Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time and timelessness

I shall here try to solve a paradox. By paradox I mean something contradictory but nevertheless is true. The dictionary says
a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.*
But that isnt quite it. For this case, paradox is closer to what physicist Neils Bohr calls a great truth:
A great truth is one whose opposite is also a great truth.
But first:

Three weeks ago, I suppose it was, we came from shopping for groceries one day, my daughters and I. We didnt buy a lot of stuff, just two plastic bags, so the load didnt merit taking a taxi. We took a jeepney instead and a tricycle after that. Usually, when taking a tricycle, I never -- and I want to stress this point -- never -- ride inside the cab when Im with my two daughters, preferring to ride outside behind the driver. That is because I dont want one of them to take the uncomfortable, tiny extra seat. If youve never ridden a tricycle before, in the tricycle's cab, aside from the seat for two people, there's this uncushioned... protruberance... on the side where the unfortunate third person sits, hunched over and scrunched lest he or she steps on the toes of the two passengers comfortably seated, more or less, as much comfort as one can obtain riding a tricycle. Anyway...

On this day, as I said, we were on our way home, and for some reason, I chose to ride inside. I was about to take the seat behind the driver, changed my mind, and took the seat inside, which forced my younger daughter to take the tiny extra seat in the cab, something, I stress this again, I never do. Somebody else took 'my seat' behind the driver and another fella with him. (Tricycles usually dont leave til their full -- three inside and two behind the driver.) There was also a boy of about three seated in front of the driver, the driver's son presumably. So all-in-all there were seven of us in that tricycle.

Having just rained, the road was wet, and at the time, there wasnt much traffic. The lack of vehicles on the road I suppose encouraged our driver to gun his machine. We were moving at a pretty fast clip when on a curve to the right, I heard a loud pop on the back wheel which I thought was the rear tire blowing (not the tire, it turned out). I instinctively grabbed my daughter seated in the tiny seat. I knew there was something wrong. Next thing I knew, I felt a violent jolt, then the tricycle was on the curb on the opposite side of the road, where the cab continued to lurch to and fro quite roughly -- it was like slow motion -- then we stopped quite close to a wall. I made sure that my daughters were all right and jumped out of the cab, and asked the visibly shaken driver how his kid was. Then I felt a sharp pain in my head about a couple of inches above my left ear, and realized I was bleeding quite freely. Blood was pouring out of my head and onto my shirt. By this time other tricycles, were around, their drivers asking if we were all right. One of them gave me his towel to stop the bleeding. I wasnt worried about me. I knew scalp wounds bled profusely even if the wound isnt serious. Probably because there was blood pouring down my neck and onto my shirt, I received the most attention. The other drivers were saying to our driver "Dalhin mo na sa clinic yan!" And I had to assure them Im fine and I dont need the clinic. The bleeding stopped quite easily after a minute of pressure with the towel. I pointed to the other passenger, the one seated beside the driver -- what was supposed to be my seat -- and told the driver to see to him instead. I took a look at the chap sitting on the curb, and holy crap!, he was pale. He was obviously in a lot of pain and couldnt stand. Apparently, when the driver tried to stop the tricycle by jumping the curb, the guy behind him hit his leg on a concrete Meralco post. "Asikasuhin mo yun," I told the driver. The other drivers had to help him up. Man was he pale. They carried him to the tricycle. The others urged me to hop in as well, but I said I was ok. I was. The bleeding stopped, and aside from the pain, didnt feel dizzy or nauseous or anything. My daughters, although shaken, were uninjured. The poor baby had a bruise on his face and was too shocked to cry. Another tricycle took us home. The driver told us he saw what happened since he was right behind us. We were moving very fast, he said, and tried to flag us down. Apparently our first driver was new and wasnt used to the road yet. He told me if we needed anything, to go to their association's leader. He told me the tricycle's number just in case (no. 69). When we got home, he didnt want to accept payment but I insisted. Later that day, around 7 pm, our first driver came to our house with our second driver and asked how my daughters and I were doing. I said we were fine and asked about the injured guy and his baby. (Baby's home crying and injured guy still in the clinic for observation.)

I was thanking God through all this for taking care of the kids. A lot of things couldve happened. If there was a car headed in the opposite direction when the tricycle headed over to the other side, we wouldve been done for. When we were lurching all over the place, I thought we would flip. We didnt, and I thanked God for that.

But there's something about the whole thing that puzzled me. Why didnt I take the seat behind the driver? I spent the rest of that day thinking about it and is still on my mind now. Was I warned somehow -- by God, by an angel -- not to take that seat and sit in the cab instead? But that would mean God knew what was going to happen. That would mean the future is fixed, and I have a few problems with that. First, the obvious one: a fixed future means we're not free; free will is an illusion. In a fixed future where we choose B from a choice of A, B, and C, the 'freedom' we have to choose A or C doesnt exist. We will always choose B because that's what we're destined to do. Or stated another way, if God already knew that you were going to choose B, then there is no way you would choose A or C even if you feel from the very depths of your being that you couldve done so.

And second, God knowing the future like that is not supported by scripture. Several times in the Bible, God is surprised, God changes his mind, God tests somebody as if he didnt know the outcome. The most famous test of course is that of Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. When Abraham passes the test, God says, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God..." (Gen 22:12). "Now I know..." When did God know that Abraham passed the test? Only after Abraham passed it. Nowhere in the Bible does God claim omniscience. What about prophecies? A lot of prophecies are contingent upon what people do. Thus sayeth the Lord, your city is toast. But if the people repent, the prophecy doesnt come true. And God isnt at all bothered that what he says doesnt come to pass, as if he'd rather be wrong than to have to obliterate people. And besides, what's the big deal about prophecy anyway? If for example I announce today that at 10 am tomorrow, Im going out to get myself a sandwich from Ministop, I made a prophecy. And when tomorrow comes, and at precisely 10 am, I go out and get a sandwich from Ministop, I made that prophecy come to pass. That sort of thing would be easy for God and it wouldnt mean that the future is fixed. See I take what one might call a quantum mechanical view of the future. In quantum mechanics, everything is a possibility until a consciousness, like us for example, fixes one possibility, which at the same time reduces the other possibilities to zero. The future doesnt exist as a certainty, but as possibility, and God doesnt know the future as a certainty, but as possibility, and it takes us, by our choices, to fix a possibility into a certainty. That's how God created things. It's kind of like the Matrix. "The problem is choice," Neo said. God built this 'problem' of choice into the system.

So if it didnt come from the Bible, where did we get the idea that God knows the future as certainty, that the future is fixed, that we're all destined to this or that? Possibly from Greek philosophy. But those who espouse this classical view say that even if God knows the future as fixed, it is not he who fixed it. We are still free and our choices are real choices and not illusion despite the fact that God already knows what we choose. There is an apparent contradiction here. As I have stated earlier, if God knows we will choose B, then choices A and C werent really available. But this is a contradiction only if God is in time, that is, if God experiences time the way we do: as a series of events one after another, past, present, future. If we place God outside time, then there is no contradiction, since past-present-and-future is meaningless to him, that is, he doesnt know what will happen, he just knows. And this view has support from physics as well, specifically cosmology. The standard view of the Big Bang says that time had a beginning. If God created the universe, all dimensions of it including time, then by necessity, God exists outside time. If he is outside time, he doesnt know the future for the future doesnt exist. He just knows.

But what of the verses in the Bible wherein God changes his mind, or asks the people to reason with him? I suspect that if God chooses to intervene in this Matrix, he places himself in time. That is, he then becomes subject to past, present, and future. To communicate with us, he is then constrained to use references to the past, the present, and the future. "Now I know..." And he is telling the truth. When he comes here, when he says "Now I know" that's exactly when he knows it, that is, our now, and he is genuinely surprised and genuinely grieved and genuinely pissed at what we do even though paradoxically when he chooses to live in that timeless realm in which he hangs out sometimes, he 'already' -- and already is in quotes because in the timeless realm, already doesnt mean anything -- he already knows. Paradoxically as well, in this realm with time, the moment we do something, the moment we choose something, that is the time God knows about it.

So what happened that day on the tricycle in light of the above? Simple. It was a coincidence. A lucky break, happenstance, a fortuity...that God knew about 'beforehand'.

What, you expected definite answers from me?

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*Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

7 comments:

dkny.ca said...

"that God knew about 'beforehand'" and then what? that He whispered to you to go into the cab instead? what's your theory on that? =)

Jego said...

I have no idea. For all I know he wanted the other guy to sit behind the driver so he'll get hurt and I was getting in the way. :-D

dkny.ca said...

btw, am very glad you and your kids are all ok.

my possible theories that you can play around with:
1. something/someone (including a version of you) was watching out for all of you... and on the flip side, something/someone allowing the other guy to get hurt.
2. there is no other/no one else. it's you, your ESP, third eye, whatever.
3. it was you but there's nothing special. you just didn't want to get wet from the rain/splashed by mud. (LOL)

Jego said...

Haha. I could eliminate no. 3. I never sit inside even if it's raining when Im with the kids. If it's raining already, we dont go. If we had to go and rain is forecast or the weather is bad, I use an umbrella and position it in such a way as to prevent rain and mud from splashing me (tricycles have bubong).

Zaphod B. said...

Hmm, ponderous. Ah, eternal verities. Glad you and your kids came out of it largely unscathed.

grifter said...

read Preacher.

Jego said...

The paradox was also explored in Alan Moore's Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan, specifically. As for Preacher, you know what to do. Nyaahahahaha!

(Aside: I just git hold of The Killing Joke. All I can say is: bleh.)