Time Scales

The word ‘neoreaction’ is a split, productively paradoxical formula, simultaneously referencing two incompatible cultural formations, each corresponding to an abstract model of time. On one side, it is a gateway opening onto techno-libertarian hyper-progressivism, and an order of time structured by irreversible accumulation, self-envelopment, and catastrophe horizon (Singularity). On the other, it opens onto the temporality of reaction and the cycle, where all progress is illusion, and all innovation anticipated. Within NRx, the time of escape and the time of return seek an obscure synthesis, at once unprecedented and primordial, whose cryptic figure is the spiral. (This is the time of the Old Ones and the Outside, from which the shoggoth come.) If NRx thinks itself already lodged articulately in this synthesis, it deludes itself.

From a strictly philosophical perspective, the time of reaction finds no defender more able than Archdruid John Michael Greer. while his specific form of religious traditionalism, his social attitudes, and his eco-political commitments are all profoundly questionable from the standpoint of throne-and altar reaction, his model of time cannot be surpassed in an Old Right direction. Those who would install a prejudice of relentless degeneration in its place, anchored by a revealed religion of recent creation and subsequent continuous fall, only position themselves to the ‘right’ of Greer by making God a revolutionary. If deep time is to be preserved, there can be no archaic authority beyond the cycle.

Why call Greer a reactionary? It is not, after all, a label he would accept for himself. The answer lies in cyclical time, and everything that follows from it: the supremacy of wisdom among human things, the enduring authority of history, the dismissal of modernist pretension as a mere mask for deep historical repetition, an absolute disillusionment with progress, and an adamantine prognosis that — from the peak of fake ‘improvement’ where we find ourselves — a grinding course of decline over coming centuries is an inevitability. The cultural and political decoration can be faulted, but in the fundamental structure of Greer’s thinking, reaction is perfected.

There is a religious consideration to be noted here, as the stepping stone to another point. Once the cyclical counter-assumption is adopted — in a definitive break from modernist ideology — it leads inexorably to an expansion of the time frame. To see the pattern, it is necessary to pan out. An apparent rise is only rendered intelligible by its complementary fall. An event makes sense to the extent that it can be identified as a repetition, through subsumption into a persistent rhythm, which means that to understand it is to pull back from it, into ever wider expanses of history. Recognized precedent is wisdom.

Reaction is thus construed as a critique of modernist myopia. The appearance of innovation derives from a failure to see a larger whole. If something looks new, it is because not enough is being seen.

No surprise, then, to find Greer seize upon an opportunity to discuss The Next Ten Billion Years. At such scales, fluctuations of fortune are fully contextualized, so that no uncompensated progressions remain. After just 1% of this time has passed:

The long glacial epoch that began in the Pleistocene has finally ended, and the Earth is returning to its more usual status as a steamy jungle planet. This latest set of changes proves to be just that little bit too much for humanity. No fewer than 8,639 global civilizations have risen and fallen over the last ten million years, each with its own unique sciences, technologies, arts, literatures, philosophies, and ways of thinking about the cosmos; the shortest-lived lasted for less than a century before blowing itself to smithereens, while the longest-lasting endured for eight millennia before finally winding down.

All that is over now. There are still relict populations of human beings in Antarctica and a few island chains, and another million years will pass before cascading climatic and ecological changes finally push the last of them over the brink into extinction. Meanwhile, in the tropical forests of what is now southern Siberia, the descendants of raccoons who crossed the Bering land bridge during the last great ice age are proliferating rapidly, expanding into empty ecological niches once filled by the larger primates. In another thirty million years or so, their descendants will come down from the trees.

Everything that rises will fall.

Such vastly panned-out perspectives are also relevant to the competitive catastrophe theorizing that is so close to the dead heart of this blog. Any conceivable disaster has an associated time-frame, within which it is no more than a wandering fluctuation. Recovery from deep dysgenic decline requires only a few millennia, extinction of the human species perhaps a few tens of millions of years, full restoration of terrestrial fossil fuel deposits, 100 million years or so. Vicissitudes on the down-side scarcely register as tremors in the meanderings of geological time.

There is more to time-scales than more time. Whatever else anthropomorphism is — and it is a lot of other things — it is a scale of time. To be human is to be situated, distinctively, within a spectrum of frequencies. In our wavelength zone, a second is a short time, and a century is long. These lower and upper bounds of significant duration correspond respectively to the biophysics of mammalian motility and to the outer-limits of mortal plans. The cosmic arbitrariness of this scalar time region is very easy to see.

The digital tick of time in our universe is set by the passage of a photon across a Planck-length (in a vacuum), approximately 5.4 x 10^-44 seconds. This is not a number readily intuited. A comparison to the (mere) 4.3 x 10^17 seconds that have so far lapsed during the entire history of the universe perhaps provides some vague sense. (Anthropomorphic time-scale bias is at least roughly as blinding to minuscule durations as to enormous ones.)

The upper limits of the cosmic time-scale are harder to identify. Speculative cosmological models predict the evolution of the Universe out to 10^60 years or more, when the last of the black holes have evaporated. The Stelliferous Era (in which new stars are born) is expected to last for only 100 trillion (10^14) years, out to approximately 7,000 times the present age of the universe. (If the stelliferous universe were analogized to a human being with a one-century life-expectancy, it would presently be an infant, just entering its sixth post-natal day, with 987 billion years to wait until its anthropomorphic first birthday).

Beyond the human time scale lie immensities, and intensities. The latter are especially susceptible to neglect. When — over half a century ago — Richard Feynman anticipated nano-engineering with the words [there's] “Plenty of Room at the Bottom” he opened prospects of time involution, as well as miniaturization in space. A process migrating in the direction of the incomprehensibly distant Planck limit makes time for itself, in a way quite different from any endurance in temporal extension. Consider ‘now’ to be a second, as it is approximately at the anthropomorphic scale, and its inner durations are potentially near-limitless — vastly exceeding all the time the human species could make available to itself even by persisting to the death of the universe’s last star. A femto-scale intelligence system could explore the rise and fall of entire biological phyla, in detail, in a period so minuscule it would entirely escape human apprehension as sub-momentary, or subliminal. The ultimate eons are less ahead than within.

Greer envisages no escape from the anthropomorphic bandwidth of time. Within his far-future speculation, each new intelligent species that arises is implicitly ‘anthropomorphic’ in this sense. After Earth has died, its particles are strewn among the nearby stars, and incorporated into the body of an alien species:

The creature’s biochemistry, structure, and life cycle have nothing in common with yours, dear reader. Its world, its sensory organs, its mind and its feelings would be utterly alien to you, even if ten billion years didn’t separate you. Nonetheless, it so happens that a few atoms that are currently part of your brain, as you read these words, will also be part of the brain-analogue of the creature on the crag on that distant, not-yet-existing world. Does that fact horrify you, intrigue you, console you, leave you cold?

If coldness is the appropriate response to seeing time still imprisoned, ten billion years from now, then Greer’s vision is chilling. For it to be compelling, however, would take far more.

Though only implicit, it would be grudging to deny Greer credit for the excavation of a crucial reactionary proposition: Nothing will ever break into the vaults of time. This is not an assertion to which Outside in is yet ready to defer.

ADDED: An exercise in extensive time perspective.

July 12, 2014admin 11 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Neoreaction , Templexity

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11 Responses to this entry

  • S.C. Hickman Says:

    Even we were never truly human, but are particles of dust assembled from the alien death of ancient stars; so must we all inherit and pass on the dust to which we are nothing more that the darkriders of a turbulent and alien future…

    By the way this one is up your alley:

    Herman, Arthur (2010-05-29). The Idea of Decline in Western History. Free Press. Kindle Edition.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 12th, 2014 at 5:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • survivingbabel Says:

    The following is just spitballin’

    Let’s think about the ways in which we currently manipulate time, or distort our perspective of such. What first comes to mind is the processor. Baring its operation to its bones, it’s just transistors and wires, simple on/off switches. Imagine imitating the operation of a processor with people. A person flips light switches for transistors. Another person calculates each logic gate. Yet another yells out instructions to the team of transistor men using the results from the logic men. How many eons would be required, using this setup, to run the POST CPU self-check that happens when you start up a computer? The amount of cumulative time I am wasting in my apartment just on CPU idling defies comprehension. For crying out loud, MIPS is a unit of measure for processing. MILLIONS of instructions per SECOND.

    As for perception of time, time-lapse photography has opened up avenues of understanding phenomena previously unreachable from anthropomorphic timescales. We slow time down to watch the actions (and perhaps even social behavior) of plants and echinoderms. We speed it up two watch storms generate, grow, and dissipate and again. We can hold time still to check if the ball hit the glove before the runner touched the base.

    Let us all desperately hope that this is no Law of Conservation of Time.

    [Reply]

    S.C. Hickman Reply:

    Why worry over processors? The brain itself processes trillions of bytes per microsecond, who is to say that it isn’t already a Time Machine that we have as yet misunderstood as such?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Neural spike chains running at about 100 Hz don’t look like a good platform for delving into intensive time.

    [Reply]

    S.C. Hickman Reply:

    haha.. true… maybe we could introduce new neurotransmitters, provide better stabilization, etc…. but nature is an end game here as we know… well it’s Quantum Processor time now! Guess will need better storage units developed and ways of allowing frictionless communication: maybe new 3D Print systems in deep space labs waiting to come online?

    survivingbabel Reply:

    Yes, but the brain activity is already a given in the system, as it takes brain activity to devise the inventions required to sustain microprocessing, the creation of microprocessing itself, and its proliferation worldwide.

    Although there is now exponentially more human brain activity than ever before due simply to population size…

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 12th, 2014 at 6:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • Time Scales | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 12th, 2014 at 8:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Forgive me for an observation that directly can only be of interest to myself. My only excuse is that they may be of indirect value; something I write may be a trigger for someone else’s thought.

    Mormonism may be unique in Christianity–I don’t know for sure–in proposing a different model of time.

    Traditional Christianity’s model of time is a precipitate fall, followed by an upward slope (probably not smoothly upward), in which Noah receives a covenant and promise, then God makes additional covenants and preparations with Israel and the patriarchs, then the world is prepared for the Advent of the Son, and then Christianity spreads and is still spreading. There is some dispute about what comes next. I believe progressive Christians, like progressives generally, believe in an upward bending curve that soars to the asymptote. Christians who believe in the apocalypse will have models that differ in the details but that include some kind of drop. I have the impression that mainstream Christians often believe that after the advent of Christ time has no particular shape: what matters is individual salvation so time as such doesn’t have a destination or a meaningful pattern; there will be movement, but not in any way that matters. Time as a random walk. Some traditionalists may also see time as an inverted V, peaking in Christ, or at some later point in the spread of Christianity, and declining since until the end times. I don’t really know, and would welcome informed comment.

    Although Mormons in a sense see Christ’s advent, death, and resurrection as the peak of mortal time, as any Christian in a sense would, there is a stronger sense in Mormonism of cyclical time. It’s a cliche among Mormons that the Book of Mormon describes repeated turns of a wheel called “the Pride Cycle.” (Actually, the subject of time in the Book of Mormon is interesting in itself, Although there is a definite cyclical repeated pattern of time, the overall pattern is an inverted V, beginning with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, climaxing in the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the Book of Mormon peoples and the establishment of a kind of quasi-utopia, and then the decay of the utopia and collapse into savagery, barbarism and eventually total annihilation.) But more than that, Mormons see a repeated pattern in history of a divine breach into our world with inspiration, revelation, commandments, and a pattern of ritual and morals; which catalyzes progress and growth along some dimension; which in turn catalyzes moral decay, pride, and impiety; which leads to a collapse. Then the process repeats. But the process isn’t perfectly cyclical because each divine revelation isn’t identical. Most Mormons think of each dispensation as mostly additive, so the overall picture would be much like a spiral, but I see that as a facile view. There is an additive component but some of the differences can’t be captured cleanly that way, and are more like the sounding of different and not entirely compatible themes. The conventional Mormon view, in addition, is that the Mormon revelation is the sum of all prior revelations, therefore the final revelation, and that our civilization’s collapse will be the end of the world. My disagreement here is probably my only serious heresy. Beginning with Christianity, modern religions tend to claim their predecessors and precursors, so Christianity accepts the Old Testament, Islam recognizes the Bible in some sense, and Mormons take the Bible as canon and have a fairly common sense that Islam was probably a genuinely revealed religion in its day. Bahais do something similar. But then each claims that they are the final revelation. That’s a lot of ‘This Time Its Different.’

    Still, unless you believe that unending mortal progress is possible, if you believe in a spiral, not just an ever-repeated cycle, than you have to believe that the process comes to a stop somehow. That’s the function of the singularity for the techno-commercial types and the eschaton for the faithful. Part of what makes progressivism so dangerous is that it believes in progress forever and has no notion of that it reaches an end, and therefore no notion of what they’re striving for.

    Does each leg of the Triad have its own notion of a spiral? The religious probably mostly have a sense of a cycle of sin and cursing followed by righteousness and blessing. Is there any sense that the total movement is not just cyclical but spirical? I don’t know, but they may lack of the underlying sense of some kind of progress. The techno-commercial singularists clearly have a vision of underlying progress where tech and wealth and complexity have been increasing throughout history if you view it at the lowest possible magnification. But do they have a cyclical view? Is there a clear techno-commerview view explaining why expansion leads to collapse, collapse to expansion (albeit with each collapse and expansion potentially surpassing the one that came before)? If not, then there is nothing inherently spirical about the techno-commercial view either. The ethno-nationalists are interesting. There is an implicit or explicit view of a hierarchy of races. Ur-humanity, followed by Civ. 1 in the Middle East, then the superior Civs. in the Med. and China, then the best current civ, the White/Northwest European/Anglo (depending on who you talk to), which combines intelligence, aggression and civic-mindedness. Not all would agree with this and some would disagree violently, but it seems to be in the ballpark. There is an obvious basis for a cycle too: new races–new populations with good genes and traits–prosper and conquer and in the process miscegenate their genes and lose their sense of racial solidarity. You can see how this cycle could be compatible with an underlying sense of progress, since the good traits aren’t actually lost but scattered, and since the collapse creates the conditions where natural selection can work and where ethnogenesis can occur. But its hard to think that this kind of thing can “progress” forever–evolution has a limited toolkit–and its equally hard to see any specific stopping point like the singularity or the eschaton. Is the ethno-nationalist singularity the race that has all the right traits to end up on the top of the heap and create civilization, but also has some kind of strong and enduring genetic basis for ethnic solidarity?

    [Reply]

    S.C. Hickman Reply:

    Robosolidarity eclipses Ethnosolidarity Hurlac_ 11-2 = 1 Calculations excludable… high-density fabricators and self-replication inhibitors obviate market economies: humans lose, robots win… end game realized corruptingly…

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 12th, 2014 at 9:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • blogospheroid Says:

    If you take the simulation hypothesis seriously, then a cyclic sense of time is pretty trivial. All of this is happening again because it is being simulated again with slight tweaks.

    An interesting question arises as to why our simulators have given us such a wide platform to play with. It could be that they’re bored and need someone to talk to.

    Delving deeper into time or covering the universe with nanobots loads their simulation room more and more until a warning bell hits somewhere and they choose to pay attention.

    This is where I think that religion in the sense of compassion/empathy/humaneness is important, really important. It is almost obvious to the neutral observer that this universe is pretty much not optimised for compassion. Maybe compassion is the unexpected surprise result of out simulation.

    Therefore when our simulation hits the ringing bell, then our options have essentially boiled down to 2. Either the entity that is our descendant is clever enough to outwit the simulators and take over the basement universe or due to continuous maintenance of compassion, the entity is kept around as ” the compassionate guy”. Pure techno commercial ai is no. 1. Fai is no. 2 and some no. 1.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I fully endorse your introduction of the Simulation Argument, but it’s an additional step (far beyond anything Greer would countenance). It shatters time in ways this post doesn’t even begin to investigate.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 13th, 2014 at 6:11 am Reply | Quote

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