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The block universe and you

When Einstein’s best friend Michele died, Einstein wrote a letter to Michele’s widow saying:

Dies bedentet nichts.

This doesn’t mean anything.

He wasn’t just trying to be a math nerd version of Liza Radley or a German philosopher’s wrong-headed remix of Hassan-i-Sabbah.

Einstein expressed belief in eternalism, probably better known as the “block universe”.

The block universe is the idea that past present future is all in one big old four-dimensional “block”. You know how a doll’s house can be set up as a static three-dimensional diorama? You can look at the living room, the bedrooms, the kitchen… fun fun fun.♥︎ And then imagine you added a pause/​play/​forward/​rewind button set so you could look at the living room before and after the glass table was shattered, or the bedroom before and after grandpa drinks the posset, you could go back and forth through it.

In fact, instead of making it “rewind buttons”, just build the entire doll’s house four-dimensionally directly into space-time so that all points of time are there at once. Everytime existing at the same time with no difference between the past or the future.

Such is the world of the block universe.

It’s a worldview that came about because it helps makes the math around some weird things like how time passes differently for astronauts and such. Not that simple math is always right or that Occam’s razor is always particularly accurate in its ruthless carving of reality, and I’m no mathematician and even Einstein’s relativity equations were wrong about rotations of the outer edges of galaxies so who knows whether or not the block universe is a real thing or not but for the sake of this li’l essay, let’s pretend it is.

Now, the whole doll’s house is an analogy since for most of us, our own view of time is moment-by-moment like Bodhidharma intended, at least without a few spoonfuls of Strawberry Fields.

The comfy life under the marmalade skies

The block universe is comforting in some ways, as Einstein noted; the past is no less valuable than the future. As I’m aging I find the green leaves of hope in the tree inside my heart one by one turn into red leaves of memory. Not as many as I would’ve hoped, and many leaves just wither or fall of and never come to pass, but some. And some that I never even dreamed of.

In the block universe, Nabokov’s “brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness” can be an ever-shining drop of gold.

The Amber Prison

The block universe is also an horrifying idea in some ways.

For us with messed-up pasts facing the grim darkness of the far future there can be great comfort in the present. Take my past, my future, fine, but now is mine. Things that happened in the past, happened in your mind. Lead kindly light. Et cetera.

The block universe keeping the past alive in amber is not entirely a good thing.

The future is similarly frozen.

In Lovecraft’s stories, where the universe is a twisted nightmare brought forth by an unruly, unthinking Azathoth, one of the chief horrors in that nightmare is spacetime itself, probably better known as Yog-Sothoth. The inescapable uncaring cosmos. All matter and all processes wrapped up in a bow.

From the “What the Hell” family’s relation to “Free Will”

Don’t worry, there are still tensions and forces and processes in the block universe. There can still be a bookshelf between that olive green dictionary and the floor. Direct spatial relationships, and direct temporal relationships like how a dance party can be preceded by sending out invitations, or a shattered glass preceded by a fall.

We’re condemned to choose.

What we call “free will” is our precious, invaluable interface to these processes. We are non-teleologically put on this God’s blue-marbled green li’l Earth completely interlaced with these processes, like all animals are and all matter is.

Do not squander that. No matter how absurd the li’l Azathoth windfish garbage nightmare we’ve been thrust into, we have a responsibility to make the best of what-​is-​perceived-​to-​be-​our-​choices.

How to love when you’re already dead

It’s harder to change a situation if you can’t even make yourself realize it’s true.

When you’re still in “this can’t be real” mode it’s easy to get tripped up, to panic, lash out, lockup, compartmentalize, block out, push away, ignore, repress, freak out, make excuses.

Once you can see that it can be real, no matter how bad it is, you can calmly do your best to try to fix or mitigate things.

The comforting aspects of “block universe”, or of its complement, the “moment-by-moment” universe, can make us less attached to our wishful thinking about the future and more clear-headed to try to solve things.

This would be a good death. But I'd rather try to change it.

Living in the world fully is easy, and not getting attached to the dust of the world is also easy; doing both at the same time is the challenge we have to rise to.