Are We In Time or Of Time? And What Can We Do About It?
But not exactly. Sometimes it's like a faded photo. Or as if there are fewer and fewer "bits" of information to reconstitute the photo, so it starts to lose its edges and its focus. Then again, what really seems to fade is the interior of the memory. I have a very good memory for what actually happened, but it gets increasingly difficult to really and truly remember what it was like. This must be because the more times we draw up an old memory, the more it becomes entangled with the present, and loses the distinct feeling that accompanied it in the past.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the more change you undergo as an adult, the more difficult it is to reconcile your past and present. As I lay there this morning, I was trying to find the connecting thread. There must be some continuous line from there to here, some core identity that has been preserved over time. I suppose neurologists would say that that's all an illusion, and that our brain simply reconstructs our identity day by day, moment by moment.
I guess this is a continuation of yesterday's post about whether the cosmos is evolutionary and progressive, or whether it is actually winding down into chaos and degeneration. Because the answer ultimately depends upon the nature of time. According to Schuon and the traditionalists, perfection exists in the past, so that time must necessarily result in further and further distance from the ideal, like rays of light going away from the sun. He insists that this is true Christian doctrine, and I suppose his point is somewhat unassailable, given that the "arc of salvation" begins in paradise and ends with the reign of the antichrist and the apocalypse. I'm pretty sure he would say that it is pure folly to place any kind if hope in or for the fallen world.
But as Biker Lady pointed out in a comment yesterday, brilliant though Schuon may have been, he nevertheless existed in a certain time and place. From what I understand, the effect of World War I was particularly catastrophic to the European mind, and in many ways explains why they are still the way they are today. I've tried to study European history, but it seems that it was one endless battle until the period of relative peace that lasted for nearly 100 years before war broke out in 1914. It literally was a kind of apocalypse that we can scarcely imagine -- the disintegration of the world order and the end of reality as people had come to know it. Then everyone took a breath before going at it again in World War II. And even now, the Islamist problem can to a certain extent be traced to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I.
One of the reasons the Great War was so unexpected was that people had placed so much faith in science, reason, and progress -- which is perhaps one of the reasons why Schuon was so suspicious of them. People think that we live in a materialistic age today, but this really isn't so. If anything, we aren't materialistic enough, in the sense of respecting concrete reality. One of the reasons leftism is such a dysfunctional philosophy is that it is on the one hand "materialistic," since it denies spirit, i.e., the entire realm of the vertical. Nevertheless, if you deny spirit, it will return with a vengeance, only in a distorted form. Like nature, you can drive it out with a pitch fork, but she always comes back. Thus, anyone who is not under the influence of leftism -- which operates through the principles of seduction and hypnosis -- can see that it is just a highly abstract secular religion. It is hardly rational, for example, embracing economic and psychological principles that we know to be purely fanciful.
It is interesting that at the peak of materialism in the late 19th century, cracks began to appear in the structure of reality. I'm not sure if this is apocryphal, but it is said that by 1900, graduate students were advised against studying physics, since it was felt that the application of reason had essentially solved all of the problems of physics, with the exception of a couple of minor "clouds on the horizon." But those little clouds turned out to be the huge anomalies that were Einstein's point of departure for overturning the whole world of physics with the publication of his revolutionary papers in what is called the scientific annus mirabilis of 1905. And it wasn't until 1919 -- one year after the conclusion of World War I -- that the theory of relativity was empirically confirmed, and the commonsense Newtonian universe was definitively overturned.
The cracks in materialism did not just appear in science. 1900 was also the year in which Freud published his first and still most revolutionary book, The Interpretation of Dreams, which was certainly analogous to Einstein's revolution, in that it showed that the mind was not a repository of pure reason, but governed by unconscious and irrational drives and impulses just under the "civilized" surface.
It was also in 1909 that Picasso began his experiments in cubism and other forms of abstract art (thus breaking up the continuity of space), and between 1914 and 1921 that Joyce composed what was then a radical departure in literature, Ulysses. In fact, Ulysses seems to simultaneously incorporate ideas of Einstein, Freud, and Picasso, since it largely consists of a non-linear stream of consciousness of the three main characters, who are in turn symbolic of the Father (Bloom), Son (Stephen), and Holy Ghost (Molly). The book takes place on a single day in Dublin on June 16, 1904, and one of Joyce's points was to show how dense, resonant, and "full" time was.
In other words, time is not merely abstract and linear duration, à la Newton, but filled with a kind of infinite archetypal meaning that fractally resonates with all of human history. This is why the book is entitled "Ulysses," since the idea was that just underneath the surface, our lives are resonant with the universal and archetypal myths of antiquity; Bloom's wandering about the streets of Dublin resonates with Homer's Odyssey, as Ulysses tries to find his way back home (a myth also resurrected in the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
To cite one obvious example of this fractal resonance, when you take communion, you are tapping into a resonant "timeless time" that connects with Jesus and is "always present." But in reality, this applies to all rituals; when you get married, you are Adam and Eve back in the garden; when you celebrate Christmas, you enter a time that is resonant with all past Christmases, both individually and collectively.
It wasn't until 1975 that Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term "fractal" for the self-similarity that arises at every level of existence. Of course, he was taking about geometric self-similarity, but what if the cosmos is temporally fractal, i.e., self-similar in the manner suggested by Joyce? If this is true -- and I think it is -- then the realm of religion would actually constitute a dimension of archetypal truths that order temporal reality in a self-similar way. And this would explain why you cannot "escape" from religion, any more than you can escape from geometric order.
I discussed this possibility in a couple of scholarly papers I published in 1991 and 1994. Wait a minute... let me go track them down....
But before I do -- let me jump to a more macro idea that sort of encapsulates and illustrates what we are talking about this morning. Back then I was just a regular intellectual -- or thought I was, or wanted to be one -- my thinking was nevertheless quite "off the map" of what is considered to be the accepted reality. I wasn't just "interested" in these things, but I felt like Jake and Elwood -- as if I were on a Mission From God, even though I wasn't consciously aware of being "religious" at the time. It was simply a passionate adventure that really consumed me, and in a way, I suppose you could say that my book -- which was mostly written in the 1990s -- was the culmination of this adventure.
The point I'm trying to make is that in looking back, I can see that I was not so much "driven" as "pulled" -- plunged is more like it -- into a reality that I was compelled to explore. Very few of you will relate to this, but back in the late '60s and early '70s they had this ride at Disneyland, the Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space, in which you entered a giant microscope and shrunk down to submolecular size to explore the outer reaches of inner space. (Wow, here it is -- if you scroll down, you can see a little video about it.)
Ha! The internet is amazing. Who needs memory? I found the narration of the ride on wikipedia:
I am the first person to make this fabulous journey. Suspended in the timelesssness of inner space are the thoughtwaves of my first impressions. They will be our only source of contact once you have passed beyond the limits of normal Magnification.
The Atomobile enters the Mighty Microscope and begins to shake back and forth as the riders enter the darkness. As their vision returns, the riders see giant snowflakes all around them, some still spinning as they fall. As they continue to shrink, the narrator says, I am passing beyond the magnification limits of even the most powerful microscopes. These are snowflakes -- and yet they seem to grow larger and larger. Or can I be shrinking -- shrinking beyond the smallness of a tiny snowflake crystal? Indeed, I am becoming smaller and smaller!
The snowflakes take on a crystalline form, eventually becoming large enough to cover the entire field of the riders' vision. Approaching the walls of ice crystals, the voice of the unseen scientist marvels, These tiny bits of snowflake crystal tower above me -- like an enormous wall of ice. Can I penetrate this gigantic prism? And yet, this wall of ice only seems smooth and solid. From this tiny viewpoint, I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears. The ice crystals can be seen to be not solid but a lattice-like structure that the riders pass through.
And still I continue to shrink! What compelling force draws me into this mysterious darkness -- can this be the threshold of inner space?
Next we encounter a matrix of spheres appearing in columns and rows of infinite length. What are these strange spheres? asks the narrator. Have I reached the universe of the molecule? Yes, these are water molecules -- H2O. They vibrate in such an orderly pattern because this is water frozen into the solid state of matter.
As we continue to shrink, the molecules become larger, and take on a peculiar shape. These fuzzy spheres must be the atoms that make up the molecule -- two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom. And I see that it's the orbiting electrons that give the atom its fuzzy appearance. And still I continue to shrink.
The scientist wonders, Is it possible that I can enter the atom itself? As the atomobile enters the atom, a storm of lights flash past on all sides at impossible speeds. Electrons are dashing about me -- like so many fiery comets! Can I possibly survive?
Suddenly the frenzy of the electrons passes, and the rider is in a large, empty space, surrounded in the distance by a sphere of slow-moving lights. I have pierced the wall of the Oxygen atom, says the Narrator. I am so infinitely small now that I can see millions of orbiting electrons. They appear like the Milky Way of our own solar system. This vast realm, THIS is the infinite universe within a tiny speck of snowflake crystal.
A large pulsating red ball can be seen inside the atom. And there is the nucleus of the atom! Do I dare explore the vastness of ITS inner space? No, I dare not go on. I must return to the realm of the molecule, before I go on shrinking...forever!
The riders begin the return journey to full size, but are soon greeted with the sight of water molecules swirling rapidly. At first the scientist is confused: Ah, how strange! The molecures are so active now! They have become fluid -- freed from their frozen state. That can only mean that the snowflake is melting! Around us we see molecules moving faster as their temperature increases. The molecules are depicted in green and yellow, with occasional star-shaped flashes representing evaporation.
Yes, the snowflake has melted, tones a scientist's voice, But there is no cause for alarm. You are back on visual, and returning to your normal size. The riders can see evidence of the monitoring as they pass under a large microscope through which they can see the giant eye of a scientist.
Having returned to normal size, the riders disembark and pass by displays of Monsanto's advances in material science before exiting the attraction building.
So, as I return you to your normal size, what have we learned today about time, nostalgia, and atomobiles?
I think the period of collective materialism persisted through the 1950s, at which point there was a huge ingression of spiritual energy in the 1960s, sort of like when the Wizard of Oz transitions from black & white to color. Just bear in mind that spiritual does not equate to "good." But with that Monsanto ride, we can see how the limits of materialistic science led full circle to an incredibly mysterious universe that is literally beyond our wildest imagination, since we literally cannot imagine it. Materialism circled back around to immateriality in a way that most people still haven't grasped. In fact, the hole in scientism is big enough to drive a religion through.
From this tiny viewpoint, I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears. And still I continue to shrink! What compelling force draws me into this mysterious darkness!
To paraphrase the biologist J.B.S. Haldane, the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, it's stranger than we can suppose. Therefore -- to paraphrase Terence McKenna -- since it's stranger than we can suppose, we might as well suppose that it's as strange as we can suppose. Because even that won't be strange enough.
To be continued.... Probably Monday. I think it would be a good idea for all of us to not touch a computer for one day a week.