The Paradox of Now (If “Now” Truly Exists)

It all seems so straightforward, so matter-of-fact.

We recently witnessed the passing of the torch from 2015 to 2016.  Time to put away the old year and venture forth into the new, complete with resolutions, optimism, goals, and hopes.  The ongoing passage of time, the catalog of days and weeks and months, would appear to be an irrefutable, self-evident, obvious truth,  The clock ticks, we grow older, hopefully wiser, and nothing stands still.

2016

 

But is it really so obvious?  Is it really the kind of thing we can disregard as a fact so unchangeable, so plain, it’s not even worth thinking about or discussing?

Ar first blush, yes.  We can glance at our calendars, our schedules, our itineraries, and know, unequivocally, that we have this time thing figured out.  It is what it is, as they say.

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Or maybe not.

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One of the themes in The Eye-Dancers has to do with the way we perceive reality.  Can dreams and “real life” truly be separated by a hard, Maginot-like line of demarcation?  Or are there, possibly, gaps along the edges, where the two dimensions intersect and become enmeshed?

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Is the life we know, here, now, on this earth, really the only life we live?  Or are there alternate versions, parallel worlds, going on beside us, without our even knowing it?

parallelworlds

 

Nearly midway through The Eye-Dancers, Marc Kuslanski, the class science wiz, explains how he understands all of this . . .

“Everything in existence fits together,” he says.  “The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”

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Could it be possible that time works in a similar way?

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Then again, what is time, exactly?  Is it nothing more than our means of measuring it, slicing it up like so much fruit, into bite-sized pieces?  Can it really be tamed in such a systemized, linear fashion?

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We hear it often:  “Don’t dwell on the past.  The past is over and done.  Don’t live too much for tomorrow.  Tomorrow may never arrive.  And, even if it does, what you do right now, in this moment, will directly affect what happens in the future anyway.  Therefore, focus only on the now.  Live in the moment, firmly where your feet are planted.”

focusonthenow

 

Sound advice!  But let’s delve a little deeper.

If we ask the question, “What is time?” then it seems to follow we must also ask, “What is ‘now’?”  On the surface, the answer seems so elementary, as a certain Victorian detective might say, the question itself appears almost rhetorical.  Because, of course, “now” is “now”!  It can be nothing else.  Right now, I am keying these words into this post (which, hopefully, you are not regretting reading!).  There.  I just keyed in this sentence.  Now.

holmeshound

 

But wait.  Can’t we slice “now” up even further?  I am keying in this word, this letter, this space . . .  You are reading these words, one at a time.  Which of these is “now”?  Should it be quantified by the minute?  The second?  The millisecond?  The nanosecond?  How precise do we need to be?  This is far from a trivial question.  How we measure “now” greatly affects our perception of it.

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If we define the now as a minute in time–perhaps we have something to work with.  A minute isn’t long, but long enough to perform many things, think thoughts, dream dreams.  Living in the now, in this case, seems attainable.

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But what if we define “now” as a moment, a breath, a blink of an eye, a beat of the heart, here and gone so fast that by the time it disappears, the next moment arrives, and then the next and the next and the next, one to another merging into a living, continuous, moving thing with no beginning and no end.

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If we view “now” like this, time is expanded, and we view it as an eternal, something that cannot really be measured and itemized and saved.  If “now” operates more like a wave than a particle, as it were, more like whitewater rapids than a still, tranquil pond, then what is this term we call time?

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“The present is the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow,” Frank Lloyd Wright once said.

William Faulkner added, “Clocks slay time . . . time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

Where does that leave us?  Are we, like Martin Sloan in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” “trying to go home again,” listening for “the distant music of a calliope, and hear[ing] the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of [our] past”?

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Maybe time, as we know it, live it, define it, conceive of it, is an illusion. Maybe “now,” as opposed to something we can take hold of and posses, is, in actuality, a wisp, a billow of smoke rising against a blue winter sky, a flickering flame constantly in motion, never resting, never stationary.  Tomorrow’s dreams and hopes are, in an eye-blink, yesterday’s forgotten memories, tucked away in some vaulted corner of the mind.

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It is, by necessity perhaps, a mystery.

Centuries ago, Augustine may have said it best:  “What then is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain it to him who asks. I do not know.”

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Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Sound of Thunder

lightning

In his classic short story “A Sound of Thunder,” first published in 1952, Ray Bradbury explores the concept of connectivity–the way things, even things that seem so small, or so far away, are intricately interrelated.  In the story, which takes place in the year 2055, a company called Time Safari, Inc., has the ability to transport big-game hunters into the distant past via a time machine, where they can hunt dinosaurs.  But everything is very carefully calibrated and forecast.  In the world of sixty million years ago, company engineers have constructed a path, which cuts through the ancient landscape six inches above the earth.  Nowhere does the path touch the ground.  Company guides continually instruct the hunters who take the trip into the past never to leave the path (which is spelled with a capital “P” in the story to give it emphasis).  Not one step.  Not one speck of the ground on your shoes.

One hunter on the tour, Eckels, asks why.  What’s the big deal if they crush a blade of grass, step on an ant or a mouse?  The guide answers, in sum, that the ramifications of that might be catastrophic.  Assuming a mouse is stepped on by a man sixty million years before his proper time, “what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive?” the tour guide replies.  “For want of ten mice, a fox dies.  For want of ten foxes, a lion starves.  For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction.  Eventually it all boils down to this:  fifty-nine million years later, a caveman . . . goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food.  But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region.  By stepping on one single mouse.  So the caveman starves.   And the caveman . . . is not just any expendable man, no!  He is an entire future nation. . . . Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. . . . The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. . . . Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity.”

Time Safari, Inc. has even scouted out which dinosaurs will be killed naturally–perhaps by a falling tree or the attack of another dinosaur.  And they send advance guides into the past to spray-paint a red blotch on the soon-to-be-killed creatures.  Then, when the tour arrives, the machine is calibrated to arrive only minutes before the targeted, spray-painted dinosaurs were to be killed.  In this way, the balance is not disturbed.  Any dinosaurs shot by hunters on the tour were about to die anyway.

Eckels has signed up to hunt the tyrannosaurus rex, the thunder lizard.  He wants a chance to hunt the fiercest predator ever to walk the earth.

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trexhead

 

But when the moment arrives, Eckels panics, overcome with fear in the face of the thunder lizard.  In his panic, he momentarily steps off the path, accidentally crushing a butterfly.

When the time machine returns to the present day, Eckels is astonished to note that it’s not the same world he left behind when he ventured back into the past via the time machine.  There is a different president, the language is slightly off.  It’s like a different, alien world.  All from one butterfly, sixty million years in the past, which he inadvertently killed in his moment of confusion and chaos.

“No, it can’t be!” he cries. . . .  “Not a little thing like that. . . . Not a little thing like that!  Not a butterfly!”

The Eye-Dancers deals with the idea of connection, too.  In fact, one of the major themes of the novel might be summed up like this–What if two people, two complete strangers, are connected in such a way that when one of them is in desperate need of help, she is able to communicate with the other through the vehicle of dreams?  It doesn’t matter that they are separated by the gulf of a universe, that they exist in different layers of what we term reality.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other.  The connection exists anyway, in ways no one can fully understand.

And so it is for Mitchell Brant and the “ghost girl” who comes to him in his dreams.  As Mitchell himself realizes at novel’s end:  “It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.”

Maybe, just maybe, the universe, or the multiverse–if you buy into parallel-worlds theory–while infinite, and so vast it boggles and overwhelms the mind, is also small enough where everything affects everything else.

Just like with Ray Bradbury’s short story about the butterfly and the great thunder lizard from sixty million years ago.

So right now, even if it’s calm and sunny, or cold and snowy, or crisp and serene with the stars shimmering in the night sky like precious jewels where you are–somewhere, at this very moment, there is a storm, and Mother Nature is displaying her power and strength.  You can’t see it.  It’s miles away.  Maybe continents away.  But listen.  Closely.  Closely.  Can you hear it?

thunder

A sound of thunder . . .

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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