Sunday, April 17, 2011

The present continuous

You and I, we’re not human beings you know. Get over that notion. Why cling to your ethnicity, race, tribe or nationality? Borders don’t exist in the real world. Species are not ring-fenced. There are no aliens to fear. When all is said and done, we’re jabberwockies: four-dimensional worm-like bodies with flukes for arms and legs, a zygote-sized snout and a somewhat shrunken seventy- or eighty-year-old tail that is rudely truncated (sooner and blunter, if you are cut down accidentally in the prime of life).

Our entirety exists outside of time like a statue in a blurred time-lapse photograph. Life, as we know it, at any instant, is simply a cross-section of the jabberwocky. The spark that does the cutting dances up and down its spine from head bone to toe bone. As it plucks here, there and everywhere it defines the present where we find ourselves at that moment.

But actually there is no present. Neither is there a past nor a future. There is only the subjective present, the one which we’re forever unwrapping.

Judge for yourself. Let’s run a little thought experiment. Are you ready? Just sit back and close your eyes. Right then, try to feel time pass. See if you can feel it slip through your fingers. Are you able to? 

I certainly can’t. You say that you can follow the second hand of the clock on the wall? That doesn’t count. You opened your eyes. And even if you didn’t, it’s just a physical event. It is an external action that you don’t experience within yourself.

What I’m saying is that everyone experiences the present only as an instant, albeit an instant with duration. And, like the principle behind motion pictures, those separate instances link up to generate an illusion of time passing fluidly. In actual fact, though, it doesn’t. It is made of granules, quanta, or instants. Life jiggles instantaneously.

As a diversion, try that same thought experiment out for the other dimensions. You’ll get a similar result. No dimension is really real. When you travel any distance north, south, east, west, up or down, it doesn't matter how far you go. You’re always 'here'. It feels like the same place as you were before. You remain at the middle of the universe, not its edge. Whether you walk, drive or fly, your consciousness stays put. The scissoring of your legs doesn’t propel you across the landscape. It pulls it towards you.

But that the fourth dimension doesn’t exist at all . . . isn’t that ludicrous? We needn’t go down that route, surely. Without time, what are we left with? Where would we be? When? What chance is there for us to grow? How could we hope for a change in the weather or in our situation? How could evolution occur (if it is still on the curriculum)?

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