Why don’t we feel all the quantum weirdness? If our sense of time is largely a cognitive illusion, then where does the illusion come from?
According to David Eagleman, it’s all about memory, not perception. “Normally, our memories are like sieves,” he says. “We’re not writing down most of what’s passing through our system.” Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it’s writing down everything — every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.
This is a deeply Proustian idea. It turns out that our sense of time is deeply entangled with memory, and that when we remember more – when we are sensitive to every madeleine and sip of limeflower tea – we can stretch time out, like a blanket.
Each Man's Destiny is as Large as the World He Inhabits and Contains Within it All Opposites as Well*
In the past month I have dreamed of earthquakes, floods, insanity, and speaking to the dead on sunny days through the static on a television screen. Dreams that seem to reach a fever pitch of…something. I feel as though these are the dreams that have been caught in the throat of my subconscious for years, struggling to articulate themselves. They erupt with such intensity, too vivid, the emotions backward or palindrome, turned inside out.
The dreams have strange and foreign emotions that I instantly recognize with the sort of helpless and uneasy dread that accompanies a bout of deja vu, a primitive recognition of something both outside and of myself. Ancient emotions that are larger than the sum of my life. The precision of such emotions in dreams never ceases to astound me. In waking life they seem to be clumsy and heavy-lidded, while in dreams they are the half-notes, the c-sharp and d-minor. They are clean, glinting past sinew to the bone of the matter. Subgenres of anxiety, sorrow, elation—the short story versions, concise and sharp. The hissing static intake of breath after the first clean note of pain. I feel like my dreams of late are building to a strange yet elegant crescendo—an alignment of heart, bone, and thought that passes through the penumbral shadow of dreams only once in a great, great while.
(from a journal, 2007)
All the life-potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those other portions of ourself, are there [in dreams]; for such golden seeds do not die. We carry it within ourselves forever. If only a portion of that lost totality could be dredged up into the light of day, we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life.
-Joseph Campbell, from The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Books are objects defined by how much time it takes to craft them — and to consume them. They cannot be taken in at a glance. They are the distillation of many moments and states of consciousness for writer and reader alike. They slow us down and hold us steady. Books are technologies, too, and if we look at them that way, we should be amazed at how “sticky” they are, despite their lack of social media integration and bulkiness. As things, they have endured for hundreds of years while the rest of our technological society changed around them. We measure technologies by the maxim, “Does it work?” Books have worked. The slowness of books, the habits of mind they build, Shteyngart suggests, may be a key to knowing what it’s like to be inside oneself, not part of the crowd or the audience or Twitterverse.
A Primer on Successful Workplace Flirtation in Two Acts
Barge into office, demanding those post-it note-like things used to highlight/mark a place in a book.
Co-worker:Procures a pocket-sized hardbound book from his pocket FULL OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF POST-ITS.
Me: What! This is incredible! I would sew a pocket onto all my clothes just to carry this around! Genius!
Co-worker: Or you could wrap it into a bandanna and wear it around your neck!
[Stare at each other in suspicious recognition]
Co-worker: Well, we only have one. Let’s share.
[Returns it to his desk later, with a post-it note attached that reads: “Thanks! (you see what I did there)”]
A Week Later: Walk into office
Co-worker: [immediately holds up post-it book with week-old post-it note still attached]. I love this note so much. I’ve just been keeping it here, on my desk, where I can see it because it’s so great.
“Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air — moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh — felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing.”—Tom Robbins, from Jitterbug Perfume
“Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides… I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”—Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (via linusbey)