Comics and the Eternal Present

Kurt Klopmeier in The Critical Flame:

ScreenHunter_1195 May. 21 07.57“What, then, is time?” Christian philosopher St. Augustine asked. “If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” We say that time flies or that it drags. We have it on our hands or we are pressed for it. And although we cannot experience any time other than our own present, physicists tell us that there is nothing particularly special about the present. It seems that all times exist at once, and it is only our perception that limits our view of it. Because of this, it’s very hard to understand and even harder to convey the idea that everything according to special relativity is constantly happening.

The way people experience time—that it has a direction and a flow—appears to be inaccurate, at least according to our best understanding of physics. In his explanation of special relativity,The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene explains: “There is no use crying over spilled milk, because once spilled it can never be unspilled: we never see splattered milk gather itself together, rise off the floor, and coalesce in a glass that sets itself upright on a kitchen counter.” Events happen in one direction, and one alone. Time seems to move always forward in a particular sequence that is never interrupted. However, Greene writes, “as hard as physicists have tried, no one has found any convincing evidence within the laws of physics that supports this intuitive sense that time flows. In fact, a reframing of some of Einstein’s insights from special relativity provides evidence that time does not flow … The outside perspective … in which we’re looking at the whole universe, all of space at every moment of time, is a fictitious vantage point, one that none of us will ever have.” But this view of time, and the way that authors have tried to use it, can offer enlightening insights about the world that normal sequential narratives cannot, and can shed light on the way narrative operates on our understanding.

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