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On Wanting It To Last Forever

February 18, 2013

Here’s one more post on 2001, or at least on the issues about consciousness and temporality which the film raises. In an article published just a few days ago in The Chronicle for Higher Education, Michael Clune provides us with the following thought experiment:

Imagine you’re sitting in the sun, holding your partner’s hand, thinking, I wish this would last forever. Now imagine that a genie grants your wish. Wonderful! No clouds dim the sun, you sigh happily, the pleasant feeling lasts. Then you begin to feel an uncomfortable pressure in your bladder. Your neck starts to ache. You get bored. Your partner’s hand grows sweaty. Soon you’re desperately wishing you could get up, get away from this hell.

You can read the rest here.

The problem, if you want to call it that, which Clune puts his finger on seems to be something like this: On the one hand, certain experiences which we have are so good (so beautiful, so satisfying, etc.) that we don’t want them to end. On the other hand, without change in our conscious experience we become, among other things, bored as hell. So no matter how great it is to be looking at the paintings of Vermeer or hearing the opening bars of “A Love Supreme,” if we try to stay in this moment, eventually our pleasure will turn to pain, our joy will turn to suffering, and so forth. As you might imagine, this fact (if indeed it is a fact) raises problems for anyone who tries to imagine what an interesting but infinite afterlife might be like. Wouldn’t we eventually want it to end, much like we end up wanting Vermeer’s model to have done with pouring the water?

vermeer

I won’t go into any detail here, but I do want to suggest that the possibility of an atemporal form of consciousness provides an interesting line of response to some these problems. In Clune’s example, the lover continues to experience the events of the day against the background of passing time. Fair enough. But what might it be like to experience this event without change? Of course, that’s a very difficult question! But an attempt to answer it might be an interesting first step on a worthwhile philosophical journey.

By the way, I’d have to listen to “A Love Supreme” for a long time before I got bored!

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