It's Always Now

In applying Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, scientists have concocted a seemingly unfathomable concept about the behavior of things in close proximity to black holes. On the event horizon, the final boundary of return, a unique phenomenon is thought to occur: time for an object so close to the immense gravitational attraction of the black hole slows to an infinitely small rate and allows that object to essentially witness the end of the rest of the universe, as its time will be passing at a “normal” rate. Upon entry into the black hole, time and space change radial directions and time becomes a finite, yet infinitely short, direction.

Space becomes infinite, and the wormholes within the black hole can transport anything anywhere, to any time. This fundamentally undisputed theory, however wild it may seem, parallels a simple fact: the past, the present, and the future are all intertwined in a ubiquitous pool of “now,” where “everything [that] happens to a man [happens] precisely, precisely now,” despite our linear perception of “real” time (20). “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, explores the reality of time as a linear phenomenon in a multidimensional world. Ts’ui Pen set off to create a labyrinth-like story, one that would explore a single sliver of the present by exploring every possible storyline and every possible web of character relationships. Our lives are linear, unlike the timeless nature of the story, but it is a story of our lives.

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We create our own story with the decisions we make, decisions based off the past and influential in the future. Our options create a set of forking paths, and each decision we make selects a single path which we will follow unconditionally; that path, however, may branch again and we will choose another single branch to follow, and the cycle will continue. The infinite quantity of paths that we abandoned are the stories of the other once possible “nows;” they become plausible only in a parallel universe, or parallel time. Time, according do Borges, is an omnipresent pool of “now.” Everything that happened in the past happened in its now, and everything that will ever happen will happen in its own now. The past and the future are just as much a part of the present, if not a more significant part, as the present itself.

Mankind has lived for “centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen” (20). As soon as we even try to pinpoint a “now” that moment is replaced by a new now, but that now is still a part of the ever evolving story of the present. Within the “now,” we live, we create, and we tell our own stories. Our linear lives occupy only a small fragment of the possible times and branches, like a chord within a circle. In each story we live in a web of relationships, some good and some bad: we have our friends and we have our enemies.

In the entire spectrum, however, there are different times in which our relationships are seemingly convoluted, because “Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them [a man may be] your enemy” while in others he may be a close friend (28). A man’s poker buddy, perhaps, could turn into his personal assassin in another linear time, but our pool of “now” is far to expansive to even fathom the bounty of stories we could have possibly lived. Ts’ui Pen’s grandson, Hsi P’eng, in his search for Dr. Stephen Albert, is told to take every left turn, a “common procedure for discovering the central point of certain labyrinths,” and his labyrinth is his story (22). Hsi P’eng’s odyssey into his labyrinth is guided by the unambiguous nature of a labyrinth, a single sinuous path with an ultimate destination in the center, completely bare of branching pathways.

Hsi P’eng travels through his labyrinth of circumstances: a spy in The Great War, the grandson of the governor of Yunnan, the prey to Captain Richard Madden, to reach his core history: the knowledge and secrets of his ancestors. Stephen Albert is the only man who knows the truths of Ts’ui Pen’s book. Upon reaching the house, Hsi discovers the truth of his grandfather’s story, it’s all-telling perspective, the philosophical truth is poses, and the wrong of the scorn received due to ignorance alone. The labyrinth is the representation of life, the search for a single outcome– a dream of sorts. We are trapped in the midst of a long winding path where many may give up. The final destination, the center of the labyrinth, is the end of our search, the kernel of our existence, the final point of the finite line that is our story.

The theory of the black hole is the reality of time, but we are limited to our earthly perception of it. We cannot witness the entirety of the universe in a split second at the event horizon of a black hole; we cannot experience the infinite present, the ubiquitous “now;” we cannot fall into a black hole; we cannot track where anything goes to after its descent into darkness. A wormhole can not transfer us to the opening of a new labyrinth, in a new time– maybe even a new universe–, with a new set of relationships and a new array of circumstances, at least not with our cognition in tact. We could travel down another one of the infinite possible linear futures, but we never will, unless technology improves exponentially and accommodates human passengers for the ride of a lifetime, or perhaps multiple lifetimes. The possibilities are limited by one thing and one thing alone: our human mind with its earthly perception of time.