Thoughts, Reflections and Stories.

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Massoud Abbasi

An Incomplete Arc of Time and Technology

            If it were easy to see through, we’d all be happy, miserable or just neutral. An old man once said this whilst in conversation about life. There is a prevailing sense that time produces wisdom amongst us, and there is a pre-conception that wisdom in fact exists. It is the most human of binaries: Wisdom and its direct relationship with time. In fact what is time, temporality, what does it impart on the individual from a relative and an absolute perspective? Is time fungible? Does it produce anything at all? Is it merely a measure? A co-ordinated system of timekeeping, of the days tasks, the weeks, the months, the years? Ah, time, were it not for thee, where would we be.

            We are nostalgic creatures, we humans. It is inherent in our psyches and necessary to our being; at least insofar as our modern day incarnation is concerned. How could it not be so? We have memory and we have the ability to relive life many times over, an incident intricately within our mind from many a days, months or years ago, and with this power we employ ourselves in a most daring and circuitous undertaking, re-visiting the past, re-calibrating it, renewing it to its former misery or glory, depending on what exactly it is we are recalling. Time, that master magician of the human realm, its purpose is underserved by its conceptual import. Nowadays we are so advanced a species that we, specifically Physicists, are actually seeking a time particle, the so called ‘Tachyon’. Remarkable, just yesterday it seemed that we needed miracles to cross distances that today could be traversed in hours and now we are actually positing particulars and compositional structures for those things such as ‘time’ that for so long in human history seemed the purview of God and the infinite, and further back, not even thought about or considered truly. Yes, we are nostalgic creatures. How could we not be? Who would want to give up the past? If it was beautiful, we yearn for its re-occurrence. If it was horrible, our conscious wants to repress it but our egoistic structures seduce our subconscious and it merely shows itself as a shadow in different cloaks. Better to confront the past, be it good or bad, lest we confront the inner recesses of our minds by its neglect. Time. Nostalgia. Past. Future. And in all of this, the absolute manifest truth is that we miss what matters most so frequently: the ‘present’.

            In the grand scheme of things, in the time spectrum of the human species, not long ago we were mere Neanderthals. Primitive life forms, as yet undistinguished from our modern day form, our present supremacy as ‘kings of the jungle’. Were those simpler times more sublime? Who could say, but at the very least, we knew of ourselves as a surety in the greater picture. We simply were. The day’s work involved hunting, gathering, perhaps lighting a fire, perhaps breaking a bone to extract its marrow. These were simpler times. Was the sundial available to us then? Unlikely, and hence we lived by the rise and decline of the noble sun, and our lot was relegated to this corner of the landscape, or that nook, this crevice or that cave. We were simpler creatures. This was a simpler world. I wonder if man knew then or had any idea what was to come hither in the not so distant future. Did he have a taste of today when he glanced deep on the horizon, in the rare quiet repose borne of stillness when one is sated and has fulfilled for a short while bodily duties, that one day the distance would be permeated with his powerful glance and awesome, heavenly structures? Did he taste the cherry blossoms that were blooming in a far away land in Japan whose majesty would one day be revealed in pictures that would don a thousand living rooms and yield a multitude of emotions through their multiplication via the arts? I wonder if those same eyes that sought out the prey it would hunt also stared at the sky and prophesied what dreams were to follow in due course for this great beast of the land. I wonder, when did man become aware that he was ‘Man’? When did he fall from grace? When did he gain perspective of this and perhaps thereby lose all else? Who is to say. Even today, these things remain a mystery that no science could solve.

            Today, nary a thought is given to those times, those tribulations of our species. Do we after all tarry for our meal or shelter as we once did? Not quite, and so with that loss of dexterity born of necessity we also lose our sense of self. We become engrossed in what we are, not what we were, and what we were seems so remote to us that were we confronted with it today, given a glimpse, we would gnash our teeth at it, likely, cling fast to our comforts and modern albatrosses, and say no, no, thrice no. That is not me, I am more, I am ‘Man’! Indeed, you are, I am, we are. We have become human and with this evolutionary development and consciousness grounded in hard reality, we have lost touch with our innermost self. It is not a question of necessity or perception. It is as it must be, it is said. The parable here is not one of regression back to our primitive state, for that is not the thrust of our species, and should not be. It is however merely about aiming at an extrapolation of a deeply human tendency, nostalgia, and its extension to a realm far beyond the one we seem to reach today, the future. It is ironic that modern technology has yet to rival the complexity and nuance of the human mind, the human brain, yet its reach is seemingly more infinite and expansive than ours. We have lost our sense of nostalgia on a grand level. Imagine, for one minute, that you could recall, through the assimilated and accumulated lineage of our species, our earliest ancestors. What would you see, feel, hear, think? Go back, even a few millennia, before this all began this great machine of ‘civilization’. Can you imagine it? Try, and try again. What would it be like? It was recalled by one of Socrates’ followers that during his days, not all that long ago, in so called birthplace of western thought, ancient Greece, that a man was put to death because he was reputed to have lied about a dream. Yes, such is our family of species, just a couple of thousands of years ago. So much, yet so little. Go back further however, go back to a simpler time, what do you see….

            The landscape could have been any depending on where you were. Whether barren or lush. Whether light hued or rich in colour as though one was in the Amazon, full of splendour and danger. The hum of today’s world would be replaced by the sweet permeating sounds of life itself. The riff created by the wind in the trees, or the silent whisper of the sand as it shifts and creates new dunes. The abundance of noise made by an abundance of animals, all at life, not worried by this haste or that, merely ‘being’. Perhaps unspoiled bodies of water would create lucid dreams by virtue of the ripples of movement with each tremor of the Earth, untouched by human hands as of yet. Rocks were not yet displaced, and everything retained an almost original design, an original sin. Can you imagine such a time? Where would we be today if that first man had not rolled two sticks against one another and created a light smoke that turned into a livid fire? What would we be if that first man had not found a circular object which moved of its own accord when nudged by virtue of its design? Is it inevitable that this time passed us and its many reverberations through the trials and errors of generations has lead us to this place that we today call home? One would have to presume as much, for we are here, aren’t we. We’ve arrived. And where to next? What mechanistic designs are we busy constructing today so hurriedly, and to what end? What is more beautiful than anticipation? What is more sublime than realization? What is more dangerous than the unknown?

            We have gained the world and all in it that we enjoy, yet we do not call heed upon one another, for we have also lost much. Solace is not of our domain these days. How could it be? Peace is not generally a prevalent force; one merely needs to look around to recognize that. Even silence has to be purchased, far away from the forms of modern life that at every opportunity seize upon the chance to implant individuals with the soil of modernity. Where have we arrived? Whither are we going? This is a crucial question that not a sufficient number of our kind are asking today.

            Martin Heidegger, one of the most renown and remarkable minds of the 20th century, that most Teutonic of German philosophers, once spoke, precociously, of this coming in his work “The Question Concerning Technology”. “Was ist techne?” What is technology? He posed this question many, many years before the full breadth and depth of modern technological prowess was even possible or perceivable, yet he defined it clearly. It is that which extends man, which gives him new hands and feet, new eyes, new ears. It is that which allows him to reach beyond himself, before himself, past, himself. Is this not precisely what modern life has given us, the ability to extend past our immediate and inherent capacities? Has magic not been made to happen? Where before a letter would take weeks to reach another’s hands, if at all, now many devices can send that same message instantly across the globe. Where before most eyes would never countenance foreign lands, now those same devices can transport us almost anywhere, and give us at least a glimpse of the landscape. Is this not a manifold miracle of its own? We forget, once again, in our myopia and narrow mindedness, our nostalgia, that just one hundred years ago, much of what we take today as given was at most a dream in the minds of a few great people. Our nostalgia is now relegated to mere series, series that repeat the same circumference but seldom escape the whole and jump outside of the boundaries of the totality of human history. Perhaps this is asking for too much, but then again, what is at stake is of great importance here. We are talking about the future of mankind. What is our destiny after all, where shall we end up? Where are we headed? What is the significance of all of this? It all goes back to Time. That most ubiquitous and eternal, yet eternally misunderstood of concepts. After all, just think to yourself, how often in your life have you been asked or have asked another, “what time is it?”. Behold our greatest creation yet.

            In the mechanized world in which we are embedded today, the deluge of information and contraptions at our disposal would not mean anything were it not for this concept. Try as they might, those beautiful, frizzle haired curators of the universe’s fundamental construct, these physicists’ attempt to trace time into its atomic form, ‘Tachyons’, they shall likely always fail, for we are too beautiful and too profound a species to be bound by them, and we are only bound by them to a certain degree because our beauty has been suspended and we are intoxicated with what this suspension has lead us to. Nothing would work, were it not for time. No organization would function, no government would carry on its affair, the millions and multitudes of daily interactions whose occurrence depend on this construct would fall prey to dissolution and chaos were tick-tocks of varied sorts not all aligned, in their ticking. Dare I say we might become bored and unable to keep ourselves amused with our veritably filled schedules of tasks, chores, duties, subjugations of the body and mind. That would indeed be a tragedy. No, nothing would work today, and what we give thanks for, and there are many things, we owe fundamentally to the advent of technology and its cousin, Time. Ungrateful we are not for it. We have traversed landscapes yet unseen, done things yet not done, witnessed magic before us not yet conceived, but we do so at a heavy cost. We do so at the expense of Presence, of Being, of essential existence, of essence of existing. We forego much to gain these things. It would be a question left to the greatest of minds to dictate and decide upon, but, as a species, for all of this, are we the better, the happier, the greater, and the more satisfied? Was ist techne? What is time? What are we now, we super humans, we excelsior’s of the supersonic realm, we techno bots of planet earth? Martin Rees, the great British Astrophysicist, was once asked: “Sir, what do you think are our chances of survival as a species in the next 50 years?” His reply was “50/50”. Is that evolution, or regression? Old Martin Heidegger was on the right line of thought when he asked, what is technology, but perhaps he forgets its appropriate ending: what is the end result of technology?

            If technology and its cousin time have been able to bestow us with one patently valuable thing hitherto, that is the compression of time and space in such a fashion such as has created a convergence of minds, and thereby ideas and innovations. Who would argue that much of what we have today is a result of what someone had before and that its passing down, now done so incredibly fast and efficiently, yields us an undeniable advantage in creating the most superlative of philosophical notions dreamt by the mastermind Hegel, the ‘Absolute Mind’. Philosophy as a whole can arguably be said to be largely an approximation towards eternal truths, first principles, and infallible facts of life. If such things do indeed exist at all. Hegel believed in something of loftier importance and import for his rarefied field. Philosophy for him, insofar as the Western Tradition was concerned, was a constant process and sequential development towards the unification of human consciousness, or global mind. With the evolution of man, the progression of time, the revolutions of thought and systems that built upon one another, in fact, destroyed each other for the construction of others, more advanced ones, and this was the end goal of the whole enterprise. That man would one day reach this truth it so stridently has sought from the first and bring together the hitherto disparate elements of its own understanding towards a great unification, a great understanding, a monumental realization, that there is but one Consciousness and that this is our goal as a species. The antiquated field of philosophy is perhaps the only one who could conjure such marvelous thoughts and conjectures, but in fact, Hegel was not far off the mark if one were to evaluate today’s state of affairs. Are we not witnessing, not least because of the ability of technology to coalesce minds through many mediums, a global undercurrent of mental unity and convergence of notions and sentiments? Does not a movement not now foist itself upon the Jungian idea of the Collective Unconscious? Is this not evident everywhere, in the upheavals of whole nations and outbursts of emotions between classes, between masters and slaves, between men of all stripes, who now for once in human history see a particular and poignant kinship amongst one another? What if the endpoints and objectives of our construct of time and creation of technology were in fact the destruction and dissolution of the Unconscious to make way for the Conscious? As the moth is drawn to the light which often leads it to its death, perhaps our forms of light draws us near but merely accentuates what is there for us to see, us fine intellects of the jungle, that indeed there is but Oneness present in all things, not Many-ness. That perhaps what we see as individuality is in fact the recessive form of our unified state as beings burdened and blessed with self-consciousness in varying degrees. Such questions can always be posed, but seldom answered, but it begs the question, where for, what for, and where to? If all things have an arch inscribed in the natural laws of our universe, what is that arch for humanity and our present state as it relates to time and technology? Shall science elucidate so much of us to ourself that we become observant observers of ourselves, lost, dazed, in awe, or merely confused and confounded by the perplexing nature of our existence on this planet? Or perhaps it will do the opposite, that which many before have postulated in more esoteric forms and models, that we are indeed a collective and our evolution and progress thus far has been merely to reach this point and this stage. This stage and state where we stand, our faces reflected  in a light brook, whose ripples though subtle make quivers of our faces, leaving us to ponder if those quivers are not symbolic of the many phases we have yet to endure as a species before we realize what we really are, our potential, our destiny. We can ask this now. We cannot however yet answer it.

            We stand at the crux of a historical epoch which will ultimately decide our fate as a species. These questions are more pertinent now than they have ever been. Real dangers lie in wait for us as a species should we not figure certain solutions and understandings in the next century. It is without doubt that Futurism is just around the corner. It is inevitable. A world of ever higher buildings, ever faster machines, exponentially faster computational abilities, dare I say increased powers of God through medicine and the like. Doubtful, however it may be that we will come to know where we end up next with the immensity of the questions before us yet to be answered, problems yet to be solved, and un-consciousness, yet to be made conscious. Time has not yet finished weaving and revealing its tale. Like a kerosene lamp whose light ebbs as its furnace puffs on the fumes from its core, illuminating a room in varying degrees, so too with time and technology, whose finality remains yet undisclosed. This arch was inevitable as it has come to be but it is without a doubt a mystery still in a most existential form. Neither was or is necessary, yet both are, and their effects continue to perpetuate modern forms of life and living. What next though, as this arch moves into a seminal stage and poses us with ultimatums? Whither do we go, we human beings, from here? What of all this? Was Hegel, or his many modern progenitors who speak of an unearthing of nascent collectivism amongst the human family in thought and deed indeed correct? Are we headed towards a great convergence of Mind, a totality of human understanding through these constructs that finally relinquish us of any residual claim to merely animal status and truly elevate us to a noble plot on planet earth, where we actually earn the title of the ‘salt of the earth’, we humans? Certainly that may be needed if we are to survive the plights we face and dilemmas and dangers before us today, though this is hardly a guarantee of the occurrence of the latter. Or perhaps do we become consumed by our creations, by our constructs, by what seemingly today is that which makes life definable, perhaps even worth living? I suppose a collective is only as good as its individual parts, and with that notion, one has then a Sartrean imperative and responsibility before them: Do I or do I not do x or y? What is time? What is technology? What is it to us? What is it for us? Where will it take us? We must begin with that question in the singular and personal. What are these things for you? What are you? Who are you? What of these constructs and their significance to your life? Where are you headed? What do you need? What do you want? They say knowing is half the battle. By extension, so too is asking. 

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Jeff Cohen | Reply 18.06.2013 08.46

Great Piece...

Aiman E. | Reply 11.06.2013 10.38

Great piece. I wonder is technological progress innate, a consequence of our interaction with the world? Thesis, antithesis, synthesis and repeat (infinitely).

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08.12 | 10:21

Good reflexions and philosophy
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25.01 | 13:17

Profound with a lot of philosophical insights. I love the admonition of never abdicating the future. Thanks for sharing.

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06.07 | 17:41

Wow, this is so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. Love & Peace.

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19.03 | 03:49

Amazing to read and thank you for some beautiful insights.

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