The Golden Path is an idea brought up in the Dune series of books by Frank Herbert. It stars characters who are prescient or can see the future and the possible paths that lead to a particular end. In order to get to a ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ future for humanity the main characters are forced to take a the Golden Path, a series of actions that cause great immediate harm and suffering to both humanity and themselves, but reach an ultimate ‘ideal’ goal.
Now the idea of prescience or being able to see the future for all of humanity is a bit grandiose but I believe that it is possible to see the future for ourselves as individuals. We do it every day to a certain degree. When we are at work we think about what we’ll have for dinner or going to the bar for a beer. At night before we sleep we think about what we’ll do the following day, what we’ll have for lunch or where we’ll go. We plan our vacations and imagine sitting on the beach or visiting a museum. Each of those ‘visions’ in our head is a possible future that we can make for ourselves as individuals. The idea is that those places in time and space already exist and we just need to find the optimal path to get there. Prescience in this sense is not seeing the actual future, but creating a mental map of the future. Just like our memories and maps, visions of the future are not 100% accurate as things are ever changing, however with enough effort we can get a clear enough picture to make things work.
Starting at the End to Find a Way Forward
I used to love mazes and puzzles when I was young. I learned a trick to being able to finish mazes faster than almost anyone without hitting dead ends or getting lost and having to backtrack. The secret to solving mazes quickly is to not start at the beginning, but to start at the end and work your way to the start. It’s a bit of cheating, but it does provide the optimal results. The same can be said of our lives and the direction that we’re going. The first step is to simply find the end goal that you’re looking for. It could be something grand like wanting to be a billionaire or famous. It could be something more down to earth like having a great family with loved ones around you. Regardless of the goal the next step is key in being able to maximize the chances of achieving it. Again like the maze the next step is not to move forward from where you are, but to move backwards from the goal itself to where you currently are.
We’ll take Bob as an example. Bob is currently in high school and doesn’t really know what to do with his life afterwards. His parents tell him he needs to go to a good college to succeed. He does want to be successful in life so takes his parents advice and goes to college. He spends the next two years trying to figure out what major he should study. Bob thinks long and hard and really doesn’t know what he would be good at or what he wants to be. His father tells him to be a lawyer while his mother wants him to be a doctor. Neither really appeal to Bob at that time so he sticks to business as it seems like a good middle ground and also a way to be successful. Bob graduates and gets a job interview at a decent enough company and they ask him where he sees himself in five years. Bob really thinks that one over and answers that he wants to work hard and be promoted and successful.
Bob gets the job and starts working. During the course of work he really doesn’t know what he wants to do so just finishes the assignments and tasks given to him. He coasts through work and although he gets his annual raise the promotions that he had thought about always seem to skip by and go to other people. Bob feels that he contributes and gets more and more frustrated with his job, but because he wants to be successful continues to do what he has done for the past five years.
Bob now in his late twenties and dissatisfied with work wonders what he should do next. He’s given up on the idea of success as his job has grown more and more mundane. He asks his parents, “So what’s next?”. They tell him he should get married as he has a career and now he should settle down. Bob thinks that’s a good idea as his friends have and are getting married so he meets a nice girl and settles down. He’s not too picky about his wife, but she’s nice enough, pretty enough and they get along well. He settles down and they have kids and Bob continues with a life that he didn’t plan. Now Bob isn’t necessarily unhappy, but he didn’t end up going where he wanted with his life. Instead of ending up at Disneyworld as his dream destination he ended up at the country fair. He simply let life take him randomly in the whatever direction.
Now we’ll look at Sue. Sue while she is in high school decides that she wants to be successful as well. She decides that to her success means being rich, that way she can spend her free time anyway she wants as well as help out people as well. Sue looks at the data and figures to be rich to the point where she won’t need to have money that the best course is to start a business. She had thought about being a famous actress or singer, but felt that she wasn’t talented enough and didn’t want to take the risk. The statistics tell her that the best way to be at least a millionaire is to be an entrepreneur and start a business. Luckily in today’s day and age with the Internet Sue realizes that she doesn’t need a lot of start up capital to have a business.
Sue then thinks, “Now what type of business will I do well at?”. She realizes that she was always fashion savvy so decides that fashion would be a good idea. “So fashion is a good ways to go, but how do I get into it?”, she wonders. She can go to a fashion school she thinks, but that’s a long career path with no guarantees that she’ll stand out, so she decides to start a fashion blog while still in school. It will at least give her some foundation to work with. When she graduates from high school she goes straight into the fashion industry and works her way up. With enough experience and a popular blog she’s able to start her own business and succeed.
Sue and Bob both had a goal but working backwards Sue was able to plan out how to get where she wanted to go. She was able to navigate the maze without having to turn around and backtrack because working backwards makes the path easier to see.
Life is a Highway of Possibilities
How we reach that end point or goal is wholly dependent on us. To reach each possible point that we envision there is a path or in some cases paths that we can take. Just like going to somewhere there is not just one road, but many roads that lead to the same destination. Some courses may take longer, while others are short and direct. Some are easier than others, but each one exists just like each possible future already exists. While we can plan out a course to follow life can bring up obstacles and detours that may slow us down. Just like taking a drive anywhere, while we are in control of the direction and speed that we are going as well as the destination we do not have control of those around us. It is not an issue of fate, destiny or predestination as we are the ones that make the each choice and decision that will lead there. Like any path or road that we take to a destination, there will be twists and turns, there will be unforeseen obstacles that block our way. It is however up to us to decide whether to desert the idea of the Golden Path or simply to find the detour in the road that leads there. Just like any journey we are not set on the exact location and have the power to change our minds and choose a different destination to go to. Some are easier and faster to reach while others can be nearly impossible.
We can all imagine a ‘perfect’ future for ourselves; where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing and in some cases who we’ll be with. Fortunately, we have the ability to actively affect most of those factors. Of course, there are limits to what we as individuals can do, but there is much more we can do than we realize.
“There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After…I knew there would be no turning back if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian from which everything else would be measured.”
― Justina Chen,
As children, we imagined what careers that we would have whether it was to be an astronaut, athlete, movie star or something entirely different. As children, we all had some opportunity or path available to us to reach that goal. Unfortunately, in too many cases we chose different paths to take and ended up in a completely different location, but at the moment of conception of that dream goal there was a path that made that goal possible. In most cases the path was too difficult, so we chose an easier way that led to a different destination. The main thing we need to realize is that in most cases of failure and a change in direction it was we ourselves who made that decision to turn from the path instead of plunging further ahead.
While long term end goals can be easy to envision and fantasize about reaching those goals and finding the path is even more difficult as we are unable to plan for eventualities that may pop up along the way.
In following entries we’ll take a closer look at if this is at all possible within the confines of science and reason and also what implications it may have on our daily lives.
Originally posted 2016-12-18 01:33:05.