Another Kind of Time

When W. B. Yeats talks about the different levels of reality, he makes a distinction between higher and lower levels. He doesn’t leave it at that, though, but suggests a model for thinking of the relationship between those levels of reality. He describes the higher level as being at ‘right angles’ to the lower level in such a way that while the higher may influence the lower, the lower has no influence upon the higher.

There are productive corollaries to this, one being that Yeats provides sort of a cosmological theory of genuine mysteries, things which may stir our world but are nonetheless beyond our ability to grasp. He seems to think, too, that there is some part of ourselves which lies beyond our faculties and principles, that is at such a ‘right angle.’ He calls it the ghostly self and describes it as too simple to be analyzed. Of course, with his own theory, we don’t actually have to buy that it is genuinely simple, just that it is too different from the part of ourselves with which we think for us to grasp it.

I want to keep following that line of thought. If, as Yeats suspects, the spiritual mysteries lead us into a contemplation of dimensionality (three dimensions of space, plus one of time), we can ask ourselves what precisely defines that higher level of reality.  What if that ‘higher’ reality is ‘higher’ in the mathematical sense of having more dimensions? What if that other dimension is a dimension of time? That line of thought abuts St. Augustine’s distinction between the infinite and the eternal, between an endless quantity of time and space contrasted with that which lies beyond such distinctions.

A woman holding flowers and an hourglass with one elbow propped on a skull, symbols of time, with an ouroboros, a symbol of the eternal, circling her head
Speaking of right angles…

With Yeats and some rudimentary physics of multidimensionality at our disposal, we should start to wonder if the ‘eternal’ isn’t timeless but another dimension of time which we are very, very poorly suited to grasping. What if we are able to grasp the eternal in a way akin to how flatlanders grasp a volume moving through their plane?

That doesn’t change how poorly our grasp of eternity is, but it does help us ease the philosophical knot that often surrounds the distinction between the infinite and eternal. Rather than thinking about them as contraries, we can think of them as occupying a larger coordinate system which we can’t understand. Once we take that step, we don’t have to accept that the higher level is actually simpler, but that it looks simple to us because our cognition can only treat it crudely.

That way of thinking about the divide transforms how ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ relate to each other. The crudeness of our sensation means that we are very poor at manipulating that other level but that doesn’t mean that the lower level has zero influence on the higher. A good deal of the ‘gnosis’ in gnosticism has to to do with this recognition of influence and an increasing appreciation for the value of our ‘lower’ life in reference to the ‘higher.’

I think there are good ways to develop this and I’ll be talking about it more as I go along.

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