Foreplay/Long Time

time widgets

How the mind trips on time.

This message was set to appear live on the web at 11 AM GMT on Saturday, October 16th 2010. If all went well with so many machines and algorithms, at precisely the planned moment a bit was flipped* and this message appeared before the world. I was sleeping (one can only suppose but the odds are very good) and perhaps dreaming about things I’ve already forgotten as the present moment passes — you reading these words.

It’s remarkable that we could have this conversation, you in my future and I in your past, while the fact remains that neither of us has ever travelled beyond the realm of now. Or so I suppose. Yet I am thinking about you here and you are thinking about me there, and this is all occurring at two separate points along a continuum of time by means which we hardly comprehend. I trust you are there nonetheless, and your act of reading these words may provoke a reasonable suspicion of my being here. Or perhaps these words have always existed? And perhaps they are naught?

So when I sat down to continue this message I thought, “what might I tell you of wisdom past?” And the question brought this brutal fact to mind: I know nothing more of the past than the next guy. This despite our so-called advanced brains and technological tools. So little “past” has flown between you and me, only an instant more between us and Turing, and even his great mind could recall little more than the haphazard readings of a recorded history which is itself but a vanishing moment in the course of unknown ages.

Yet all is foreplay to this moment.

It’s been such a long time
I think I should be goin’, yeah
And time doesn’t wait for me, it keeps on rollin’
Sail on, on a distant highway
I’ve got to keep on chasin’ a dream
I’ve gotta be on my way
Wish there was something I could say.

Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along
You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone
And I take what I find, I don’t want no more
It’s just outside of your front door.

It’s been such a long time. It’s been such a long time.

If you’re over the age of forty, these lyrics may have just transported you back in time. If you knew these lyrics were Boston’s then you might have made that trip when you read the title of this post. Isn’t it amazing? We carry so much of the past just out of reach, until something nudges a part to the surface where we examine it for a time, just long enough to feel an intimate connection to who we once were.

And to more fully feel what we’ve become.

Babe, tomorrow’s so far away
There’s something I just have to say
I don’t think I can hide what I’m feelin’ inside
Another day …

– –

*A term used almost exclusively by software engineers, referring to the change of a 0 to a 1 in the form of a switch. I could just as well have written “a switch was flipped” but in this case “bit” is more accurate. :)


  • The Image – A simple screen capture of widgets arranged on the desktop of a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard. A future moment in time isolated my means of system clock manipulation. Power to the people.
  • Resources – Special thanks to the third and ninth tracks of Boston‘s most excellent album … I imagine that these tracks were sent as messages to the future. Also to all of my colleagues here on Doves & Serpents: your phenomenal ability as writers and editors is an inspiration to me — may we learn from each other’s mistakes.
  • About - Cipher on a Wall is a weekly column and forum here on Doves & Serpents which explores the realm of mind, memories, and dreams. You can find an introductory post for Cipher on a Wall here and a full archive of posts here. My name is Matt, and I’ll be your host for the duration.
  • Updates – the approach we’ll be taking with Cipher on a Wall is to encourage lively and ongoing discussion throughout the week between each Saturday edition. To help with this I’ll be returning to each post and adding updates in the form of additional thoughts, observations, related news, elevation of comments, links, additional resources. etc. To easily show that an update has been added, I’ll revise the title to append a “>” for each update. For example, three updates on this post would look like this: “Foreplay/Long Time >>>” I’ve changed my mind about this because the title shouldn’t be munged. Just know there will be updates so it’ll be worth checking back occasionally throughout the week.

Update 1:

Check out the following graphical representation of the earth’s history; just a portion of that “long time” which is foreplay to this moment. And there we are singing along with Boston at the vanishing edge. A click on the image will take you to a larger version. Go, zoom-in and explore. Read more at Wikimedia Commons. (via Kottke)

geographic time spiral

Geographic Time Spiral - out of 4.5 billion years