The Overweening Generalist is largely about people who like to read fat, weighty "difficult" books - or thin, profound ones - and how I/They/We stand in relation to the hyper-acceleration of digital social-media-tized culture. It is not a neo-Luddite attack on digital media; it is an attempt to negotiate with it, and to subtly make claims for the role of generalist intellectual types in the scheme of things.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Still Caught in Time
Nice of you all to show up. It's good to see you. You look great. Now, I can see you all have much better things to do, so I'll try not to waste your time. Please take your seat and we can begin. Does anyone want any gum?
As a kid, I "invented"the idea that, after we die, we "come back" as some other living thing. I told a relative my great idea and she said "That's called reincarnation." Damn! I thought I was on to something good at 11 years old.
I also invented the idea, around the same age, that, contrary to our idea that history goes in one direction, history and time go around in a circle. At some point, everything will die, then evolve back over billions of years to me, sitting in my living room, during a hot summer in the San Gabriel Valley. I don't recall telling anyone about this invention. But I do remember the feeling I had when I read that the ancient Hindus and Egyptians and some guy named Nietzsche thought something like the same thing, long before me. Jesus H. Particular Christ on a pogo stick! Was there anything that hadn't already been thought of before me?
The idea of cyclical time still intrigues me. Nietzsche seems to think (but we never know when he's joking!), based on passages in The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra, that you will be reading this Overweening guy's blog, sitting right where you are, with the same clothes on and everything! - in some unfathomably long time from now. Clearly he's trying to blow our minds, this Fred N. But in the extended contemplation and meditations upon infinitude, this all begins to seem - somehow - plausible. But we won't know we'd been "here before"! I don't believe this idea, but I like it. It's an artist's idea, and that's how I take it, for the most part. Esthetic ideas like this add inestimable value to my life...
With Eternal Recurrence, we have infinite time, which equals infinite space. Given that our universe will theoretically become so dispersed that energy will be so thinned out that nothing living can cohere anywhere - the Heat Death of our universe - tends to put a crimp in Eternal Recurrence's style.
Besides: if we have infinite space, why are real estate prices so high? (And why do we seem to automatically accept that someone can "own" the land? But I digress, and parenthetically, too.)
However: more and more cosmologists and astrophysicists think it plausible that our universe is just one in literally trillions of others: the Multiverse. And the laws of physics can vary from universe to universe. But there are so very many possible universes that it seems not too far-fetched that another "you" may be going about your business Somewhere Else, right now. If so, what does "time" really mean?
I know, I know: you'll still get yelled at if you're late for the meeting tomorrow. I don't want to take up too much of your time.
Dang! Will you look at the time!?
For those of you who have a beef with the oppressiveness of "time," please seek out Jorge Luis Borges's short (five pages or so) essay "A New Refutation of Time," which I found in his Selected Non-Fictions. When you've read it, report back here on your findings! Borges pretty much agrees with William James, who said that, for himself, the great problems of philosophy are time, the reality of the external world, and understanding.
In physicist David Bohm's interpretation of quantum reality, there is an Implicate Order underlying our world of fundamental indeterminacy. The Implicate Order gives rise to time and space; they are mere epiphenomena, or something like the foam on top of waves you see when you look at the ocean. Think of what's driving the foamy waves. Think of what's "underneath" the waves. It's the Implicate Order.
When I said I thought Nietzsche was thinking like an artist, I meant it as a compliment. Same thing goes for hardcore physicist Bohm here: he's a far greater artist than he probably ever realized.
I leave us - jeez, the traffic is going to be miserable getting out of here, just take deep breaths, hum a merry tune and you'll be home in no time - uhh...what was I saying? Oh yea: Professor George Carlin questioned the reality of time once...see here...ah! Here it is. If you'll open your copies of Napalm and Silly Putty to page 163, and read along with me:
"Sometimes, in a playful mood, when asked if I have the time, I'll say, 'Yes,' and simply walk away. I do that because I hate to disappoint people. You see, there is no time. There's just no time. I don't mean, 'We're late, there's no time.' I mean, there is no time.
"After all, when is it? Do you know? No one really knows when it is. We made the whole thing up. It's a human invention. There are no numbers in the sky. Believe me, I've looked; they're not there. We made the whole thing up.
"So, when are we? Sometimes we think we know where we are, but we really don't know when we are. For all we know, it could be the middle of last week.
"And the time zones are no help; they're all different. In fact, in parts of India the time zones actually operate on the half hour instead of the hour. What is that all about? Does anybody really know what time it is?
"And never mind a piddly little half-hour difference in India, how about thousands of years? The major calendars disagree by thousands of years. To the Chinese, this is 4699; the Hebrews think it's 5762; the Muslims swear it's 1422. No telling what the Mayans and Aztecs would say if they were still around. I guess their time ran out."
Oh wow! Look at the time! I need to get into the surf on time, like the Beach Boys. Hasta luego!