Dear Professor McDaniel,
Thank you so much for introducing me to open and relational (process) theology at the coffee shop.
I’m left with a question. I was listening to a new work in classical music called Future Feelings. Its composer wrote the piece with the "future feelings" of his newborn son in mind. He wondered what the future feelings of his son might sound like. Or, more specifically, what sounds his son might hear, which evoke future feelings.
This made me wonder: What are future feelings? Or, to generalize a bit, what is the anticipated future before it comes-into-existence? Is it nothing at all? Or is it a cluster of indeterminate possibilities that are actually felt in the present moment?
If it'ss a cluster of possibilities, where are they? Or they just in our minds, which means they can't exist apart from our imagining them?
Or are they, as it were, in the mind of God, albeit without God knowing which among them will be actualized.
You ask about the ontological status of the future before it comes into existence.
Let's ask some open and relational theologians. I'll post your note to me and see if we get a response. I'll add their responses to this page.
As you know, I'm drawn to process theology, so I'll say a word about how it looks to me.
First, a confession. I’m not sure what the future is. I’m not just saying that I don’t know what will happen in the future. I'm saying that I don’t know what kind of existence (if any) the future has before it happens.
Open and relational (process) theologians tell us that the future isn’t actual until it comes-into-existence. Here actual means something like “has a determined or specific nature” and “has causal power.” So their point is that, before it comes into existence, the future lacks determinacy and causal power.
So my question is, what is the non-actual future before it becomes actual.
As far as I can tell, some open and relational theologians say “nothing,” while others say “possibilities.”
I lean toward possibilities. This is because I experience the anticipated future as something with a unique kind of power. Sometimes it is ominous, sometimes inviting, sometimes hopeful, sometimes discouraging.
Do you experience the future this way, too? If so, when you experience the future as ominous or inviting or hopeful or anxiety-producing, what is the datum – the object – of your experience?
Those who think the future is “nothing” will say that the datum is merely a projection from the past. You are experiencing your own projection. Your experience would be what Whitehead calls an imaginative prehension and its datum would be some complex object created in and by the subject of experience in the present moment. You are creating in your mind an idea of the future.
But the future seems more powerful than this to me. It seems like something that is given to experience, not just generated by experience, not unlike the way the past is given to experience, except that, when it comes to the future, the something that is given is indeterminate. It is an indeterminate object of anticipation.
Future Feelings was composed shortly after the birth of my first kid, and I was watching him slowly wake up to the world, especially to sound. During that time, I was experimenting a lot to figure out what kinds of sounds would comfort him, and some of those sounds found their way into the piece: white noise, synth pads, hypnotically repetitive rhythms and melodies. There is a kind of nostalgia or yearning for childhood that permeates the piece, but I am generally suspicious of nostalgia, so that suspicion is there, too. (Isaac Schankler)