The future, that undiscovered land just past the great horizon, is the constant focus of man’s energies, and its mutability is the source of human freedom. Nearly every human act is based upon the proposition that what we do will shape the future. There can be no greater tyranny than that which robs man of his power to mold his future, because such larceny leaves him with no purpose and no reason to continue. And yet, no knowledge can be more empowering or valuable than that of what is to come. The essential question then becomes whether the future is a book to be read or to be written; whether it is a path for us to pave or to follow. For the physical sciences, the future is in many ways a written book which lays open for the reading. There are of course, as we must assume they’re always will be, a great many unsolved mysteries remaining, but an astronomer at his desk can tell us with precision where the lonely rocky planet Mercury will be a million years from this very minute, just as easily as he can inform us where it was a million years ago. Mercury, after all, has no choice about its path, it is inanimate and is pushed and pulled by forces which determine every detail of its existence. By knowing the rules by which those forces operate, the physicist and the astronomer can predict the future of the universe, and can in some sense blur the line between the future and the past – since both are known, though only one has happened as of yet.
But what of man? Are we also inanimate rocks, pushed and pulled and dragged along by forces out of our control? Do we only imagine that the future is ours to scope? We plan and build and hope and wish, but in the end, on the grand scale of human story, are these efforts truly meaningful? Is the future the product of our present efforts or is it in some sense a land already built but not yet populated? Are the past and future of humanity a single pre-existing continuity, knowable as one and separated only by the fact that future events have not yet gone through the technical step of actually occurring? In the book of the ages, is the next page ours to write, or just to read? The question could not be more important. If the page is written but we imagine it is blank, then we will act from ignorance, and live our lives without a knowledge of the truth, although the truth is there for us to know. But worse yet, if the page is blank and we imagine it is written, then we will enslave ourselves to our own fantasies, and live like mad men or lunatic mimes, running into walls which are not really there.
From Tyranny of Reason- The Origins and Consequences of the Social Scientific Outlook by Yuval Levin