Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Welcome to 2013- aka "Now"

2013!  Wow... it's here already?  Seems like just a short while ago I wrote this essay on resolutions... but it wasn't really a short while- it was four years!  Seems like a good day to reflect on time's passage-- what do you say?  Okay, then!

Since time seems to be moving so quickly (it really is not, you know), we should keep our eyes open for hazards.  The first hazard is the only one that fundamentally matters: we have to get to a point where we are not running a race with time (and entropy), because we cannot win it.  

In my never-ending search for "the answer," I tend to think out loud a lot.  So... the rest of this essay will be a collection of my somewhat rambling thoughts on time and "now."  If you choose to stay, I'd appreciate any input you may have.  If you choose to exit early, then I offer my best advice, which is to embrace "now" and find God.  I wish I could give you the definitive way to do that... but I'm still working on it. 

~~  It's not that "today is the first day of the rest of my life," but that now is all there is of my life.
  --Hugh Prather  ~~ 

We should start by framing the issue.  Here is a brief flash of thought that quite suddenly assaulted my mind a few years ago and caused me to run home and write it down: 

   We're all the same age-- the age of Now.  All we really have is this moment... any of us.  To dig too deeply for the past or to reach too far for the future is pointless... or something... because it is a betrayal to Now.

   I have always thought entropy was the answer, but I did not know exactly what I meant by that.  Well, entropy is the answer... sort of.  It is the answer because it does not matter.  Time does not matter.  Outside time, there is no past and no future-- there is only Now.  Inside time, the same holds true for our immortal souls, but it does not seem so to us.

  Learning to live in Now is the hardest thing that any human can ever strive for, in my opinion.  Because we are so aware of time and so aware of entropy, we find ourselves slaves to those insidiously ubiquitous masters.  Breaking off the chains is very, very difficult.  Our very humanity fights against us doing so.  Our physical essence is tied by the tightest of tethers to them.  Only our soul is free of them... but our soul does not always know this because we have weighed it down so with earthly things.

  Now is happening everywhere to everyone.  We are all in it.  We are all the same age because we are all in Now together for this very moment.  Once this very moment is gone, we are together again the the Now of the next moment.  Moving between them smoothly is the trick... a trick that can only be accomplished by learning to smile pleasantly but distantly at the past while casting a curious gaze to the future without losing our balance on the beam of the Now.

  Why does this matter?  It matters because we are failing ourselves and we are failing our God by ignoring the truth.  We do not have ANYTHING except for this moment.  Now.  To think otherwise is to betray our very soul.  To think otherwise is to take for granted what God has given us.  He has given us Now and He has told us to live in it.

  As simple as that sounds, it is the most complex thing I have ever encountered.

  The vanity of science will have us chasing the minutia, to satisfy our earthly curiosities, at the expense of the truth.  Science is only important when it is framed properly in the picture window of the ultimate and fundamental reality.  Only a real spirit of philosophy and truth seeking can bring us to where we need to be.  And where we need to be is Now

First, I suppose, should come a brief discussion on entropy (I highly encourage independent study on this- it is endlessly fascinating).  When things are left alone, they tend to move spontaneously to more and more dis-ordered states.  This is a part of entropy.  The second law of Thermodynamics holds that the total entropy in the universe is constantly increasing. An entropy increase, therefore, means a decrease in ‘available energy.'  Further, entropy law states that all energy, in an isolated system, moves from an ordered to a disordered state, and therefore, entropy is an expression of disorder or randomness.  This applies to more than mere matter.

Greeks, Hindus, Romans, Christians and on and on, all believed in a deteriorating universe.  It is as though such a concept is hard-wired into us.  The Greeks believed that the evolution of man was from a state of perfection to an eventual state of moral degeneration- rather than the opposite (sound familiar, Christians?).  The Romans also originally held that it was all a process of continual degradation; thus their belief that "time depreciates the value of the world."

~~ "The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature.”  --Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)  ~~

~~  “The tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics — perhaps the most pessimistic and amoral formulation in all human thought.”   --Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley, Principia Discordia (1965)   ~~

We could go on and on with entropy, but we shall suffice to say that it shows that the time stream is finite... which means that anything and everything subject to time is finite and transitory.  If, then, we put our stock in things physical and transitory, we are doomed to have it all come crashing down and end horribly and finally.  Better by a million miles is to seek that which does not submit to the yoke of entropy, but instead endures eternally.

Which moves us to the questions at hand: mainly what is "now" and how do we get and stay in it?  Is the present moment absolutely distinct from the past and future or is it simply an emergent property of consciousness?   Albert Einstein phrased this as: "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

So… science cannot define what “now” is—and, indeed, does not necessarily even agree that there is such a thing as “the present.” One reason for this may be that the concept is very difficult to prove—and we know how science hates that. Is “now” a "spatial structure with a zero-length time lapse" that is somehow discernible as that which separates past from future?

  ~~  I believe that only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present.  --Margaret Storm Jameson  ~~
I say that there is good and defensible reason to assert that “now” is all there ever is; however, the real "now" is only attainable outside of time. I see God (and our souls) standing outside this time flow, seeing all at once everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. That is the crux of it: to us caught (mostly) in time, it seems to be movement—past distinct from present distinct from future—but from the outside, it is really just one happening.

Saint Thomas Aquinas gives, as usual, a fantastic visual-- that of a watchman, representing God, looking down on a valley to a road where past present and future, represented by individuals and actions strung out along its length, are all visible simultaneously to the watchman.

Another mental giant, Saint Augustine, wrote that time exists only within the created universe, so that God exists outside time; for God there is no past or future, but only an eternal present. 

We seem to get this on some basic level- even if we cannot always fully and clearly articulate it.  I am heartened greatly by the thought that God's work is not only visible to us in the physical world, but also in our heart of hearts.  

~~  "He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put eternity into their hearts, without men's ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.”  --Ecclesiastes 3:11  ~~

Since we're already trending to the notion that philosophy, science, and religion are all tracking simultaneously on this issue, let's bring in some more big guns.  Understanding Plato's ideas of "forms" is a fun and important exercise that will lead you to many other threads to pull on.  Briefly, a form is a concept-object ("justice" or "yellow" or "round") that is timeless and immutable that exists in the transcendent world.  The fact that forms are familiar to us is proof to Plato (and many others) of the eternal nature of our soul.  We can occasionally apprehend forms, e.g., when we see something beautifully special like an expression on a child's face or some other "special something" that is an emanation of something eternal.  

I think that perhaps this momentary apprehension of a form is a glimpse of the real "now."  If so, then the trick will be to make it last—or, more accurately, find the ability to continue seeing the form… then, we will be in the "now."  It is  not inconceivable to think that—just as God does—the forms reside in the "now.In fact… I am certain of it.  

 ~~  He who lives in the present lives in eternity.  --Ludwig Wittgenstein  ~~

How, then, to acquire the ability to pull the forms fully into our cognitive scope?  While the answer continues to escape the best of us, a part of it surely lies in learning to recognize the forms.  This is what Socrates and Plato were teaching us: train your mind to look for the perfect so that you can understand it and its nature.  So we must work to keep our thoughts focused on that which is beyond our physical selves.  This is not new advice.  Wildly divergent sources have been saying as much for all of human history.  Consider a passage from the Bible—Romans, chapter 8: verses 9-13:
  "But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

Saint Paul is telling us that the human self should not be enslaved by its physical shell… that the controller of the machine is not the machine itself, but rather the flickering essence inside that is our spirit—or soul, if you prefer.

Now consider some advice from Aristotle: 

"We must not listen to those who advise us 'being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts,' but must put on immortality as much as is possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which is small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honor surpasses all else." 

In the end, we are stuck in the physical world only if we do not work to transcend it.  Mortal senses think of “now” and then realize that what they thought was “now” is already gone and they are in a brand new "now."  the truth is that the eternal soul (and God/Angels/etc.) truly lives in the ultimate and fundamental “now.”  The “now” that lasts.  That is why it is so important to train ourselves to live in the right way as much as possible.  

We must remember that the physical universe is only our jail cell if we allow it to be.  Entropy is a fiend that helps make our “now” turn into the past… and makes us turn our thoughts to a future “now,” only to watch it speed past us, as well (if it ever arrives). 

~~  We steal if we touch tomorrow. It is God's.  --Henry Ward Beecher  ~~ 

We have within us the tools and equipment necessary to make it out of this world alive, as it were.  Surrendering to our mortality is so easy to do, and so very bad for our soul.  Seeking God and working every day to be in the real "now" is so much harder, but infinitely (and eternally) better for us. To me, this process starts and ends with God.  We have to seek Him and be ready for what He tells us to do in the quiet halls of our own conscience.  The good news is that the road-map and instruction book has been published and the way is laid out for us, if we will only follow it. 

~~  "Be of good cheer about death, and know this truth; that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death." --Socrates  ~~

~~  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  --Philippians, 4:6-7  ~~

~~  Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.  --Isaiah, 41:10  ~~
~~  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  --Matthew 6:33-34  ~~

Simple enough, eh?

Happy New Year to all!  Now, let's get on with our "now!"


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