THE COINCIDENCE OF NOW

What a remarkable thing it is to be alive! That it should be you and I alive right now, after so many billion years have passed since our universe came into being, alive at this very moment of the present … this observation must occur to everyone with the power of thought, at some time or other, and to have done so on down the past centuries. But for this to be more than an exclamation of wonder I will need to look more closely at the nature of ‘now’, from a physical as well as a philosophical point of view. And for there to be a coincidence, I will need to investigate the investigator .. that is, the individual that might pose the question, the one who experiences the moment of ‘now’, sufficiently to remark on the peculiarity. What is it to be on the crest of the wave of ‘happening’, as it breaks from the past into the present? Whether it is you or I, with the power to ponder the question, or whether it be a swallow in the moment of snatching a gnat from the air; the moment a red giant star collapses under it’s own gravity into a Black Hole, or that a photon is created from the collision of electrons. The mystery of the moment is always created by something happening, so we must also look at the nature of that to which happening occurs. And while inspecting the mystery of the moment we will also, I hope to show, throw some light on the mystery of human happiness.

This whole enquiry was born of a casual throw away observation a friend once made, many years ago, but has stayed with me since. A car load of us had driven from Galloway over to Sunderland, to play at a party. We had an address, and a street map, and when we arrived, Simon (who had actually navigated!) said, “oh, we’ve arrived … what a coincidence”. As well as being amused that he should be surprised that a planned event might actually come to pass, it seemed to me to suggest a kernel of unsuspected truth. We are so used to seeing what happens as the result of historical forces, and describing events in terms of apparent causes, that we never doubt the power of the past to determine the present. I would argue though, that our evidence is only circumstantial.

Logically, the present can be the only moment at which something happens. The past and the future must be conjectures derived from ‘now’ … the present is preeminent! These questions are generally deemed to be the province of philosophy … the nature of ‘reality’, and whether as we call it, so it is. Interesting as these enquiries are, I hope to get down to the specific instant of the present, the mysterious point at which happening must occur. That I’m only equipped to do so using our standard language, rather than the exotic maths that have evolved to cope with the subatomic world … is by its nature an unfortunate limitation. But it has the unexpected advantage of enabling me to roam across the disciplines, making whatever observations occur to me.

To some degree this essay is a synopsis of part of a previous argument (Formal Aspiration). But whereas I stumbled upon the thought almost incidentally to the thrust of that essay, I think it warrants its own specific thread, both for clarity, and to find whether it might lead elsewhere.

The thinking goes something like this: the present, the moment of ‘now’, when the past slides into the future, must be a period of zero duration. Another way of putting this, rather uncomfortably, is to say that the present cannot therefore exist.  But for another strand in the previous essay, I was looking for precisely a point of zero duration … where the universe of mass (in which time is an intrinsic factor) reacts with that of radiation (energy in this state does not experience time) … and bingo! We have that magic moment of zero duration, where EVERYTHING happens. It also turns out to be the ONLY thing that can happen. Every event is effected by such a transition (or, as in the blinking of an eye, a whole series of such transitions). How we justify the rest of the universe from this interface is another question, hence the ‘coincidence’.

Can I reinforce this claim, that the only thing that can occur is the reaction between mass and radiation?

Unfortunately, all a layman can do is read the various interpretations of the great theoreticians, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac et al, who expressed their discoveries mathematically. On the other hand, as elegant as an equation may be, it must be remembered that it is itself  no more than an expression. Fortunately, for those of us numerically challenged, talented writers have popularised these ideas  – as closely as they can – in prose. From this 2nd hand source us laymen have to then conjure up our own versions of the theories … plenty of room for error, and I have some sympathy with the scientists regarding our clumsy attempts to understand. Too bad, that’s all we have to play with!

Ok, so from my understanding: Einstein postulated that energy exists in two states, mass and radiation (light). As mass, through the agency of gravity, time becomes a factor, a measurable quantity dependent on mass, and its relative velocity to another object. As radiation, it experiences neither time nor mass. ~It may be affected by external factors (the gravitational field of an object), but itself experiences nothing; it just ‘is’. When we describe the ‘speed’ of light, we refer to energy in a particular timeless condition, one of the few absolute constants that physics allows  (hence the symbol C for light).  All other laws and apparently immutable equations are descriptions of relationships. The speed of light itself might be thought of as the relationship between mass and light … that in relation to mass (and quite independent of the object) it moves at the fixed rate of  about 300,000km per second.

Let us consider a photon as it begins its journey. It has been created by a collision, or reaction with another particle, one of mass, that is caught within the matrix of time. It radiates in all directions, instantly, at about 300,000 kms per second, without a period of acceleration. We must think of it now as a wave, expanding uniformly, irrespective of any other measurement. Only when it strikes another particle is it stopped, dead in its track, and then can only be described as a particle itself, by the transformation it causes in this other moment of ‘now’; its reaction with the massive particle. How does this wave propagate, what medium does it travel through? Our classical presumptions had to create the ‘ether’ … that it had to surely travel ‘through’ something! But the Michelson Morley experiments showed there was no ‘ether’ … which means that the notion of travel itself is flawed; that light, once created just ‘is’, its distance measured by duration, which is determined by its speed – a fixed  and unwavering constant. In itself it is unknowable, since only when it is stopped can it be observed. It can be presumed by its effect in the universe of mass and time. But if we further say that the only thing that can be truly said to ‘happen’ is that immeasurable transition between light and mass, what is it that connects all these zero moments of ‘now’? Is there anything apart from our own constructions that persuade the various moments of ‘now’ to coincide, to apparently happen at once?The universe as we experience it demands another cohering factor.

 So we can observe light only by its effect, as it strikes an object. We may deduce its character (wavelength and intensity, source of propagation) by its effect on the object. Einstein’s genius was to identify and relate the basic ingredients of  energy … mass and radiation. E = mC2 is so simple and irreducible, but the implications are profound. Time becomes a propensity of mass; space becomes a continuum that includes time, and gravity becomes the expression of mass within that space/time continuum (or field) … a distortion in the ‘field’ is the nearest description of gravity that means anything to me

The implications of Einstein’s Relativity theories only play out on a big scale. To test the relationships of light, mass and time required observations on an astronomical scale. Though his equations were essential in framing the questions that needed to be asked on the microcosmic level, they were by no means exhaustive, and only of  limited relevance for understanding what went on in the subatomic world. For this we need to turn to the even more baffling world of quantum mechanics

Is light a wave, or a particle? It seems the answer depends on how we frame the question; not as in a point of view, but in essence. Electrons would seem to share this dual nature, and quantum mechanics has evolved to quantify and predict behaviour on the sub atomic level. Unlike Einstein’s theory of Relativity, it is messy. It quantifies the unknowable so that we can work with it. We might only ever be able to ascertain one quality of an electron, such as its speed or position at a time, but we can frame a series of probabilities about the other, so guess with certainty where it will ‘probably’ be. Einstein never liked this ambiguity, but it is the best we have come up with, and it works … to the point of underpinning much of today’s cutting edge technology. Though subatomic science is comparatively messy, it has benefited from beautifully framed insights, such as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which describes the inherently unknowable aspects of a particle’s behaviour, or Planck’s Constant, which binds energy to a particular wavelength and thus confines only one electron to any one orbit.

But even these apparently implacable rules are, we must remember shorthand observations which allow us to predict behaviour, to try and understand the world around us. Is it because we do not have the language to describe this subatomic world, or is its incoherence inherent? Since we cannot know, we might as well take the anomalies as the truth … at least then we can contrive language to suit.

Is it just coincidence that so much of our own experience of life is so inchoate yet definite? How does an artist use the messy definitions, the ingredients of his trade, to arrive at  simple statements that moves us? … the notes available to a composer, words to a poet, strokes of a brush to a painter? The absolute definitions that we assume science uses are based themselves on indefinite and approximate observations of actual behaviour.

This is not the coincidence that I wish to discuss, but is in itself interesting. I do not mean to suggest some mystical creative force that permeates the universe … that’s too easy.  It is the specific presumption of causality that I wish to inspect. It is so ingrained in our thought and presumptions that I find it hard to escape myself. But if we look at the moment of the present, which is the only absolute we can admit, that instant of transition between mass and light, the only thing that can truly occur … how can we then hang the rest of existence on such a thing of zero substance?

Our own experience tells us that all these zillion transitions occur even within ourselves.  The brain coordinates these events into some whole; events which might start as the admission of starlight through our eyes, or the myriad demands of the body, from digestion to regulation of ambient temperature and gases; that spasm of pain through over-exercise, that flush of the brow when we consider a moment of bad behaviour. The biologist and the chemist might trace these reactions down through the cells to the atomic level, where the physicist might take over; the psychologist might look at the history of the individual, the sociologist and historian to the context of his or her life. Each specialist will pursue a causative line, to describe the moment of now, construct a story that makes some sense.

I do not decry or demean any of these analytical tools that we use – they enrich and enlighten us –  but point out the reinforcement  of causation that analysis brings with it. But all we can be absolutely sure of, both philosophically and from our own sense of being alive, and the logic of  the tenses, is the moment of now. I would contend that all our knowledge, all our processes of deduction and reasoning are no more than story telling … as is this very essay. Scientists are perhaps most prone of all, perhaps through the rigours of maths, to confuse language with truth. It may seem ironic to accuse the hardest of sciences of mysticism, but once an equation becomes mistaken for absolute truth, what else can it be?

THERE IS NO SUCH THIING AS NOTHING

I have only a hunch that the heading of this chapter might contribute to the tenet of the essay, but such is the nature of an essay! It starts, as so often, with a philosophical observation: if we accept reality through the evidence of our senses, how can we admit that which we cannot experience? I would suggest the same for infinity … both infinity and zero are useful symbols in the construction of mathematics, but lie outwith the universe we inhabit. We might form the conjecture that nothing exists beyond the boundary of the universe, but even that contains the seed of its own nonsense (is that a tautology??) … if there is nothing beyond the boundary of the universe, there is no boundary. Likewise infinity; if nothing existed before the universe began, then literally nothing existed; there was no thing to exist or go on forever. I would suggest that substance and things are as unlikely as are infinity and nothing; it just seems that we are in the world of stuff. Once something came into existence, nothing was banished!

Our casual observation of the world has been continually thwarted in its search for nothing … the invisible air turns out to be gas composed of molecules; even the so called vacuum of space is not absolute. Space itself, either between elementary particles or between star and galaxies, has had to be described as fields of force that contain what we call matter. Matter and space are both expressions of energy, fields wherein the drama of existence is played out, for it is only through action that the world can ‘happen’. As with the ‘ether’, we must consign ‘nothing’ to the bin of our classical presumptions. Like the perfect circle, or the integer 1, it does not exist; it is nothing but an imagined symbol, useful for conjecture, but quite beyond our actual experience.

(I really hope that all this is more than just the rebuttal of our presumptions, that it might lead to some understanding, at least on my own part, that means something. I’m going on not much more than a hunch … I can smell an idea here that I can’t quite as yet grasp. It is not very encouraging, what we have so far: countless zillions of separate ‘nows’, as each time radiation and mass interact, yet somehow all connected through the seamless thing that is our entire universe. I have written elsewhere of the absolute present, of zero duration, when a collision occurs, and the ‘actual’ present of our experience. This is a shorthand way of combining all the zillion separate ‘absolute presents’, using a cohering force of ‘formal aspiration’. But I do not find it satisfying; it smacks itself of mysticism … in that this ‘aspiration’ has to be inferred, like a template clamped on to how things happen. It is too nebulous a first principle.)

Let us return to light … that is, energy in the condition of radiation. Because light does not itself experience time, it is hard for us to imagine. It is both timeless and invisible, detectable only by its effect on an object. From these observations we can calculate its source, distance and power. In fact, it reveals all we can know about the object of its birth. We are so used to this phenomenon that we confuse light itself with its source. We do not ‘see’ light. The sunbeam that strikes our eye, reflected perhaps from a snow clad mountain, informs us in detail of the surface of the mountain. The radiant waves, shed originally by the furious sun, converted (we might say) to photons as they strike our cornea, form a message that is transported to the neurons of our brain, which then filters the message into an image that we recognize as a snow clad mountain

Is there another way that we can describe this action, trying to imagine it from the perspective of light itself? This is harder than it sounds, because we construct our stories always from the EFFECT of light on matter; the energy is dragged into the familiar universe of time and stuff. As Little Red Ridinghood skips through the forest, observed by the wolf, we build an image that depends completely on the light after it has fallen on the red cape, the dark forest, the wolf’s grey coat. Her skipping action is effected by the numerous transitions of energy that the muscles in her legs contrive. Light itself, so essential to the action, experiences none of this. Although it may be the agent of change for all that happens, it is itself dumb and blind, in timeless limbo.

Let us simplify it to a single source of propagation, and its eventual effect on another particle. Within the sub-atomic world, an electron collides with another. The energy of the collision is transformed, instantly into a wave of radiation. Until it encounters another particle (which it must eventually do, in a finite universe), nothing happens … not for any observer, but for the wave itself also. NOTHING HAPPENS! … it is only a potential, until the next collision.

Might we say that radiation/light, if it experiences no time itself, exists outwith our space time continuum, that contains the results of all collisions? That energy, in this form, skips out of our dimension, and only re-emerges as it collides with another particle? What we see, ‘frozen’ in the moment of the present, is the result, not the impulse that caused the picture; it has already happened; it is the past. Each  moment, each collision of particles must be a discrete moment, itself creating another moment, … hence its ‘particular’ nature. How these moments combine to make up the observable present is the mystery, and the essence of this enquiry.

Our view out of the window is the ‘detritus of happening’ . However closely we observe something, even down beyond the atomic level, time has elapsed  between the event and the observer. At light speeds, this is practically immeasurable. But as distance increases it does become measurable, until at astronomical distances billions of years might have passed.  Currently we have observed far off events, over 7 billion light years away, so over seven billion years old. And we can calculate the age of the universe to about double that; thirteen and a half billion years worth of light travel. So the astronomer necessarily peers  further into the past, as the power of his telescope increases. We are continually faced with this paradox, that the present, being the only logical thing that can exist, is forever invisible. Not just because the moment must be of zero duration, but that to ‘see’ it is also impossible. So even without the equations of quantum mechanics we can come to the same conclusions of Werner Heisenberg, that complete knowledge of a sub-atomic event is not possible, and the best we can hope for is to bracket our description with probability.

EVIDENCE FROM ART

Drawing parallels, or even evidence, from human attempts at creativity – if that might be a working definition of ‘art’ – might smack of desperation, but there seems to me to be plenty of similarities to the argument I wish to pursue. All we see is the result of ‘happening’. Substance and history is the evidence of energy in the particular  condition of matter, beholden to gravity and suspended within the network of our universe. Radiation, or light is the medium through which change occurs, energy that exists purely in the timeless condition of ‘now’

There has been a steady increase, over the recent centuries, of interest in ‘now’, and this interest is expressed across all the art forms (I speak of Western culture, as that is all I have any knowledge of, though I suspect the same arguments might be made throughout all cultures that show movement or development). The 20th century was the most prolific period of research into ‘the moment’ … action painting, the stream of consciousness, improvised music and theatre, existential philosophies were all attempts to the wrest the moment of expression from the story (melody, picture), and all the presumptions and biases that the past might cast upon the present. For clarity, we might use the terms ‘form’ and ‘content’ to frame the discussion, where content is the story, and form the medium in which it is expressed. Because I am most familiar with it, I will use the history of landscape painting as an example, though I am confident the same ingredients might be found in any discipline. Because of its attempt to capture nature at a particular moment, it is close to the concerns of this inquiry.

It took some centuries for ‘landscape’ to emerge as an art form in its own right, from providing the incidental background to religious and then classical action, to the full blown celebration of the immediate moment of nature that Monet and his comrades made. We have perhaps more sympathy now with the ‘natural painture’ of Constable to the morally up-lifting historical paintings of Claude.  We might say that the historical painting, with its emphasis on story was more interested in content, and the use of paint itself, as in some of Constable’s almost expressionist detail, was more interested in form. We must bear in mind that any painting, no matter how detailed or impulsive, must use both form and content in its production … we merely discuss emphasis. We have come to distrust content, because of the allure of the story itself. A garage door is less likely to seduce us with its subject than a dawn view of a cathedral.  We are more likely to clap like children at a dangerous naval action than at how a woman prepares her breakfast – which might however reveal more to us of the human condition. 

I came up with an equation once, for landscape painting: line is man … that is, everything that resides within the brushstroke, the painter’s skill, the history of how he was taught to draw, the tremor that betrays too much beer the night before … and colour is the world … that is, the moment of the present that he observes, whether it is sunlight reflected off a leaf or a car bonnet, the flicker of a candle off a face. I realized that the equation is approximate – a line will always have depth and colour, however finely etched. And that colour will always have to be applied in sequence, whether a brushstroke or splat. It was handy to me at the time, to escape hangups of ego (in an attempt to remove evidence of myself from the painting, they had become bland to the point of meaningless, and it was the example of the southern Sung school of landscape painting that persuaded me not be ashamed of application, where the novice is trained for years to use only one brush, ink and water, to construct mere symbols, before being let loose on nature)

I was involved in a long and passionate discussion the other day about singing, in which we finally came to some accommodation by referring to ‘content and form’. To use the voice as an instrument, rather than tell a story (e.g. a song) requires a different technique … the sound, rather than the meaning of the words, becomes more important: intervals, timing, tone and pitch. And if improvised, melodic invention … all become so much more important than the lyrics. For the song-singer on the other hand, such considerations are subordinate to telling the story of the song, and might even distract the listener. For both, sincerity and emotional content are paramount, but the improvising jazz singer is living in the moment, describing the ‘present’, whereas the song-singer might not give a damn about the musical aspects of the piece (witness Bob Dylan or Tom Waits’ disdain for sounding nice).

Melody too is constructed, and like the line in art, or story in theatre or film, depends on time to be expressed. John Cage composed a piece of music in 1952, which comprised three movements of silence (to last a total of 4’33”, hence its title) … his only instruction to the musicians is ‘tacet’ … ‘don’t play’.  He wished to completely remove any evidence or interference by humans. As a piece of music, he succeeded in this (though whether it can be called music, rather than be recognised as an artwork or comment is still hotly debated. How happy that must have made him! … to stimulate an argument over nothing!). But even in this there is evidence of a story … that of music itself. And hence history.

If we are ever in doubt how to judge a piece of art, I would suggest the scientific principle of Occam’s Razor, where the simple solution is more probably correct than the complicated; cut out the dross, and be persuaded by the result. The same might apply really to anything … if bombarding a defenceless city to subdue the inhabitants, as is happening as I write in Aleppo, a starving and injured child should be argument enough that something is seriously wrong. If four heavily armed French police order a woman to undress on a beach, the natural order of things must be skewed. If 4.33 minutes of silence becomes boring, then there might be something in music after all. There is more evidence of life and invention in the music of youth than the most esoteric expressions of intellectual culture. It may be a salutary lesson to beware of  presumption and sentiment, but we should not be frightened of a good tune.

So line or melody = content = history = mass;  colour or noise = form = the moment of now = light. Meaning, like existence itself, depends on both.

So does the equation work as an analogy for action in the real world as well? Light, which is the invisible carrier of energy, provides the image, but what creates the picture, what links all that we see?

If we divide energy into these components, of matter and light, we might say that neither truly exist, for it is only in the indivisible moment of the present, when a transition occurs, that ‘happening’ takes place. But our experience tells us otherwise, and it tells us as a story. Whether the photon that strikes our retina comes from a candle, the sun, or even a distant galaxy, it betrays its origin, and the story it reveals will depend on our understanding which itself depends on the tool of observation – the naked eye, a radio telescope, a cloud bubble chamber – as well as our interpretation. The sun might be seen as the god that gives us life, a unique ball of burning gas, or one such among countless millions. And from it we deduce a story, be it a creation myth, or another piece in the cosmic jigsaw that science constructs, that extends back in time as it does in space. The story that we construct can never be complete.  As well as the limits that our powers of observation must admit, so our ability to fully understand is curtailed by the bridge of the present. We can only guess at what is to happen, however essential that might be to the moment of now.

What we ‘see’ is energy, manifested in matter, but powered by light. Light itself exists outwith the space time continuum, since it does not experience time. And all we can ever see, or experience, is light re-emerging into our continuum, as it strikes another particle, and the transition occurs. It carries with it information, or the ‘story’ of its source. The accumulated transitions account for our present.

Since the only way that we can experience anything is by fitting it to the story – whichever story that may be – we might as well accord the story the same authority as the quantum mechanicists did for sub-atomic observation. The process of the experiment must necessarily affect the subject, so we might as well build it into the theory of what occurs. Only by doing that can we progress. We cannot divorce reality from perception, as Bishop Berkeley argued, so might as well bind them together.

The story might then be integral to the observation, but if we  accord the present the dominance it deserves, then it must continually develop, according to what happens … the various lines of causation we have spun are no more then than threads, spun backwards to the past, as well as projected forward to the future. WE provide the causation. The present becomes the coordinator of all, the coincidence of all that happens, but dependent on us, the story tellers. And only when the story is told, read, seen or heard is it realised. Each time a viewer is moved by Cezanne’s painting of his gardener, that picture is reinforced in meaning, and Cezanne’s very desire to paint the original is experienced by the artist, back in time, as ‘inspiration’.

Here I once again refer to my own experience, and must acknowledge that I may well be mistaken, since the claim I am about to make is based purely on my own preference. During the course of my life I have involved myself in various activities, none to the point of excellence, but with enough determination to compare one with another. I make stoves for a living, which has involved the satisfaction of design, as well as the challenges of running a small business. I have drawn and painted most of my life, taking  ‘art’ seriously … perhaps too seriously as a young man, being determined from the age of 12 that I would be the next Michelangelo. I have also played guitar, sung and wrote songs for most of my life … again, perhaps not with excellence, but seriously enough to still feel a song passionately. And, as any poor soul who has struggled with me this far into my essay must admit, I’ve had the curiosity to at least attempt to write about the mysteries of life. So I am in some position to compare the various forms of human activity, from the satisfactions and frustrations of manual labour, through business engagement with my fellow man, to the more rarified activities of art, music and writing.

This is the point at which I realise personal preference might skew my argument! Out of these various activities, which makes me happiest?

Ok, the list, on a rating out of 10, goes like this:

making stoves:  score 6 … I put it above 5 (neutrality), because it certainly affords more satisfaction  than an average job, say as a shop floor welder (which is where I started) So, it’s not been bad. Peaks have been seeing a new design work as intended, as well as the immediate satisfaction of lighting a stove after a challenging installation. The insecurities of self employment have generally been canceled out by the freedom of not being under the yoke of one employer (though this might obviously be a personal preference)

writing (an essay, such as this):   score 7 … I put this higher in terms of happiness, because it can take you places where fewer folk have traveled. It’s not often that I find myself welding at 2 a.m. (as it is now) … it helps one make sense of the chaos of ordinary life, and can occasionally afford the excitement of the creative moment, for instance when insight mysteriously occurs!

Music:    score 9 … being ‘blocked’ when writing a song can be so frustrating, but when it happens, and the song almost seems to write itself, you can feel transported to another place. And the actual playing can also transport one …. I know it might sound pretentious, but that corny description of the singer ‘channeling’ the song from some higher source, where all the songs live on some exalted cloud … well, it can sometimes feel like that; to be lost in another world. If it is only the pleasure of showing off (to which most musicians must all admit to a degree), then how is the same emotion conveyed from singer to audience? The experience itself wins the argument.

Painting:    score 9 … again, this score is only qualified down to 9 from 10, because of the attending frustrations. When a painting is not going right it can be very dispiriting. Perhaps through a limitation in talent, I find I have to work quite hard before a painting ‘happens’, sometimes scraping off the first, second even third attempt before the paint starts to flow of its own accord. But then, as with song writing, it seems to almost have its own volition, and it feels like a magic threshold has been crossed, and one is in the sunny uplands of heaven.

What can I distill from these observations? That the creative activities are more rewarding than mundane work …. obvious, and unsurprising. But I believe it is the concentration of the moment, when paint or a song suddenly flows, that is relevant to actual happiness. … the moment when the paint brush touches the canvas, or the plucked string moves the air, where the magic of creation occurs. As the audience or spectator we applaud this magic, and the market accords the arts among the highest  or most powerful human expressions with exhorbitant prices.

I realise that creativity does not only occur in the arts. I have heard a lawyer wax lyrical about finding an ingenious solution to a problem of transaction, or mathematicians speak of the elegance of Maxwell’s or Dirac’s equations, or Plato’s eloquence concerning the moment of understanding. But each time it is the defining moment of ‘now’ that is the common thread. ‘GOAAAAL!’ … just as with the transmissions between light and mass,  the only events that can truly occur and that we savour, so our human experience is illuminated by the moment.

Light then becomes the purveyor of meaning, the agent of change, effected through the portal of the present. Distance becomes an expression of time elapsed since the moment of propagation, and space  the continuum of happening. The history of the universe develops in depth and detail, as does its potential, its possible future, as we ourselves develop the picture. The boundary of the universe is the same as that of our wonder. If we are dissatisfied with a mere 13.7 billion years of existence, or the physical limits that implies, why, we invent multiple universes, as many and as extravagant as our imaginations can supply. If relativity and quantum theory cannot keep up, we will have to find theories that do. And we will. Because the one terror we ultimately face, the one we cannot endure, is nothingness. Not just viscerally, but logically and philosophically.

 Our universe must expand with the demands of our imagination. To make it unbounded yet finite is the greatest challenge to this story, because nothing does not, indeed, exist. Aye, all we have is us.