Life has time to flash like neon

One clue that there’s something not quite real about sequential time and the way you experience it is the various paradoxes of time supposedly passing and of a so-called ‘present’ that’s always unrolling into the future and creating more and more past behind it. As if the present were this car — nice car by the way — and the past is the road we’ve just gone over, and the future is the headlit road up ahead we haven’t yet gotten to, and time is the car’s forward movement, and the precise present is the car’s front bumper as it cuts through the fog of the future, so that it’s now and then a tiny bit later a whole different now, etc. Except if time is really passing, how fast does it go? At what rate does the present change? See? Meaning if we use time to measure motion or rate — which we do, it’s the only way you can — 95 miles per hour, 70 heartbeats a minute, etc. — how are you supposed to measure the rate at which time moves? One second per second? It makes no sense. You can’t even talk about time flowing or moving without hitting up against paradox right away. So think for a second: What if there’s really no movement at all? What if this is all unfolding in the one flash you call the present, this first, infinitely tiny split second of impact when the speeding car’s front bumper’s just starting to touch the abutment, just before the bumper crumples and displaces the front end and you go violently forward and the steering column comes back at your chest as if shot out of something enormous? Meaning that what if in fact this now is infinite and never really passes in the way your mind is supposedly wired to understand pass, so that not only your whole life but every single humanly conceivable way to describe and account for that life has time to flash like neon shaped into those connected cursive letters that businesses’ signs and windows love so much to use through your mind all at once in the literally immeasurable instant between impact and death, just as you start forward to meet the wheel at a rate no belt ever made could restrain — THE END.

— David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon”

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