We are now approaching the dying twitches of the year. Towards the end of December, the tenth and last month of the old Julian calendar, Western cultures indulge in a savagely sensual festival of light and extravagance.
Pagan Gods re-emerge in the form of Christmas trees, mistletoe and holly, and a strange bearded man in red. The turning of the year is greeted with lights and bells.
We are all children again, reborn for a week.
Now I can wear metaphorical black, don a silly and floppy red hat with a bell on it, sit in my equally metaphorical rocking chair in the corner by the fire, and reminisce. It is the season for taking stock of my life before I find myself making the move to end all moves.
It’s hardly surprising that, when it has become in short supply, I should become a little obsessed with Time.
Thomas Metzinger, the contemporary German philosopher of consciousness, believes that the consciousness of Self is a function of the passing of Time. He says that the consciousness of self is a fabrication, created by, and only made possible by, the apparent unity of sensations that are threaded together in the biological organism, as future moment smears into present moment and then smears into past moment.
Only in this way can he begin to answer the fundamental questions he asks in his book The Ego Tunnel:
“Why is there always someone having the experience? Who is the feeler of your feelings and the dreamer of your dreams? Who is the agent doing the doing, and what is the entity thinking your thoughts? Why is your conscious reality your conscious reality?”
At various times in my life I’ve found myself thinking that time was somehow an illusion. In certain heightened states of awareness, such as deep meditation, extreme pain or pleasure, certain drug-induced states, physical fever, and so on, it can seem that the normal rules are suspended, and it becomes possible that clock time, in the sense of hours, minutes and seconds, might be a fiction, might be something that could actually be transcended.
When this has happened, I’ve found myself, like many other people, flirting with the concept of an immortal soul. It is a Siren thought.
But, so far, at least, time has always re-established itself, and, unfortunately, has always managed to catch up with the clock.
As I grow old, grow old, but do not, as yet, wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, I am being forced to accept the absolute reality of what the physicists call “the arrow of Time”. I am also being forced to accept that it is travelling pretty damn fast, at something like 186,000 miles per second, in fact.
It’s like looking out of the window of a fast train, speeding through lovely countryside. Sometimes I see a man in a field, and wonder what he’s up to. By the time I can have the thought, he’s gone, and it doesn’t matter how much I crane my neck.
When I was born, and during those first years, I don’t think I had this sensation. I didn’t know about Time, so I wasn’t waiting around for the future, and what passed for the past then disappeared very very quickly.
This is very possibly why I don’t remember any of it. In an experiential way, I didn’t exist. It’s only when I began to learn to connect the future with the past through the window of my constantly moving present that I began to exist and began to construct a me from all those pasts.
In this sense, we are just illusions of Time. This is why we have to die. If we were immortal we would cease to exist.
Here I am. Now. At this table, under this table lamp, squinting at this keyboard, as it, and I, hurtle forwards at the speed of light, towards a tunnel that I know is there, but cannot foretell.
No preparation can be adequate.