hearing about them, because she thought even getting ideas was spoiling the fun of it. Some of them turned out to be very accurate – Snape’s story – but it didn’t feel spoiled; I got an ‘I knew it!’ feeling (even if it wasn’t actually me who knew it in the first place).
Until the book had been read, it was just one of several possibilities, and possibilities are exciting. On the other hand, going into work at 4.30 a.m. on the day of the release of the final book, having only read part of it in the few hours since midnight (I read fast, but not that fast) and finding out on my break that Harry marries Ginny and has babies and therefore LIVES, that is a spoiler. Thank you, man-who-does-not-know-I-will-never-forgive-him-for-that, for only answering one of the biggest questions of the series. It might not have spoiled how things reached such a finale – reading how everything happened was still one of the best experiences – but knowing Harry got his happily-ever-after took just a little bit of the tension out of my reading…
It’s like when the BBC only have F1 highlights. (I refuse to get Sky.) I need to implement my own social media blackout until I’ve seen their coverage, because if I know the winner I rarely end up watching it. It’s why I avoid talking to my mother until I’ve seen the race, as she will inevitably tell me the winner (despite the specific request not to) or her mere reaction to the mention of the race will reveal the result. (Disgust: Hamilton won. Delight: Vettel won. Neutral: someone else won.) Of course, if I know my favourite wins, I can enjoy the race even knowing the result, but the ‘need’ to find out what happens is gone. If I don’t know the result, I will sit attentively through every minute, fuelled by the hope that just maybe Hamilton won’t win this one, and though the hope wanes throughout the race, it is only extinguished when he passes the chequered flag. That is how powerful hope is. (If you’re not an F1 fan, Hamilton wins 99% of the time these days.)
And so it’s the same way with my own future. I just love the possibilities. I don’t want my hopes dashed with reality. Not knowing what’s going to happen means I can fantasise that one day I’ll be able to afford paddock passes at Monaco, because I haven’t seen a sad future in which I never actually manage to attend another GP. I can imagine that there will come a day when my own Harry Potter drops into my head, and I finally get a novel on the shelves in Waterstones. I am free to dream about visiting all of the most amazing places in the world. I can enjoy being single, knowing that my friend has a seriously attractive brother I might marry some day. Maybe I’ll finally learn another language. Maybe I’ll once again fit into size-ten jeans. Maybe I’ll meet McFly before I’m fifty. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The attraction of possibility is wrapped up with the power to choose, too. As the future is unknown (an illusion, really, but let’s go with unknown), then we believe we have the power to make decisions that influence it. Looking at the past, we can fool ourselves into thinking that if we had only done one thing differently, then things would be so much better. Really, though, we are choosing between unknowns, if we’re choosing at all.
It’s like ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, when the narrator knows that he will lament not choosing the other path, even though they were ‘about the same’. We have to pick a way, sure, but we can’t see the future, so we’re not choosing something over the other. If we were able to see the outcome of either path, we could make a more informed decision, but we could be forced into choosing between seemingly impossible options, and regret ‘the road not taken’ anyway. The ‘what if’s would always be a bit of a torment.
I admit that part of the reason I wouldn’t want to see the future is fear: I wouldn’t want to be disappointed. Things rarely work out exactly as you plan them, and your past self looking on your future self might think you have gone wrong somewhere, when actually things are no better or worse, just different.
Imagine you used the power. Imagine you saw your worst day. The rest of your life would be tainted by dreading it. Imagine you saw your best day. Could you still appreciate quiet, sunny Sunday mornings or the brilliant ending to a novel if you were comparing it to your wedding day, or the best holiday you’ll ever have? And what about when that day was over? It would be far nicer to live in the hope that the best is yet to come.
Isn’t it lovely to imagine that your life could be something spectacular? Why would you want to take away the mystery? Discovering your story, tapping the pen in your hand as you wonder where it’s going next, that’s the fun of it. Why on earth would you skip to the last page?