What’s past is prologue – vectors into the future

We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again,
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.
— Antonio, in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1 (William Shakespeare, 1610)

A freshman college course in Analytic Geometry helped to land me, several years later, onto a project team in the automobile industry that was using computer graphics technology, then in its infancy, to analyze new methods for building cars, often using the vector mathematics learned in that course. Engineers use the visual and mathematical model of vectors to analyze the multiple forces, such as weight, wind, and shear stress, that act upon an object as small as a machine bolt or as large as a bridge.

Bridge vectors

We can’t “see” force, but we can imagine an arrow, indicating the direction of the force, and whose size indicates the magnitude of the force being applied. A vector analysis of a bridge over a river, for instance, looks to an engineer like an array of vector arrows representing the force of weight pushing down and the net tension and compression forces from the structural steel pushing back up. If they make the calculations correctly, the bridge will support the traffic load expected.

You have most likely seen vectors in the form of wind maps on weather sites or broadcasts, where the vector arrows indicate the general wind direction, while the length or width of the arrows indicate the average wind strength. In past posts I have suggested that vectors are a much better model for describing moral positions than are boxed-in categories.

Vectors are also a useful model for analyzing the historical and ideological “forces.” One way to look at the modern Republican party before being captured by Trump cultism is to see that it was a composite, pulled in three slightly different directions by libertarian, social conservative, and economic conservative elements. The relative force directions and magnitudes for each element provide endless fodder for pundits to project the net future direction, determined by the relative “force” of each vector.

Republican vectors

I would argue, using this model, that the “social conservative” vector of Republican voters was captured by the heady celebrity and latent authoritarian vectors that Donald Trump brought into the race. Classic positions of economic conservatism, such as free trade and low government debt, were effectively squashed. [1]

Extending this vector model, how might you add the “Trump vector” to the diagram above? How else did it “skew” the vectors? What happened to the Republican libertarians, who have ceded ground to the heavy hand of authoritarian government and religious scam-pastors like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., while former House Speaker John Boehner flees politics for making a lot of money in the legal marijuana business?

In future posts I will use this model to plot out the vectors making up the post-2018 Democratic Party as it shuffles through a couple dozen candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination.

British biologist D’Arcy Thompson once wrote that, “Everything is the way it is because it got that way.” The history of these forces, as well as a multitude of other sociological, scientific and environmental vectors from the past, define the default “prologue” setting up the “the present.” Are these vectors from the past also launching us toward our collective and individual Fate? Unless these vectors are “tweaked” in a different direction, the future will look much like the past, except more so.

Like the castaways in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “we were all sea-swallow’d, though some cast again.” We are the survivors from the past, cast again into each new day, riding the vectors that brought us to this point. We attempt to change the direction and magnitude of some of our personal and collective vectors in order to point us to a better future.

Which add the complication to the “determinism versus volition” question. While I am riding the wave of my life’s past “force vectors” into the future, how much choice/free will to I have right now in “nudging the vectors” into a new direction? What “force vectors” are driving your direction?


  1. In a past series of posts, I used this changing emphasis in Republican political positions as a continuing example of “the math of changing your mind.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *