We’re Living in a Non-Linear World

And I’m a Non-Linear Girl

We operate and function based on artificial premises that we do not even understand to be artificial. And that’s why most people perceive time and events in a linear fashion. It’s easier for most people’s brains to understand things including their own lives in the form of a linear narrative.

This is utterly ridiculous.

If you are reading this you have been born. And you at some point will die. Your death may be a result of a poor decision or someone else’s poor decision or you may just die. There need not be reason or consequences but it will happen. So you have basically two points which anchor you in this world, those being your birth and your death. These are immutable. These happened. And you probably understand them as sort of Alpha and Omega events. But I really don’t think they are.

When I sing the worst section is inevitably the beginning. I do rather well in the middle of the piece and I rarely screw up the ending, but that opening phrase is always bad. For something like “Think of Me” (which by the by, was one of the first works I ever learned) that’s totally fine because the character is supposed to kinda suck out of the gate. But for pieces like Casta Diva, Oh Mio Babbino Caro, and Un Bel Di, it is DEFINITELY NOT FINE. I’m not sure why it is that I do that — maybe I’m nervous — but I do do that.

For something to be linear it must progress from one place to another. Decisions are made, movement is had, consequences are seen. In a story or a narrative like in an opera this makes sense. Butterfly wanted to dedicate herself to her husband so she renounced Shintoism and was baptised in his religion. As a result her family abandons her and then when her husband also abandons her she is left with nothing. Her only option to protect her son’s future is death through suicide which ultimately would be anathema to Christianity, but well within the norms and values of Japanese culture. In the story we have actions, consequences, movement, and the passage of time in which Butterfly tries to hold onto the past but ultimately fails.

We have the idea that we as well can’t hold onto our past. Except, we not only can but our past creates us. It is inescapable. It’s our future. Our decisions can impact our reality but the world is not driven by a functional narrative. We understand our lives and the passage of time as linear and plot and character driven.

But it’s not.

Your brain knows this. You’ve forgotten things that have happened to you and all of a sudden you’ll smell something or hear something and remember. Given the perceptual filter by which you experience the world there is no real difference between experiencing a thing for the first time and remembering it. There’s not even a real difference between imagining something you’ve never experienced and living it provided you’re in deep enough and it is an experience you could potentially have.

We have collectively decided that stories should be told with an idea of time, and with character driven plot points. But this doesn’t really work for what we are. We exist and live parallel to time rather than properly in it. Our selves and our humanity is not dictated by our lives as we understand them but as how we interact as a species. A memory I have of myself is just as relevant as a memory a friend has of me.

And while death comes for everyone it’s not a real ending. I’m not really in a position to declare whether or not our consciousness ends or is altered by death, but we still exist after death. Embroidery is still embroidery even a millennium and a half after its maker has passed away.

You do not exist from beginning to end and your pain and joy both will not pass. When you are gone you will still remain and the things you experienced years ago are still happening to you now.

When you look into the night sky many of the stars you see are long gone. But you can still see them. The elements that make up your body and cause your consciousness were once part of a star. You are experiencing something as a human and that is why you think it’s all linear. Because we’ve collectively decided it is. But it’s not. And the simplification is so extreme as to become silly.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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