The Hipsters are Right: Time is a Vinyl Record

“You don’t think this world is any less real than the one you left, do you? Everything that ever happened to you is real, even your dreams. Them, most of all. There are many worlds, many cities, and all of them are just shock-waves spreading out from one single moment of clarity and understanding. Ripples.”
-Grant Morrison, The Invisibles

We’re all busy people, right? Never enough time in the day – or night, as the case may be. We’ve got a lot to do, a lot of places to be at a lot of specific times, people counting on us, people issuing instructions and assignments, so many things to remember to take care of so everything doesn’t just fall completely apart. Then the years start to add up and everything just accumulates. The bar is set way too high.

There’s no shame in admitting that.

Under the circumstances, however, how can we be reasonably expected to keep “reality” straight? I’m serious. Certainly most people believe themselves to have a firm grasp on the real world, but what’s that based on? You don’t really know. You could be wrong. You don’t really know if what I think is red, you think is green – not any more than I do. We all just more or less agree on a certain base level of fact we assume to be true, enough to get by, to function, and we think of that as good enough – mostly because we have to. But it’s all constructed out of rather flimsy material when it comes down to it.

Under the circumstances, how can we be reasonably expected to keep “reality” straight? I’m serious.

Usually, so long as salvia is not involved, it’s not actually the pillars and beams holding our world together that crumble. But let me ask you this: Ever been driving along by yourself in the car, you’re on a long enough ride that you’re a bit zoned out, and your mind is just going off? I mean, I hope so – don’t tell me I’m the only one. So you’re lost a little bit inside your head, running through things that have happened and things that might happen, people you’re likely to see and talk to, and sometimes your mind will just kind of run those actual scenarios and conversations out. Know what I mean? A mix between conversations from a past that didn’t exactly happen and conversations from the future that seem just slightly impossible – but when those two elements meet, the fusion forms a kind of hyper-present, the imaginary interaction speaking to some very real conditions in the waking present.

It’s significant stuff. I mean, that’s why your brain is doing this. So you’re having this little dialogue between yourself and someone else, another real person, as though they were sitting in the car with you. And what they’re saying is real, it’s them. You feel that person in your present, see them in your mind’s eye, and why shouldn’t you?

Don’t pretend you don’t know. You know.

But after a little while you came to realize that’s not the case. You’re having a pressing, present-day conversation with someone who’s an active and present part of your life – and then you suddenly remember that this is a comrade or lover who hasn’t passed through your field of vision in nearly a decade, with whom you haven’t spoken or heard from in years. They’re not here. They’re not in the car with you, they’re not in your life with you. Not in this reality…even though they just seemed so present but a moment ago.

Don’t pretend you don’t know. You know. If it wasn’t a conversation, it was when you were casually sure you “saw” somebody who actually and wholly belongs to another era of your life, hasn’t come within a thousand miles of your current one, and is not at all likely to ever do so. It wasn’t just a silly mistake. Did it feel like one? And if absolutely nothing else, even if you’ve never run into this kind of thing while you’re awake, it’s happened in your dreams. It didn’t feel like a regular dream then, either. Am I right? It felt real. It felt like they were there.

But they’re not here, not in any way you or I can prove. Those people are gone. We’re pretty sure they are, anyway. These are some of the things we don’t really need to question or doubt all that much. It’s kinda self-evident.

Right?

In some ways, the scariest notion of all – if you’ll indulge me a moment – is  that it’s in those brief flickers and flashes that the perception generated in your brain is more accurate than those truths we take for granted. If we may not consider this the most likely option, we ought probably to treat it as a serious concern. At the very least, this is calling Time and Place into question. That’s no joke. We count on our memory to be chronological, but what if it’s not?

Surprise! That’s exactly what I’m getting at. And now I sucked you in and got you too invested and you can’t just quit. You bought the ticket, now take the ride.

This is what this site is all about.

For a few moments, stop thinking of time as a line moving from left to right, things happening in a certain fixed sequential order one after another, beginning and then middle and then end. Stop doing that. That’s just your brain telling you that – and it has to, that’s its job. You have a biological body that operates according to pretty strict principles of cause and effect. You have to perceive experience in a linear way and the brain makes sure of that – 99% of the time – because otherwise you’ll die. Eventually.

But you won’t die now, not in the next few minutes, so just try to turn that drive off for a bit, if you can.

When you put a needle in the groove when the record is spinning, you can hear the music, start to finish, song after song. The needle will begin at the outermost groove and follow the path slowly inward until reaching the end, the side complete.That’s time. We ride it with the needle, hearing not just one song after another, but only a single beat and note at a time. We only experience that portion of the record that is currently connected with the needle and producing sound, and as a consequence we believe this to be all there is. Can you see now how this is false, or at least incomplete? The record, the whole record, is always there.

Ever since we learned to talk, way back in the day, we’ve done all our thinking with words, and there sometimes just aren’t any sufficient words for the kinds of things you see when the mental safety measures are temporarily switched off. Sometimes, however, we get lucky. We get an illustrative image, some object or phenomenon from our regular normal, that isn’t the thing itself but functions as a very close symbolic representative.

So think of a record album. I know, retro, right? Let’s talk about what it is. You can hold it in your hand. It’s shaped like a circle, and when you put it on a record player and turn the player on, the record will spin. The record is covered in tiny grooves that begin at its outer rim and slowly progress inward toward the center. That’s where the music is, in those grooves. When you put a needle in the groove when the record is spinning, you can hear the music, start to finish, song after song. The needle will begin at the outermost groove and follow the path slowly inward until reaching the end, the side complete.

That’s time. We ride it with the needle, hearing not just one song after another, but only a single beat and note at a time. We only experience that portion of the record that is currently connected with the needle and producing sound, and as a consequence we believe this to be all there is. Can you see now how this is false, or at least incomplete? The record, the whole record, is always there. The record exists entirely independent of the needle, and just as the needle is constantly changing positions, the record continuously spins in the same spot regardless. Only a tiny fraction of the music is playing at a given moment, but all of the music is always there. It’s in the record.

So when your brain, one way or another, interrupts the song you’re listening to by acknowledging a different groove that exists a bit to the right or a bit to the left or maybe even on the flip side, it’s hardly lying to you. Your experience, for but a moment, is not fully going “forward,” or what we would normally call forward. I’ve invented a term for this: Chronologically Independent Memory (CIM). It doesn’t have to be wrong, just different – and you should know by now there’s a lot of things in life like that.

So, of course, we wonder if any of this could possibly be real. What it boils down to, however, is that that’s not really the most useful question. The conflict here isn’t between the real and the fake, the deluded and the objective, the true and the false, but instead between competing mechanisms for experiencing what we know of as time. The difference is one of perspective, not of fact.

Realizing and contemplating this is not just a mental exercise with no practical application. It’s not a bunch of hot whimsy – or, at least, not just a bunch of hot whimsy. This is where I’m going to leave it, though, for now. I’ve got to leave something to the imagination, don’t I, if I want to keep you coming back for more? So don’t try to wrap yourself all the way around this today. Instead, tuck it away. Let it bubble and fester back there in the recesses. You may well find yourself returning to it. Now that it’s caught your attention, you may even see and experience it as you go about your business, likely in the most unexpected of places.

Don’t spend any time worrying about it. There’s nothing to worry about, and you’ve got enough to do. We all do. And the truth of the matter is, even if you don’t return to it, I certainly will.

With love, your wizard. Salaam.

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