Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Day 95: Navigating the geologic instant

geologic time with Robert Smithson, image Liz Ellsworth

The events of last weekend echo forward into my week. I am sensing that we are the first peoples to be embodying a mind-warping divide between two senses of time- the instant and the geologic.

We live in a world with instant messaging, fiber optic cables, twitter, and daily blogging. References to much longer spans of time that exceed (at least my) comprehension, also creep into awareness.

In the same minute that I receive up-to-the-second updates on Facebook I read or hear on the radio that the plastic we have dumped into the ocean will be out there floating and breaking down for hundreds of thousands of years. We just invented this stuff a couple decades ago, and only used it for 5 minutes, so it's a bit mind-bending to take in. The ability to process both senses of time with any meaning feels counter intuitive.

Last weekend James Benning wisely noted that it isn't the planet that we are presently "killing", the earth is much too strong (and has been around for billions of years after all). It really is only ourselves, and other innocent species, that we are doing such a good job of wiping out so fast.

There is something about the disconnect between these two senses of time, the instant and the geologic, that signals a big red flag to me. Humans don't seem to grasp themselves as part of a longer story- one that exceeds them- so they get lost in the present moment. Yet, the geologic is there, always. I sense myself becoming aware of spans of time that I haven't considered consciously before. But oddly, this awareness grows in relation to what our human legacy will be after we are gone. It seems quite likely that the human trace is going to take the form of crazy quantities of plastic and toxic human-made isotopes like Uranium 235 (half life of 704 million years) and Uranium 238 (what gets left beyond in nuclear power, half life of 4.5 billion years).

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