Yesterday I was trying to explain this to some students. They work with digital media. They create it. So I thought they’d get it if I could just get it out. It didn’t go well.
Here, let me try again here. Let me start by defining time consciousness. It’s different than time. It’s our consciousness of time, how we experience it, that is not as absolute time (whatever that is) but as a human being in time experiences time.
Digital media makes the structure of time consciousness clear.
The structure of time consciousness, as the German philosopher Edmund Husserl pointed out over a century ago, (and taught Heidegger but that’s another story) goes something like this.:
Think about a bell ringing. You might anticipate the bell ringing, then someone rings the bell but you hear its reverberation and process it in your mind at least a nanosecond after it actually rings, and then you enjoy the reverberations.
So the structure of time consciousness is:
- the anticipated future which doesn’t exist yet, just as the past and the specious present don’t exist anymore.
- the “specious present”, specious because in the moment it takes to register the present sound in consciousness it’s already past, and
- the remembered just-past….
We exist, we know (rehash Rene Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am”) because, if I wasn’t in existence I couldn’t be thinking. But there’s no ‘now’ to this conscious existence. Like the sound, there is anticipation,. Then there’s the sensation or thought that occurs, but as we sense it and think it and it is registered in consciousness it’s just-past. Then there’s recollection. It has a narrative structure: a beginning, middle, and end, but this is constructed around a present that we can’t actually bring to consciousness.
There may even be the thought of the ‘now’ but, like sound, we anticipate it, we think about it in time and that is a process, thus taking time and in time, time passes. There’s no now in this that is actually present. It’s already past, a reflection on what we refer to as now, that has already past. It exists as an idea we had, we might still hold, but the experience itself of the thought is past as soon as we think it.
What is actually present doesn’t share this narrative structure. It just is. That’s where we live, or so we assume. That’s where we have the experience, but we can’t think about that without it already being past.
The time that we are conscious of, that’s all just what is remembered or anticipated. There’s no ‘now’ now because in the thinking about it it’s already past.
Yet we live here; we just can’t experience it consciously or think about it in the now of narrative structures because we exist as bodies. Bodies (us) do have a narrative structure. We are born, we do exist now, and we live on until we die. We can make wild imaginative variations on that structure. But it’s gapped. We are conscious of the structure but the ‘now’ that is the epicenter of the structure is like a black hole only more so (really less so – there’s not even dark matter there.) The gap is the present, but as soon as it’s brought to mind it’s not ‘now’ now.
Digital media takes us back to this ancient truth. There’s ‘now’ now that is the imagined narrative that the media presents, but it is riddled with gaps in the code. Between the x and the o in our digital reality nothing exists, except we exist.
Without a beginning and middle and end in itself, this gap in the code has infinite breadth and width and depth, insofar as it doesn’t share the narrative structure.
We might picture it as a gap but the gap has external dimensions. The very idea of a gap is my lame way of bringing what is infinite into the narrative of this expression, this text, that also has a beginning, middle and end. (I’m almost done here.)
So my students create code. They make out of this infinite-lived space an image, a game, a storyline. They give it worldly dimensions. A narrative. But they just make this stuff up, out of nothing. Really. Infinite nothing.