Sunday, August 20, 2006

How To Make It Never Happened

Poet Steve Parker asks:

I've got this image building to do with archaeology. I saw a documentary a while back about the excavation of a neolithic site in Southern England. The workers there reassembled thousands of shards of knapped flint back into whole flints, and found holes within them: axe-head shaped holes, obviously. I love the idea that fragments from a site or a moment can be reassembled, and that a hole can be found within, a man shaped hole, perhaps, or a hole in the shape of an emotion, if only those fragments are assembled correctly. Is that what poetry is? The reassembly of a few puzzling fragments to reveal the shape of those holes, and what may have dwelt therein? This story can go anywhere, of course: I enter a room and see various things strewn across the floor. The moment has gone, but what will I find if I reassemble those things? What shape will the hole be at the centre of the assemblage?

We can look to archaelogy for answers to this, but we can also look to physics:

The present moment is the only thing that is constricted to a single possibility, one per universe. In either direction around the single moment, forewards and backwards in time, light-cones of probability spread outwards, expressing possibilities both real and non-real; we glow with particles decaying from probable quantum states into solid fact. Each second, we leave a person-shaped hole in the fabric of spacetime, around which light spits and sparks, a light-cone of choices opening up before us, even if we are apparentally unmoving.

Even if you do nothing, and are a still point of detached non-action in the universe, you have to keep choosing, continuously, to exist or not. This applies to animal choice as well as conscious choice, and when we are possessed by forces from our shadow that make us do things we do not want to do.

Each ray of light a possible outcome, a choice about to be made, that collapses from potential into actual only when we choose. Echoes of choice remain, in the lights that follow us, as memory, as regret, as knowledge of other universes opened up when we made other choices than the ones we now remember having made. The past is as malleable as the future. We can remember it together. We can go back and make it never happened. (The apparently odd syntax is deliberate.) The past only appears fixed because we imagine our presence has left a hole in it, a hole shaped exactly like the choice we made to get we are now, shaped exactly like memory. So, sparking, we interact, kindling little fires; we merge and separate, and leave trails of light in the spark-chamber, like the accelerated particles we are: particles of the mind of God. We see forwards by the light of our own being, the headlights of our choices emerging from our core and illuminating the roads ahead. This road curves and sparks, too, as it converges and diverges from other roads, each road the trail of a life.

Retroactive myth is ritual that clears the emotional bonds that keep us locked in the past; those bonds that keep us believing that we cannot change the past, even though we can always change how we re-experience the past, and interpret it; we can let go of the emotion and just retain the data, for example. This is redaction of the past, or creative mythology, the latter a phrase of Joseph Campbell's, the former a concept from archetypal healing. Campbell made the point several times that not only are we always living in mythic time, we can't get away from it. The moon landings were mythic; so were the losses of lives during the two space shuttle explosions. Movement in time is the same as movement in space, since according to relativity spacetime is one; there are no divisions. So, a staircase to the past leaves a hole in the air, and a man walks backward to the explosion that gave him birth, one second at a time, from the event that threw him forward.

The problem is with our perception: we are culturally educated to perceive time as unidirectional and non-redactable once past; both of these are culturally-bound suppositions, myths if you will, that dictate how we tend to perceive things, yet are not deterministic, and do not hold true on the quantum subatomic level. The rules are different, there in the edges of the universe: the edges, because anything smaller than a certain size—the grain of the universe—can be said to not be in the universe. Down in the quantum foam, there are innumerable wormholes between here and there, foaming up and falling away. Perceiving this, even in translation, gives insight into the past, into action and consequence, and into how the observer's choices do affect reality at some level. We can choose to see what we choose to see. The making of myths is telling the story of ourselves to ourselves.

Why can't the potshards pull themselves back together into the pot? In some version of the universe, it already has. It's not miracle or magic, if it's possible in some quantum state. Although, of course, it is sublimely magical just to be alive. Even if there are holes left in our selves—our memories, our hearts, our souls—that are unhealed, there are salves for the wounds, and bridges around them. The broken ancestral pots still breathe. The universe is porous.

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