Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chapter 11: The Time Artist

I had to make critical time decisions.  Could I tell Anthony and Rebecca (19 and 14 years respectively) that in 28 years they would run against each other for President of the U.S.(for more on that, see  That could make for a fatally screwed up history if it confused them, changed their behaviors.  I gave them an edited version of the future: Gregory (who is 26) is correct that the human race is being manipulated into war by relatively small groups of technocrats, military people and billionaires who tend to cluster in secret power centers in governments.  Each group coordinates the war with like groups in other countries, including groups in countries identified domestically as enemies.

The common purpose of the groups is to destabilize society everywhere with war, to the extent that a new culture, born from bioengineering and AI, can be built, and I revealed that Gregory's teachings (which Rebecca had read) would become the new foundation for world politics. I wondered if that last revelation was a mistake.  I added that Anthony and Rebecca would be active in politics and left it at that, then spent the rest of the evening listening to them exchange ideas (while texting updates to Gregory).  There seemed a physical tension between them which might express itself at some point.  Before we parted, Rebecca said she would join our mission to either stop the war or at least affect it.

I want to say I had a dream that night, but it was not a dream.  I don't have words for what it was.  I do know it was not "real" in the conventional sense if only because it involved me flying out of my window into the sky, straight up a few thousand feet to a stationary position, looking down at a birdseye view of the Devil's Punchbowl in Pearblossom- a few miles from my place- lit faintly by stars and the new moon.  Wikipedia describes the Punchbowl as "a deep sandstone canyon categorized as a plunging syncline."  The San Andreas Fault goes through it.  From the air in my "dream" I could see the fault glowing faint blue, snaking across the Punchbowl.

From above, the blue line seemed to vibrate slightly, and then a strong wind rushed up as I descended at high speed towards the Punchbowl floor.  I felt no fear, not out of bravery; fear was just edited out of the experience.  The acceleration slowed abruptly as the rim of the Punchbowl rose above me, and when my bare feet touched the sandy bottom it was a soft landing.

The walls around were dark and unclear.  The stars and new moon above were framed in walls of stone.  The blue line of the San Andreas Fault shone a few feet away.  There was silence.   Only the fault spoke, throbbing with a telepathic embrace.  In its language it revealed that the meeting points of weighty masses- such as tectonic plates, or ideological wars where opposite ideas come face-to-face, inches apart, to feed off each other's reversed polarity, perhaps to touch and create heat- that within such spaces there are hot-spots of communicative potential, where synaptic jumps can be filled with dramatic insight into the cosmos, lasting a fraction of a second like lightning then lost to the void.   I learned that evening that the Time Artists (at this level of universe creation, what we usually call "gods" are termed "artists") conduct much of their business at these interfaces,  often summoning human time travelers like me (who tend to create themselves inadvertently) to help them coordinate time and history.

The telepathic language induced me to relax and lie on the sand beside the blue light.  I complied and it was a delicious feeling.  The blue light looked like the place everyone wants to go.  Some version of heaven.  Following the ambient suggestion I put my palm over the light and found it radiated not heat, but joy.  I stuck my arm down through the light then rolled over into it and stepped out on a stone patio built atop a giant granite mountain.  A small valley below was ringed by other tall mountains.   Billowing clouds swirled at eye level.  A wooden overhang hid the sun.  At a small round table a wizardly-looking old man sat, wearing a robe.  He smiled and gestured to the seat across from him.  There was no way to resist this being's presentation.

"Are you taking a form that my limited senses will be able to comprehend," I asked, taking a seat and hoping for a relaxed and friendly tone.

The Time Artist laughed, then looked at me with something beyond human telepathy, though he kindly allowed me to probe his abilities. His "eyes" were not only detectors of light, a fairly narrow band in the big picture.  A Time Artist's eyes "see" the actual thing, not just a reflection from waves deflected off it.

After a moment of taking me in, he said, "We, the other Time Artists and I, appreciate your attempts to manage the time rupture you caused."

"I caused it?" I asked in horror.

"Yes, but it wasn't your fault.  It happens all the time, so to speak, and keeps the Time Artists busy, which is critical to our happiness."

"How did I create the rupture?"

"Just by noticing things, and thinking about things.  Sentient beings do this at all levels of the cosmic consciousness.  It's our job to keep the overall narrative...well...."

It was strange to see a godlike being search for words.

"Sane?" I suggested.

"Yes," the Time Artist sighed, "and entertaining.  The Time Artists decided eons ago that in addition to narrative and sequential plot (we discourage post-modernism), we wanted an interesting story, something with challenges and insights gained at high cost."

"Is that why there's evil in the story, to keep things interesting?"

"More or less.  In order for evil to be credible it has to win sometimes.  Then of course it has to be defeated, which almost never happens entirely, then finally, in the grand finale, the opposites merge in what Kurt Vonnegut called the 'Infandibulum.'  That's where you are now."

"The place where all opposed ideas are harmonized," I said.

"Yes, indeed," the Time Artist confirmed, "each of the paired antitheticals sent here is labeled both 'good' and 'evil'."

"How do you handle the ethical confusion?," I asked.

"We look first, as with all questions concerning human language, to etymology.  The word 'evil' comes from Dutch eveul, a noun used by craftsmen in the Middle Ages meaning 'a part that does not fit,' like a piece of leather that is the wrong shape or size for any ongoing project.  That piece of leather has no purpose in its existence; it might as well disintegrate and turn into something else.  An evil person, or personality trait, is one that does not fit its surroundings, that can't contribute."

I tried to wrap my head around this and felt partially successful.  I asked, "How do you apply this to actual moral questions, about good and evil?"

"Take abortion," the Time Artist answered, "How might abortion not 'fit' for a person who finds it 'evil'?" he continued. "That person calls abortion 'murder,' the taking of a young, growing human life. 'Murder' comes from Sanskrit, mara, death, which has no moral connotation, becoming in Old English the verb morthor, "to murder" which of course has a negative connotation.  The negative connotation of 'murder' derives from the standard dictionary definition that murder is 'unlawful killing.'  'Unlawful' is the single word, in dictionaries, distinguishing murder from killing in general.

"Thus abortion is evil because, at one time, it was illegal, though in the U.S. it is now legal [Update, 9/30/22: Clearly the Time Artists did not foresee the overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022].  The obvious absurdity of this progression delights the 'pro-choice'...."

The Time Artist's face turned red and he appeared to be choking or fighting nausea.

"Sorry," he said, regaining his composure, "I have trouble with the terms people use, so self-serving and unexplanatory, so out of place in the Infandibulum. I use them only for classification purposes. Anyway, the Pro-you-know-what's get excited that the only moral deficit of abortion is that it's sometimes against the law, but the pro-lifers...."

Again he seemed to gag for a moment.

"Excuse me, well, in the Infandibulum they hear their side of things too.  Why is something against the law?  If a young child asked you that question, you would answer that things are against the law because they're wrong.  Things that are wrong include hurting people and lots of other things that are wrong because adults say they are.  That's enough for most children, but as you grow older you start to disagree about what's right and wrong.  That means you disagree about laws.  The anti-abortion group, if I might use that more descriptive phrase, is then, by calling abortion evil, objecting to a law, in this case a law enabling abortion, which is a much more rational sounding position than claiming that illegality confers evil. The Infandibulum brings much peace simply by clarifying.  How then does abortion, if it is evil, not 'fit' for people who are upset by it? It does not fit their vision of themselves as loving life, especially loving human life, and especially the human life of their own offspring. Harry the Human, may I call you that?"

"Of course, I'd be honored, but you can just call me Harry.  What shall I call you?

"Please call me Arthur," said the Time Artist.  "Harry, why do you think the anti-abortion group cannot accept killing a fetus?"

Wow, maybe this was some sort of heaven.  Arthur's idea of conversation was exactly like mine.  People think I'm a curmudgeon, but I'm not- there's just nobody, at least at the Family Dollar Store in Pearblossom, who wants to talk about interesting stuff.  In heaven everyone talks about interesting stuff.

"Well," I answered, "they believe the fetus has a 'soul.' It's a religious idea, but even if you're not religious, 'soul' has a clear meaning.  If you have a soul, you are conscious and self-aware.  That is what consciousness and self-awareness are, soul."

"Very good," said Arthur, "What are your views on the question?"

"My view is that it's hard to tell.  I don't think a fertilized egg has a soul, meaning I don't think it's got a consciousness and is self-aware, but how would I know?  Although I suppose I could conduct a telepathic experiment with a blastocyst to see if anyone's home.  On the other hand, a fetus in the second or third trimester does appear conscious on some level.  I've made a note to check."

"I like your train of thought, Harry," said Arthur.  "In the Infandibulum we see even beyond this, to the self-awareness of the universe itself, in its infinity of individual parts and in its unity.  The older fetus may have self-awareness, but if the blastocyst as an organism does not, its nascent microbiome and parasites do, and so do the molecules and atoms that comprise it."

"Atoms are conscious? Wow!  I've wondered."

"Yes, the whole thing- mass and energy- it's all conscious.  Humans don't like to think that because it makes them feel excluded.  They think they're learning how to understand and control the cosmos; in fact they're just trying to get back in."

"Uh-huh," I contributed.

"There is no end to life.  Even the Time Artists don't know where it ends or begins."

"Oh yeah?"

"Reductio ad absurdum is the lubricant of the Infandibulum.  If everything is conscious then why is there predation?  Why is it all war and struggle?  Can't the consciousness, in its unified state, figure out how to share energy, in one big orgasmic love fest?"

"You have to wonder."

"In the Infandibulum," continued Arthur, "the issue of abortion, like all the other casus bellis, gets lost in endless questions and clarifications until there is unity.  Peace prevails until we become too inert, then we need to start the process over again."

"By adding some evil?"

"In a manner of speaking, but our heart's in the right place.  Anyway, we need to rectify the mess you caused by telling Gregory, Anthony and Rebecca as much as you did about the future, including the global success of Gregory's teachings and the 2044 campaigns for American President by Anthony and Rebecca."

"Sorry about that."

"It's ok, it's been undone.  They have no knowledge of the future now, just as before, but they do know you, and the four of you are still engaged in a conspiracy, involving telepathy, against the pro-war consortium you have identified.  Right-on, bro!"

And quick as a wink I was back in my wooden shack in Pearblossom, feeling sorry for people whose lives are not as interesting as mine.

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