"Time Marches On”
“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
by David Eagleman
Imagine a pill that could change a person’s perception of time. Well, you don’t have to imagine, you are probably on one right now. Anti-depressants, the diet of most westerners creates a lack of anxiety (the endless stress) and a hum of limitless energy that doesn’t need to be consumed. Anxiety is at its core the perception of time’s encroaching march that never wavers, never stumbles. But what about a relativity pill that can accelerate and decelerate time as per the sensory manifold? The conscious would be intact, under the effects of this pill we could count off seconds in this manifold absolutely convinced if we were viewing the second hand of analog clock we would be in sync with its mechanics. but reality as our immediate horizon of understanding is moving slower, perhaps 1 day per second . For every day I spend in this state only a second goes by in reality. The effects of the pill wears off and I re-sync, for me 4 years have gone by but only 24 minutes have passed in my environs. In affect, I have served a prison sentence within my own consciousness while exerting no financial, emotional or carbon footy difficulty on the world around me. This pill is the nightmare pill, a self-contained Guantanamo Bay that requires no hunger-strike force-feeding, no election season political stance, no galvanized attention paid forward by a sleepy populace. Is it possible? Better living through chemistry?
In the 2012 film, Karl Urban's Dredd a drug called “Slo-Mo" is illegally dealt in a housing complex called "Peach Trees," it allows the user exactly this experience and obviously the benefits are there. Imagine a state of orgasm that instead of lasting 30 seconds lasted a day, or 10 days in consciousness, then imagine as the the film does, a man shot and falling off a balcony on this drug, experience a near instantaneous death for hours and hours of pure agony. An explanation/re-evauation of heaven and hell involved the brain going into a prolonged dream state at the moment of death, the last though you have as you die was to be lived in dream time, possible forever. This was the conceit of Christopher Nolan's movie Inception, and more recently, the relativity of time takes center stage in the plot of Interstellar, where not only does the dramatic focus of experiencing time separate a father and daughter, the notion of love as a quantum force that transcends space-time or at very least, can manipulate space time is explored. We can write off space time as side effect of sentient awareness. Animals are free to live without the knowledge of their deaths on pure instinct and satisfaction but human’s were gifted/cursed with the countdown of time to propel them toward excellence in the face of adversity, story telling against solitude, dialogue against dogma.
Space-time and evolution: is there a possible force in the universe that we associate with consciousness or will-power that acts to bring large scale forces into creation against the undeniable law of entropy? Why is there complexity if everything in the universe is pulled toward decay and collapse? How does the eventual heat death of the universe appear as an end, did we in fact come from an infinite complexity and life on this planet is a result of some prolonged entropy? Our perception of time and the course of evolution invariably sees entropy being defeated for complexity. Thus the mystery that leads to spirituality and religion, why is something other that nothing? The teacup leaps from the floor and reassembles on the table with every birth, with every invention, with every moment of justice and art that survives its terrible age.
The ability to control the perception of time is integral to human experience. When we watch superhero TV shows and films, the protagonist the ability to perform tasks faster or perceive threats and respond effectively in a space of time most humans would find overwhelming. The hero sees a punch being thrown but in slow-motion, they react faster than an average person would, often portrayed in a hyper-stylized exaggeration of the skills used by let’s say a highly trained juggler who can catch objects with ease or the player's ability to maintain Matrix-jujitsu multi-tasking survival in video games. The notion of ”thinking on your feet" which can allow one to defeat an opponent in a mere debate is a simple of expression of collapsing the pressures of time to one’s advantage. The question becomes, are we as a species preparing ourselves or forcing ourselves to change the way we can experience time as a preparation for our next stage of evolution? More importantly, is there a qualia to time? Kant’s evaluation of the sensory manifold makes space and time analytic intuitions, they are primary ground, the baseline of our brain’s lie detector. But as cloistered Mary may have never experienced a certain shade of blue, how do I know that meal was as a fast and as vast for you as it was for me?
Time expansion and biology: I can use my mind to slow down my experience. One flaw in this reasoning may be the role of biological consciousness. In the example of the juggler who uses muscle memory to catch multiple objects at high speed, we should agree they do not literally see the objects moving in slow motion i.e. "The Flash” or Spider-Man” seeing an object moving in slow motion but maintains the speed of his or her own thoughts while dealing with it. Thoughts are physical things, capillaries must carry information, post-synaptic action potentials require the influx and expulsion of potassium, actin must be created and destroyed to move muscle, our brain may use electro-chemical messages to move our body and lightning speed but it is exactly that: light as we know it, it is the speed limit of the universe. A pill that could alter the perception of time must also alter the speed of conscious activity. What is this biological speed limit? The answer comes from an understanding of how neurons create consciousness, and thus to date, unresolved. The singularity proposes technology increasing consciousness to near super-computer levels. The horribly disappointing self indulgent Johnny Depp film Transcendence offers this same time-collapsing super-hero who is merged with technology and then invents nanobytes that can not only heal biological wounds but enhance the biology itself creating heightened human speed, strength and intercommunication in a hive mind and allowing for faster coordinated innovation. The implication of the film is that such heightened intelligence is also heightened morality and so the characters in the film who see him as a threat and try to destroy him are in fact acting out the raw stupidity of their inferior monkey minds, picture Plato’s chained cave dwellers watching their shadow puppet matinee to the dulcet tones of Sebodah’s Freed Pig. Depp’s character can simply infect them with nanobytes that repair their minds to think faster and in essence agree with him. The idea is glanced over with scary simplicity when he suggests that his enhanced followers “have compete autonomy but can also act as a collective.” Thus we have the perfect capitalist’s dream, workers who feel free and part of a union meanwhile tirelessly serving the bidding of the master. Our culture’s obsession with superhero stories is a viral worm placed by the wealthy elite convincing us to lay down and worship the superior over the wants of the average. This is often in the guise of showing the hyper skilled and smart as misfits in need of understanding and family but in the end, normal people must obey Magneto’s charge. If you think about it, Magneto is always proven right, violence is either a voice or a forced course, but never abandoned. The mediocre never fights back, that would be extraordinary. The working class must remain the frozen monolith, buried for centuries on a forgotten moon.
A common sci-fi trope, the bored immortal: the species that achieves immortality loses vitality. Crawling among the ground of the ocean like a lobster, the never-ending Oscar party of the renegade eternals of Zardoz, the last Charlie Rose interview with William F Buckley. Is it the case that extremity of emotion, the need to engage, envelop, indulge, destroy and even self destroy is based on our being toward death, we need to be mortal in order to be alive? Death gives life meaning. Ray Kurzweil sees death as a sadness stealing meaning from life, a loss of information and a necessary enemy to progress, the Aronofsky film The Fountain claims it as a disease to be cured, but like wisdom, a paradox, one craves wisdom and avoids offering, but wisdom only comes from suffering. In the brilliant revenge meditation Blue Ruin, we see an immortal pain made mortal and finally ended by the passion of retribution, sometimes we need to end our lives to create a circle, to answer or a claim. The most important philosophical lesson is to learn, in the words of David Lee Roth, “Life goes on without you.” We would like to imagine that when we die, the importance of our existence was so grave, so necessary that time halts in it’s tracks to grieve for us, that the people we knew, knew us so well and loved us so much that they couldn’t and wouldn’t ever get over our passing. The truth is much more relevant. Everyone is eventually forgotten about. We grieve for the dead and we move on. Any philosopher must wrestle with this idea. The terrified embrace religion or celebrity to conquer it. If only I could make my mark on the world and achieve fame will I survive death, or perhaps their is an after life, an infinite luau where I commune with my dead relatives? Under our feet is the decomposing corpses of millions who convinced themselves they were so important they would not be forgotten. We shall join them one day. How does one reconcile meaning as death approaches, but not just death, the necessity of meaningless death? In order for life to continue, the dead must be forgotten. Is immortality the solution to this paradox? Must we eliminate time to restore meaning?