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A Matter of Time


A Matter of Time

This Summer has been an interesting and difficult one for me.  I think there are only two seasons, Summer and Winter with a two week buffer on either end where the weather is temperate.  Indeed, buried under our collective sense of time there’s a natural rhythm of the season’s that marks the passage of time.  Climatologists are now predicting that the transition points where the Earth’s axis shifts towards and away from the Sun will be the occasion for highly disruptive storms as a consequence of global warming.  
No-one really knows what time is other than ways in which we measure it. The U.S. Naval Observatory has the atomic clock which measures radioactive decay. It is essentially a benchmark.  Human lives are also a measure of time from a philosophical viewpoint. Quantum theory asserts that there are two different types of time based on measuring the trajectory of anything, they are diachronic and synchronic time.   Diachronic time or a diachronic trajectory is the path an object takes over a period of time.  Quantum theory says we can either observe or measure an object trajectory over a given period or we can measure its’ location at a fix point in time. We can’t do both.
In other words we can’t predict the future with any certitude based on what we can observe and measure at the moment.  To add to all this is Einstein proposition that time varies based on the observer and the observed.  His premise involves a person on a space ship traveling at the speed of light. For the person time is the same while for people on the Earth it is the same or perceived as the same. But the people on the Earth age more rapidly than the person on the ship.  The key here is that one cannot observe oneself in diachronic time.   

Our perception of time and history are imperfect and relative. They are based upon the benchmarks we use for measurement and the position of the observer to the thing observed.  History is a reassembling of information that is tempered by the observers criteria. This is one of the things I am trying to deal with in Art Dirt Redux ,  that is a reassembly of events based on the memory structure of the human mind rather than a linear presentation. This would be perhaps more in keeping with the notion of synchronic time, that which is happening at any given moment.  Indeed, assembling history to convey meaning is inspired in a synchronic moment and yet the interpretation of that information is changed through time.  In other words events have different meanings at different times.
Jorge Luis Borges in his story, A New Refutation of Time, looks at the classical musings on time from Zeno’s Paradox to Heraclitus’s quote, “… no-one steps into the same river twice.”  Here’s a quote from Borges;
“ And  yet, and yet . . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.”-- Essay: "A New Refutation of Time," 1946

I tend to distrust the idea of pre-cognition and yet this happens to me occasionally. I sometimes have the feeling of déjà vu. Cognitive scientists have tried to explain this as a mis-firing of brain neurons so that an event we are experiencing feels like it is a memory.  That may be so. What interests me is the idea that memory and our idea of time are intertwined.  I have had what I assume to be pre-cognitions in the shape of dreams. One was 6 months before 9/11 in which I dreamt I had stolen a helicopter and was flying over New York on a brilliant sunny day. The Helicopter turned into a jet airplane cockpit.  Maybe just a coincidence but the dream shook me up when I had it.  I also had a vivid dream last year in which I was traveling around in a boat in a partially submerged city of the future, again on a brilliantly sunny day. The person I was with described how the modern office buildings, lower floors were under water yet sealed and functioning.  Maybe this is a Manhattan of the future after the ice caps melt. Who can really say?  My déjà vu’s are getting more specific. Recently I had the sensation of one in the present where I remembered the exact moment in the past when I had foreseen this future moment.  Very spooky but maybe  just faulty brain chemistry.  

This Summer I have read every single book and short story by Philip K. Dick. I will most likely re-read them at intervals. One book, VALIS(Vast Active Living Intelligence System), has a sequence in which people attend a movie screening and then realize upon seeing the film at another showing that it is different each time. Not in the major narrative but in the visual cues, sequence structure and so on. This is what I am doing with my morph videos assembled into a database and then shuffled on each viewing. I am embarking on a larger project that will create a visual hypertextual cinema that will accomplish the vision proposed by Dick in VALIS.   

The book I am reading now is Dick’s, The World Jones Made. I’m halfway through but I can talk about some of the salient features. The book is set in a time after a global conflagration. The war’s were fought over various competing ideologies such as Zionism, Communism and Islamism.  In order to prevent this from happening again there is a U.N. police department that has established a philosophy of relativism. You can believe whatever you want as long as you don’t insist it is true for everyone. If you do you are arrested and thrown in jail. The set up is relativism vs. Ideologues. Into this mix comes a guy named Jones who is a mutant and can see the future or rather his mind is one year in the future and his body is one year in the past;
“ “To me,” Jones said hoarsely, “this is the past. Right now, with you three, here in this building, this is a year ago. It’s not so much like I can see the future: it’s more that I’ve got one foot stuck in the past. I can’t shake it loose. I’m retarded: I’m reliving one year of my life forever.” He shuddered. “Over and over again. Everything I do, everything I say, hear, experience, I have to grind over twice.” He raised his voice, sharp and anguished, without hope. “ I’m living the same life two times!”
    “In other words,” Cussick said slowly, “for you, the future is static. Knowing about it doesn’t make it possible for you to change it.”
    Jones laughed icily. Change it? It’s totally fixed. It’s more fixed, more permanent, than this wall.” Furiously, he slammed his open palm against the wall behind him.” – The World Jones Made, Philip K. Dick

    Synchronous time, everything that happens at the same time or exists at any given moment, is one of the hallmarks of the world wide web. Working with databases and information then presents a new way to deal with time. This is assembled time, assembled narrative. Maybe one can call this informational time. I create what is called, time based art works, I now find that linear time is no longer necessary to create meaning.  Indeed, assembled meaning is just as valid.  Maybe even more valid for a world based on information systems.