Humans are not the only animals that can look both forward and back. But we’re the ones that choose to recognize this trait with a certain reverence and, particularly, to think we ought to make some use of it. We’re undoubtedly the only ones that impute a moral value to one or the other, depending not only on whichever we personally prefer but on what we think can benefit us or others.
We can spend our time and energies on studying, learning from, or even dwelling in the past. We can devote our hopes and plans to the ideation of what lies ahead as scientists, fortune tellers, scam artists or futurists of any sort from literary to application development. And there are certainly those among us who for whatever their religious, philosophical or preferential reasons are dedicated to keeping attention focused on the present time.
All of these approaches have their uses, to be sure. But I like to think that there’s room for a balanced use of this knowledge, these skills. In any time, there is much for us to learn. The successes and failures of the past inform present action, but keeping eyes on present action demands enough concentration that the revisiting of historical notes had best be done while not in the very act of the performance. Likewise, learning to predict, extrapolate and imagine possible improvements and variant outcomes is often the richest trove of possible new successes, but again, dreaming of these accomplishments-yet-to-come is only useful if we aren’t so immersed in them that we can’t complete the steps of today necessary to position us for the future.
We may not be the only beasts able to remember or to aspire, and are clearly not the only ones able to be completely present in the moment. But if we’re the only ones that truly care about such capabilities, why then, let us expend what effort and wisdom we’re able and see how well we can integrate the three. Only then, I suspect, will any of us ever live the fullest lives for which our many possible directions can set our courses.