Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com
In the television series Star Trek the crew of the spaceship Enterprise take their vacations on something called the "Holodeck"—a play on the words "holiday" and "holovision." They are transported into a virtual world in every way as real-seeming as the one they live in on the Enterprise. Plus, that world can be anywhere and at any point in history, or pre-history for that matter. They can go back to the gun-slinging days of the American frontier or the time of the dinosaurs a hundred million years earlier. But whatever place and period they choose to visit, they exist there as real people vulnerable to the bullet of a six-shooter or the jaws of a tyranosaurus.
I don't remember any members of the Enterprise explaining just how a Holodeck worked. Presumably, the virtual reality was generated algorithmically in the same way a virtual reality is produced for us today by putting on special goggles hooked up to a computer. Only, in Star Trek the "reality" is of a much more sophisticated kind. Science fiction is more about the present, in any case, than it is about the future, a matter of what-if added to what-is. Star Trek was entertainment, not epistemology. The play's the thing, not its plausibility. The audience must believe, at least for as long as the show lasts, that the characters have been transported in space and time and exist there in as real a state as if they were still back on board the Enterprise. That's no more a demand on an audience than to expect them to believe a spaceship can travel at "warp speed," a catchy phrase for a phenomenon best not discussed in detail.
But that holodeck, a reality generated by machine, can be taken as a metaphor for the reality we earthbound folk actually live in, except our reality, the only one there is, is generated not by computers but by our imaginations, continuously, for as long as the organs we need to create that unimaginable imaginary are in good working order. But it is not just a reality we generate, it and we are that reality, the only reality there is.
It's not a secret anymore that the world we think we see more or less as it "objectively" exists, is a construction of our brains. Light does not pass through our eyes and up the optic nerve where it then is seen. What actually happens is the photons or waves of light set off a cascade of electrons on the backs of our retinas—those same jack-of-all-trades electrons running our microwaves and lighting our houses. It's those electrons, not light, that travel from our eyes into our brains and create a model we call the material world or "reality." Something similar happens with our sense of hearing, pressures on our eardrum setting off an electric current our brain turns into sound.
This is pretty much Biology 101 at this point. Does it matter, after all, whether what we see, hear, or sense in any number of other ways is a model or a direct apprehension, so long as the model matches a world that actually exists "out there," one we can be confident is real whether or not we are seeing or hearing it? We can debate all day whether a tree falling in a forest causes a sound if no one hears it—a logical fallacy as a question, since "sound" by definition means something heard. What's not at issue is whether we, the tree, or anything else exist in the basic meaning of that word.
We don't. There is no existence beyond our virtual reality, to borrow another computer word, and that imagined reality is the only one there is. And if there is no real world beyond the stage of our imaginations, the play is not only "the thing," the stage is not a stage, and there is nothing but stage. All that keeps anything in existence is the continuous operation of creation—the chipmunk's ears, the oak tree's nerve endings, a bacterium's wit, our own gray matter.
It's impossible for us to understand this in the way we understand motion by contact or the feeling of love because whatever "this" is is also what we are. We did not evolve as a species with a need to comprehend such things, nor did anything else. We understand only what is necessary for us to survive. We live in a world of gravity, relativity, and quantum indeterminacy. We can discover the presence of such phenomena, even make use of them, but we cannot understand them in the way we understand that a body coming into contact with another body will cause it to move. The word "gravity" (Newton used the more precise term "attraction") is itself like the tree-falling-in-the-forest problem: a logical begging of the question, a question containing its own answer. "Gravity," derived from the Latin word gravitas means "heaviness, weight." Why does something fall? Because it's heavy. Why is it heavy? Because it wants to fall.
The idea that an invisible force is trying to bring me and the computer on my lap into contact is absurd, i.e., not within the range of my understanding in the way I can understand that if I push the lid of my computer downward, it will close. The knowledge that the invisible force gravity exists is not necessary to my or my species' survival. It's enough that I understand if I apply pressure to something, it will react, and that if I drop it, it will fall. Other animals know these facts as well as we do. Even plants, though it's doubtful they have an abstract concept like gravity to explain, or appear to explain, them.
We live in a reality entirely constructed by our imagination—or Imagination, there really is no word for it. (The same vocabulary with which we form our understanding of things in turn captures us, restricting our range of the possible and the real to the limited meanings of those words.) We only exist by this act of imagination. All that is or can be exists by its exercise. Imagination creates the Big Bang as well as my fingernails, creates the person who is reading these words, brings into being everything there is.
That's a big claim. Most philosophers will allow that what we think of as reality is a composite of matter independent of ourselves and our minds' peculiar but verifiable modeling of it. The eye gathers light, but we "see" what our minds create of it, and continue that creation even when no light is available and we are asleep with our eyes closed.
What we call reality is entirely the product of our "minds" (allowing for a use of that word to include the "minds" of fruit flies and seaweed as well). Nothing else exists. "Imagination" is both the creator and the creation. It is the source of the Big Bang and the result of it in exactly the same sense that the stars and autumn leaves are.
If what I'm asserting sounds suspiciously like a pantheistic God, that should come as no surprise. A non-personalized, eternal, all-powerful Creator can stand in as well for what I am attempting to describe, as does the word Imagination. But I prefer to strip the concept of theological overtones and any religious imperatives. I mean "God" in the way I understand Spinoza to have meant it, not personalized but imminent, existing everywhere and in everything. I am adding to that idea that the Creator is Us and we the creation, and we only exist as long as we, and everything else, go on imagining and experiencing It.
What we can't imagine, or do imagine only in terms of what we already understand, Dark Matter, for instance, is an example of how this works. We can't get our heads around the 90 percent of the stuff that seems to hold the universe together. In fact, we can't find it. That's because we haven't figured out how to imagine it.
In "Tlon, Ugbar and Orbis Tertius," Jorge Luis Borges, who knew a few things about imagination, creates a story about a place where the only reality is ideal as we realists see things, i.e., is a product of the human mind. Everything in that civilization is apparently the same as it is in our real world. People go to work, fall in love, eat, raise families. But objects come into being and go out of existence only as long as they are present in at least one person's consciousness. An abandoned house falling apart by the side of the road only goes on existing because travelers see it as they pass by. A team of archeologists dig up an ancient gold mask because that was what they expected to find.
Of course, what Borges is really portraying is not another civilization but our own. And in our own civilization, language was once assumed to have this same magical power to be the thing it denominated. A name scrawled on a wall where passersby would see it literally kept alive the deceased man who had borne that name. Words were identifiable with, were the same as, the objects they named. Hence hidden or secret personal names, names known only to intimate family members, which never appear on birth certificates, a practice still observed today in some parts of the world. If you know someone's name, their true name, you can sicken or even kill them because the name and the person are one. Words and objects are one and the same. You could therefore manipulate the physical world with language just as you could create or alter a block of wood or stone with your hands. You could cast a spell on someone or turn them or yourself into something else. With the right combination of words, a woman could become a bird, a man a donkey, as in Apuleius's Golden Ass.
This was the world and the science of even Western Europe right up to the 17th century, as intricate a cosmology and microcosmology as anything we have today, if based on different premises. Think astrology, still widely observed by even the most intelligent among us, a faith as intricately worked out and meticulously practiced by men and women as clever and as rigorously trained as a modern physician. Astrology is the most obvious remnant of the old science in our culture, but not the only one. The Christian doctrine of changing the substance of bread and wine into flesh and blood or the precise use of words to ensure that a Jewish prayer be efficacious are others. But bits of the old, millennia-old episteme are deeply embedded in our languages as well, and hence in our thinking without our realizing it.
How does this unreal reality we live in and are actually work?
There is a continuum from the most raw elemental part of reality and what we call consciousness or even spirit, with the same forces and inevitability in play. These "forces" (again, for want of a better term, and I don't see how inventing one out of Greek or Latin does anything more than provide an illusion of understanding) are the same no matter what the product: cuttlefish, nostalgia, Einstein. But there is no sense in which those "forces" can be said to exist or produce anything at all apart from the imaginary they themselves create. Remember, by "imagination" (a Latin word whose root means simply "picture") I am asking that term to carry much more weight that it was meant to or is probably capable of. I'm asking it to incorporate half a dozen other concepts as well—God, creation, and a few more to boot—none of which or even together can encompass an idea that is not comprehensible to the human mind, just as gravity is not comprehensible because we can't experience it directly.
It's worth repeating that what I am not saying is reality is illusion. That word implies the existence of a "real" or objective reality independent of our existence. The so-called illusion is realty, the only reality. We are stuck with it even if we know it is of our own making, our own and that of everything else in existence, if you allow rocks and other non-living stuff are part of and come from the same forces that produce what we call life.
We sustain that reality by what it itself is: Imagination. The moment our senses—and they are legion even without counting those of other species—fail, such as when we go blind or deaf or have a stroke or, ultimately, die, the universe ceases to exist because we lose contact with it, i.e., can no longer sustain it, not just for us as individuals but for real. Anyone who has experienced a failure of one of their faculties knows how disturbing an experience that is. It needn't be a total shutdown, even the bizarre light show and distortions of an ocular migraine show how dependent we are on the proper functioning of our senses and the brain that is, literally, behind it. When those senses fail, we lose our ability to create a reality, and it ceases to exist or at least is seriously undermined, like a failure in the force field of the transporter that is also standard equipment on Enterprise-class starships.
The immediate effect of such a failure can be shocking. During a migraine you "see" what isn't there, and what you do see, you know is not there, or at least isn't what's been there since as far back as you can remember. An hallucination can have an even greater impact. Until we realize what we are seeing and hearing is not "real," there is no way to distinguish it from the world we believe to exist apart from ourselves. The logical conclusion of someone experiencing an hallucination is to assume it is real. They have no immediate way of knowing that a part of their brain that is only supposed to be active during sleep has somehow got stuck in the on position while they are wide awake. No one will argue anymore that what we see, hear, and feel in our dreams is as real as what we experience when we are awake, but that has not always been the case. It used to be thought that our ancestors visited us when we were asleep, that the future was predicted, that something was happening on the other side of the world that was being revealed to us, perhaps by a divinity to warn or reassure us.
It's a lot to get our mental arms around, impossible really—the exquisitely detailed structure of the reality we imagine. Is it really possible such an intricate, granular, and self-evident world could be entirely the product of our selves, collectively and individually, and that the imaginary extends all the way "down" to the simplest forms of life? It's a preposterous suggestion. But so much of what we now accept as true, from the structure and behavior of the atom to our concept of the universe itself, with its black holes and its being-out-of-nothingness, has become acceptable absurdity even if we can't comprehend such ideas the way we do immediate experience.
But surely the notion of our living within an Imaginary, our own imaginary, that is all there is, no "reality" beyond it, must stretch the realm of possibility. Does it seem impossible because such an idea was not required for our successful evolution as a species, any more than it was for a mole or a bowl of spinach? But if that's the case, where did I and everyone else to whom this idea has occurred come by it? The only answer must be: from the same place all other experience and ideas come from: We create them, just as Bach created his suites for cello and Einstein created Relativity. [Our Imaginary is a creation myth like Genesis or the Big Bang, which doesn't mean it's either false or true, only that it is the default one.]
There are moral, from a human point of view, implications in such a theory. Why, for instance, should this universe we have dreamed up have so much suffering in it, not just for us but for every living thing? If we and our one-celled progenitors had to imagine a reality, why not make it one that does not include pain and suffering? Original sin and other offenses against the gods that our religions provide answers for in response to the question, Why did a God that is at the source of our being, not apart from it, why did He, why did we, make such a defective world and continue to do so? Could we not imagine one where love and peace prevail instead of a place full of misery and death? Even if we have a visceral need to posit a forbidden-fruit story, why should it condemn all our ancestors all the way back to those who didn't even make it into our family tree because they weren't as viable, or perhaps as bloodthirsty, as our actual DNA-rich distant kin? If pain and suffering are retribution for our disobeying the Creator (ourselves), why should that retribution include house cats and weeping willows? Or, to put it another way, why could our imaginary not be an easier one to bear, even allowing for its many delights and the deep joy of being alive?
The Problem of Evil is either one you accept as a real difficulty or one that can only be entertained as a begging of the question: a "problem" to be resolved in order to justify the existence of an all-loving, all-wise, etc., Creator. The answer to Evil is typically that we know not the mind of God and His ways, and that those will be revealed in a future life to those who trust in Him. Another answer is best represented by Ivan Karamzov in Dostoevsky's masterpiece. He details several examples of horrible, gratuitous torture and murder in the novel's famous "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter. Many of those atrocities involve children, always the prime examples of either an uncaring or inscrutable deity. But Ivan says he cannot accept that there must be some kind of justice existing outside our human notion of it. He is human and must judge as a human. That's the only meaning of the word "justice" that makes any sense to him. We could add that if we are also to believe we are images of a divinity, how did we end up with such a keen sense of right and wrong so different, indeed directly at odds, with the morality of that God?
But the real question is why did We, not the Gods of our religions, invent, as it were, so much pain and suffering, injustice included? Or rather it is, why did our one-cell ancestors invent or at least allow it? Of course, we are all and everything that is, identical with the so-called forces we give mathematical and other names to. We are not just the consequences of those forces, we are them in untold different manifestations. And yet we only know them by imagining them, as we will someday "know" what Dark Matter is by imagining it along with the proper numbers and jargon to make our imagining sound objective and rational. But why not a different Imaginary? One where kittens don't get crushed and babies don't get swallowed up by mudslides while the rest of us stand by and watch and try to believe even the worst horrors will some day be explained as all for the best? If evil, to use the common term, is inherent in our Imaginary, that must be because the forces we express are configured that way. But that is to assume other forces could exist and so allow that other Imaginaries could exist, even if ours is the only one that does.
But probably most difficult of all for us to accept as part of the Imaginary we create is what we call consciousness. Despite smarter people than me long ago asserting that the awareness we mean by that word, along with all that comes with it—rationality, free will, etc.—is simply a function of our brains just as digestion is a function of our gastro-intestinal tract, we still hang on to that seeming evidence of immateriality like Custer did to his last chance at Little Big Horn. We think, i.e. are conscious, therefore we are. Never mind that it's clear at this point that our sense of being alive, who we are, is something we experience as an entire organism, not just as a brain kept functioning by a dumb support system we call the body.
Artificial Intelligence, one more god of our making, can not change that fact. Attributing to inanimate matter any kind of mind in the sense we understand that word is inevitable given our built-in propensity to imagine a human entity when we see something act in ways we think unique to humans. It's the same impulse that causes us to see faces in clouds and ghosts in the dark. In the 18th century, people flocked to observe talking heads on display: mechanical busts outfitted with voice boxes. Those visitors came not to appreciate how clever the New Science was but to experience the thrill of seeing and hearing a detached human head speak, unable as they were not to believe, whatever their rational minds might tell them, that there must be some kind of intelligence in something that looks and talks like a human being.
But human beings are not just talking heads made of flesh and blood. We are also feet, femurs—and as essential and apparently just as intelligent as what is between our ears, gut—all of it feeling, thinking, and apprehending as one personality. Were we configured differently, as a rose bush or a squid, our minds would differ accordingly. We think with our entirety, head to toe. Even our most sublime moments, indeed all of our sublime moments, are cognates of the releases we feel as orgasm, elimination, scratching. The climax of a musical composition, whether it's the latest hit single or a Beethoven sonata, is predicated on the construction of pent-up emotion and its release. Nothing we feel, not even our most abstract thoughts, not the resolution of a mathematical equation, can be experienced in any other way. Thought is as much a matter of tension and release as the pleasure of a cool drink on a warm afternoon or the sweet balm of sleep after a long hard day.
So, are suffering and death accidental? Is cruelty? Did they all come about by a fluke, because our earliest ancestors, bacteria living off the organic chemicals released by underwater geysers suddenly shut down and they were left with nothing to eat but one another? Those too squeamish to make a meal of grandma, alive or dead, perished. Those less so survived and generated more of their own kind. Jump ahead a few hundred million years. Who prospers and survives, the nice young man who can't bring himself to kill the rabbit caught in the trap his father has set, or the brother who doesn't mind doing so? That squeamish brother has survived as well, but he does so in a world that assumes the Jacobs of the world, not the Esaus, will inherit the earth—already have.
Unless you believe some cosmic event like Adam's Sin is the cause not just of the pains of childbirth and of genocides like Rwanda but of the dog-eat-dog, tree-eat-tree, bacterium-eat-bacterium world we live in, the so-called Problem of Evil is hardwired into everything alive. Who are we johnnies-come-lately to require a moral rationale for the way things are? Would anything but a human being even see "evil" as a "problem"? Nothing wants to suffer or die, but who but us feels the need to invent a myth to justify it? Or, to put it in a way more pertinent to this essay, why do we, as much a product of the forces imaginary as any beetle or bush, why do we have so much trouble accepting the facts of life? Do lions feel remorse after chowing down on a teenage gazelle? Do funguses and viruses? Perhaps more to the point, are we as a species, however tentative we may be as such, any the better for having feelings of guilt?
Collective punishment is illegal under international law, though it continues to be practiced in even the most civilized societies. Yet billions of people believe all moral as well as physical evil is the consequence of one man's disobedience. We shrink in horror at the idea of someone today being held responsible for the actions of their parents, never mind their great-grandparents. But we have no trouble accepting excruciating pain or the most depraved behavior as the result eons ago of one ancestor's sneaking a bit of forbidden fruit. It's the one-drop rule of American racism or the Nuremberg Laws writ large, writ in letters light-years wide across the heavens. And exactly what crime did the gazelle commit to make it the prey of the lion, or the happy fruit fly to turn it into dinner for the industrious spider, or the maple sapling to cause it to be pushed out of the sunlight by a more aggressive oak?
All of this is our fault, a species that didn't even turn up in its most primitive form until a few million years ago? Was all the suffering on this planet that occurred before our appearance also the consequence of one man in the Garden of Eden?
But the more intelligent evangelists of our modern religions don't take seriously the Augustinian notion of Original Sin, at least not as literally as they used to. They're too embarrassed to try. They might not accept Darwinian evolution as a valid explanation for life on the planet, but they know they can't tell anyone that 50 children swallowed up in a mudslide in a favella in Brazil is punishment for their remote ancestor's getting too big for his invisible britches. Or that there is a divine justice that can and will some day explain away our more limited human sense of what it should mean to be a loving Father.
Perhaps the only explanation for why we have the Reality we do have, the imaginary we all, all living things, construct and keep in existence, is that it is one that works. Who knows how many alternatives were tried and failed before the one we express was hit upon. If genes are as "selfish" as we are told they are, as singleminded about reproducing themselves at the cost of everything and everyone else, then it should come as no surprise that the critters those genes produce are of a similar self-centeredness. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.
But whether it's our ancient myths or our present belief a la Lord of the Flies that humankind is, as Thucydides assured us more than 2,000 years ago, a nasty piece of goods when you take away the thin veneer of civilization, our recent history certainly seems to justify that point of view. How many millions of our kind have we slaughtered in just the last century when that veneer gave way under the pressure of all-out war? The Peloponnesian conflict started out in a time and place where war was a kind of gentlemen's tiff. Disputes among Greek city-states were typically settled by well-off farmers putting on their homemade armor and going at the other guys' farmers for a couple hours in a field. When it became clear which side would prevail, the war was called off and the combatants went back to their ploughs.
But the longer the war between Athens and Sparta, or more precisely between the empires of Athens and Sparta, went on, the lower the bar of gentlemanly behavior was lowered, until democracy-loving Athenians were slaughtering the male populations of entire cities, and Sparta was doing likewise. We saw the exact same thing happen in the world wars of the 20th century. A conflict that started in 1914, supposed to be over in a few months, dragged on for years until tens of millions were dead, single battles lasting no more than a day resulting in tens of thousands of casualties. Then, 20 years later, civilians became fair game, and an exchange of at first modest bombing raids on towns and cities escalated into the wholesale incineration of women, children, and the old.
Yet in December, 1914, just five months after the onset of the Great War, troops on both sides, Germans in their trenches, Brits in theirs, sang Christmas carols to each other, played soccer matches, and even promised to disobey orders when the next offensive was ordered and to shoot above the heads of their enemy brothers. The veneer of civilization, or maybe of something that runs more deeply than that, seems to have held.
And then there is the true-life incident recounted in Rutger Bregman's Humankind, which gives the lie to the scenario presented in Lord of the Flies, a work of fancy that seems to be standard reading in English classes all over the world. A group of real boys actually did get marooned on a desert island. But when they were found, their rescuers found not a mini-society of brutes reverting to a dog-eat-dog way of life free of the artificial constraints of civilization, but a well-run, democratic, caring society where everyone was looked after and no one was abused by power-mad peers.
Of course, you can always make the argument that altruism is just another selfish gene, a kind of fail-safe for when the more aggressive ones get out of hand and threaten to destroy the very individuals they are supposed to champion. But in that case, what do the words "selfish" and "altruistic" mean? If caring and compassion and justice are just forms of selfishness, why call selfishness selfishness at all? Besides, we aren't the only species who empathize and care, even for those not of our own kind. Other animals, even trees do so, and not just in an extended use of those terms but in the same way we do. Anyone who has lived with a dog or cat knows how well those creatures understand another creature's suffering and respond with gestures of comfort. Even members of species normally prey and predator sometimes befriend, even nurture each other. Elephants not only mourn their dead, they mourn our own when those humans have been kind to them. Trees will keep the stumps of trees slain by human axes alive for centuries by feeding them with the nutrients of their own leaves that the stricken member, even if it is from a different species, can no longer provide for itself.
Does it make any sense to say young men in bombers setting ablaze the paper houses of Tokyo or the more substantial residences of Coventry, Dresden, and Hanoi exemplify what it means to be essentially human, but Quakers who spend their days caring for babies dying of AIDS in Africa or neighbors who look after the old couple on the top floor during a viral pandemic are just hiding behind a veneer masking their true nature?
It's said the most intelligent species are the shortest-lived evolutionally. "Intelligent," of course, is how we define it, meaning "like ours." Sharks, coelacanths, termites, ferns are the big winners in evolution. If it weren't for the dinosaurs' sudden exit 60 million years ago, we wouldn't be here at all, while those dinosaurs, some of them, had the good sense to downsize and become sparrows and vultures. Our tree-dwelling ancestors did very nicely, thank you, for millions of years before some of them evolved into modern humans, elbowing out the competition along the way. But it's only in the last 40,000 years or so that we came into our own, and just yesterday in evolutionary time when we settled down as farmers and city-dwellers and became "civilized" (from the Latin word civis, "city"). We've had an impressive, though still brief, run. So have plenty of other species that now exist as nothing more than fossils embedded in old rocks.
The prize seems not to be to the swift or to the smart but to the species that have, like Goldilocks' bed, just the right amount of intelligence. Long after we and our smart bombs are gone—and good-riddance, the rest of creation will say—the stickleback will go on fertilizing his missus's eggs with a quick drive-by, and the cockroaches will go on with the business of earning a living as they have for millions of years before homo sapiens turned up. Which is a more successful and therefore more "intelligent" species, the eight billion of us currently fouling our own and everything else's nest, or a fish that has survived in a few square miles of sea for the last 3,000,000 years and counting? However self-satisfied we may feel about ourselves, who was it won that race between the tortoise and the hare?
I happen to be a member of the same genetic family as the tortoise portrayed in that fable, and I confess to liking it. I like using all that extra brain power. I like thinking, having sudden insights. And I like creating—not just constructing a universe that would not exist without me and will disappear the moment the electrical current in my brain fails; I like creating love and gorgeous May mornings and Brahms' music and essays like this one. I even like the idea that art like good conversation is the essence of how we exist: creating a secondary reality out of imagination, the non-stop process that keeps the whole she-bang going. After all, if the imaginary we live in, and are, is of our own making, what are what we call works of imagination but a kind of extra-curricular play, the expression of a compulsive, indeed essential, need to keep imagining even beyond the requirements of creating a "real" reality?
Like Heinrich Boell who fought a losing war on two fronts and declared in his more mature years that every war is mass murder, I love my own kind. I can't help it that the imaginary I'm part of is a holodeck lasting only as long as I'm able to continue doing my part to keep it in existence. I can't make the lion lie down with the lamb, and even if I stop eating lamb myself, the spinach on my plate didn't come into existence in order to provide me with nourishment. I don't understand death any better than a caribou I once saw watch her offspring get taken down and eaten by a pack of wolves. The pain and confusion on her face expressed exactly the state we experience when one of our own dies, no matter how much we surround that event with ritual and myth. That caribou and I are in this lovely mess together. The least I can do is acknowledge that fact, even if it's a dream from which we only wake up when we no longer awaken. Nor does it matter that we are here today but will be gone tomorrow as a species. I may as well bemoan the fact that as an individual I won't live forever. Though I do, of course... even if time is just a model like space itself, a way of negotiating the great Imaginary, an ad hoc if inevitable modus vivendi, a way to make sense out of an eternal present with no real beginning and no imaginable end.