In ancient Greece the psycho-spiritual condition of being without a well-defined time of existence -- of being "lost in time" -- was termed metempsychosis, and thus we call it even today. The earliest clinical description is found in the writings of the philosopher Idiocrates. In his Natural History of the Unnatural he writes that Pythagoras, attempting to find a real-number ratio for the constant pi by dividing an eggplant by zero, was immediately and catastrophically dislodged from the flow of time itself. A metempsychosis engulfed him. Idiocrates' actual words are "...then great Saturn the Dual-Visaged, the Father of Time, spat forth the sage Pythagoras like a boy spitting a watermelon seed across the floor. Henceforth and forever before then does and did wise Pythagoras languish, atemporal and untimely, amongst the dustbunnies under Time's bed."
The experience of Pythagoras stands quite nicely even today as a definitive example of metempsychosis.
Objectified (External) Metempsychosis
Any discussion of metempsychosis must first deal with an apparent paradox: How can anything be said to exist if it does not exist at any particular moment? We have asked Dr. Ernst Duurnacker of the Hinterteile College of Depilatory Science to give us a brief yet incomprehensible explanation. Please proceed, Herr Doktor.
- "Thank you. Well, we must look first to the epistemology of 'existence', I think. For example, do my shoes exist? Apparently they do not! I wear no shoes, and I own no shoes, therefore 'my shoes' have no obvious existence. But at some future time I may decide that wrapping newspapers around my feet is tiresome, and I may decide to buy a pair of light pink high-heeled pumps...perhaps with sequins on the toes, yes...and with crimson sateen ribbons for laces, yes! So it must be said that 'my shoes' do exist in that future time. Yes, that must be so. And I will have the sateen ribbons. So these shoes, they exist...but not at any particular time. No, for I have not yet made up my mind when to buy them. Newspaper, it is cheap and widely available...although it does not wear well as footgear. Sequined shoes with ribbons, on the other hand -- they cost several Euros! Yes, but I will have them. Someday I will have dear lovely little pink shoes! Yes! Yes I will!"
- "Ergo: 'My shoes' exist in the future, but not at a particular time. They exist ab potentio ex nihil, that is to say, their existence arises from a metempsychosis."
- "But now I see that my friend Sister Bubo, who is a lay expert in psychosis, has come to remind me of an important epistemological consideration. What it is, dear Sister? Oh, I have not taken my pills, and Sister has ARHNNGHGH!!! brought her little pink crucifix-shaped cattle-prod to HRRNNHGGHNNGHGH!!! see that I don't forget. Ipso facto, ergo HREORUOGHGH!!!"
So, as Dr. Duurnacker has unconvincingly demonstrated, objects can exist outside time if their existence is predicated upon a genuine metempsychosis.
But beware! Not all psychoses are equal in this regard. We observe that objects whose selfhood is due to other kinds of insanity -- the skin-crawling spiders produced by delirium tremens, for example, or the weeping statues of the Virgin arising from Christopsychosis -- do not have a real existence. They do not exist now, will not exist, have not existed, and cannot exist -- not even extratemporally. Ipso facto, ergo HREORUOGHGH.
Subjectified (Personal) Metempsychosis
What of the human being who is himself unrooted from time by a metempsychosis? As we recall, this was the case with Pythagoras. In this situation the person cannot distinguish the past from the present, or the future from a baked potato. This would be common garden-variety insanity except for the fact that no-one else can perceive where this person belongs in the temporal flow either. Once again we turn to Dr. Duurnacker for an explanation.
- "Thank you again. I feel much better now. Well, this internalized metempsychosis is quite simple to demonstrate. Let us say that you are at a bistro having supper with a young film actress, Miss Sylvia D. She is too thin -- she should eat more nourishing food! -- but her face is heart-shaped and roguishly charming. One minute you say to yourself, 'Oh, Sylvia is here right now', but move only a minute into the future -- et voilá! -- there she is again, right beside you at this new point in time, a full minute away from where you had firmly perceived her to be! Is this possible?"
- "But again, wait! A moment later you look around and she is nowhere to be seen. She has exited the temporum completely. You may ask, 'Where is Sylvia?' and your waiter, innocent of psycho-temporality, will probably answer 'She has gone to the bathroom in order to be sick. The calfs-bladder souffle, although of excellent quality, did not agree with her.' But of course you know better! Yes, you instantly perceive that she is nowhere whatsoever in time. Not anywhere at all!"
- "And your heart, it breaks."
- "Alas, to be quite frank, Sylvia is most frequently at the wrong time. She arrives on the wrong day for dentist's appointments, and seldom appears for luncheon dates with her father, and even rushes into the operahouse during the middle of the second act of Der Fledermaus, right as the tenor -- drunk again -- falls off the stage and breaks his arm. Even though I told her of the precise curtain-time, and that I had already purchased the tickets."
- "It is because she is temporally unhinged."
- "A doubting-Thomas will say that all this is merely because Sylvia is flutterbrained. It is not so. No, not at all, Mr. D. Thomas! I remember that even as a three-year-old her intellect was exceptionally rigorous. She is quite brilliant. Furthermore, she has a fine Kastlmeir watch with a diamante wristband which I bought for her last St. Wilgefortis' Day, when we motored to Interlaken and ate what the Swiss quaintly call 'sno-cones' at a grubby little diner with a view not of the Jungfrau but of an oily hotel parking lot crowded with Citroëns and Fiats and Volvos. Yes indeed. She can read the numeric time more closely than a cesium-atom clock. But she is unable to remain coherently and consistently within the temporal flow! Yes, that is the only tenable explanation. That is why she mislays the hours, and has no time for an old man who wears newspapers on his feet. Her time is out of joint. She suffers from a metempsychosis, yes. That is the only explanation..."
At this point we discretely turn away from Dr. Duurnacker, who has begun to tremble and weep softly. Also, Sister Bubo is looming like a linebacker in the doorway, frowning and holding an immense hypodermic needle which we hope is meant for the good Herr Doktor or a large horse, and not for us.
Generalized (Universal) Metempsychosis
Having considered particular cases, we must now examine the universal. The Greek philosopher and frog-mender Parmenides held that reality cannot be proven to exist. This implies that time -- the "One-Way-Only" roadsign of reality -- cannot be shown to exist either.
The universe as a whole may be in a state of metempsychosis.
Consider that at the event horizon of a black hole time comes to a stop, whilst everywhere else it continues. Consider that quantum physicists have seen an electron jump across an insulating barrier without ever taking the time to do it. And also consider that photons move at the ultimate speed and therefore experience no time at all and can have no possible sense of duration...and yet there they come, bounding from your computer to your retina just in time to inform you that the numerals in the lower right corner of the screen have changed from 7:19 AM to 7:20 AM. And never a moment too early or late.
What can these facts mean?
We don't know. We have become confused.
But we are nervous about asking Dr. Duurnacker for another explanation. Our previous request upset him, and he seems like a nice old man. Still...the the good Herr Doktor now appears calm and even relaxed, and the formidable Sister Bubo has hurried off to another ward to deal with an inmate who is allegedly eating a Barcalounger. So we will risk it. We will ask Dr. Duurnacker to explain what is meant by "universal metempsychosis". Herr Doktor...?
- "Ah, thank you. Thank you yet again. You speak of the quantum...The great Wolfgang Pauli once asked his students, 'Why did the electron tunnel across the voltage potential?' And he answered, 'Because it had a 1.4559% chance of doing so!' Ha-ha! No, wait, I have that wrong...it should be 'Because the turnpike was closed.'"
- "At all events, it is never enough to examine only the specific and the particular. No, for the universal whole is greater than the sum of its particulars. Echoes of the past coexist with echoes from the future. They are like waves; they intersect and form interference patterns. Tell me, do you have black thoughts, or do you fear the dark?"
We do not know what to say to Dr. Duurnacker. We are embarrassed by his question, and so we do not answer.
- "Well, then, all right. Very well: imagine that time is a duckpond. A pebble falls into the water at one end -- the past -- and another at the far end, which is the future. The ripples from these events propagate throughout time, and where they intersect and interfere strange patterns form. These patterns, they persist, they grow and change. But they are not real things, not ab-original! No, not at all. They arise only from the interactions of disturbances in time, in the Ur-field."
- "These patterns, they are you and me."
- "Now I will show you an interesting thing. Put your hand in front of the reading-lamp -- close, close to the bulb. But not so close that you burn yourself!"
- "See the light glowing through? The light, even the feeble artificial light, it goes through your skin and your muscle, and through all your tissues. Even through bone! When you are walking down the city pavements in the bright sunshine, the light goes everywhere inside you. There are no areas of permanent darkness inside the human being. None! Time, too, is like that. See how it is? The existence-patterns, they are not apart from the light. They are not apart from time. The universal metempsychosis means that past and future permeate us. Permeate and create us. And so there is no cause for alarm! No catastrophe can occur!"
- "No, indeed. Within the universal metempsychosis the catastrophes of little pink shoes and thoughtless children mean nothing. See? I am smiling. I smile, and my hands do not tremble."
And although we have not understood a single word of his explanation, we must attest that Dr. Duurnacker wears a broad smile, his eyes are clear, and his hands are steady.