a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories

Tuesday

Examing an old cliche: "the present does not exist"

-We view time in linear fashion, you know, the future is a line that stretches on seemingly forever in front, and the past is a line in back, and the present is a dot that creeps forward. The present doesn't have extension in reality, it has no length, it's instantaneous, it is less than a millisecond long, it is infinitely short. Of course there's a growing group of physicists who believe that time can only be reduced to minima, to quanta, the way energy can be; discrete packets of time, like a grid, like the whole universe is information packets plotted on a computer. I don't know about that but I think it's pretty useful to think of the present in terms of a fuzzy area around where you think your dot should be on the time-line. Fuzzy like an electron, or an idea. Anyway... the fuzzy area extends in front of the putative now-point a certain distance depending on your immediate expectations of the next few moments: at least a few milliseconds. Maybe a few seconds. Depends on what my energy state is - the higher the state, the further out the fuzzy area extends.

I mean, if I'm driving, and at a certain moment I detect a skid, my now really starts to stretch. Because a whole series of seemingly inevitable experiences suddenly pile into my moment, some of which are technically in the future by a few ticks of the true clock. The car is moving at a certain rate in an unpleasant way, and suddenly I am into the shoulder of the highway, carried by a smearing of rain; and my now is smeared too, it all happens at once. In retrospect, I can smooth out the picture if I need to, re-establish proper non-fuzziness, through a conscious thought process, a form of work, of re-living. But the true memory is recorded as a smear. The copy memory, which looks more like conventional living time with a very tiny fuzzy area (almost imperceptible), that's like a digital enhancement. I try to keep both in the files but the copy can easily replace the original.

Consider the facts, in terms of fuzzy relativity... when we talk long distance, our nows get gently stretched, as we sync into the very slight delay, and expertly talk over each other's pauses. This is fine and even, like strolling in rhythm with arms linked. My perception of any given point on the chat transcript is either slightly behind yours or slightly in front, depending on whether it was you or I who was then speaking; and If someone were to actually record the talk from a point on the lines, that would certainly be a convenient baseline for comparing our nows. But it would be just a compromise, and "incorrect" about every moment, rather than half the time, as our assessments would be. Or one could say it would be correct but only for itself.

The signals are traveling at light speed, as well, as they course through the phone system. So it's even worse for the signals - the problems of relativity now become huge, because your words imagine that my words have slowed to a crawl, or aged hundreds of years, or something. Whatever happens when things go light speed.

I'm kidding about that, but it does interest me, the messiness of "now". I can sit and track the present, watch the present move like a dot along a line, tracking the changing surroundings, listening to conversation or watching the car skid or just sitting in bed reading, letting the lines I read be the now-dot. But it takes a moment for me to convert sensations to something my brain can use, react to, understand, or question. And if there's more than one thing going on, I can pay closer attention to one thing or another, and the fuzzy now changes shape.

I concentrate on my body as I read, and the now-dot is a very large fuzz ball now: because I know what will happen in each successive moment, and the future of a second or two dissolves into a longer present, maybe the length of half the time it takes for me to breathe in becomes a single now, a thicker moment. Sure I "know" intellectually that the now isn't a half breath long. It creeps forward relentlessly, never stopping, never speeding up; I know that. But when I meditate, I really can change its speed, and not only that, its shape. It changes from a particle to a cloud, or something like that; I'm not sure exactly what happens, but the now expands a bit. It's like jumping, you can't get it to expand very far, unless something catastrophic is happening. Like, I could jump for a tenth of a second or maybe even a half second, but beyond that... the only way to stretch my hang time is to jump off a building. That's like the car skidding.

Which brings me to falling. Time's like that. We all move through time together, falling at the same rate with respect to each other, basically. Maybe someone drifts ahead for a moment, that's the relativity aspect... But one thing we know, as you get old, subjective time speeds up. A baby falls much slower than an old man. It's like, you fall, and fall faster, until you die - bang, you hit the ground, you no longer experience time. Just a metaphor, of course; we all fall the same speed basically. Unless you believe the multiple universes theory, in which case the you I experience falls at the same rate as me, faster as I go faster, then we all crash together, meanwhile in your universe I went at your rate, and when I crashed you just watched me stop moving while you kept falling, and had to leave me behind. But I don't believe that. And the physicists know - the literate ones - that most of what they deal in when it comes to abstract stuff is attaching mathematics to metaphors. They know it's made-up, like poetry; they know black holes are still just a metaphor, the atom and electron are metaphors, the now is a metaphor.

Actually, the present is the future a few milliseconds in front of you that you are anticipating as inevitable and the few milliseconds behind you that you are still processing, yes? The point is, there's no fine line separating it all. And things happening that close together I can't tease out onto different spots on the mental timeline anyway; it's a local jumble.

So try flexing your awareness of the present. Can you make it bigger? It's rather like trying to be aware at once of everything from one peripheral edge of the vision field to the other. But not really, I think it's deeper than that. It's more to do with how you are processing time, than how much you process at once. How aware you are of your processing of your immediate past-moments, and how aware you are of the edge of your future as it touches your present, blends with it.

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