Hegel, in 1822: No man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also is own spirit.
In the dying wetlands of the North Bay, there are these flocks of starlings that zip back and forth on the wind in great clouds or like a school of fish, but for starlings they call it a murmuration. Hegel thinks time moves the way a murmuration of starlings appears to move: in unison and unanimously. But watch these these murmurations of starlings; first one bird changes direction, fights the momentum of the group, recruits others to his cause, and if enough of them do so, the entire group moves. If he fails, he returns to the fold.
By necessity, then, it is not only possible for a man to surpass his own time, but for time to advance at all, it is required.
And Hegel would say, in 1807: This self-preserving Now is, therefore, not immediate but mediated; for it is determined as a permanent and self-preserving Now […] it is still just simply Now as before, and in this simplicity is indifferent to what happens in it.
And I tell Hegel That’s certainly how Everyone feels, isn’t it?
I stood on the balcony of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with my colleague.
You know the sun doesn’t set in the West, I told him.
I can see it right now, he said.
No, only twice a year, on the equinoxes.
I can see it right now and it’s February.
I know. But the Golden Gate isn’t due West of us.
Yes it is, he said.
No, I told him. It’s almost one minute South of West.
Today is the day the sun sets directly behind the Golden Gate from where we are.
You took the time to figure that out?
Every year it’s February ninth and November first.
You can reflect the sun completely in a glass of water the same way you can reflect it off the ocean if the ocean is still enough. In that way it’s like a fractal, isn’t it. You can take a still thimble and gaze at the reflection of the setting sun and then place that thimble in a field of millions of thimbles and watch the same setting sun. You can sit in the cupola of the International Space Station and watch that same setting sun. In the Bay we have two suns. I watched the two suns embrace at the horizon just below the bridge and disappear together.
I was waiting for a train at the Rockridge BART station listening to Moby when I caught a glimpse of the city reflected perfectly in the fractal water. I walked to the edge of the platform and felt the flow of cars on either side of me move on one side like a glacier, the other like slow and gentle lava. The cars were dangerous in the way galaxies were dangerous: The Milky Way and Andromeda don’t move fast through space, but they have mass. The Milky Way and Andromeda will slowly intertwine and destroy each other. They are not dangerous because they move quickly, but because they have momentum. It’s how a murmuration of starlings moves you when you’re fighting the group: Slowly but irrevocably.
“Scream Pilots” played in my ears; I placed my hands on the railing as the music and a land breeze took me.
Sorrow for the gentle lava: All they can do is drive their cars to wherever their destination—the night shift at work maybe—apathetic or unaware of the beauty around them. That only a few miles away from where they are they could be on top of the hills, looking down over the Bay as the suns hugged across the horizon, they could be removed from the bustle of the 21st century to admire things living and breathing.
And yet of course at the same time they create the beauty by being a part of it, and when I go into the city I do my small part to create it to, hoping that somewhere might be someone like me standing on the Rockridge platform or up in the Berkeley Hills admiring the beauty in the same way. I used to think this was the great paradox of life: Being unable to both witness the beauty and help create it at the same time. I can stand on the Rockridge platform and watch the city unfold before me, but by necessity there must be more people creating the city than observing it.
I don’t think this anymore because it’s not fractal in the way water reflecting light is fractal. We sit at the edge of the Milky Way and remark on the beauty of the galactic bulge because it makes us realize that we are not the center of things. So too did I stand on a train platform in Oakland remarking on the beauty of San Francisco realizing that Oakland is not the heart of the Bay. But where the people in San Francisco can’t look around them and remark on the beauty of their own city because they can’t observe it from the outside, I can only imagine that planets within the galactic bulge have only more stars to see, that the closer you are to the galactic center, the more beauty there is to behold.
Thus this perceived paradox is not a paradox at all, it’s just something we’ve created. It isn’t natural, nor is it necessary.