Archive for the ‘time’ Category

This side of eternity

February 27, 2013

I like to complain about staff meetings, for all the good it does. But something worth pondering came of yesterday’s, right at the end.

Our department has just hired a second full-time, tenure track Religious Studies prof. (We hired our first last year.)  This is sure to be good news for our department, our students, and for me and my Atheism course.

Once again we succeeded in securing the services of the candidate who had emerged as our first choice, though the process was made bumpier this time by unanticipated late-hour administrative input from above. But we’re pleased and relieved, and were taking a few moments yesterday to review what went wrong and right, “for next time.”

Someone pointed out that “next time” may be a long time coming. Two hires in two years is unprecedented for us. We’ll push (per the urging of our recent external reviewer) to add another philosopher, possibly a three-year postdoc if not another permanent full-timer, but the likelihood is that we’ll be “encouraged” to make due at our present level of staffing for some time.

On the other hand, noted our cheerful chairman as we adjourned and dispersed quietly  into the good night, “some of us are not getting younger.” It’s good to think about the passage of time, he said. It’s good to think about your own funeral, and your final rest.

And on that happy note I must now finish the Bioethics exam. Time’s a-wasting.


Non semper erit aestas

August 2, 2012

“It will not always be summer.”

No, it won’t. August used to still be summer. Not anymore, around here. The public schools are back in full swing, and Younger Daughter eagerly stuffed & decorated her locker yesterday too.  For me, it’s time to draft those syllabi and begin facing my own perennial return to what we curiously agree to call reality.

But no regrets, except the obvious one: that we each have but one life to give etc. And just when I felt like I was starting to make a little headway on Jim Holt’s question, about to join Carlin Romano’s choir, about to send WJ up a fictional alt-universe Mt. Marcy

But it’s also a good time to recall that summer’s at least as much a state of mind as it is a break in the academic calendar. To everything, turn turn turn. Not only is there a season, there’s also time to move forward at a suitably human pace. I went to sleep meditating on that thought last night, and will continue.

Solvitur ambulando.

“When I Think”

May 27, 2012

The concluding snippet of Robert Creeley‘s lovely poem about time’s paradoxical presence in passing. Reminds me of Blake, Beatles (“In My Life”), Santayana, Spinoza, Einstein, Nietzsche, Bill Murray…

When I try to think of things, of what’s happened, of what a life is and was, my life, when I wonder what it meant, the sad days passing, the continuing, echoing deaths, all the painful, belligerent news, and the dog still waiting to be fed, the closeness of you sleeping, voices, presences, of children, of our own grown children, the shining, bright sun, the smell of the air just now, each physical moment, passing, passing, it’s what it always is or ever was, just then, just there. WA

Happy Memorial Day weekend. May your memories of it recur pleasantly, too.

I forget what I need to remember

June 30, 2011

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That was Faulkner in 1951. In the past.

But I’ve been pondering it in the present because it came up in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” which I can’t stop thinking about. And then it came up again yesterday when I looked into the short final version of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization, “Heroes of History“:

There is a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing. Plato is there, playing philosophy with Socrates; Shakespeare is there… Keats is still listening to his nightingale, and Shelley… Nietzsche is there, raving and revealing; Christ is there… the Incredible Legacy of the race, the golden strain in the web of history.

Is this the past as escapist fantasy? Or as nourishing legacy? Whatever it is, it’s fun to watch on the big screen. The big screen of imagination. But what do you do when the screen dims? Billy Collins wrote a funny and frightening poem about that, if I could just remember what it was called. Oh yeah: Forgetfulness.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of…

The longest day

June 21, 2011

It’s the longest day of the year, with daylight on tap from now (5:32 am) ’til 8:06 this evening. A person really ought to be able to get a lot done today, lean in to the sun and really shine. Make several stitches in time. Make hay.

Then again, it’s June. Season of the Swoon, when lassitude and lethargy try to overrun our best intentions. When time expands to mirror an inversely-shrunken span of energy and attention. I’ll bet Poore Richard spoke to that, I’ll have to bestir myself to industry and look it up. Or at least google it. From the hammock, perhaps. One great thing about being an early riser is the way you can waste lots of time and still rally to get something done before the day gets entirely away. But Thoreau is still my conscience. “How can you kill time without injuring eternity?” So, it’s back to Ben’s morning question. What good shall I do this day? That’s not supposed to be a merely rhetorical question. Is it?

Garrison Keillor presents several poets on the subject of solstice today. I like what Malcolm Lowry said:

it was spring, but now is midsummer day, the longest day of the year in fact, and the summer solstice and the highest tide. […] I am at work on another lugubriousness…

Me too. But if I work just a little harder I’m sure it can be turned into a joyful wisdom.

cosmic connection

September 27, 2010

Time for our last Clock of the Long Now installment. (Next up: What Will Change Everything?)

The clock’s progenitor Danny Hillis hasn’t been letting time stand still. Lately he’s been concerned with developments in cancer research and proteomics. A good reminder that long-term thinking is no substitute for problem-solving in the present.

The present. What else do we have? The past is dead, the future’s not yet living. Right? Not quite. Past and future are virtually alive in us, for those of us who think there’s something in them we can use. Something we must respond to, and connect with.

Like ancient footprints.  When we walk a mile in their ash we extend their range and deepen our connection to cosmic time, “ancient and vast.” We speak for the earth of things.

We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquility, an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we, whose earliest footsteps three and one-half million years old are preserved in the volcanic ash of east Africa. We have walked far.

It’s important to recall and retain the past. George Santayana‘s famous “01905” warning about the hazards of forgetting is still right, though  overquoted. Churchill was right too, to lump the reading and writing of history with its creation.

I’m with Brand on this point: if we wait to solve our planet’s problems before looking beyond it & them (as ’60s environmentalists used to urge), we’ll never look again. And we’ll probably never solve them, either. Boldly going shouldn’t mean giving up on the homeworld. Not going, though, just might.

We can learn from those traditional native Americans who defined “now” as seven generations in each direction: 175 years. That may not be now enough, but it’s way better than the CNN news cycle.

So should we be packing for Mars, then? Maybe. But is it really true that “we can’t undo our power” – or at least temporize our will to power? We’d better, if we’re coming in peace for all humankind.

And is it true that “better technology and more affluence leads to less environmental harm”? Is the burgeoning infosphere really no threat to the biosphere?

As for nanotech: we do need to hear more about the potential good effects. Gray goo is a real downer.

Inconvenient Truth wasn’t the first to publicize Keeling and Revelle’s long-term studies of global warming. But Stewart Brand is not nearly so charismatic a speaker as Al Gore.

I definitely vote for more time-lapse film, to stretch the frame of the present. And for more slow art. That’s one way to frame the clock project: a big “Hi there” from us to whomever. But I still think the clock should be useful from the moment it begins to run. The ADD of our time is getting worse with every new gadget rollout, and “looking to the mountain” may be good medicine. (And more solid indigenous wisdom.)

Brand asks a question we all ought to ask ourselves: “Reader, what was the occasion of your longest view?” I’m thinking…

He also notes the “sudden overwhelm in the last seconds” of spiking population. Is that problem on your radar?

How about the institutional relevance of universities, in transmitting an intellectual heritage to the “ever-new  generations passing through”? Does Lt. Gov. Ramsey get that, do you think?

“The long view looks right through death.” The trans-end-dance, again. Do you know the steps? Have you read your Plato Papers? Or do you take false comfort from the paradoxical Zeno, “always never more than halfway to death”? Will technology buy us some kairos-time? If we start living much longer lives, will we be that much more responsible? Will we think like John Adams, freeing our “sons” for philosphy and poetry? Would you be disappointed to think that your great-great…grandchildren may share none of your interest in the meaning of life? Would you still want to keep their options open?

I hope you would. We’re playing an infinite game here, and though the main point of such games is not to win, losing would be very sad. Forget about waiting ’til next year.

As for the clock: I’m with that tough old rancher. “Why not?” Who knows? It just might change everything.


On an unrelated matter: will the real John Shook please stand up? He has atheists all riled up with his Huffington Post essay (“For Atheists and Believers, Ignorance Is No Excuse”) calling out strident Know Nothing (about theology) atheists. But his latest Center For Inquiry post (“God Fails a Simple Rationality Test”) will strike some as plenty strident.

I know John, have dined pleasantly with him, and know him to be a straight shooter who more often than not targets Know Nothing theists. (He did it again in August at the James centenary symposium, at my “Will to Believe” session in New Hampshire.) His larger point, I’m sure, is that there’s ignorance and smugness all around. We should decry it all. He’s right.

giving tree

September 18, 2010

Still thinking about grand symbolic gestures that aim to raise and transform the consciousness of our species: putting a 10,000-year clock in a mountain, hurling a golden record into space.

Are they empty, futile, quixotic, a diversion from more practical and effective engagement with the problems of now? Or do they finally begin to address the greatest problem of all: our inability to conceive a now large enough to contain long-term solutions?

Planting a 500-year oak tree is futile, if you think the only point of a tree is to provide shade for the planter. Freddie answers that pretty effectively. Shel Silverstein, too, in a more subdued voice.

Old trees last longer than we do, but (as we prepare this week in Intro to talk about Socrates) so do old examples of courage and virtue.

time’s up

August 23, 2010

No time for leisured reflections this morning, or possibly this week – papers to write, classes to prepare, Senate retreats to retreat to, convocations to convene at…

Summer 2010, I’ll always remember you fondly.


sic transit

August 19, 2010

The other hard transition here is to the school-day routine. I returned from my rambling New England sojourn to the frenetic morning hustle & bustle summer seduces us into forgetting. No more sleeping “late,” no more long and leisurely dawn reflections while the household slumbers. I am again a breakfast facilitator, time management supervisor, and taxi driver. And that’s just for their school routine, mine begins next week.

But I’m not really complaining. Just wondering who’s going to manage and supervise my own fleeting time. Guess it’ll have to be me.

daily miracle

August 4, 2010

“The supply of time is truly a daily miracle,” as Arnold Bennett wrote back in 1910 in How to Live On 24 Hours a Day. Time got away from him, as it does from us all, but where there’s a will there’s still a bit of it for your disposition.

Philosophers have explained space. They have not explained time. It is the inexplicable raw material of everything. With it, all is possible. Without it, nothing. The supply of time is truly a daily miracle… You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours.

That’s the feeling of summer, even on a stifling triple-digit day like yesterday. It ended less gloriously than it might have, at the multiplex: I thought they were taking me to see Toy Story 3 but it turned out to be Steve Carell doing an eastern European voice-over that peaked in the first two minutes.

But no matter, it’s another miraculous morning in the steambath of our daily planet. I shall try again to spend these precious hours wisely.