Carlo Rovelli says that we often” think of the world as made up of things. Of substances. Of entities. Of something that is.” But, in all actuality, it is “made up of events. Of happenings. Of processes. Of something that occurs.” The world, Rovelli explains, is something “that undergoes continual transformation”.
To some that’s disconcerting; the thought that everything appearing solid is really comprised of slippage and instability. But, that’s not what bothers me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read enough about Hegel’s philosophy of Becoming; Geist, Absolute spirit, Mind (with a capital M), perpetually unfolding into iridescent spirals of self-awareness, self-understanding, and self actualization. Or perhaps its because I’ve steeped myself in enough Buddhist thought, with all its notions of Anicca or Anitya; the impermanence of all things, that Rovelli’s words fail to rattle me. I am often all too cognizant of the fact that time, though it is a slippery concept to define both philosophically and scientifically, pushes everything into persistently new permutations.
There are things and there are events.” The world is not a collection of things,” Rovelli points out, but instead “is a collection of events.” “The difference between” the two, he goes on to say “is that things persist in time” and “events have a limited duration.” A mass of rock is a thing. Perhaps the closest something can come to stasis. For the most part it is unmoving, and thus it makes sense to ask questions about where the stone “will be tomorrow”. Or five years from now. On the other hand “a kiss”, Rovelli says ” is an event” and “It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow”. Or at any other arbitrary point in the future.
And yet, there is something worrisome for me in the Juxtaposition between things and events. It is not that the universe is made of up expanding, ephemeral events. What worries me is that most days I feel more like the stone than like a kiss.
I am surrounded by happenings, and processes, and occurrences, and I don’t feel like I’m a part of any of them. I watch as everything and everyone around me change and progress, grow and evolve, develop and adapt. And I am an the anomalous exception. The sole surviving substance in the continual uncoiling of the cosmos that stays static, fixed, and stuck. If the world is an amalgamation of unwinding events, then I am a thing that is wholly un-worlded, a singularity constricting into fixedness. As the rest of the Universe is motioning ahead, I feel like I am standing in place, falling inward in a collapse of density. Cursed under a spell of slumbering fastness, asleep like a stone, unstuck in time and waiting to be awoken, perhaps by a kiss.
I am at the mercy of a world that moves at a pace that doesn’t match my own. Everything accelerates and all my movements are imperceptibly slow. I’m looking for an out, an exit, an escape. A way forward. Something beyond this. Anything outside of here. But it evades my vision.
Matt Haig says that “it is always hard for us to see the future inside the present, even when it is right in front of us.” It seems to prove that our greatest limitation is “not that of imagination,” Maria Popova points out, “but that of perspective”. We are so dismissive of small steps in our on going obsession with giant leaps, big bangs of creation, progress, and productivity. Anything less feels like stagnation. Popova says that “our lens is too easily contracted by the fleeting urgencies of the present, too easily blurred by the hopes and fears of our human lives.” We forget that the world unfolds in mountains, plains, and plateaus. Events have peaks and troughs. Evolution takes a very, very very long time. It is slow, and agonizing, and arduous, and excruciating, and incremental. And there will be time when it seems as though nothing has happened and nothing has changed, “but,” as Rocknell Kent explains, “in the quietness the soul expands”.
Perhaps to be silent, to be still, to be so glacially moving, is to be at our most transformative. In a world of entities and eventualities, things and events, stones and kisses, we are only ever one stone’s throw away from sending ripples across great distances. Only one kiss away from waking up…