In a linear conception of time, the future is the portion of the timeline that is still to occur, i.e. the place in space-time where lie all events that still have not occurred. In this sense the future is opposed to the past (the set of moments and events that have already occurred before) and the present (the set of events that are occurring now).
The meaning of the future to mankind
The future always had a very special place in philosophy and, in general, in the human mind because a huge part of human life needs at least a forecast of events that are to occur. It is perhaps possible to argue that the evolution of the human brain is in great part an evolution in cognitive abilities necessary to forecast the future , i.e. abstract imagination, logic and induction. Imagination permits us to “see” a plausible model of a given situation without effectively observing it in practice (therefore mitigating risks). Logical reasoning allows one to predict inevitable consequences of actions and situations, and therefore gives useful information about future events. Induction permits the association of a cause with consequences, a fundamental notion for every forecast of future time. Such abilities in getting at least glimpses about what is going to happen probably were tremendous forces in the evolution of mankind.
Despite these cognitive instruments for the comprehension of future, the stochastic nature of many natural and social processes made of the forecasting of future a long-sought aim for people of almost all historic ages and cultures. Figures pretending to see the future, like a prophet or a diviner enjoyed great consideration and even social importance in many past and even present communities. Whole pseudo-sciences, like astrology or cheiromancy originated with the aim of forecasting futures. Much of physical science too can be read as an attempt to make quantitative and objective predictions about events.
The Future also forms a prominent subject for religion. Often religions offer prophecies about life after death and also about the end of the world. The conflict in Christian religion between the knowledge of the future by God and the freedom of human will led, for example, to the doctrine of predestination.
Two of the biggest questions cosmology seeks to answer are the Universe's creation ("how did it start?") and its ultimate fate ("how will it end?"). To the latter question, there are several proposed solutions:
- Despite observations, the universe may stay as it is forever (Steady state theory).
- Gravity will overcome the outward velocities and all matter will collapse back into a singularity. This is the theory of the Big Crunch. This is a precursor to the oscillatory Universe.
- Gravity cannot overcome the outward velocities, and heat-death of the Universe will occur. Or, if the expansion of the universe is accelerating, the Big Rip may occur.
Future mood in English
Strictly speaking, English does not have a future tense as such, that is, a verb form specifically used to talk about the future.
When the English future tense is mentioned, usually it refers to present-tense (or rather, "non-past"-tense) constructions using the modal verb will or shall used to discuss the future: In the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.
As with other moods, this mood is also available in the past, using "would," the past tense of "will": He thought he had his whole life ahead of him; little did he know that the next day, he would die in a car crash.
Several other modal forms are also used to refer to the future, including:
- With "going to": I'm going to do something. For intention and prediction, and also for infinitive and continuous situations where "will" is unavailable (to have seen, to see, to be going to see).
- Present Continuous: I'm learning English next year. For prior plan.
- Present Simple: Tomorrow I go into hospital. Used for schedule.
Future tenses and periphrastic constructions in Romance languages
Languages that have a true future tense include the Romance languages; most also have a periphrastic construction, like English. For example, French has a true future tense j'aimerai, tu aimeras, il aimera (from aimer, to love), but the future is most commonly expressed with the verb aller as an auxiliary: je vais aimer, tu vas aimer, il va aimer.
As in English, this periphrastic construction is also available in the past, by conjugating aller to the imperfect: j'allais voir "I was going to see". Depending on grammatical context, this can sometimes be done with the conditional: Le lendemain, il reconnaîtrait son erreur (The day after, he would recognize his mistake).
Confusingly, Catalan uses the verb anar for periphrastic constructions both in the future (with the preposition a) and the past (without the preposition). In other words, jo vaig a veure is "I will see"; jo vaig veure is "I saw."
Many Romance languages use the future tense not to express a real future but to refer to a supposition or a statement about habit, for example in Spanish: serán las once ("It will be 11 o'clock," meaning "I suppose it's around 11, it must be 11 by now").
- failed predictions
- Future Shock
- science fiction
- timeline of the future in forecasts
- weather forecasting
- year 10,000 problem