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🦋 Billy Pilgrim's Progress: Visions of Eternity


Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and his death many times, he says, and paid random visits to all the events in between.

He says.

Slaughterhouse-5: or, The Children's Crusade

In Appendix III to his Christelige Dogmatik, Erfjord rebuts this passage [i.e., Runeberg's claim that it would be blasphemous to limit the Messiah's suffering to "the agony of one afternoon on the cross."] He notes that the crucifixion of God has not ended, because that which happened once in time is repeated endlessly in eternity. Judas, now, continues to hold out his hand for the silver, continues to kiss Jesus' cheek, continues to scatter the pieces of silver in the temple, continues to knot the noose on the field of blood. (In order to justify this statement, Erfjord cites the last chapter of the first volume of Jaromir Hladík's Vindication of Eternity.)

"Three Versions of Judas"

Listen: I want to take advantage of your interest in my blog, to post about some thoughts I spent a good deal of time on thinking about in my first year of college, these 21 years back -- when I was in the throes of what Scott would term my "Vonnegut phase."* This post will probably be rambling and pointless (ill-informed, too!), so if those qualities turn you off, just stop reading now, and I will (try to) stop apologizing now.

In my first year of college I spent a lot of time thinking about physics. One thing that particularly got my attention was the idea of time as a fourth dimension. My understanding of this (and listen, I never got very far with physics) was that the universe could be visualized as a four-dimensional space containing everything that ever happened or will happen, and the three-dimensional universe we inhabit as a three-dimensional space moving through this hyper-space at a constant rate -- this motion is what we experience as "time," and the present moment is the intersection of our 3-space with Reality. (I think this idea may have been laid out more fully in Edwin Abbot's Flatland.**) This picture of physical reality, which is Erfjord's conception of reality in the footnote to "Three Versions of Judas" -- taken in combination with an idealism that sees thought as existing separately from physical reality -- makes possible the chrono-synclastic infundibulum; Billy Pilgrim's experience takes as read that our "present moment" is something which has extended, eternal existence.

Well: I got upset about this. It became very important to me, to show that 3 physical dimensions are all there is -- that motion is reality, not an illusion. (I still can't answer the question, Well, what would be the difference anyway?) That past and future have existence only in our memories and expectations -- that the fourth axis is a convenient way of representing motion, nothing more. What does this entail? There is a danger of solipsism in this view -- since every perception of mine is a perception of something that has happened, and every communication reaches its object after it is uttered, saying that only the present moment "really exists" can be a way of saying that only my consciousness really exists -- and we're back to idealism. I worked through that, and my solution was materialistic -- consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the material objects that exist, that are moving -- but it never got very coherent given my lack of philosophical chops.

So there you have it, for a long time now I've been walking around with this vision of eternity, but never really committed it to paper or (since freshman year) even talked about it much, since it seemed kind of silly and pointless. It's brought back to mind by the Borges reading I've been doing recently, I thought I might as well write it down.

* ("Phase"? Well it's true, I read his books way more frequently and obsessively two decades ago than I do now; OTOH I have repeatedly been surprised, going back to them, at how well they have held up, at how strongly they continue to engage me. Though I see looking back through my blog, I have not written much at all about them.)

** (Or thinking further, this imagery might actually have been in Slaughterhouse-5.)

posted evening of Sunday, March 21st, 2010
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