W o K     :     Ways of Knowing

Piet's Videoranch Talks: March 25, 2007

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The Time of Your Life

Last week, I spoke about time, how time has unfolded from the Big Bang to the present. Everything I told you then was based on the scientific understanding that we have of the world, following the empirical scientific method. In other words, all the knowledge I spoke about is all based on experience, on our human experience. Even though we talk about billions of light years, it is we who talk about it, using our brief and localized presence to make sense of it all.

So we use our experience to understand the universe. Let us look for a moment at what experience is. This is the basis on which everything else is built, all our thoughts, emotions, memories, insights. Normally, each experience has a subject and an object and an interaction between the two. I see a pen. I feel a chair. I watch a piece of equipment in a laboratory. The structure is always subject-verb-object.

So far, in the 400 years of its existence, modern science has used experience, but only to harvest the objects. The subject and the interactions were used as the soil and stalks of the grains of truth incorporated in the objects -- and then only the grains were kept. And thus we now have a very grainy understanding of the world.

We now have a picture of the world in terms of space and time as the stage, with many objects filling the stage. And in this picture even the subject is reinterpreted as a composite object. We tend to identify with a body, and within that with a brain and nervous system, with hormones, genes, all those scientific grains of truth that we use as place holders for authentic experience. On the object side of experience, it is all correct, but on the subject side of experience, such a stance misses the point.

This is a very impoverished way of living our life.

Interestingly, the very science and technology mindset that has led to this impoverished view of life has also given us virtual reality. It has given us this world, this realm of videoranch where we have now gathered to meet each other. We are experiencing the presence of each other. I can see you here in front of me, and you can see me and each other.

In one way, you could say that the process of impoverishing has gone one step further, with the construction of virtual worlds. Each step of technological invention has distanced us more from direct experience. From hunter-gatherers we have gone to agriculture, we got the written word, then radio and television and the internet and now virtual worlds. At each step we got more power in exchange for a loss of something. Here in Videoranch we have the power of getting together whenever we want, wherever in the world we may be. And of course, something is lost. We cannot drink a beer together or hug each other or slap each other on the back the way we could were we really in the same room.

But that trade-off between enhancing our experience in one way and impoverishing our experience in another, also opens a fascinating new door of investigation.

By noticing what we lose and what we gain, in videoranch, we can then go back to our normal life in the normal world, and see that one with new eyes. Perhaps our identifications with our brains and hormones and genes were premature and too narrow. Perhaps we have bought into a scientific picture of the world as a composite of objects, and nothing more, to far too large an extent. Perhaps we can regain more of a sense of pure experience.

You see, experience is what you carry with you, when you move into a virtual world. Objects get transformed, but the subject pole of experience, the you who is alive and who has all this experience, this you is really here. We call this a virtual reality, but what is virtual here? The objects are indeed virtual, but the subjects and interactions are as real they are in the normal world. So the whole term `virtual reality' is already slanted to giving objects all the weight of experience, disregarding the other two aspects.

So here you are, as a subject, being present here. The sense of presence is not something science deals with, on a fundamental level. But you are present here, now. What does that mean?

Perhaps presence is more fundamental than objects, and even more fundamental than subjects. Perhaps our understanding of what it means to be a subject is already a step down from dealing with real presence. Starting with Presence, we fall into a subject-object split, with an interaction to bridge the gap, and then science comes in to make an extremely accurate map of a world populated with objects -- twice removed from presence.

So, entering a virtual world means leaving the normal world behind, in terms of objects. It means carrying the normal world with us, in terms of subjects. And it may mean enhancing the sense of shared Presence. In that sense, of focusing on Presence, a virtual world may give us a handle of something that has been obscured during the last four hundred years in our modern culture.

Presence is related to time. The past and the future are constructs. The present, when sees as the razor thin slice of now sandwiched in between this huge past and present, is a construct too. Presence is different. It is different from past, different from future, and different from the present moment. Presence does not deal with moments. Sometimes Presence is called a `fourth time'. I think that is a nice expression. You could call it Now, you could call it eternity.

You might call it the eternity of the now. In any case, it does not fit into a picture of linear time.

William Blake put his finger on it, in his poetic phrasing:

to see a world in a grain of sand
and Heaven in a wild flower
to hold all of space in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.

It is this fourth time, that is the real time of your life. And it does not invalidate anything that science has taught us.

On future Sundays, I hope to come back to many interesting and important aspects of science. And I also hope to come back to this fourth time, and the door it opens to experience in a deeper and richer way than what has been used by science so far.

 Thank you for joining me here with your presence!

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