Unchanging Waves of Time

space-timefabric

Remedios Varo, “Space-Time Fabric”

The distinction between past, present and future is the most persistent illusion of all, said Einstein. From the perspective of quantum physics, the past, present and future exist simultaneously in time-space. Time is static, it is us who are flowing through time. This revelation is well explained by James Gleick in his review of the movie Arrival:

“Even without help from mathematical models, we have all learned to visualize history as a timeline, with the past stretching to the left, say, and the future to the right (if we have been conditioned Sapir-Whorf-style by a left-to-right written language). Our own lifespans occupy a short space in the middle. Now—the infinitesimal present—is just the point where our puny consciousnesses happen to be.

But Einstein felt that this was fundamentally a psychological matter; that the question of now need not, or could not, be addressed within physics. The specialness of the present moment doesn’t show up in the equations; mathematically, all the moments look alike. Now seems to arise in our minds. It’s a product of consciousness, inextricably bound up with sensation and memory. And it’s fleeting, tumbling continually into the past.”

movie-arrival-amy-adams-jeremy-renner-1

“Arrival”

We may ponder the big question asked by Krishnamurti:

“Time is the past, time is now; and the now is controlled by the past, shaped by the past. And the future is a modification of the present. I’m putting it dreadfully simply. So the future is now. Therefore the question is: If all time is contained in the now, all time – past, present and future – then what do we mean by change?”

Zen Buddhism, as explained by Alan Watts in his book The Way of Zen, compared time to a moving wave, which does not actually move water forward but creates the illusion that it does.

ogatakorinroughwaves

Ogata Korin, “Rough Waves”

Yet, from an individual perspective, time is experienced viscerally and intimately. In Borges’s words, 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.” We are mentally conditioned to view time as sequential, progressing from the past into the present and towards the future. The human perception of time is rendered perfectly in Macbeth’s famous monologue, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, /Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time.” The word “syllable” is a remarkable choice here since our written communication also unfolds sequentially through time– from left to right or from the past into the present, at least for western speakers.

But not all languages are written in this way. In his “Temporary poem of my time” Yehuda Amichai wrote:

“Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.”

clockmaker

Remedios Varo, “Clockmaker”

The idea that the language shapes our thinking is known as linguistic relativity.  The creators of Arrival played with that idea remarkably well. Louise, a master translator played by Amy Adams, is drafted by the US army to establish communication with a race of aliens who have just landed on the earth. The mysterious visitors are seven-limbed creatures, dubbed heptapods. Seven being the number of spiritual perfection, as Gleick describes in his review of the movie, “They turn out to be virtuosos of calligraphy: their feet/hands are also nozzles that squirt inkblots, which swirl and spin and coalesce into mottled circles with intricate adornments. Louise says these are logograms.”

Each logogram is a miniature work of art, a rich symbol evocative of the Zen ensō.

enso-hakuin

Enso “Visually, an enso appears simplistic, but its true nature is much more complex and highly involved. In Zen, enso symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body and spirit create with the brushed ink of the circle being performed in one movement – one stroke, one chance. Often the circle is drawn complete representing perfection, or incomplete with an opening signifying that it is part of something much greater and that imperfection is vital to existence. Unlike other forms of art work, there is no possibility of modification. The perfect enso is achieved by having “no-mind”. The brush stroke should be guided by the spirit, not the wrist. It should be performed without effort.” Via https://diversejapan.com/2012/05/15/shodo-japanese-calligraphy-master-shoho-teramoto-the-enso-of-zen/

 

 

la-et-mn-arrival-movie-linguist-20161125

A logogram (“Arrival”)

Logograms house the meaning of entire sentences or passages. What is more, they seem to be produced instantaneously rather than sequentially, unlike our earthy writing. They emerge suddenly like wondrous emanations. This is because heptapods do not see time as sequential. Having a simultaneous overview of each individual moment on the time-space continuum, they see wholeness instead of events unfolding one after another. Their written script goes simultaneously from right to left and from left to write – to meet in the centre, pulsating with meaning. As Louise masters the heptapod language, she develops headaches which are a sign of a tremendous consciousness shift. It dawns on her that she can see the future, including a tragic twist in her own life. Her mind becomes able to move forwards and backwards; she gets glimpses of events which the viewer thinks are flashbacks, but turn out to be flash-forwards.  Yet, in the holistic frame of temporal reference the direction of the time arrow does not seem to matter any more.

We do not feel ourselves as timeless in our day-to-day lives, quite the contrary. Nevertheless, almost all of us have moments when we experience a momentary rupture in the fabric of time. The poet Szymborska would call it the moments when we remember that we have a soul, which is timeless.

slide31

Giorgio de Chirico, “Piazza d’Italia”

From the web:

http://laughingsquid.com/how-the-film-arrival-connects-the-concepts-of-language-and-time-to-tell-a-non-linear-story/

 

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19 Responses to Unchanging Waves of Time

  1. litebeing says:

    Thank you for writing on one of my favorite obsessions, time. I like this quote: Nevertheless, almost all of us have moments when we experience a momentary rupture in the fabric of time. The poet Szymborska would call it the moments when we remember that we have a soul, which is timeless.
    A momentary rupture in the fabric of time, fabulous!

    I look forward to seeing Arrival on cable since I missed it in the theaters. Wonder when the aliens will reveal themselves on Earth 🙂

    hugs, Linda

    • Hello Linda,
      Great to hear from you. It makes sense that we would share this obsession. Thank you for finding my writing quotable.

      hugs,

      Monika

      • litebeing says:

        Equally great to read your post! Just saw Arrival last night and it put me to sleep. Very disappointing, especially with all the rave reviews. Maybe I need to view it again? love interstellar though.

      • But it was snubbed by the Oscars, though that means nothing. I think there is no right or wrong when it comes to movies. For example there were two highly rated movies last year that I did not enjoy, and especially Nocturnal Animals was to me an utter fiasco and deeply offensive to women. I appreciate your honesty, Linda.

      • litebeing says:

        I did not know the Oscars rejected it because it was up for many other awards. I set the bar high for this genre after such films like Inception, Interstellar, the Star Wars Franchise, and Cloud Atlas. I have not seen Nocturnal Animals. I loved Oliver Stone’s Scorcese’s Snowden . I think you will enjoy it 🙂

  2. Beautifully written! And such a fascinating topic, one that I to am drawn toward. So many quotations here I want to save and savor, the first being: Time is static, it is us who are flowing through time. Then how Borges echos that: Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river. Then Watt’s who “compared time to a moving wave, which does not actually move water forward but creates the illusion that it does.” I also love the idea of the enso and the logogram. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us. I’m looking forward to watching “Arrival” on Netflix.

  3. Nice post but i just thought you were getting warmed-up to the subject, then abruptly stopped. But a great, wide-ranging and eclectic images accompanying text as ever. The Japanese ones very Ouroboric , breat symbol of time and eternity. The enigmatic De Chirico is a generous size on screen. Janus for the Romans was the symbol for time. Jung says Janus is the perfect symbol of the psyche, forever looking both to the past and future to define itself.

    • Dear Kevin, I am always warmed up to this particular subject. Maybe it did not seem so but I really had nothing else to say for the time being. I have written about time a few times but it seems narcissistic to post links. Anyway, Janus is a very potent symbol and always deserves to be mentioned.
      Thank you very much for your comment – they are always very much appreciated.
      I love de Chirico so much. His paintings just hypnotize me.

  4. Boogeywookiie says:

    Reading of the heptapod’s written language makes me wonder if the film makers took any cues from the earth-realm to create the language of the visitors. For instance, cuttlefish, squid and octopus:

    https://qz.com/908695/squid-speak-a-unique-undeciphered-language-using-their-skin/

  5. 1weaver says:

    i, too, wasnt ready for this essay to finish but i think maybe we are just being greedy. 🙂 there is an awful lot here to blow your mind already.

  6. Jeff Japp says:

    Ah, time. One of your favorite topics, I know. I got to meet James Gleick at a book festival years ago. He signed my copy of “Chaos,” which is the one book that actually helped me understand chaos theory. Smart dude.

    Cheers!

  7. So rich post! thank you for it Symbolreader

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