A new refutation of the timeline

Once the idealist argument is admitted, I see that it is possible, and perhaps inevitable, to go further. For Hume it is not licit to speak of the form of the moon or of its colour: the form and colour are the moon; neither can one speak of the perceptions of the mind, since the mind is nothing other than a series of perceptions. Once location and presence which are continuities, are negated, once space too has been negated, I do not know what right we have to that continuity which is time. Let us imagine a present moment of any kind. During one of his nights on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn recognised the soft indefatigable sound of the water; he negligently reaches for his phone: he sees a vague number of tweets, an indistinct thread about the Clinton campaign; he skips forward to the top of his timeline, checks his mentions, scrolls back a few pages; notes that some Australians are arguing about something impossible to understand; then, he sinks back into his sleep as into the dark waters. Idealist metaphysics declares that to add a material substance (the object) and a spiritual substance (the subject) to those perceptions is venturesome and useless; I maintain that it is no less illogical to think that such perceptions are terms in a series whose beginning is as inconceivable as its end. To add to the words behind the borosilicate glass, Huck perceives the notion of a number of persons widely separated in space who have typed them; for myself, it is no less unjustifiable to add a chronological precision: the fact, for example, that the foregoing event took place on the night of the seventh of February, 2016, between ten or eleven minutes past four. In other words, I deny, with the arguments of idealism, the vast temporal series which idealism admits. Hume denied the existence of an absolute space, in which all things have their place; I deny the existence of one single time, in which all things are linked as in a chain. The denial of coexistence is no less arduous than the denial of succession.

The concept that there is a single timeline, an absolute ticking clock containing all tweets, to which any of our mere individual timelines is at best an approximation, is no less an illusion, or an ideal of the software developer. Just as our perception of Twitter is atomised, a constellation of discrete moments of anger, amusement, impatience, being owned, with no necessary chain of causation linking them other than the ex post facto construction of a Storify or a screencap, so too is the underlying data, striped across who knows how many hard disks, a maelstrom of letters in an infinite and roaring library of server rooms and databases, which may only be composed into a calendar by an act of subsequent rationalisation.

And yet, and yet… denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. As much as I may desultorily build these feeble attempts at metaphysics, in several hours night will fall over the two Americas, and not long after that, all of the Australians will be noisily waking up, an unfortunate fact of the orientation of the globe which Twitter’s algorithmic timeline is unlikely to overcome.


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