My friend recommended that I play the game Undertale at the start of last summer. Since he shared his Steam library with me, I thought why not. I got about an hour in before I decided I wanted to do something else. The plot of the game is simple enough. You’re a child who fell into the Underground, and you are trying to make your way back home. In many ways, it’s eerily familiar to the angsty landscape I imaged adolescence to be; I’m sure the imagery was quite intentional. It exists in a weird transitional state between the beginning of the game and the end of the game. Similar to The Binding of Issac, it exists in a sort of purgatorial state — transitional — between one state of existence and the next. There is no beginning, just a middle and an end that I will never get to. A lot of darkness, weird supporting characters, and a constant sense of confusion — yup, seems exactly like my teenage years.
This game came out in 2015, but it has the feeling of one of those games that came out in the early 2000s — you know, the ones that demanded a lot of grinding before you could get anywhere, partly because they didn’t have the technology for more complex processes but also because they probably didn’t have the money to hire new software engineers so they copy-pasted some of the mechanics. There’s something about games made in the 2000s that demand a lot of attention out of you. It was a time when commercials still existed, which meant that you had to sit through something annoying and unpleasant before you get what you wanted. Nowadays, I just watch everything on Netflix or YouTube (but my Ad Block prevents ads from popping up there). I don’t think I have the patience to sit through commercials ever again in my life. I have the money to afford services that don’t have commercials, and I think I’m going to stock to it that way. I don’t even watch through shows in their entirety anymore. I just skip through scenes until I have a vague understanding of what’s going on, and then I call it a day. I don’t think I’ve had that much attention to watch commercials much less play a game like Undertale since I was a child, and I definitely do not have enough commitment to finish this game. I have no idea what happens in the end; I’ve heard that there are different endings depending on the choices you make throughout the game, but honestly the game is too hard for me to finish, and I don’t care to get good.
I keep on going back to St. Augustine’s notion about the past and future — how they don’t exist, and that they are just constructions by our mind to make sense of time. If Descartes was the first dude to quantify tiers of metaphysical reality through the count of attributes, what would he say about our spatial understanding of time (or was this Boethius?)
But how is that future diminished or consumed which as yet is not? Or how does the past, which is no longer, increase, unless three things are done in the mind that enacts this there? For the mind expects, and considers, and remembers, that that which it expects, through that which it considers, may pass into that which it remembers… Future time, which is not, is not therefore long; but a “long future” is “a long expectation of the future.” Nor is time past, which is now no longer, long; but a long past is “a long memory of the past.-St. Augustine, Confessions
I reflect back on my past memories. They aren’t particularly real. There is this sort of air of falseness to it. Honestly, a lot of my memories are pretty distorted because I can only reconstruct them through pictures I review afterwards. It is the same with history – around 75 million people died in World War II, but it seems quite distant, and I can’t quite conceptualize it. It wasn’t that far ago — only 76 years since the end of the war. That’s literally one person’s lifespan. All that separates bloodiest modern conflict and now is just one person who was born at the end the world who is in retirement now. If you go back further the Black Death wiped out 2/3 of Europe’s population. That’s even worse than when Thanos snapped his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet. Around the same time, the Mongols were literally burning hundreds of cities to the ground. If you really want to go back, you can curse the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs. That wasn’t all that nice.
The point is: All of these things happened, yet we don’t particularly care about it. Sure, WWII happened. It sucked, but how many people still feel connected to the events that happened to WWII? (It is probably quite a lot of people.) Sure, the Mongols basically destroyed centuries of scientific and cultural progress in their conquest for world dominance, but no one is really mad at the Mongols now. I’m not getting anywhere in life by not ordering Mongolian beef whenever I go to a Chinese food truck. I guess there are people still mad at Spain and Portugal for basically wrecking political institutions in Latin America (only me tbh), but definitely no one mad at Genghis Khan. The Black Death happened, but you can’t really be mad at a disease. I mean, you could be mad at Genghis Khan for spreading it, but then again no one is still mad at Genghis Khan. But, if I’m being honest, I’m still pissed at the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.
I try to be detached from my memories because they don’t seem to be quite real, but I still don’t understand why Augustine thought that our current present is more “real” than the past or future. What is causation in this case? Are we detached from the past because it is not real, or is the past not real because we are detached from it? Does our mind originate our reality or does our mind perceive reality as it is? So many questions. If we really want to be idealist about it, then nothing exists in reality and everything is in our mind, which is probably true but also a lame answer. There is some choice we have over what type of reality we wish to perceive. All I know is that I don’t feel particularly attached to my present either. Sure, the past is whatever. But why does that mean the present isn’t also whatever?
The present very quickly becomes the past. If you really want to get technical, we can say that we’re not experiencing the present at all; we’re just experiencing a phenomena the moment it becomes part of our past. Things happen in the present. If we do not react to them in the same way we do not react to things that happened our past, our actions do not speak to the reality in which they supposedly occupy. With this way of looking at the world, everything is reduced to passivity, and once we embrace passivity we no longer are can observe our life passing in the present. It is a choice how we perceive our lives — whether in the past or present and how much in the past we want to perceive our lives. While reflection is a necessary component in living a “free” life it is also reductive to existence in absence of activity. When faced with these two contrasting realities, our perception serves as a the fork in the road to the life we want to lead.
It’s weird — the only thing that supposedly separates present from past is placement. The present is placed at the foreground, and the past is relegated to the background. However, if we simply move the present to the past, then it becomes the past. There is nothing grounding its present-ness (presence?). It is just a temporary state of being we could negate by not perceiving its relation to the past. If we perceive the present as we perceived the past, then it automatically becomes the past. In other words, the present isn’t a standalone thing. Its reality is given through perception, which means its reality can also be negated through the lack of perception. If we refuse to acknowledge the present as forefront, then there is no reality to it. If we refuse to allow presence in phenomena, then there is no difference between past, present, and future.
All we know is that we feel something, but even that is a jump to make. If there’s any concession to make, it is that the present accompanies stronger emotions than the past. We can recognize that our past carries emotions as well. In another world, I would also advocate the future carries emotions (literally just from watching Dark lmao), but since I didn’t just fall into a swimming pool of LSD, I think I’ll shelve that idea for now. However, there is a difference between passive and active emotion. Depending on the magnitude of relegation, individual consciousness transcends passive emotion. Active emotion is a product of the near past. If I recall correctly, the Cannon–Bard theory suggests that emotions are a product of neurological reactions to neurochemical stimulations (it could very well be the James–Lange theory, but I’m definitely not going to double-check). We perceive active emotion through active stimulation, while passive emotions exist as internal reactions found as conflicting memories are probed into existence through subliminal consciousness.
If we are detached from the present, it does not mean we are detached from reality. There is a false equivalency between present-ness and real-ness in the sense that their respective phenomenologies are constructed through different epistemological structures. While reality cannot be negated through transcendental idealism, presence is subject to transcendental selectivity. It is subject to perception. If we do not perceive the present, the present does not exist.