larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next

May, 2015


by Larry

I usually think of time as fairly static, moving sedately, like...well, clockwork...imperceptibly enough that I really cannot notice the movement of even an analog watch's minute hand, much less the little arrow pointing at the hour, until, following some distraction, I look back and see that an interval has elapsed, as if the passage of a trillion instants taken together were a very viscous honey seeping slowly out of its waxy comb.

From this outlook, I am "large and in charge," and there is ample opportunity for me to figure it all out and plan what I shall do next to reap an abundance of gains from a benevolent universe.

Yet this way of understanding time is only because in my personal experience things usually appear to occur but gradually, while in reality, from a different perspective, any given moment conveys a huge wave of change ever soaring around Earth at 1000 miles an hour, five times faster than a speeding bullet train, as dawn continually breaks in an ever renewing vast circumference of our planet, awakening birds along with millions of other creatures, putting others to sleep, raising temperatures, drawing leaves and flowers sunward, hurtling storms along their myriad ways, and making visible what moments before could not be seen.

If I only "check-in" with Earth's perpetual sunrise once in any given 24-hour period, and indeed miss out on most of the vivid majesty of each to me foreshortened day's dawn while I finish waking up, taking a shower, and having my coffee, then I misjudge the enormity of most of what is really going on. It is as if I believe, since I notice that I look pretty much the same each morning when I glance in the mirror and shave, that time for me actually does stand still, while I take for granted the thousands of oxygenated breaths taken and heartbeats pumped, without any conscious input on my part, since the last time I glanced at that aging bathroom image.

We are lucky enough to be born at a time when our viewpoints can often be illuminated more by fresh insight than superstition. This has hardly always been so. Not that many hundred years ago, men and women typically believed the world to be flat and that disease came from evil thoughts. Even into the early 19th Century, it was common to think the Sun, all its other planets, and the stars revolved about the Earth.

Progress is not universal. Still today there are those who kill women for their alleged sin of having been raped. Such incidents are now at least exceptional.

Oddly enough, as recently as the early 20th Century, though, the observable universe was felt to be all there is, and our concept of space was extremely minute by current standards, not extending even as far as the edge of our own Milky Way galaxy, though it is actually a fairly commonplace assemblage of stellar phenomena, merely one among billions and billions of swirling solar conventions.

Only a little over 100 years past, Albert Einstein revolutionized natural science. From henceforth space and time were space-time and relative. Gone forever were the supposed truths and precise certainties of a Sir Isaac Newton form of physics.

Similarly, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries explored and laid bare the human psyche as profoundly more than previously understood. For many, their revelations were disturbing, especially so for Freud, perhaps undermining the assumed divinity of our species or maybe calling into question the illusion that we are basically rational beings. Inquiries based on their maps of the unconscious could, however, prove refreshingly meaningful and fulfilling.

Power of Ten - One to a Billion (Wikipedia)
If the universe is easy to understand, revolves around my planet and for the good of my species, if time follows my preferred pace, then I may feel safe. All is well. I can slowly sip my coffee and complete my ablutions in the secure knowledge that "there is nothing new under the Sun."

Our senses of order or predictability were further torn asunder by the traumas of World War I, the Great Depression, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, World War II, the Holocaust, the murders of millions under Joseph Stalin, the Chinese Revolution, and the ushering in of an atomic age with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, followed in only a few years by a wide dispersal of the terrifically more destructive hydrogen bombs, some capable of wiping out an entire region in a single explosion.

It follows from an endless dawn perspective, rather than that of a periodic sunrise, that much may happen while I, like Rip Van Winkle, am inattentive. So too for our kind.

We gained a brief respite from the nightmarish realities of the earlier 20th Century when the Soviet Union fell. We did not notice that the same waves of change that brought down that superpower were undermining the West's hegemony. A quarter century after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, people are shaken by terrorism, turmoil through the Middle East and much of Africa, the rise of China as a major competitor, cracks in the European Union, government and corporate intrusiveness beyond that proposed in Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or 1984, the development of robots that can make most workers redundant, and findings that humans are destabilizing the world's climate to an extent that could wipe out much of the biosphere. A lot seems to have been going on while I was sleeping. These are perspective altering factors as well.

Still, on a more positive note, there is evidence we have begun to leave behind deep sleep and to remain awake more than simply once a day. Less than 90 years ago, new telescopic discoveries showed that the universe is enormously greater than previously thought, is still expanding, and that this flying apart is accelerating at an astonishing rate. Today a wealth of cosmological information defies our capacities to grasp the underlying reality. We have learned, for instance, that the whole of the material universe, deduced from observation via a multitude of orbiting and land-based telescopes, amounts to but 4% of that which is, while 96% is comprised of as yet undiscovered "dark matter" and "dark energy." Could this be a cosmic metaphor for how much we, with our large primate brains and egos, think we control vs. how much we ourselves are in fact willy-nilly in the sway of vast forces beyond our understandings?

It is the same for those, including myself, who might preach only doom. "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (uttered by Hamlet in the William Shakespeare play of the same name).

These days, folks who used to have their minds blown by great sci-fi yarns need only catch the latest factual issues of "Scientific American" or "Nature" to achieve these effects.

When he was eleven, a nephew of mine was reading the cool book, Flatland for the first time and recommended it to me. If one has not perused it as yet, this tome is well worth the short period required to proceed from start to finish for the difference it can make in one's perspective about what we tend to take for granted, our dimensional realm, whether we think of that as the ordinary three, height, length, and width, or include a fourth, time. After glancing through Flatland, it may not be strange to wonder if this, our usual worldview is accurate. Just as the narrator of that work could speculate from his 2-dimensional existence on the possibility of one we experience, so might we consider the presence of as yet not grasped further dimensions, such as scientists and mathematicians suggest are the true situation. And if the very dimensions of our universe may be multiplying, at least in our conception of them, how much more might we credit the potential for optimistic outcomes of our present seemingly insoluble dilemmas?

It is not everlasting devastation that is sweeping around our globe but a perennial dawn! As I write, our mourning doves are calling out another end to times of slumber. Maybe the cheery notes of the songbirds suggest they are onto something. Wake up. It's a brand new day.

With a multitude of online videos, new wonders may be delved into with a couple clicks of a digital mouse. One I particularly enjoy takes the viewer from the almost infinitely tiny to the nearly infinitely large and back again in a matter of minutes: "Powers of Ten - Ultimate Zoom." It is a trip!

Our perspectives may be expanded exponentially and in ways little thought of by most anyone of merely four or five generations back. We need not take mind-altering drugs. The limits, if any, for a person's opening of The Doors of Perception may only be his or her awareness and imagination. Happy voyaging!

larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next