Friday, April 27, 2007

A Brief Mystery of Time

After the recent death of Kurt Vonnegut, my juices were stirred to a long-intended re-read of Slaughterhouse 5. It flowed a bit easier now I'm nearly grown up. It's one of those American novels of its time that doesn't actually talk about its main subject that much (the firebombing of Dresden in WWII) and rather uses it as the source for a stream of consciousness.

The aliens (of course, there had to be aliens), the Tralfamadorians, percieve Time as a contiguous lump, and have no concept of causality. I've been unable to confirm if this was SFs first use of such a device, though I suspect so. More recently it was used to good effect in the opening
Deep Space Nine story, I recall. It's a fascinating intellectual puzzle to follow, but of course ultimately it falls down, as must any 5-dimensional construct by a 4-dimensional creator. Any being not subject to cause and effect, and thus with no free will, could not communicate with us in any meaningful fashion, as communication itself demands linearity. So it goes.

Elsewhere - and you'll have to stay with me here - I was dipping into some reviews of Simon Schama's A History of Britain, and musing once more on the academic wrestling-match that goes on between the newer, iconoclastic "holistic" historians, and those who maintain the more traditional "Great Events Shaped By Great Men" approach; Schama being something of a hero to the latter breed, and thus having a target on his back. Being the son of a professional historian makes one a fraction more attuned to such political tomfoolery. So it goes.

Anyway, these two amorphous gobbets of mental sputum seemed to unexpectedly splat together when my attention was brought to a quote from Tolstoy's
War & Peace; which, I hastily add, lest you think me a wanderer of higher intellectual planes than I truly frequent, was quoted on the endpapers of Gregory Maguire's Wicked, to the joys of which (ha ha) I am a typical latecomer.

"In historical events, great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like the labels, they have the last possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to be an action of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity." -Tolstoy

One has to be suspicious of timing this good. Hannibal Smith may have loved it when a plan comes together, but philosophical symphoria such as this perturbs me . If I wasn't such a rationalist, I'd swear something was trying to tell me something. Or something. So it goes.

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