Living in the Moment

I recently fin­ished read­ing the book How to Sur­vive in a Sci­ence Fic­tional Universe. This is an inter­est­ing book, both in its unusual style but also in its strange plot­ting and sub­ject mat­ter. The book is a lot eas­ier to read if you don’t try too hard to under­stand what is going on and how things work in the world that the author cre­ates.

The book takes place in world which is lit­er­ally fic­tion, even from the view­point of the char­ac­ters. Sci­ence in this world is based on sto­ry-­lines and expressed in terms of human emo­tions. This is inter­est­ing but is not deeply impor­tant to the sto­ry. It would seem to be more a styl­is­tic choice on the part of the author, except for that moment in the story where the pro­tag­o­nist describes how the con­cept of time travel (which is an inte­gral part of the sto­ry,) works in a sci­ence fic­tional universe.

You see, time travel in a sci­ence fic­tional uni­verse is a prod­uct of our own minds. We can travel to our pasts and relive them over and over again, or we can travel to one of our many pos­si­ble futures and see what life could be like for us in the future. Whilst time travel is meant for peo­ple to have adven­tures, it seems that peo­ple invari­ably use it to revisit their worst mis­takes, their great­est tragedies and to relive the worst days of their lives. They would like to change these things but that is impossible; time travel does­n’t work that way. They can merely relive these moments painfully again and again, or pos­si­bly skip to another uni­verse where they never hap­pened, aban­don­ing every­one and every­thing they’ve ever known.

If you’re gath­er­ing that this book is less an exam­ple of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion and more an metaphor­i­cal moral­ity tale, then you’re right, it is. The moral appears to be one about liv­ing in the moment and accept­ing what one can­not change as opposed to dwelling on the past or what might have been. It makes this point repeat­ed­ly, some­times wit­tily and some­times heart-wrench­ing­ly, and always poignant­ly. I’d rec­om­mend the book if it weren’t for the fact that I could not fol­low the logic of the plot or how the time travel machine worked at all. (To be fair, the author had a rea­son to devi­ate from the rules time travel usu­ally fol­lows in books which fea­ture it, but it was never clear to me how his rules were sup­posed to work. I’m not even sure if the book even meant to estab­lish any rules at all, which suited the theme of the book, but made the plot seem totally ran­dom.)

This book struck me, because I believe I have a greater prob­lem than most when it comes to liv­ing in the moment. The moment is so often is bor­ing or tedious and some­time I feel that my best years are behind me (which is a sad thought see­ing how young I am :)) That leads to dwelling, on mis­takes and pos­si­bil­i­ties, but dwelling make it hard to move on. It’s some­thing I real­ized long ago but find dif­fi­cult to live: that liv­ing and work­ing in the moment allows one to build one’s future. If you spend your time fret­ting about missed oppor­tu­ni­ties, you are guar­an­teed to miss future oppor­tu­ni­ties as well. Life isn’t over till you’re dead and there is still quite a bit to enjoy yet.

(I think that this is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the actual mes­sage of the book, but it’s not the bible, so sue me.)

    Last update: 11/8/2011

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