Terminator's Mission and the Reality of Mere Possibility

In contrast to the lockstep march of determinism, in which the future and past are equally unchangeable, most people see a big difference between the past and the future. Pragmatically, it is impossible to change the past (although people are tempted to reinterpret events, conceal them, invent other pasts, and even collectively rewrite history based on current political views). But the future is considered open. That is, one can do something to change the future. Even when particular events are beyond one's individual control, such as the impending hurricane or war or corporate bankruptcy, one can make choices to reduce the effect on oneself, thus changing the future in small ways.

The nondeterministic vision of the future embraces the reality of mere possibility. That is, certain things might happen, but also might not happen. This is how people think about the future: Events are possible, sometimes probable, but not unchangeable or inevitable. Danger or threat means that something bad might happen, but might not. An opportunity is that something good that might happen, but might not. Success is only meaningful if failure is possible and vice versa. Negotiation is based on the premise that different outcomes are possible and the two parties seek to find one that is acceptable to both.

In one large study on people's thoughts during their daily lives, most thoughts about the future reflected the reality of multiple possibilities (Baumeister, Hofmann, & Vohs, 2015). As we shall detail shortly, by far the most common category of prospective thoughts was planning. Perhaps determinists go through the motions of making plans because causal processes dating back to the Big Bang dictate that they have to make them, but ordinary people presumably make plans because they want to make sure that the future produces one result rather than another, and planning increases their chances of getting the desired result. Other thoughts about the future include wondering what will happen, hoping for something in particular, and the like, all of which rest on the assumption that there are different possible futures.

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