Try This – an introduction

So now it’s become obvious to me:  I’m writing a book about time.  “Kenny in Infinity” is a chapter, the cartoon character Kenny my muse. 

Here’s the introduction:

This began as a study of new media, not so new now, that discloses aspects of experience we might reflect upon with new insights, given what new media discloses about, well, everything.

Try this.

Theoretical physics was born out of new means of perceiving what’s out there, these new means being new media.  Both the new physics and new media reinforce what careful introspection illuminates: time, and our being in time, spreads into infinity.  Our physical experience discloses narrative time, ‘one damn thing after another’.  But words fail us.  And between every syllable is silence.  Otherwise, it would be one long screech.

Between every note played in music is silence; between every word or at least every sentence, silence; between every symbol in computer code is no-code.  The breaks symbolize something other than the code and, while the overall code has a beginning, middle, and end, it is riddled in no-code.  In every sentence there are words and with every word phonemes, and between phonemes…  We have breath between syllables, and those familiar with meditation are aware of how noisy we are – our hearts beat, when we inhale, exhale, more noise – and everyone and our world suddenly seems noisy when we attempt to be silent.

There are scientific (measurable, replicable, falsifiable) theories, but here is what distinguishes theoretical physics from plain old physics.  On the level of experience, apart from theory, time consciousness might be all we have to work with.  In any case, that is what I’m working with here.

Our new time consciousness reflects, amplifies and illustrates ancient understandings.  For instance, “In the beginning was the Word…”   Fundamentalism is an easy mistake to make when you can hold the Word of God in your hands.

People accept the illusion of a text as timeless, associating the Word with a lot of words.  I still hope to hear the word of God in the person of Jesus through the medium of print or, better yet, read aloud, though now the printed page is largely usurped by the pixilated computer monitor.  We talked about a paperless office in the beginning of the digital era while creating the cloud of text and images.

Today I even participated in the Daily Office online.  These selections of prayers and scripture passages for the morning, noon and evening prayer, a practice going back to Constantine and monastic life in the third century, are recited aloud in communities, and flicker on my laptop as I pray with an online community, though there’s no one else in this room.

Walter Ong, Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan all identified the relationship between language technologies and meanings.  Overstating it perhaps, McLuhan’s point that “the medium is the message” became a touchstone and then a cliché, but the point is still well taken.  There is a trace of the oral in the written text, a trace of the written word on the printed page, and in the pixelated images on my computer screen.  Yet, each medium is distinct and is both a vehicle and the road the vehicle travels upon when it comes to a new consciousness of what is real.

That’s life.  When sacred or even mundane symbols are pressed onto clay tablets, the clay itself contains remnants of living organisms.  Ephemeral words and the eternal Word are only adjacent. To identify the medium with the message might be straight out idolatry because these means of expression are human.  What is other than human, absolute silence, is divine.

But I have focused too much on the otherness of text and word associated with the Word.  It is incarnate.  It is other than other; it is also this.

Try this.

I close my laptop and put my phone out of reach.

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Time Consciousness

Time consciousness is gapped.  There is no consciousness of the gap, only of the flow.  In the case of media and stories, even the story of how we spent the last hour or millennium, and how we’re going to spend the next, there are gaps.  We can’t be conscious of the present because as soon as we call it to consciousness, it is past.  That’s the gap, the present, in which we of course live but can’t bring to consciousness.  We can only be present to it, enjoy it, or not.

Between every note played in music is silence, and between every symbol in computer code is no-code.  The breaks symbolize something other than the code, and while the overall code has a beginning, middle, and end, it is riddled in no-code.  In every sentence there are words and with every word phonemes, and between phonemes… gaps.

There are scientific (measurable, replicable, falsifiable) theories, but here is what distinguishes theoretical physics from plain old physics.  On the level of experience, apart from theory, time consciousness might be all we have to work with.  In any case, that is what I’m working with here.

 

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Printed books are the new media that still fascinates me – new if your perspective includes hieroglyphics. Mine does.

Marshal McLuhan and friends identified how the Guttenberg Bible, the first printed book, created a social and political revolution known as “the Reformation”.  Once everyone could own their own copy of the Bible, hold it, interpret it themselves, it wasn’t a big leap for Jesus to become their “personal Lord and Savior”.  Jesus was less a man of the crowd, feeding the crowd; now Jesus was a friend there in the privacy of one’s own home, helping everyone who can read to understand the Word up close, personal. The priests and pope are not­ so much mediaries as meddlesome.

The media is the message, was McLuhan’s catchphrase. (Understanding Media; The extensions of Man, 1964)  Moveable type and mass printing changed everything. Then came the radio. Franklin D. Roosevelt used that well with his fireside chats, taking politics out of the public square and into everyone’s living room.  Then movies, brought faraway places into every small town.  Then television, with white people learning more and more about themselves in the privacy of their living rooms, while African Americans often gathered and watched white people, laughed at them, critiquing their lifestyle.  It was a different experience for racially segregated new medium, as Bell Hooks has so brilliantly identified. (Reel to Real; Race, class and the Movies, 2008)

Now digital media.  Now South Park, created using 3D animation but taken back to 2D animation in its look, media moving backward, reversing its progress, time’s arrow bent backward.  Why.  That’s a question for the creators, why use a more advanced technology to create an older aesthetic appearance?

Obviously, it’s just a tool.  The use of 3D as the first step, computer-generated technologies make animating the characters a faster, if more expensive process.  Yet, the real advance is the aesthetic appeal of the characters, not the process, taken even further into a primitive paper cutout look with South Park’s Canadian characters.

McLuhan was just half-right.  The medium extends our ability to imagine and create, but one medium doesn’t supplant another and there’s a dialectical relationship between medium and message.  Some call it art.  Modern graffiti artists may use spray paint, the gesture and motivation akin to a cave painter and Davinci painting a fresco.

McLuhan saw progress as time’s arrow but it isn’t anything without our imagination.  We make time; rocks don’t.  Only living things can conceive of a narrative structure.

But that’s not nothing.  We do make time, a narrative.  Time might be one of the great inventions of biological beings.  History.  The notion of progress or regression.  Making sense of sunrises and sunsets, days ‘passing’, birth and death.  We make sense.

I’m running out of time here.  To be continued…

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Digitize this…

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.

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Kenny’s consciousness – like Jesus only not

Try this:  Think about your own future:  What’s the chances of that actually happening?  We might not be responsible for what actually happens in the future, but certainly what we think might happen is all in our imagination, therefore partly in our control. Yes, possibly it’s informed by logic, careful planning, or maybe it’s just a leap of faith but we have to will it (in time) and leap (in time).  And by the time we will and leap, that action is past.

Similarly, and more obviously, the past, rooted in actual historical occurrences, is brought back to consciousness through memory, a construction, our own construction of what happened, and we forget a lot.  (This proves particularly annoying to Kenny – that his friends don’t seem to remember that he died, again and again and again…)  Kenny remembers, and we can check his memory (if a cartoon character can have a memory) by scrolling back through past episodes, but even then…

I’m being ridiculous here – you remember.  But you might also forget, like Kyle…   Or you misremember.  In any case, memory is a process of re-creating the past from traces.

So this crazy animation represents a point I am belaboring.  Just to get to the present moment…

Which is already past….

It’s way past by the time I cut and paste this text into the blog, but it was already past by the time I thought of it, even before I wrote anything, even in the present moment by the time I thought of it as present, or as a moment.

And not just because I’m slow.  If you were thinking about your own past, present and future… well, think about it.  There it goes, you just thought about it in the present moment, and it’s past now.   By the time the present is brought to conscious awareness it’s over. That’s my point, and I’m sorry if I’m belaboring the obvious.

I just love Kenny.

When Kyle objects that maybe it’s not so bad that Kenny can’t die, that maybe it’s a good thing, Kenny loses his temper.  The point isn’t about being dead; it’s that dying hurts.  “It fucking hurts,” Kenny shouts and pulls out a gun.  “See?  Try to remember this time,” he shouts at his friends and then shoots himself.

Here’s where Kenny really isn’t a Christ figure: “Accepted death on the cross” is a phrase used in creeds, that can be misleading.   Jesus didn’t embrace the cross; he was nailed to it.  Jesus didn’t kill himself; he was murdered.  And once was enough, and it wasn’t suicide; it was murder.  It’s a lot different.

But there are some similarities to Kenny’s reality is all I’m saying… that the present moment may not have any structure in consciousness.  It certainly doesn’t have a narrative structure: past, present and future.  So, like Kenny, we live in infinity even if we die.  Even if we’re born again (like Kenny) or rise from the dead (like Jesus.)

We live in infinity, this unstructured timeless present/presence, unlike Kenny.  He’s just a comic character, but he makes this much clear which is only one reason why I love him.

[Check out this tribute video:

Kenny as Mysterion – https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=kenny+as+mysterion#action=view&id=10&vid=d40574aa318156c9a4132847f2d9f1bb

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=kenny+as+mysterion#action=view&id=10&vid=d40574aa318156c9a4132847f2d9f1bb

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