Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Structure of Time and History

It's funny that the bible technically places the creation - and man's subsequent fall from grace, where he is condemned to work in order to survive, to till the land with the sweat of his brow in order to eat - at roughly the moment in history when agriculture began, and civilisation in the Near East first spread its wings. It also ties in almost perfectly with the first written language. I wonder what change in the mode of consciousness this development had.

The use of writing forces man's apprehension of the world into a strictly linear sequence. Words are always read in order, and form a static unchangeable structure. The power of language to change consciousness is a topic I can't go into detail here, but it's clear that the development of writing and the emergence of civilisation happen at eerily similar times. The ability to view ourselves objectively, to be 'self-aware' forces an appreciation of change, development, and therefore places consciousness outside of the present in which the rest of the kingdom of nature is bound.

The Bible effectively tells history from the point of view of human civilisation. All of prehistory is given a cursory few paragraphs of mechanical progress, all well and good, until mankind-proper comes onto the scene, homo sapiens-civilisatiens. Perhaps the Israelites of 900BCE who were consolidating their tribals myths (which would be written down in the Torah a few hundred years later), knew that really there had only been 3 or 4 thousand years of history prior to them. Those 3,000 years were all they cared about - the rest was just context. Those centuries contained all the developments from the point of mankinds real inception - all our drama and cultural/conscious evolution has happened in that miniscule space of time. By then we were distinct from the animal kingdom, and our "noosphere" of self-aware consciousness had formed a world independent of the material environment. Prior to that, man was just another species at the mercy of our environment.

So, I wonder what the relation between the point that mankind became able to conceive its own history, mankind's awareness of itself, and the actual event of history is. We take for granted a particular view of time: we think of the beginning (big bang), a series of moments, billions of years, all progressing through to the point of 'now' that we inhabit. But this reductionist view is only one way of understanding.

It has been mooted in physics circles that the past only happens when consciousness is able to think backwards - ie, the past is created retrospectively from the point of the present. This implies that there is no past, only the now: the point of awareness creates the illusion of previous moments in a linear sequence. So we in fact create a history that never was. There was no beginning, only the now, looking outward and imagining concepts such as 'before' and 'after'. The past being an established 'fact' which leads mechanically to the 'now' is a view we have to challenge. The past is just as much a fiction, a creation of the single truth of consciousness (which exists only in the eternal present), as the future.

dates and facts for those interested: agriculture was developed somewhere between 8,000 and 4,000BCE. The first sproutings of civilisation were in Mesopotamia (Sumer, as it was known then; Iraq as we call it now) and Egypt between 4,000 and 3,000BCE, with the first evidence of 'cuneiform' writing dated to 3100BCE in Mesopotamia...the biblical 'year of creation' is 4004BCE. Human civilisation, human existence as we know it, has existed for a mere five to six thousand years. Absolutely everything that we know of humans doing has happened in that infinitessimal dot of time.

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