May 19, 2020

The Workshop: Emmeline ’20’s Week 6 Reflection

Would You Want to See the Future?
by Emmeline ’20, Workshop student

The Workshop at Andover is an immersive term-long learning experience. Spring-term seniors stop all traditional academic courses and instead work closely with peers and faculty on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single subject. This term the subject is Community, Class, and Carbon.

The following is a student reflection from the sixth week of the program. (Also read Sadie ’20's Week 6 reflection.)

This is Emmeline's desk in her room. She likes it because she can be alone, and she also has a lot of drawings that she likes pinned on her bulletin board. Her window provides her with a dazzling view of Midwestern suburbia.

Claire posed an interesting question on the daily Flipgrids last week: if you could have the ability to see the future, would you want to see it or not? I thought about this question a lot in the following days. As a society, we have always had a fixation with predicting the future. Seeing into the future is a staple of mythology and superstition worldwide, including omens, dreams, fortune tellers, and time travelers. Notably, in the Ancient Greek myths of the Oracle of Delphi, kings would seek to know their cause of death and take every precaution to avoid it, only for the prophecy to inevitably come true anyways. Their mistaken idea that they could change their future only sealed their doom. The ability to see into the future is thus not that helpful unless you also know whether you can change the future or if it’s fixed.

Let’s just say that you could change the future. The problem now is that you know too much about every consequence of every single action that you take. Will wearing sweatpants instead of jeans give you a level of comfort that will boost your test-taking ability later in the day? Will throwing a coin in a wishing well impact your financial management or spirituality later in life? Every single choice you make, however small, can turn into a moral or personal dilemma, and each decision creates a mass of new timelines to pick from. This infinitude of choice is probably too much for anyone to handle and would lead to overwhelming confusion and chaos.

If you can’t change your future, the situation is exactly the opposite. Now, you practically have no ability to choose at all. Every decision you made has already been determined and you are forced to follow a singular path that you have no input in. In this scenario, your free will disappears; life becomes hollow as you lose any agency towards your future, making your actions mechanical and meaningless.

In this way, the power of choice comes entirely from the ambiguity of the future. When we are given the ability to predict the future, we can become either overwhelmed with choices or left with little choice but to follow the path we think is right. As our society continues to advance and projecting the future through technology like weather forecasts and political predictions becomes more prevalent, we lose more of our right to ignorance of the consequences of our actions. As a result, our ability to choose might change too. On one hand, we are now more than ever forced to consider the multitude of different ethical and global consequences that follow each of our actions. On the flipside, we may also find that our career prospects are narrowing due to predictions of AI job displacement. While eradicating ambiguity may help society as a whole, our individual ability to choose may also be compromised.

To learn more about the Workshop, read Tang Institute Director Andy Housiaux's recent update here.

*We look forward to updating you on the ways we are (re)imagining the Workshop, our connection with students, and our approaches to teaching and learning. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

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