This motion is what we call entropy, the movement of any system, in this case the universe, from order to disorder.…”
by jim stewart
Here in this twenty-first century, we have grown accustomed to discussing our real lives as separate from our virtual lives. We pretend they are separate, anyway. In one form or another don’t we all live our lives pretending? Sometimes we pretend we are fulfilled, happily engaged, cosmically connected humans living lives steeped in a mindfulness framed by meaning and depth. When over-stressed, perhaps by our stubborn inability to accomplish what we perceive as a simple task, we sometimes pretend to be spawns of the devil with no socially redeeming character or significance, which handily excuses much bad behavior. This, all too often, allows us to pretend that we are cut off from the rest of the human race and will die emotionally impoverished in some social media gutter. My favorite personal foible is pretending I’m not pretending, especially when I’m discussing the craft of literature with someone who thinks I know something.
History is abundant with examples of human imagination, the harbinger of pretending. Some of those old Greeks thought life was all preordained, the gods using us as puppets for their own amusement—playing with fleshy dolls in their heavenly mountain refuge. See? Even gods could pretend. Then they got lazy and gave us something called free will, which must have been vastly more entertaining while they watched us and drank their holy grog, similar, maybe, to us watching daytime TV. We were probably at least that exciting.
Of course the vehicle for pretending is imagination. We imagine who we’d like to be and pretend that’s who we are. I wonder if free will is simply picking the character we want to pretend to be. If we pretend long enough and fiercely enough, do we actually become who we’re pretending to be? Did those Greeks become the people they imagined their gods were imagining them to be?
This begs a few questions: So, what is real life? Is it the same question as who are we? What does that mean? Does it mean anything? How do we go about answering these questions? We are born with these questions already inside us, which led to the invention of Philosophy, that shirt-tail cousin of Logic. And if we maintain a positive outlook, it may be that we can pretend to come up with understandable answers until we actually do.
Maybe real life is what we experience when we are what we call in the moment, via some sort of mindful activity, such as yoga or a meditation discipline or locked into a book or rapt upon a performance or solving a complex thought problem, and everything else is when we pretend to be what we want to be. We call these moments we embrace the now. This implies other states, like maybe the then. In a condolences letter to the family of Michele Besso, his closest friend and collaborator, Albert Einstein wrote: “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” In effect, you could say he was involved in solving a magical problem, if you think of magic as clever illusion.
The now, then, is an endless series of moments, like snapshots, that make up what we call the flow of time so that our minds can parse our existence. Does who we’re pretending to be change at all in each of those pieces of now? Maybe. Who we are pretending to be in any given now might be different in another now, in either what we call the past or the future. According to physics, all moments of now exist in spacetime, the four-dimensional construct we’ve created to help us understand the universe. Spacetime is the illusion we create of time plus motion, our motion through space. This motion is what we call entropy, the movement of any system, in this case the universe, from order to disorder. Any motion perceived in any now is relative to the motion perceived in any other now. Hence, the notion of relativity, something about which Albert had a lot to say.
Conferring meaning to our perception of now is, first, pretending that there is meaning, and second, that we understand whatever meaning we’ve imagined. Yoga practitioners focus on each breath to define a now, as do other meditations. The physiological transformations we experience during a yoga session become a reality, a now, that is disconnected from our intellect, a now without pretending. Our breaths become deep and even, our blood pressure drops, our muscles relax, and the incessant chatter of our mind calms and grows silent. Each breath becomes a now. We suspend analysis and with that, pretending. If you think of spacetime as a summer sausage, each breath, each now, becomes a slice of that sausage, but the whole sausage is present, past, and future, all part of the same reality, the same spacetime.
Perhaps writing is a better example than a summer sausage. After all, it can be of good taste and delightfully spicy. As we write, via keyboard or in longhand, we are capturing a thought as it happens and creating a sentence. In spacetime, there is the sentence we are writing, the sentence we just wrote, and the next sentence, all happening at, pretty much, the same time, depending on how the motion of it is perceived. If we are enraptured in our effort, we are in a now with a past, a present, and a future all accounted for, as we ride our cosmic horse, called entropy, across the universe.
Is it useful to contemplate how all moments of now exist in our personal spacetime? I like to pretend it is so. Like enjoying literature, accepting the individual infinite slices of now is an intrinsic suspension of our disbelief. Each moment of real life is part of a continuum bound only by our imaginations and who we pretend to be. As it turns out, that is who we really are in each moment. Just because something feels like magic doesn’t mean it’s not bound by the physical laws of the universe. Contemporary magic is clever illusion, something Dr. Einstein acknowledged and spent most of his life trying to explain.
Jim Stewart was born in Chicago, lived in upstate New York (Buffalo), the North Shore of Massachusetts (Topsfield), Dana Point, Calif., and finally grew up in Oregon. He lives in Gearhart, writing stories about everywhere else.