Category Archives: Reading Hurts My Brain

Books and stories and so forth; out of my library into your consciousness.

Time: Unreal or Surreal?

Recently I read A World without Time: the Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein by Palle Yourgrau.  He argues (at least in part) something that I’ve often contemplated, namely that time itself is not real.

I have put forward in conversation the idea that time is not real, that time is an illusion.  “But, wait,” you say, “time is whizzing past me like crazy!”  Well, events are whizzing all around us.  No doubt about that.  But time is merely the framework which we use to explain our ideas of now and later; of past, present and future; of what was, what is, and what will be.  Time is our mental construct to explain the passing of events.

Yourgrau’s contribution is to analyze the work of Einstein and Gödel in an effort to demonstrate not only that they both thought something a little different about time than we might expect, but that they each went a long way toward demonstrating a particular unreality of time.

Simply put, Einstein only stated that time needed to be considered as if it were a dimension in order to work out relativistic events.  It’s sort of like using time as a metaphor (or perhaps using dimension as a metaphor).  It is now common to take that metaphor as fact and fabric of reality.  Gödel comes in handily afterwards in his meticulous fashion and demonstrates that not only are time-looped relativistic universes possible, we may actually be living in one such universe—accidentally spawning the so-called grandfather paradox.

The book is loaded with personal correspondences between some of the brightest minds in the last century.

I have read a lot of books on the history of the sciences and mathematics and this is one of the better written, and I think anyone with even a peripheral interest in these subjects will find this to be a pleasant read.

Chin Scratching Cannon Drum

You see, that’s the thing about Fishermen and Farmers:  they’re always talking about beaches and hoes.

I personally have never much cared for religion as a public affair. If I ever do have an affair with a deity I will want to keep it discrete.  Nonetheless I do, on occasion, find myself asking questions in the arena of theology that baffle me.  Recently I read a book by Walter Kaufmann called Critique of Religion and Philosophy.

In this Kaufmann argues, among other things, that the ethical arguments presented by Jesus are prudential arguments—that is to say that it would be prudent to behave well so as to avoid the punishments of Hell and receive in their stead the rewards of Heaven.  Granted, continues Kaufmann, Jesus is notably silent about how one ought to behave, but that is another question entirely.  To reiterate, the ethical arguments put forward by Jesus are prudential:  avoid punishment and seek reward.  This seems to me to be an argument based upon fear.  So my question is, why does Nietzsche have such profound respect for Jesus?

Prudential arguments are certainly those most likely to be presented by so called christians—and Nietzsche held those who claim such titles in much disdain.

“Be afraid, be very afraid, and be obedient as a result of that fear” doesn’t strike me as the sort of position for which Nietzsche would have much care.  And yet he holds a great reverence for Jesus.  Of course, he can’t stand the apostles, thinks they’re a bunch of weak-kneed buggers—but that too is a different story.

The Unbearable Aloneness of Being

I came across two great passages from Erich Fromm while reading his The Dogma of Christ. I’ll only be talking about the first one because the second one is only interesting if you are working on a critical historical analysis of comic book super heroes.

Fromm says:

“What is praised by love experts and marriage counselors is a team relationship between two people who manipulate each other with the right techniques and whose love is essentially an egotism à deux—a haven from an otherwise unbearable aloneness.”

That’s what I see in the world around me lately. People fleeing from this unbearable aloneness. As though being alone were something awful. I’m sure if you’ve never tried it, it would be full of awe. But, really, isn’t this something we should all experiment with? You know “Sure, I tried that in college”.

We don’t just flee into the arms of other zombies either. We flee into the tube, into books, into our works of art, into anything to remove us from ourselves. I once wrote that loneliness is the desire to be alone when no one else is around. I stand by that definition.

We are isolated, often forced into it by our modern world, but we refuse to allow ourselves to be alone. Always the TV on or the radio on in the background. Company. Background noise. Don’t let those thoughts well up, come burbling over.

Anyway, not my favorite book from Fromm. Much prefer You Shall Be as Gods.  But definitely worth the read.