What if it were true, that only the present is real? An eternal now, forever?
But, what would “forever” mean then, if not past-present-future in a rolling wave that never ends? Never so far, that is, never so far as we can grasp. How about it, William Blake? How do you hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour?
We’re not so innocent after all, we’re always dragging the past and foreseeing (usually falsely) the future, or versions of past and future. We’re experienced, and that means we’re receptive to more. Not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but in our universe it’s real. We’d better accept it.
We’re definitely in the poetic realm here. William James wrote those pioneering chapters on the subject in his pioneering Principles, reaching immediately for the image of a glow worm whose light is here and gone, here and gone, here and gone again, without continuity and hence without temporality.
It’s a beautiful image but also dreadful, given our constitutional-evolutionary adaptation to a world of flowing continuity. Fortunately it’s “fanciful,” our figurative bioluminescence sheds light on time,
our consciousness never shrinks to the dimensions of a glow-worm spark. The knowledge of some other
part of the stream, past or future, near or remote, is always
mixed in with our knowledge of the present thing.
The past-present-future wave is no more composed of nonexistent nonentities than is the ocean. Picture our little glow worm surfing a wave, recalling the last crest, anticipating the next. He doesn’t dare forget he’s part of something rolling and flowing and continuing, and he’s delighted, forever and always, to catch a wave. It glimmers, so does he, so should we in the knowledge of our intrinsic relatedness to the span of history and becoming.
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