There are a lot of people chafing at their confinement right now, a lot of complaining after just a few weeks of semi-home arrest, a lot of people wondering when things will return to “normal”. Time is measured in milli-seconds, minutes, or at the most, hours, for in the 21st Century, each and every day is an entire news cycle, to be created, distributed, and consumed, and it often seems like we really are, as Henry Miller wrote in 1934, “Living a thousand lives in the space of a single generation”.
I’ve become increasingly fascinated by World War One over the past few years, and I’m currently reading an excellent book on the subject (A World Undone by G. J. Meyer) which does a good job of describing how much slower things moved only 100 years ago (when the mobilization of armies took weeks or months, or an important communication might take days to arrive), and how much technology at the beginning of the 20th Century was already changing the entrenched behavior of thousands of years of human existence. (World War One would be marked by vast armies of fading Empire’s trying to fight against modern weaponry with outdated military tactic’s inherited from warfare of the 19th century. The result was what has been described as ‘the beginning of a century of carnage’, during which, after two Worlds Wars, the Holocaust, Stalin’s programs, Pol Pot, Rwanda and Zaire, too many other regional genocides to count, and the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, Humanity has lost such an astonishing number of its Best and its Brightest, it makes you wonder about the caliber of those who survived.)
Time only sped up in the Twentieth Century, terrifyingly quickly between the two World Wars and the birth of the Atomic Age, still more quickly again with the birth of computing and then the World Wide Web, and now in the Information Age we have already moved astonishingly fast through nearly a quarter of the Twenty First Century, the days are only racing quicker still as we speed towards the Omega Point, the Singularity that will be reached between our Technology, Nature, and the physical limits of our planetary resources. (I often say Humanity is in a race against its own Ingenuity).
Terence McKenna was of course also a great proponent of this idea that our perception of time was speeding up, and Ive long been fascinated by his identification of ‘Novelty’ as the factor that would increase as we sped towards the Singularity, for there can be no doubt that be it Donald Trump, the Tiger King, or the Coronavirus, we are living in the most novel of times.
Me personally, I like to try and reverse this effect, by reading a lot of history and visiting ancient sites, and meditating on what it was like to live in an Age when several generations might pass and hardly anything would change. (The Greeks, for example, hated the idea of change. and believed rapid changes were the sign of an unstable society. Their famed Eleusinian Mysteries, which you could only attend once in your lifetime, were held annually for for 2000 years).
In 2019, I travelled to Turkey and made a pilgrimage to Gobekeli-tepe, which is reputed to be the oldest temple structure in the world, and was built around 10,000 BCE, some 6000 years before Stonehenge. Turkey in itself was a trip and place that I had long wanted to visit, and especially ancient the Silk Road towns like Sanilurfa, which is just a few miles from Gobekli-tepe.
Sanilurfa turned out to be one of the coolest places I had ever accidentally visited for more reasons then I will go into here, but one was that it has one of the best archaeological museums I have ever been to (rivaling the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City), which maps out the more than 12,000 years of continuous human occupation of the area as you move from hall to hall. There are few places I have ever visited where I could more feel the real movement of Human History, the intense rise and fall of races and Empires over century after century, all part of the gathering of vast galactic forces now concentrated and unleashed in the novel virus of Human Consciousness, the greatest most complicated ongoing experiment in the known Universe …
Time only exists because we recognized it, named it, broke it down. Mankind survived for thousands of years with only the crudest of calendars. What began so slowly, like ice melting in the mountains, is now moving so fast, a great river of Humanity swept along towards the Cosmic Sea, each of us just a drop in a vast Ocean … What it all means is anybody’s guess, but it sure is amazing when you realize its all just a crazy ride. Which is why I chose a photograph I took of ‘The Urfa Man’ in Sanliurfa’s fabulous museum for today’s post, which was created sometime around 9000 BCE, and is considered “the oldest naturalistic life-sized sculpture of a human”. For while it is impossible to know the motivations of the Neolithic shaman-artists that quarried and chiseled the giant stone blocks of Gobekli-tepe, or decided to turn a piece of rock as big as themselves into the Urfa Man, it is still just as easy to feel the awe generated by their achievements.