“You can’t go back.”
“We must go forward.”
…now take a moment, look away from the computer, and think of a pink elephant hovering over your head.
Take another moment and think of the last elephant you saw, whether in Africa, in a zoo, or on T.V..
Now take a third moment and plan a trip to go see an elephant. You can plan to go to Africa on vacation, or plan a trip to the nearest zoo, or just figure on watching Animal Planet tomorrow night. Whatever you want. It’s all good.
But now, stop a moment and consider that those three elephants had in common.
Can you guess?
You imagined them. In each of those three moments, you used your imagination to create an elephant. All three of those elephants were imaginary.
In fact, right now, when you think back on those three moments, you’re using your imagination. When you think about the past (i.e. the last elephant you saw) or the future (i.e. the next elephant you want to see), you imagine those elephants.
That’s how “time” works. It exists in your imagination. So actually, the “elephant in the room” isn’t even time per se, it’s imagination. Imagination is everywhere. It’s so pervasive in fact, that often we don’t even recognize it. If you stop and really think, it’s incredible to realize how much of what we experience in any given moment is conjured up, or colored over, by our imaginations. It can be hard to tell where sensation stops and imagination starts, in fact. That is the real elephant in the room. But for now, let’s stick with just the topic of time.
If you want to sense something, you have to do it now. Right now is always available to your senses.
The past and future, however, are not available to your senses. They can only be thought. When we imagine the past, we call this “remembering”, but imagining is what we’re doing. And when we imagine the future, these imaginings wind up being even less accurate than our memories (since we imagine the future by extrapolating from memories). Ultimately, that’s how disappointment happens…but more on that some other time, maybe.
In other words, time doesn’t exist except in our heads. And the more we live in the past or the future (i.e. the more we focus our attention on imagining pasts and futures), the more we live in our heads as the world goes by. Because things in the present move. In fact, that’s exactly what clocks do. They move. And “time” is a useful mental construct for coordinating movement. I have a gadget on my wrist that moves predictably, and you have a gadget on your wrist that does the same, and if we want to meet, we coordinate our movements to the movements on our wrists so we can intercept each other.
Ok, so how does all this relate to “primitivism”?
Well, in lots of ways. But one is that people are often fond of telling primitivists they “want to live in the stone age” and that obviously “you can’t go back to the stone age.” Heck, some primitivists will even use this language. And sometimes for convenience, I even say such things.
But ultimately, it’s all bull.
Present reality is a bit more simple. Stones exist. Right now. So the “stone age” hasn’t gone anywhere. All that’s changed is how (most) humans choose to use stones at any given moment.
Right now, in the Amazon jungle there are people who use stone tools. Right now, in various parts of the world I have friends who make and use stone tools. Are these people “living in the stone age?” I can’t speak for the folks in the Amazon, but most of my friends around the world who make and use stone tools also have watches, and their watches say about the same thing mine does.
And I’m pretty sure if you gave a watch to one of those folks in the Amazon, it would continue to tick along about the same as back when it belonged to you.
Any one of us is perfectly capable of putting down a steel knife and picking up a rock, breaking (i.e. knapping) it into a stone blade, and using it to cut something. We can then put down that stone blade, and pick up our steel knife again. We can do all this without resorting to time travel. The notion that time travels in just one direction is an illusion. Everything moves in the present — and things move all over the place. Mostly they move round and round.
The “stone age” never went anywhere. It’s at your feet, right now.
All you have to do is reach down and touch a stone.