Friday, April 11, 2014

How Wide is Your Spiritual Aperture and What is it Like to be Dead?

It seems to me that the forthcoming post is radically undetermined, and that if I don't write it, it will never be written. It's not as if it will write itself.

Then again, I suppose it will write itself, but not without my participation. It's more like I'll organize what is presented to me, or something.

Yes, but what do you mean by "it"? Is "it" there all at once -- in which case you just transcribe it -- or does it appear serially, partly conditioned by what you've already written?

Yes, it has to be that way, otherwise it would make no sense. There would be no continuity, as each new word would be disconnected from what has just come. So each word has to be connected to the past, and yet, must also converge upon a future which is not yet known.

How do we pull this off? What is the nature of language such that this is even possible?

It seems to me that this nondoodling process must be a microcosm of our-moment-to-moment existence, which is indeed always conditioned by the past and transforming into the future, and yet, only experienceable in this infinitesimal, immeasurable moment of choice, of freedom, in which we can, as it were, tilt the past toward one of many possible futures.

We cannot experience the past, which is gone, nor the future, which isn't yet here, only this momentary moment, which is also never here, since it has already vanished by the time we even notice it.

My wife has seriously taken to her new hobby of photography, and one might think that photography is the quintessential art form for capturing "moments."

For example, she'll take a rapid fire burst of photos of the boy in action in a baseball game, but this captures images so fleeting that they weren't actually experienced -- any more than we experience things at the quantum level, even though they are obviously occurring.

The photo slices up the temporal continuum in such a way that it reminds me of what we said the other day about the length of a coastline being infinite. Analogously, you could say that the faster the lens, the the slower the time. If I understand the concept.

Morson describes a similar literary device used by Dostoyevsky in The Idiot, something he calls "vortex time." Have you ever been in a temporal vortex? When you are, it is as if you are in the gravitational field of a dreadful attractor. As you are drawn closer to it, freedom narrows until there is no choice left except to submit to the attractor. One imagines that death must be like this, even the essence of it. (There are also blissful attractors, but that is the subject of a slightly different post.)

In fact, The Idiot contains "repeated descriptions of the last moments of a person condemned to death." Now, we are all condemned to death, but most of us put off thinking about it until it is visible or palpable.

It is as if we have been dropped from the top of a building. No one knows how tall the building is or was until he hits the ground. The condemned man is in a somewhat unique position, since he has full conscious awareness of exactly how tall his building is: tall enough to reach the SPLAT.

Thus, Dostoyevsky "dwells upon the speeding up of time experienced by the prisoner as executions nears" (ibid).

This is all a bit abstract and theoretical, isn't it Bob? Er, no. In 1849 Dostyevsky was arrested and condemned to death, "but at the last moment a note from Tsar Nicholas I was delivered to the scene of the firing squad, commuting the sentence to four years' hard labour in Siberia."

So the man knows of what he speaks. On the way to the execution "it seems to the prisoner as if he has plenty of time. He imagines that his last half hour has room for an immense number of sensations and thoughts, for his mind now works at an extraordinary rate in order to concentrate the energy of a lifetime into those last moments" (Morson).

So the aperture is wide open, allowing a lifetime of light -- even the dimmest -- to be perceived. Remember: the faster the aperture, the slower the time: "As the time remaining diminishes, the mind speeds up still more, so that ten minutes, and then five, and then one, and then a fraction of one, contain the energy of a lifetime" (ibid).

Like Zeno's paradox, it is as if the distance to the street below is divided and subdivided endlessly: "The agony of knowing that the absolute end is near... increases geometrically, and with ever-increasing rapidity it transforms all thoughts, all stray impressions... into reminders of the imminent horror."

The Attractor is now in full view: "There is one point that can never be forgotten, and one can't faint, and everything moves and turns about it, about that point" (Dostoyevsky). Then, as the prisoner's head is right on the chopping block, "parts of a second shrink, [and] the mind speeds up virtually to infinity" (Morson).

"[T]ime itself has been deformed, intensified, sped up more and more as it is sucked into the vortex. The lifetime's worth of agony that has been concentrated into a tenth and then a hundredth of a second must now be lived through a hundred times if that severed head can remain aware for an entire second" (ibid).

Now, the first thing I think about is Christ's Passion, and how his execution is elevated to nothing less than the cosmic vortex around which all of creation is oriented and into which it is drawn -- as if all of human history is pulled into that vast and inconceivable white hole.

Then I think of Revelation, for example, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen."

Then, oddly enough, I think of the Cosmobliteration section of the book, in which I try to demonstrate what happens to language as we approach the singularity. Not saying I succeeded, since I'm still alive.

Lost my aperture. Just apophatic nonentity. Cut me down to sighs. Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM...


Don Johnson said...


mushroom said...

The first thing I wondered is what Robin would say. Now I know.

julie said...

The agony of knowing that the absolute end is near... increases geometrically, and with ever-increasing rapidity it transforms all thoughts, all stray impressions... into reminders of the imminent horror."

I think most people have experienced that to a lesser degree, one way or another; lots of amusement park rides and horror movies depend on just such a sensation. But few, I think, genuinely believe that they are about to die when it happens; that would truly be a foretaste of hell.

Dougman said...

I'm thinking of the times I came close to committing suicide and how time truly stood still.
To think of what might have been leaves me a little breathless.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's like paving your own street.

Gagdad Bob said...

Although baptism is supposed to accomplish something similar, i.e., "dying with Christ."

julie said...

Dougman, I'm glad you opted for what came to pass, instead.

Re. time dilation, it just occurred to me that half the nation will be experiencing it leading up to Tuesday. Especially if they're stuck in line at the post office...

julie said...

I've only just started on the Morson. This little statement by the TOTUS, made yesterday, seems rather chillingly relevant just now:

President Obama: "We are here today because we know we cannot be complacent. History travels not only forwards, but backwards and sideways."

Christina M said...

I experience that confrontation with the reality of death every night at midnight.

And yes on the "Die with Christ; Rise with Christ."

By the way, that Corgi in a raft entitle "Ahoy Matey" is awesome.

Dougman said...

Me too Julie, me too...

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Speaking of aperture science:

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Having been very close to death (we are purty much on a first name basis) helped me see shit that'll turn you white.

I'm still unpacking from that trip. :)

ted said...

Just finished Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of of San Luis Rey (terrific short novel). In the appendix, it quotes from an interview with the author, where he says: "The most valuable thing I inherited was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope." I often feel the same.

Jules said...

Was in a car accident once and time slowed down. Gave me time to steer the car.

On another subject, just saw "Divergent"
Written by a young girl. Gives me hope that the young might have doubts about govmt utopias.

Its no coincidence that its the erudite faction who try to take over, kill divergents etc..