Saturday, June 30, 2007

Are We In Time or Of Time? And What Can We Do About It?

For some reason I awakened this morning thinking about the past. I used to be a more nostalgic person, but as I get older, it's as if bits of my past are gradually falling off the end of the earth -- as if time were spherical, and as you sail forward, the past slowly dips under the horizon.

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.


Van said...

(I was about to post this on yesterday's, but I see today's has arrived and by the title it looks like this may still be relevant, so...waste not want not)

"... his most unfunfundamental tenets, which is, to put it bluntly, that the world is in an inexorable slide toward dissolution and catastrophe, and that there's nothing we can do about it, at least collectively. In short, no one knows the day or hour, but we are headed toward apocalypse in a hand basket. "

Again, I may be getting too interpretive, but people speak being together in the 'body of Christ'... does that maybe put an additional spin on the idea of the anti-Christ? When the culture corrodes, when the people become corrupt, doesn't the body of that nation itself become a sort of anti-christ?

In those cultures I mentioned, and the ones I didn't, they had foretellings, religious leaders such as Isiah & Jeremiah, and secular ones as well, such as Demosthenes & Cato... that if the body of the people became lax and corrupt, it would fail. Well, big surprise, they did anyway, and their worlds fell.

The ray of hope for us, is that for the first time "the Remnant" being called to, isn't a one way conversation, they are themselves able to call out to others and perhaps stir enough of the sleepers so that our culture doesn't fall asleep at the wheel and crash & burn.

Maybe, maybe not. It can be amazing however, how much a well placed word can affect even a single life, which may change the course of many others - which may not have happened without that first well placed word having been spoken. I don't think we need to try to 'change the world', just ourselves, even incompletely, and don't let pooly placed words in your presence go unmet by better words.

There are powers undreamt of in the smallest of things.

(Um... Gagdad? Did you know that the bottome fell off of yesterday's post?
Now it ends with that cheerful tour from Hell.
Oh, I see a link to the old one now, tidying up?)

Van said...

"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 recently got an email from someone I haven't seen since highschool. She lived on our block, was my age but my older brother's girlfriend (the power of cars). We were both surprised to learn of the other having 19 yr old kids, as she said "It's hard to imagine you as a father but I guess that goes for all of us when our last image of one another is as a teenager. " - soooo true.

Thank God for change!
(back to the post)

Anonymous said...


Have you ever spoken to a publisher about printing out a soft or hardcover book at the end of each year that is simply a compilation of all your posts unedited or changed from their orginal content.

I would buy two copies every year up until now and also going forward.

Plus, when it comes to introducing people to your writing, it is much easier to hand them a book rather than tell someone to go to a blog, which despite it's growing popularity as a media form, still isn't how most people do their reading.

Honestly I could hand them your book, but alot of people having not already come to appreciate your insight from reading your blog might not understand you well enough to try and understand the opening to your book. The opening is fun and quite amazing really, but if someone is not familiar with your writing style and sense of humor they might confuse it with nonsense, which it most certainly is not.

Anyhow, if I could hand them a book of your blog posts then I know they would be hooked. A lot of book reading people I know just don't like the blog thing.

Plus my son is 2 months old and I would like to one day be able to tell the kid that those books up on that shelf are written by a man who changed my life through his daily writing.

Bob this needs to happen.

Van said...

Oh do I ever remember that ride! Didn't seem even a bit hoaky - it was high tech!

Ahh... but I dare not shrink that far... time to become visible again.

hoarhey said...

"....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."

It seems that throughout history, the human world has turned on the "truth" of blood and tribal relationships. Blessings weren't bestowed and wars weren't fought over higher principles but over blood loyalty and materialist needs.
Many today haven't the ability to distinguish a higher cause from selfish valueless materialist greed. Tribal/materialist thinking over Truthful thinking infects a majority portion of the globe still today, induviduals as well as entire nations. It's one of the reasons why democracy seems so difficult to establish in Iraq since the principle of loyalty to truth over corrupt, temporary self interest is so foreign.
Transcendent Truth and the principles which flow from it, when adhered to, remain the ultimate victor in this world, quickening or not.

Joan of Argghh! said...
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Joan of Argghh! said...
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tillurdizzy said...

Today I was surfing one of the many "funny pictures" sites and ran across one that made me laugh, and also immediately think of you Bob, that you would somehow find inspiration and insight viewing it.

So imagine my surprise when I logged onto One Cosmos and your recent post is about Time, which is the theme of the photo also.

The link above does not look right in Preview...without the tag it's

Still does not look right, but here goes Publish anyway...

Robin Starfish said...

The Way It Was
my lucky number
just came up for the twelfth time
always off by one

tillurdizzy said...

Nope, it doesn't work.

You'll have to paste these together in your browser.

Mizz E said...

"At the height of last week's fighting in Gaza, one Palestinian in 300 carried a weapon in support of Hamas - a third of one percent of the population. Now Hamas rules 1.5 million people.

Numbers still matter, of course. But strength of will can overcome hollow numbers. And nothing - nothing - gives men a greater strength of will than religious fanaticism.


.....the Thirty Years' War was about faith. All the other factors were in play, but the core issue, from the Protestant coup in Prague in 1618 to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was religious identity. And the atrocities committed on both sides make Iraq look like amateur hour: Wars of religion always demand blood sacrifice. (It was a compromise of bloody exhaustion that ended the Thirty Years War.)


The people of Iran want change, but the fanatics have the guns. And sorry, folks: Fanatics with guns beat liberals with ideas.


- from Why Hamas Won [and we may lose]

by Ralph Peters, link here

juliec said...

"When the culture corrodes, when the people become corrupt, doesn't the body of that nation itself become a sort of anti-christ?"

And going back the idea of fractals and spirals, can it not be said that each individual life has certain patterns and rythmns that correspond to events within the larger family, the community, the culture, state, nation, and ultimately the life of Mankind?

What I was originally thinking was that, depending on what time and place you live in, the apocalypse might take on different forms. Perhaps the black plague was the apocalypse, and perhaps World War II was alsothe apocalypse; it certainly must have seemed that way to those who lived through these events. Perhaps the end times are not necessarily cataclysmic for everyone at once; they only need to seem that way at an individual level to be real. And if, from the view of eternity, time is all at once and once in all, why wouldn't the apocalypse be all at once as well?

I was always under the impression that the End wasn't necessarily the end, but rather the beginning of a new phase, in which tribulation is followed by peace (and if there can be an eternally occurring apocalypse, there must also be an eternally occurring peace, no?).

Ultimately, though, it seems to me that worrying about the end is a bit like worrying about reincarnation: I think both are likely, but there's no way for a human to know for certain. All we can do and all we can know is in this life, here and now, and it is this life that must concern us. And if we each as individuals dedicate ourselves to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, we can't help but create some little measure of Peace no matter what is going in a wider sense. And perhaps, like the theoretical butterly that causes a hurricane, our little good actions will bring about a good far greater than we can imagine.

Joan of Argghh! said...
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Mizz E said...

Julie, I'm aligned with your perspective, and this poet presents a similar facet:

Things are just as they are
Each ought do what they can
Some say fate's in the hand's of God
And not the hands of man

Things are just as they are
Some will do what they do
They may think they're the hands of God
And right when they wrong you

When deadly deeds are done
All ought do what they can
For fate's not all the hand of God
Pre-destined in a plan

Free will is there as well
In much of what we do
That's our fate from the hands of God
To choose is up to you

To have choice is our fate
Each must do what they can
Free choice is from the hands of God
Pre-destined in a plan

Pre-destined then to choose
We should not make a fuss
Some may think they're the hand of God
And right when they wrong us

To have choice is not bad
Nor good beyond our ken
Badness is not the hand of God
But wrong choices of men

Now what will be will be
So when we right a wrong
We may think we're the hand of God
And justice makes us strong

But who are we to judge
Each must do what they can
Justice is in the hands of God
And we don't know his plan

For as we right a wrong
New wrongs we may well do
Vengeance is in the hands of God
It's just not up to you

Things are just as they are
Each should do what they can
Some say fates in the hands of God
And not the hands of man

So predestined to choose
With choice our destiny
We don't know if we win or lose
So what will be will be

- from The Wessex Sagas, Trevor Morgan

cosanostradamus said...

Today's post is like the turn of a Rubik's cube that suddenly lines all the faces up so that complex relationships make sense, and are small enough to fit in the palm of my hand where I can see the symmetry. Ah, look here - that's how that works! Beauty!

Thanks, Bob. I feel blessed today.

My Big Head dream the other night has me still musing if we do indeed live in reverse time, that is, the universe reached equilibrium a couple thousand years ago at the rip in time caused by the resurrection of Christ, and now is racing back to ultimate collapse before the next bang wherein all things will be created anew...and anew.

It still feels to us like time and history are moving forward, and they are from our perspective, but might we be passing through frequencies we have already come through before, on our way back? To the garden!

Is that why we already know how the story ends?

And so is the End the beginning like the Black Pearl flipping down/up from Davey Jones' locker into common time, the Atomibile getting reincarburetored again, a toboggan through the enormous lungs of God?

Who knows? But what a great ride.

Well, obviously the day laboring in the sun followed by one too many Guinnesses this evening has unhinged me!

And putting me in the right frame for reading Ulysses, having either never done so, or having the memory barrel off the edge of Niagara with all the others.

Fortunately, I can catch up quickly here.

geek said...

This was a fascinating post, Bob. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride into the atom.

On the subject of memory: what bothers me is the thought that data gets lost, i.e. purged from the mind irretrievably.

At one time I heard of the "Akashic Records" which supposedly holds a record of every moment ever lived by every person. It exists on a different plane but can be accessed if you get into the right stage of consiousness.

Anyhoo, this record contains everything you'ver ever done, said, or thought, and it is stored outside of your head so it can't be lost. It is kind of like God's data base.

I find the idea that all of my experiences have been duly recorded and downloaded into the Lord's flash-drive very comforting.

Jeez, I sure hope it exists.

River Cocytus said...

Re: Julie's comment

I'm reminded of an anime I saw a good number of years ago, called 'Beautiful Dreamer'. It was pretty funny in its own right, but the general premise was that the characters were stuck in a dream of the end of the world, and nobody save for the dreamer could end the dream. The dreamer, of course, was one of the characters.

My pastor friend once said that Revelation is a repeating thing, something that happens over and over again. He said that he and his Navy buddies once set up on the ship in the evening and read the whole book aloud to the sea and one another.

It is the most utterly mysterious of all of the scriptures, almost like it fades back into myth (which Genesis fades in from.) He may be right - it may be presenting, in its fullness, the archetype of an eschaton, to let us know that even in the worst time, the worst thing, God still prevails. For what is worse than the end of the World?

Zeke said...

The living part of the Universe is evolutionary, as species interact and each work to be the best at aquiring resources and promoting the species. However the Mental Cosmos would be outside of time and thought and ideas would be the resources so it tends towards the progressive, at least in the sense that one idea is built upon until it fails and the universe it spawned is destroyed.

Magnus Itland said...

Time is a weird phenomenon. It is really a continuity, but because our thoughts are manifested in the form of chemical reactions (which unfold in time) we can only perceive the past.

I have noticed that sometimes I remember the very near future, but of course I don't know that I remember it until it happens. Given the type of people who read here, I suspect some of you have the same experience.

One day, for instance, I wandered into a computer shop in town and asked about prices and availability of external hard disks. I did not give this much thought until the same evening, my external hard disk died.

Another day I was taking a walk and started to reflect on the fact that the bicycle rather than the tricycle became the prevailing standard. I began to sketch out a short story about how history would have diverged to end up with tricycles instead. After some minutes of this, I met the first adult tricycle I've seen here in Norway. (I understand that they are more common in Asia, so it was not like I never saw one before... just not in real life.)

There are other such episodes, not least dreams that seem to refer to the coming day rather than the one before. I am sure you know what I mean.

I like to think that it is like magnetism. Usually a magnet will pull a smaller object, like a needle, but sometimes (depending on how precariously the magnet is placed, I guess) the smaller object will pull the larger instead. That's my best guess at least.