Keith Nathan Brown’s innovative Clock Time is featured in the April issue. He talks with us about time villains, where the present overlaps, and what he wants swallowing him.
1. Which is your favorite time themed villain, The Clock King, Flash Man, or Biff Tannen?
The Clock King.Â Â For no other reason than that his back story (robbing a bank to provide for his invalid sister) is a mirror image of my sister who provides for her invalid brother, and though she stole my heart, I consider her no villain but a superhero.
2. Where does the present overlap?
Excellent question!Â Â I had briefly answered this in an earlier draft of â€œClock Timeâ€, but excised it to retain the geometrical symmetry.Â Basically, the present does not overlap.Â Â Rather, the presentÂ is the overlap.Â Â Hereâ€™s one version of the excised passage:
â€œThe clock spins forward.Â Â The room rotates.Â Â The past never existed, overlaps with the future.Â Â The future never existing, overlaps with the past.Â Â Each one projects a shadow into the light of the otherâ€™s infinity.Â Â But the peak density of time, of the overlap, is the present.Â Which in this white room, a mirror image of itself in the clock, is not so much a moment as a Gaussian cloud.â€
In mathematics, thereâ€™s whatâ€™s called theÂ Gaussian function, whose graph has a â€œâ€˜bell curveâ€™ shape that quickly falls off towards plus/minus infinity.â€Â Â In a strictly metaphorical sense, if we were to plot time itself as a Gaussian function, then the region where past and future (which donâ€™t exist) most pronouncedly overlap would be represented by the bell curve, and this region would also indicate what we typically experience as the present moment.Â Â Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from such a model, but before we look at those, let me briefly elaborate on my assertion that past and future donâ€™t exist.
Letâ€™s consider the past.Â Â When I say the past doesnâ€™t exist, what I mean is the past has no existence other than in the present.Â Which is not to say that yesterday didnâ€™t happen, but that yesterday is still happening in today.Â Â This is why time travel is not possible.Â Â If you tried to travel back in time to yesterday, you would end up right here.Â Â No matter how far back in time you tried to travel, you would end up here.Â Â All of the past is ever-present, or, at any given moment the configuration of the universe embodies the sum history of all events and conditions prior.Â Â Time is like a slug, stretching forward while constantly regathering itself.Â Â That analogy, however, is inaccurate, because time doesnâ€™t â€œmove forwardâ€.Â Â If anything, time is like the never-endingÂ Penrose staircase (made famous byÂ Escher) which appears to be forever ascending without actually ascending; time never-ending moves forward without actually moving.Â Â (Note: The Penrose staircase analogy also has severe limitations, e.g., reversibility and circularity, which are precisely what Iâ€™m arguing against.Â Â What is important, or is the essential feature of note, is the false but genuine sense of progression: Time is forever evolving nowhere, which is nothing other than now here.)Â Â You canâ€™t travel back in time because there is no past to go back to.Â Â The past is right here.Â Â The fallacy is to confuse duration with extension and thus â€œmaterializeâ€ the past as something that extends backward and can be traversed upon like a staircase.Â Â But the staircase doesnâ€™t go anywhere.Â Â Similar considerations regarding the future as an embodiment of anticipatory forces can be made, but that discussion will be withheld for sake of space.Â Â So letâ€™s look again at the Gaussian model.
Notice on the graph that something remarkable happens at the region of peak density where past and future overlap, something called, the present.Â Â Firstly, the bell curve of the present suggests that there is no definitive way to separate past from future.Â Â Of course, if we wanted to try to separate past from future, we could use a clock (as we do in our everyday lives) to draw a line through the peak density and say everything to the left of the line is past and everything to the right is future.Â Â Nonetheless, like the idea of an extended past or an extended future, the line is purely artificial.Â Â Secondly, at the peak density of time, the influences of past and future are not only at their height but in equilibrium, hence the Gaussian symmetry.Â Â Thirdly, as a result of the latter, past and future equally influence the shape of the present as defined by the totality of relations among all known existents.Â Â Lastly, and the truly magical aspect of all this (of which we all contribute unknowingly, a ritual for that ineffable state of being, for the time being, which we all have the grace to embody in the form of our own finite presence), the magic of all this is that a pair of non-existents, past and future, interact in such a way to manifest the one thing that does exist, the present moment, which itself is neither infinitely extended nor a stack of infinitesimals, but more akin to a glowing cloud of beingness.Â Â Or, similarly, the present is not so much an instant as a cloud of luminous presence (â€œPresence as a radiating sphere of influence and involvementsâ€), or what I call, the dilated present, whose dimensions measure 14â€™ x 68â€™ and which is located in a mobile home park in Brattleboro, VT, where Ollie (a green parakeet) and myself subsist on boiled potatoes, cable television and benzodiazepines.
3. What time related power do you wish you had? What would you do with it?
If â€œpastâ€ experience has taught me anything, itâ€™s that wishing for things distracts one from the full potential of which every moment is brilliantly imbued.Â Â However, for the sake of argument, if I had to wish for one time-related power it would be the ability to step outside of time when the strobe light and the static get too fast and too loud, and float away in the twilight emptiness of atemporal tranquilityâ€”a power which, surprisingly enough, can be attained via an ordinary bottle of valium.
4. How did you build “Clock Time”?
One function of an observation room on a hospital ward is to isolate a new admission for a short period of time (e.g., a few hours) in order to observe them at regular intervals (e.g. every fifteen minutes) to ensure they pose no imminent threat to themselves or others before integration with the residents of the ward.Â Â Several weeks prior to admission, as a result of academic stress and self-medication, I experienced periods of convulsive mental discharge in which recently assimilated information would erupt uncontrollably in a manifestation of physiological spasms and paralyzing brain shivers.Â Â According to theÂ Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, reality remains in a state of uncertainty until an observation forces reality into a known state.Â Â Erwin Schrodinger expressed what he considered to be the untenableness of this view in his now-famousÂ paradox of a cat in a box, in which a cat, whose life or death depends on a quantum event, remains in an existential superposition, simultaneously alive and dead, until an observation forces the cat into one state or the other.Â Â One of the reasons, among several, for my self-admission into a mental institution was the view that I could gain direct access to the nature of reality by dismantling the structure of my ego.Â Â Like quantum mechanics, this age-old idea has a variety of interpretations.Â Â Unlike the bed and the end-table bolted to the floor, the wall clock merely hung on a metal screw and easily slid off in my hands.Â Â Like quantum superposition, the clockâ€™s dome created a visual superposition: the transparency of the plastic dome at once reflected the room and transmitted the dial of the clock, such that the two existed simultaneously in the same visual space.Â Â In the observation room, all that remained of my cognition was a stream of sensory input skewed through sense-memory residuals.Â Â In the superposition of reflection and dial, I watched my identity merge with Schrodingerâ€™s cat and witnessed how the observation room bristled with ontological mysteries.Â Â What was I experiencing at that moment?Â Â What are we actually experiencing when we experience the world?Â Â Was I coming any closer to the nature of reality that hid in plain sight?Â Â However, like the cat in the box, the magical limbo of my method was interrupted when one of the hospital staff breached the hermetic seal of the door and, observing my interaction with the wall clock, inquired, â€œKeith, have you taken anything today?â€Â Â To which I responded, â€œNo,â€ and smiled pleasantly.Â Â The reply unexpectedly deepened the look of concern on her face.Â Â She carefully backed out of the room and, without taking her eyes off me, slowly closed the door.Â Â It was then that I realized that even though I was in a mental institution, the expectations and obligations of society held as true inside as they did outside, and though I would be protected from external and previous patterns of self-harm, in no way was I free to meticulously dismantle my identity, which I believed (rather ridiculously, at the time) to force my being into a limited singular state that hindered my desire for illumination.Â Â So, to answer your question, you could say â€œClock Timeâ€ was built on a slight misunderstanding.
5. What do you want to swallow you?
Life is communion.Â Â Every morning we open our mouths with a yawn, and the universe silently places a wafer on our tongues.Â Â Every evening we close our eyes for sleep, and the darkness swallows us whole.
6. How do you want to swing?
Who taught the pendulum how to swing?Â Â Jazz…Â Â O, so jazz…