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Horizons

by on February 1, 2017

                                                                                    Horizons                                                                                                                                              by Marco M. Pardi

All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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While teaching Cultural Anthropology I illustrated how culture shapes perception by asking the students to silently regard the classroom and estimate its length. Since several had been raised in other cultures I felt safe in then saying to them: “Some of you examined the length and estimated it in meters while some estimated it in feet or yards. The size of the room never varied, but you quantified and drew markers in different places.”

Although one of several examples I often used, this one became for me a metaphor for the different lives being lived around us.  From childhood I enjoyed listening to the reminiscences of elderly people.  These provided several insights: That was a time before I was born; that was before they had the (fill in technology of your choice here) we have now; that was when the world was a very different place; and, on and on. And beneath the spectrum of examples there lay the principle that despite our objective forms of measurement, the perception of the status quo and any change therein, is subjective. Most basically, we measure time and space subjectively unless using something like an atomic clock and even that is probability not certainty.

Intangibles, like social change, are obviously subjective, often contrary to what “the statistics” tell us.  An example of this is Donald Trump’s claims of an “exploding crime rate” when the statistics show the lowest rate is decades.  Perception won, reality lost.

I found an interesting example of perception in the reactions of people for the first time seeing the reality of Classical Roman homes. The most common reaction was, “The bedrooms are so tiny.” Yes, by modern standards these small, often windowless rooms were quite small.  But that simply reflects the Roman perception of what bedrooms were for: sleeping.  Everyday living, and entertaining, occurred elsewhere in the home.  

Over several decades I’ve lived in a variety of spaces. I never found adjustment to size a problem, probably because I always had the freedom to go out. However, doing the weekly STD screening and treatment at the Intake Center for a large penitentiary system, I got to see some dramatic examples of adjustment.  Within a few feet of the clinic was a holding cell, built to the same specifications as the cells in which inmates would serve their sentences. Once in a while, on my way to the clinic, I would pass an inmate thrashing about in the cell crying, screaming, banging his head into the bars.  A clinician explained, “He’s adjusting. It’s like breakin’ a horse. We let him thrash ’til he settles down. That’s about how he’s goin’ to be livin’ for a long time.”

His movements throughout the small cell seemed to indicate his adjustment to space; but I could only imagine how, with no wristwatch, no clock in sight, and no calendar his adjustment to time developed. As I’ve said elsewhere about people confined for various reasons, the passage of time becomes marked by someone else’s schedule: mealtimes, time to shower, etc. At some point his life would take on the quality of a clock minute hand, crawling around from hour to hour, arriving at important points set for him by an institution, much like the life of a poor animal yoked to a mill wheel and turning in circles all day long. At some point the incessant “What time is it now?” dies away; one can no longer make one’s own decisions based on time. Is there a way to find meaning in that life, or would the attempt be too depressing?

In contrast to depressing, I almost always found the memories of people, especially those quite older than me at the time, to be interesting and even educational. Of particular interest was how and why they established certain events as turning points or milestones.  These fulcrums told me much about the person and spurred me to question if I would have seen a particular event or change in the same way.

Of course, there were some negative examples, horizons which I felt were incorrectly drawn.  I’ve written elsewhere of the man I knew whose grandfather died at 64, whose father died at 64, and who seriously declined as he approached 64. He set himself up for that one, although he lived long past 64.

But going back to earlier times, I remember people who saw high school graduation as their pinnacle educational event, preparing them to enter the workforce.  Later, it was a simple undergraduate degree, in practically anything.  As I listened to many milestones, many horizons over the years: losing virginity, becoming a parent for the first time, first (human) kill, divorce, loss of a child, I realized the list is as large as the number of people filling it.  Each of us has our own milestones and horizons though we may superficially share them with others. But gradually I came to realize I was more taken by the change in tone, and even appearance to some degree, as people in the present seamlessly became themselves in the past, if only for a moment.

I’m always excited when insights into one area spawn thinking in another.  Thus, I found myself reconsidering the “life review” (the new term is LRE, Life Review Experience) component frequently cited in Near Death Experience accounts.  In a recent piece I recounted that people do not report time went slowly, or even quickly, as much as they say time was irrelevant. Most specifically say everything was being relived at once, including the interactions with other people, how those other people felt, and the outcomes of those interactions. Of course, as with most other phenomena, there are people who attempt to ascribe purpose to these events.  I reflexively recoil from claims of purpose especially when those claims are made for me by others.  I prefer to examine the phenomenon as it is, employing appropriate understanding gained in other areas as well.  

Any first year physics student comes to realize time is a construct.  Consider once again the prisoner in the cell and ask him if “time flies”.  Einstein once said, “Time is Nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.” If so, what happens when we step outside the bounds of nature as we know it? Our perception of time – past, present, future – is a construct necessitated by and for the function of our mind as mediated through the transceiver we call our brain. Yet in the many well documented cases of zero brain activity during resuscitative efforts and/or operative procedures the mind demonstrably continues functioning free of the mediating effect of the brain. It is in a state for which time is irrelevant. Those persons who recount this state with a sequential order are, to me, examples of the pre and post-experience mind retroactively imposing mediation, in the form of a perception of time, on the during-experience mind (see two previous posts on NDE analysis and NDE aftereffects).

Most people experiencing this life review report, and demonstrate, a very changed attitude regarding their behavior toward others.  I’m not interested in saying these changes are right or wrong; there are plenty of people who will opine on that. I am interested in why it took such an experience to open people’s minds to the realities of other people. Shouldn’t that be a normal part of maturing?  Even looking at it in the most cynical way, it should be obvious that hurtful behavior toward others is maintainable only so long as one is able to firmly hold power relative to those others. And maintaining that power is a full time job.  In effect, it puts the person into a cell of his own making.

Most if not all of us can look back on some event and say, “If only I had known.” That’s a way of getting off the hook, of excusing one’s self. How many of us look back and say, “Why didn’t I look more deeply?”

The recent presidential election suggests to me many people did not look more deeply. Perhaps, for some, this will be a milestone that will live for a long time. Immediately after the “results” were confirmed I said to myself, “I incarnated into Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. Damned if I’ll excarnate in Trump’s Fascist America.” So, perhaps I’ve reset my final milestone, my last horizon.  Barring circumstances completely beyond my control I will not book-end my existence in this way.       

 

 

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17 Comments
  1. I knew Obama was going to cost me money. I adjusted, it worked out fine. While Trump is as deeply flawed as Obama, I will adjust, it will work out fine. I do not live my life according to who is running this country but I adjust accordingly.

    On another note, great granddad died at 76, granddad died at 76 and dad died at 76. I just like telling people I have a time stamp. I do, however use that as a guide for my critters. I have stopped taking in young animals that can live to 20 years so I outlive them. I do suspect I’ll make it into my 80’s unless somehow my body shuts down at 76. Either way, I will adjust.

    • Thanks, P.O. I understand your ability and willingness to adjust. I am concerned more for my daughter and grandchildren than for myself.

      That mortality history must certainly send up flags on medical work-up forms. But I think you are correct in suspecting you will break the cycle. I, too, now think about adopting non-human companions that may outlive me. I try to ensure they will be cared for.

      • Fear not for your grandchildren, it is their generation that will straighten things out. I guess you could say we are lucky to be experiencing for the past few decades of these dolts of lying thieving leaders currently so they know what not to do in the future. Whether we would agree or disagree of what they will choose is not up to us, it is their time to live life as they see it.

      • Thanks, P.O. The information I have, and which is widely available, strongly indicates that four years of doing nothing – in addressing climate change – will irretrievably tip the balance beyond repair. Compound that by the declared intent to roll back all environmental regulations, to drill for oil and gas everywhere, and to resume the mining and use of coal and you have a much quicker end scenario. I will not sit back and let life be destroyed for the sake of a few more dollars in someone’s pocket.

      • And it will be your grandchildren’s generation to fix these things, mostly. The planetary carnage will continue. 7 billion people on this rock says it is inevitable. No market, no sale.

  2. I think of my time on the AT when you described the jail cell: I used to go hiking (when I had more time), and time is almost as irrelevant on the trail as it probably is in the jail cell- but the available space is a bit larger. Outside, the schedule is set by the earth; after a week or so in the woods the only important time is dusk and dawn because of the temperature more than anything- wake up, eat, walk, sleep, repeat. I find a lack of ‘what time is it anyway’ relieving instead of depressing. Is abiding by the clock a ‘jail cell’ in itself?

    Gosh, too many “Why didn’t I look more deeply” moments. Forgiving myself for those is a milestone in and of itself that I haven’t quite been able to reach yet.

    • Thanks, E. Your description of hiking the trail brings so many memories. Perhaps that adventure into a different existence is what people are seeking, and enjoying, even if they don’t consciously realize it. Oh, indeed, I see a life strapped to the clock as a jail cell. What a misery.

      Perhaps understanding those past moments is what forgiveness springs from.

  3. These are terrifying dark times. Thanks for you insights.

    • Thank you, Mary. Indeed, each passing day brings anew the question, “Could they really be that stupid?”

  4. Ray Z Rivers permalink

    Nice piece – brings us to reality – about time

    • Thanks, Ray. I know my views seem dark to some, and I hope we haven’t already run out of time.

    • I’ve read reports in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s on this but haven’t looked for it lately and now times are radical enough that no one gives a hoot anyway. Still, the cannibalization of the planet is inevitable due to the population size already. It will just take time.

  5. The last I read, we are about three minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock.

    The measurement of time’s passing is certainly a man-made concept, but even that concept is fluid. Days seem long, but weeks and even years fly by. No matter how long we live, it seems to go by quickly; for most of us, there’s never enough years to accomplish most of the things we want to do.

    Physical space seems to be measured as much by comparison as by any accepted “yard stick” which may be applied to it. How many have returned after an absence to a childhood home, only to find that it has “shrunk” in the interim? My son’s first bedroom was in a trullo in southern Italy, built hundreds of years ago. It was only large enough to hold a crib and a rocking chair, but despite the limited space, it always felt more cozy than cramped. The rooms in my home seem to grow or shrink in proportion to the volume and arrangement of their contents.

    I remember vividly the milestones which changed me, and my life as a result. Would I change them? Perhaps not all of them, they have made me what I am today, but there are a few things I wish would have happened differently. I wonder, if they had, what sort of person would I be now, and would it really be an improvement?

    • Thank you, Rose, Indeed, the statement “..about 10,000 years” is illogical on its face. Who are “we”. humans or all life? What is the “pooch”, a livable environment for just humans, or for all life? In no science journal can I find support for such a bizarre statement.

      In the 1990’s I visited the (1950) home I wrote of in Zep Tepi (on this blog) and found the wall around the property to be stunningly shorter than I remembered.

      I also think of past events, many of them unpleasant by any standard, and accept that my life would be very different had they not happened. At the same time, I try to avoid falling easily into rationalizations that could be too convenient.

      I very much enjoy the memories you share with us.

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