I’m writing this, and indeed even when I’m not writing I’m living just beneath the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I see its lights on the hill from where I sit tapping on my keyboard. There people like Einstein, Keppler and Hawkins are revered and their theories modeled. I can catch a bus and be up to the observatory in a half hour. As well as the equipment to observe the moon and galaxies, there are models of these bodies up there. Every high school student who attends a public school in Los Angeles will visit the Griffith Observatory. It is part of their science curriculum, a must-visit-in-order-to-graduate sort of event unless, of course, they are sick on the day of this class trip. Students need to explore what’s out there. I love this, all of it, the existence of the Observatory, all that it contains, but mostly the hiking trails up and around it, the bird sanctuary that is still in ruins from a fire, the path that takes one to the Hollywood sign.
In his extraordinary work, A Brief History of Time, Steven Hawkins explains to ordinary people how two projects in physics have come to disparate and incompatible conclusions that he tried to resolve: “The general theory of relativity describes the force of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe, that is, the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million million million million (1 with twenty-four zeros after it) miles, the size of the observable universe. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with phenomena on extremely small scales, such as a millionth of a millionth of an inch. Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other – they cannot both be correct.” (Hawkins, p.8) He was attempting to bring the two investigations together, because there aren’t two separate universes, that of the very big and very small.
How it relates to this study of time consciousness is something else again; not an investigation of what is but how we experience what is, and even what isn’t, because our imaginary experiences are still experiences. We needn’t go anywhere to explore this; no class trip is required. I’ve been at it all day and haven’t left my apartment, though now when I look up at the lights on the Griffith Observatory I wish I’d made the trip, taken a hike. Even monks need to engage in walking meditations. Our bodies as inseparable from consciousness. We’ll come back to this when we consider media.
However, now all one has to do is look very closely at one’s own experience, bring it to consciousness. The investigations of the very big and very small, and our consciousness of time should be consistent. Otherwise, either the science is wrong or our analysis of our experience is twisted. Given the brilliant minds at work in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, our analysis being twisted is most likely if they do diverge. But perhaps they won’t. We should be anticipating insight, not failure, at the outset.
Mind the gap
When I analyze my own consciousness of time, I recognize that time consciousness is gapped even if there is no consciousness of the gap. 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. The narrative, one thing following another, is not how we experience the present. We can’t even 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.
If this is merely a limitation of our human minds, so be it, but there is this apparent contradiction between the flow of events and the gapped quality of consciousness that we can analyze carefully. It is also true of various media. 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 with no-code. In every sentence there are words and with every word phonemes, and between phonemes… gaps. Silence.