“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.” St. Augustine of Hippo.
Everywhere in archeology, in the pyramids of Giza, the stones of Stonehenge, the observatory of Chichen Itza, or the temples of Angkor Was, humans have worshiped the heavens. But. . . not the sun or the moon or the stars themselves. No, humans have been worshiping their . . . predictability. Humans express reverence for this mysterious truth of nature . . . the past informs the future. And for their gift of memory, humans give gratitude to the . . . gods.
Rocks smash or get smashed. Life can get out of the way.
“Brains are predictive devices, and exploit the fact that recurrence is a fundamental property of the world around us. Experience and memory allow the recall of similar situations and the deployment of previously effective actions.” Nature, Vol 497, May 30, 2013.
Memory recall can be unconscious, but with consciousness, memories can more powerfully be re-lived. This may be what consciousness is for. Consciousness sorts the past, present and future, and with it comes a sense of a continuous, uniform, forward-flowing time. Isaac Newton declared that this time was an absolute. For Einstein, time only existed as a part of SpaceTime, not as an independent entity, and only a local one.
“Only ghosts can hear the sounds of an eternally, uniformly occurring tick-tock. Ask an intelligent man who is not a scholar what time is and you will see that he takes time to be this ghostly tick-tock There is no audible tick-tock everywhere in the world that could be considered as time.” Albert Einstein
For Nicholas Humphrey, the sensation of time is a tool of the mind for organizing memory and experience.
“Suppose indeed that human beings travel through life as in a “time ship” that like a spaceship has a prow and a stern and room inside for us to move around“. A History of the Mind, 2008.
And for artists too:
“Thus, what happens in the thick moment of conscious sensation, Monet seems to be suggesting, is not that we blend past, present, and future but rather that we take a single moment and hold on to it just as it is – so that each moment is experienced as it happens for longer than it happens. Seeing Red, 2006.
One physicist, Richard A. Muller, suggests that time very much does exist, and moves forward in the ongoing expansion of SpaceTime that has been happening since the Big Bang.
“Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created. The coninuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both thearrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as Now.” Now, The Physics of Time, 2017.
NOW may be what rides the crest of this wave of new SpaceTime continually being created by our ever expanding Universe, and we, with our conscious awareness, as unique riders on this surf.
There is singing, and then there is singing. Bob Dylan does singing. Listen to ‘House of the rising Sun’, on his very first album.
Malcolm Gladwell speaks of innovators, people who are always different. They wear odd clothes, and in ways that others don’t and wouldn’t. They start fads, but they don’t follow them. They never follow anything. Whatever it is that makes most people want to be like others, and join in with others, they don’t have. It is a life strategy. Think about it. Always being different avoids comparison. You can win when only you are playing.
“What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant. Anymore than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what Lawrence Olivier is really like.”
This is Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan. He insists on being him, whether you like it or not. With a born focus on his own, inner experience, with his trained skills of melody and lyric, he expresses what he finds there. He wants no contrivance, no preconceived, or planned song. And he doesn’t want us to understand him. He doesn’t think we should try to understand him.
“It’s all in the songs.” Be open to what a song does for you, not what you are told to think it means, or what you think it is supposed to mean. Rather than think the song. . .feel it.
“If a song moves, you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.”
Hey Mr. Tambourine man/ Play a song for me/Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can’t feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/wait only for my boot heels to be wandering/I’m ready to go anywhere/ I’m ready for to fade/Into my own parade/Cast your dancing spell my way/I promise to go under it.
“I can write a song in a crowded room. Inspiration can hit you anywhere. It’s magic. It really is beyond me.”
“My songs are personal music, they’re not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings.”
My hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds/Way up in the border country far from the towns/With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow/My heart’s in the highlands, can’t see any other way to go
“John Donne, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘the Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests’. I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.” Nobel Lecture, 2017.
“I’m no poet. Poets drown in lakes.”
“The evidence does cast enormous suspicion on Oswald. . . . leave him looking guilty of something. The evidence does not, on the other hand, put him behind a gun in the sixth-floor window.” Anthony Summers
At 11:45 am, Oswald’s co-workers on the sixth floor took the elevator down for lunch and to see the motorcade, leaving Lee without an elevator. His last words to them are: “Guys how about an elevator? Send one of them back up.”
At 11:45-11:50 am, Book Depository foreman Bill Shelley sees Oswald near a phone on the first floor.
At 11:50 am Charles Givens sees Oswald reading a newspaper in the first floor lunch room.
At 12:00 noon, Bonnie Ray Williams goes up to the sixth floor to eat his lunch, he stays there until 12:15 pm. He sees no one else while he is there. The remains of his lunch – chicken bones and lunch bag – are found after the assassination.
Between 12:00 and 12:15 pm, Junior Jarman and Harold Norman walk thru the second floor lunch room, and remember that there was “someone else in there”. During interrogation, in police custody, Oswald remembers two Negro employees walking thru the lunch room while he is there.
At 12:15 m, Arnold Rowland, standing outside across from the School Book Depository, sees two men in the sixth floor windows, one holding a rifle across his chest. Rowland points them out to his wife.
At 12:35 pm, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy is assassinated. His motorcade is five minutes late.
“I asked him what part of the building he was in at the time the President was shot, and he said he was having lunch about that time on the second floor”.
At 12:37 pm, Marion Baker, a motorcycle policeman riding just behind the President’s car, thinks the shots came from the roof of School Book Depository. He races over and into the front door of the building, less than one and a half minutes after the shots are fired. He tries to use the elevators, but they are both stopped on the fifth floor. he races up the stairs. On the second floor, he encounters a man with a coke walking away from him. He calls him to stop. Mr. Truly, the building supervisor, catches up just then, he has been racing ahead of Baker to the top floors. “That’s Lee Harvey Oswald, he works here”. Oswald is calm, no sweat on his brow, not short of breath.
At 12:40 pm, right away after watching the motorcade, and the shooting, Victoria Adams rushes down the back stairway of the Texas Book Depository, “to see what was happening”. She has been working that day on the fourth floor of the School Book Depository. She does not see or hear anyone on those stairs, the stairs a sixth floor gunman would have had to use to escape.
Just at the time of the assassination shootings, Photojournalist James Altgen takes a photograph of the motorcade, with the front door of the School Book Depository, in view, behind the oncoming motorcade. There is a small man in the doorway, shirt half open, leaning to look out.
Is… that …man . . . Lee Harvey Oswald?
“After all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.” Bertrand Russell.
Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Vienna, in the time before WW I, a family of musicians, professors, and suicides. He went to the same grammar school as Adolf Hitler. His sister was painted by Gustav Klimt, and helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazis. He fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief, while voluntarily manning the point, the most dangerous position, on the front. Beethoven was his hero. He was precocious in math, and obsessed by logic.
He would scrutinize his own thinking to find the hidden assumptions that underlie all thinking and the subtle ways that logic fails to be logical. He would puzzle over the use of words in speech – what is subconscious to most of us – and search for hidden patterns. He wanted to know how we know, what we know, what can be known.
“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen is being guided.”
He was perplexed by the riddles of self reference in logic, the great stumbling block in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica, to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic. Is the set of all sets that don’t include themselves, also a set?
He became anti-philosophical, convinced that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and that language, with all of its mixing up of perceptions and conceptions, hopelessly impaired thought. Truth can only be known by experience, not with thinking, and only shown, with art perhaps, but not with words. Thought and speech are mere ‘social games’ for living a social human life. . . something, sadly, he himself was not much able to do.
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.
With his spooky certitude, and mesmerizing stare, he was considered brilliant. For a time, he was thought to have eclipsed all of conventional philosophy. He was lionized.
John Maynard Keynes: “I have met God, he arrived on the 4:30 train.”
He lived an eccentric, solitary life, much of his time in a remote cabin in Norway. At one point he gave away all of his enormous wealth, and lived thereafter in near poverty. He feared going mad, that he might commit suicide. Three brothers did.
He suffered a constant solipsism, an oppressive self consciousness, haunted by a loss of self connection. Is my thinking about myself also my self?
He was a disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.
Insanity and genius are not the same thing.
“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.” Bertrand Russell.
“Peace in thinking is the wished-for aim of those who philosophize.”
He was trying to think himself out of thinking too much. He didn’t succeed.
“I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…” David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking. He could be insightful, and engaging, and interesting, but get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.
He lived inside his head.
He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logical thinking could give him.
“a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a . . .click“.
Boredom was terrifying. He suffered severe writer’s block. There was this constant, oppressive feeling of something not feeling right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him. He felt a menacing sense of disconnection with himself.
Being a person was like being a ghost.
Substance use gave him great relief, it helped him feel whole. He became addicted with a natural ease.
At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to an audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life: be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is. Stay grounded in simple truths, he said, somehow they are really true.
” The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”
Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus, in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Jaynes thought, the human mind had changed. Perhaps it was the advent of writing, and the emergence of the reading mind. Reading ignites the imagination.
With people like David Foster Wallace, reading can take the imagination too far.
With endless digressions, and foot notes to foot notes, the writing of David Foster Wallace is more a psychiatric exposition than it is literature. He conveys for us his lost, unmoored, and painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.
“He waited two more days for an opportunity. In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights. He wrote her a two page note. Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”