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Changing the Past

Changing the Past

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Published by: vkscorp on Aug 26, 2008
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08/13/2010

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Changing the Past
by Michael McGinnisEveryone has a past full of troubles. The older you are, the more you havecollected. How can we keep from being buried in a growing tide of memories of unhappiness and misfortune?Imagine your reaction to a headline like this on the news: "Scientistdiscovers how to change the past." You might think -- what's past is pastand can't be changed -- this doesn't make sense. But it has happened to me,and maybe to you as well.This story happened when I was in the first years of high school inNanaimo, B.C. I had done very well in elementary school, but when Imoved to a large high school a number of students in my grade eight classturned out to be bullies who decided I was a good target. In many waysthat year was a misery. Early in the next school year my family moved to adifferent town. As my homeroom teacher and I walked down the corridorin the Nanaimo school as I prepared to leave, we encountered theprincipal. My teacher told the principal that he was sorry to say that I wasleaving. His one word reply was, "Good."I figured that I had just been insulted, and started to hate my formerprincipal. And so it was for several years -- when I looked back at thatincident, my feelings were betrayal and hate.Eventually, my understanding of my life grew. I realized that the principalwas well aware of the problems I had been having in school. He knew thatby moving to a new school, I would have a chance to make a newbeginning elsewhere. And so he said, "Good." because for me it was thebest thing that could have happened. I think of that principal now withappreciation and respect.And so the past changed for me. When I was 15, looking back on thatincident in 1966, I felt great hostility. By the time I was 20, I looked back on the same occasion with gratitude.The past exists because of two things -- a memory to retain events whichhappened in the past and a state of consciousness to interpret them. Aperson with no understanding of life has no past. Animals, as well aspeople, can learn to interpret changes in their environment to theiradvantage, so both have some sense of the past. The grosbeaks who visitmy yard have learned where the feeder is, and where the visiting cat islikely to be. But their interpretation changed with time: at first, the feederwas a place they could always go for food in safety. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Sylvester the cat started visiting, and the birds had to learn newways. One female didn't, by the evidence of brown feathers on my lawn.The past has no separate existence -- it exists only because somethingexperienced it. When our understanding changes, our
view 
of the pastchanges though the past events themselves are still the same. The principalat my high school spoke only one word to me -- that event is fixed. Yet,Page 1 of 28/23/2008

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