One’s Existence in Relation to Space and Time

August 15, 2012

Watching the film 12 Monkeys can get you thinking about of the implications of living in time as we do.

In 12 Monkeys test subjects are sent back into time to find information on what caused a virus which wiped out 5 billion individuals of the human race. Protagonist James Cole is sent back knowing he can’t change anything, because history is history. He can only gather information as he’s told.

Cole gets confused about which time is the present. But isn’t the present whatever time he’s experiencing? Is there a universal present? When you can slide up and down the timeline you must get a different idea about being.

If time travel is impossible by some metaphysical block that disallows one to exist in two places and times, then this is all useless hypothesizing. But if travel is theoretically possible, we exist in multiple states don’t we? If you went back 10 years and met yourself, that other self would be as much “yourself” as you experiencing going back in time. If you have one soul, that soul must be somehow “in” both bodies and times while being itself whole. I’m assuming the soul because I’m assuming volition and more than the materialistic view. But a problem with will comes in–you can’t convince your “past” self to do something it didn’t or not to do something it did. Because if history changes enough, the present you’re in changes dramatically. There are contradictions.If you go back and kill your past self, you can’t die at the same time, it’s not that simple. Your kill your past self, you could not survive to get to the point in time to come back and do the deed. The existence of things as they are proves the impossibility of existence of any past that would produce a present other than as it is. You cannot change the past without changing the present, and if you did that you meet contradictions a la the killing yourself example.

This brings another problem of will. If you go back and meet yourself, then as James Cole remembers seeing himself get shot as a kid–in his case he didn’t know the man getting shot was him–you would remember having met yourself, provided you were old enough and had a sufficient memory. When your past self meets your future self the former could choose to do something to prevent his going back in time when he gets that chance in the future. And if he so chooses, he contradicts the fact that his future self already visited him.

Funny how we exist along a spectrum of moments, yet we don’t make a choice for what we do in the past or the future. We make each choice one at a time as it comes, in the present. I notice in looking at my past writings I interpret what I was saying and thinking the way I would analyze another person’s sentences and thoughts. Another person is out of reach of my choice because the choice is hers, just as much as my past choice is out of my dominion. It’s a glimpse of those many selves that seem to make up my identity. We have a choice for everything we do, but only at a certain point–at other points the choice is solid and untouchable, at others unavailable as the situation that hasn’t come to be. Sounds like we have little control if we can only control what we do in a sliver of time called “the present”. But just because we’re only in control of the sum of our choices one at a time, we’re no less in control of them. This makes every moment important. Every choice made has already made. You have a future of unknown length with an unknown number of potential choices, but only your past is full of actualized choices. Only the present offer the certain opportunity to choose.

I don’t know how it all works, but the reality of the world, Earth as you and I experience it, is not the only one. Maybe this world is a stage. A simplified reality; a corner of a picture. Either way it’s coming and going fast. How it runs and works in the scheme of all reality may change how you see it, yourself, and your relationship to it.


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