Fragmented digital and cinematic thought

Forewarning: much of what is written below will seem jumbled thought. Perhaps because it is. I take seriously a lot of the thoughts written below, but I am also aware that they might seem crazy at times, not least because jumbled. But the reason I study cinema is because I think it is a place where the brain, light, darkness, the digital/computers and the space and time of the universe all come together. And there is a Theory of Everything to emerge out of this at some point, based on the above and ideas of energy, memory and information.

So with some forewarning, here goes:

This is not about cinema, but in some ways it relates to it. It is in part about numbers, in particular the numbers 0 and 1, which combine to form digital code. It is also about space and time.

We can happily say that when particles in space, or, perhaps better, particles of space, organise themselves by lumping together (by vibrating/spinning at the same speed), then coherent matter is the result. The results include, for example, rocks – as big as planets, individual and smaller rocks on planets, wearing down to sand and dust, themselves just small rocks, as Joel (Jim Carrey) ponders in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Perhaps even more complex matter like vegetation or organic life can be the result of this organisation of material.

I say ‘lumping together,’ but I don’t mean this and I need to refine the phrase, though it worked as a stopgap for the above paragraph. Each particle that lumps together to form a coherent/organised piece of matter/organism retains its autonomy even when part of an organism. It does not lose anything; only what happens is that something is gained: coherence, perhaps even life itself, can emerge simply from the combination of elements.

In this sense, life is like an art perhaps: art is putting elements together on a canvas or in front of a camera in order to create a whole. I’ll come back to this comparison with regard to time, where cinema comes into its own as a tool for thinking about such matters.

But at this point I’d like to add one more thing: if the principle of the organisation of points in/of space is ‘all’ that takes place for coherent or organised matter or even for life to emerge, then it becomes hard for us to say where life begins and ends.

All objects that we consider to be alive today are made of the same stuff as dead or supposedly inert matter. So what differentiates them? Well, their level of organisation. It is my view that, although not seemingly as organised as a human, a rock has a form of life unto itself. Perhaps the coherence of even the emptiest space still has coherence of a sort or after a fashion. Although it is not bursting with intense life, life is still there. For, I am also saying that life is not something that belongs to some objects or blocks of organised and coherent space and not to others, but that life is the process of organisation itself, in whichever way things can successfully organise themselves.

I hold that it is easy for me to say that I consist of bits of organised space from which emerges a human being (‘I’ itself), in the same way that different bits of paint converge from the various tins and tubes from whence they came and on to a canvas in order not only for a painting to emerge, but also in many cases for a painting of something that humans can recognise to emerge. Each particle of which I exist has an independent existence in space. Each particle also has neighbours, and for this reason we don’t say that this particle equals that particle; each particle is different, even if, when there are loads of these particles together, an I can emerge from them.

Now, what will be harder for me to say is that the same holds for time. We are made up of particles of space that cohere together. While humans have no trouble saying that one point in space has autonomy from the next, though, we have trouble accepting that one point in time has autonomy from the next. I don’t mean by this that we cannot tell now from then; in fact, we do this pretty easily. But what we also assume is that each particle in/of space and which is a particle now remains the same particle the next instant. And I am going resolutely to reject this view and boldly state that I believe that at each and every instant of time as we perceive it, the universe is in fact entirely renewed. It is a different universe.

Let’s go further into this: neighbouring particles in/of space are different from each other. Neighbouring particles in/of time are also different from each other. I, for example, is something that emerges from the organisation of particles of space (I have a body now), but I also emerges from the organisation of particles of time.

Does this mean that my future has been decided, if in fact all particles of time that cohere to/as me have ‘already’ done so even if my consciousness cannot perceive as much? Not really and here’s why: we know that our bodies change. I breathe in, I breathe out. I grow, I put on weight, I lose weight, I go bald. That is, the particles of space from which we emerge come and go – and yet ‘I’ somehow remain. Why not the same with time? That is, there is a flux of time particles some of which cohere or organise into an object, organism, even a life or an I that has temporal coherence.

(Crazily, I sometimes wonder whether a sudden change in my physical shape – a hiccup, for example, is as much generated by a sudden burst of space particles around me as much as by – but not instead of – my internal system that needs an injection/ejection of air for whatever reason it is that we do hiccup. That is, even a hiccup is an instance of organisation within the organisation of a human being.)

If I managed somehow to step outside of time as I experience it [let’s call my experience of time Chronos], I would not be able to see my future. An extratemporal perspective on time in its entirety [let’s call this Aion] does not allow me to see time in the order in which it happens for humans. For that is not the nature of Aion – to have order. Each particle of Aion has the potential to be or become any particle of a single person’s Chronos. It is not assigned a priori or really even a posteriori a role in anyone’s Chronos, even if this happens to take place. Therefore to see time ‘from without’/to see Aion would not allow us to predict the future; we would not know whether any particle/moment of Aion was past, present or future, since these terms would completely lose their meaning. Aion is not the simultaneous coexistence of moments of time from the human perspective; Aion is inhuman in perspective and cannot make any such sense. It is chaos in something like what I shall term an ‘absolute’ sense: we cannot see the coherence that emerges as a result of organisation (the organisation of Chronos); only from the perspective of Chronos can we see past, present and future moments and how they are related – how they are organised; from the perspective of Aion, no such coherence exists. There is no coherence. Coherence is antithetical to Aion in the same way that we conceive of coherence or organisation as being antithetical to chaos.)

So, it is not just that I is made up of coherent/organised particles of space; I is made up of organised particles of space and organised particles of time. I do not need ‘memory’ to retain my identity ‘over time’ – for I emerges from the organisation of whichever particles of time are drawn into/decide to join the process of organisation that allows me to emerge (although ‘memory,’ which has been shown by neuroscientists to coincide with a physical change in the brain, may be the reappearance or distant vibrations of those same time and space particles; that is, memory is not an abstract but quite a physical process – suggesting, to me, that time might well be best thought of in particular terms).

The particles of which I consist do not need to persist in time; in the same way that I can grow and still remain I, even though I have taken on new particles of space, I can take on new particles of time and remain I, too. There is no temporal extension of a particle of space; at each and every instant, it is another, neighbouring particle of space that exists, linked by the particle of time that separates them. At each and every instant, the universe is constantly renewed in its entirety. If we want to know how this can happen, we’re going to need a bigger definition of universe.

Here cinema can come to serve its instrumental role as analogy to what I is trying to describe: cinema is composed of scenes that are moments shot at different points in time, but which are brought together to form a coherent unit that is the film itself. More extreme: each shot is something shot at a different moment in time (and films are not shot in the chronology in which they are finally projected), and these are brought together to form a coherent whole. As of cinema, we can speak of organisation: it brings together moments of ‘chaotic’ time that did not necessarily neighbour each other, but which during the chronological ‘projection’ that is organised existence or life, cohere to form a continuous narrative. Most extreme version: in analogue cinema, even a frame is a different moment from its neighbour, and each of the frames is brought together to create a coherent whole.

In digital cinema, the smallest unit of a film switches from being a unit of time, the frame, to being a unit of space, the pixel. Digital cinema perhaps de facto involves a switch from time to space in order to exist: it is a spatisalisation of what in analogue days was temporal. A spatialisation of time, perhaps.

For, we should remember that for every frame that involves an image in cinema, there is one or more frames of blackness around it, but which we do not perceive. That which was between the images, but which brought them together (sutured them), that is, time itself, is now made spatial/pixelated. The darkness that subtends the light of cinema is something to which I shall return.

We understand each particle of space as having a material existence of sorts; we understand that it is more than nothing. Now, while between 0 and 1 we can have fractions, 1 here stands for a particle of anything that is not nothing, and to be a particle at all is to be 1, since 1 is a particle of something/anything, while 0 is nothing.

So particles in space are 11111111 – each one neighbouring the next. At each moment in time these are replaced by more particles (1s). 1s spreading in every direction, some of which combine to form coherent matter, organisms. This is life; organisation is life (life is not an object, but a process). That there is any 1 at all is life. But how do we go from 0 to 1? Yes, fractions exist, but really fractions are a way of saying that there is an infinite regress of infinitely smaller ‘1s’. Decimals might help us here: 0.00000000000001 still has a 1 in it, and 0.00000000000001 can quickly become 1 or 100000000000000 by shifting the decimal place. In other words, it is not that 0.00000000000001 is minute and 100000000000000 enormous; in fact they are basically the same thing seen from a different distance or on a different scale. This is fractality: simply moving the decimal point. And one can move it infinitely, but as long as there is 1 somewhere, the 0s around it can have value. As long as there is a 1 somewhere, there is something, as opposed to nothing. It is an amusing paradox that the decimal point or the full stop can enable an infinite fractality: a stop allows things to go on forever. Infinity is subtended not by plain zeroes; it is subtended by there being a 1 (any 1) among zeroes. Infinity itself is 1. It is not the number 1 (as opposed to 2 or 3); it is the fact of the existence of 1, any 1 that can be inserted anywhere among the 0s of nothingness.

What is truly surprising, then, is that there is a 1 at all, a 1 that makes of the 0s something other than 0 alone, that can give 0s value or meaning. One 1 alone can make five 0s very meaningful to a human when five 0s without the 1 are meaningless. But the inverse is perhaps worth considering as well: 0 gives 1 a meaning as 1 gives 0 a meaning. While a particle in space can be recognised as a 1 (it is something as opposed to nothing, by virtue of its being a particle), it is perhaps always subtended by a 0, a particle of an invisible substance that exists on a different plane to the particle of space.

(This is in part the brilliance of Kiarostami’s 10. The title alone refers to the 1 and the 0 that make up digital code, which in turn is part of the film’s fabric – it is shot on digital cameras. Regardless of the film’s content, that the film consists of 10 scenes also means that one cannot remove a scene for the film to remain coherent. It cannot be called 9. Instead, it shows that 1 and 0 are necessary for each other to exist, that they cohere. This is life.)

Here I am not sure of which I speak, but let’s pursue this anyway: is it that time is the 0 to space’s 1? Time is the many 0s that can make space, 1s, meaningful – but space also justifies time. So if space or 1s are organisation, what helps them to be organised is 0 or time.

Let’s say I consists of 8 particles of space: 11111111. 8 is what emerges from this. 8 is I. What do I mean by this? Well, I am still made up of 11111111, but I am also 8. 8 consists of 11111111, but 8 itself is a 9th term that emerges from 11111111. This is emergence: those eight 1s are still there in me as 1s, but a 9th term emerges, the very 8 that is I.

Humans wonder whether 2 x 2 can ever equal 5. This in fact seems no challenge to me. The only reason we find this curious is because we work in base 10, probably because we have 10 fingers. While I am not now going to show how 2 x 2 can equal 5, I do want to explain why I think it’s the wrong question.

For, 5 is only really 11111. 2 is only really 11. So while 11 and 11 can be 1111 if they decide to cohere/organise, it only requires another 1 to make 11111 or 5. The entire concept of multiplication is a smokescreen, a symbol or shorthand for what can only in reality be addition.

More on this: 4 x 2 = 8. In this formula, two different figures combine to create a third term. But this is just a shorthand way of adding 1 plus 1 eight times. Therefore to be fooled by the fact that 2 x 2 cannot equal 5 (except perhaps under special circumstances) is simply to be fooled by the shorthand that we have created to guide us through the mass of 1s and 0s, and has nothing to do with the 1s and 0s themselves.

(Besides which, there is already a 5th term that emerges from 1111, which is 4 itself. I wonder that 5 is not implied always already by 1111/4, and that 2, therefore, is implied in 1. While we only have ten symbols to denote the emergent power that comes from combining 1s (those being 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9), we could just as easily have as many symbols as there are combinations of 1s [and 0s]. I wonder that as soon as you have 1 x 1, you just have more 1s always coming into existence. Infinity is again not a number but the fact of 1, since come 1 x 1, more 1s are sure to follow, forever expanding.)

(A thought on shorthand: when we apply 8 as a shorthand symbol for 11111111, those 11111111s disappear/hide behind the symbol 8. To an extent, we can call this folding and archiving; rather than having to deal with 11111111 every time we want to think about 8 anythings, we just use 8, since it is quicker and, as we can see visualised on this page, 8 saves space over 11111111. This saving of space could be considered as a transmutation of 11111111 from being points in space to now being points in time. That is, 8 temporalises 11111111 in order to save space in the present. In this sense, time is the folding of space by the brain for the sake of efficiency. In effect, time in this light could be considered an invention of the brain, a database designed to temporalise space. Perhaps it is ironic that the spatialisation of time involved in the digital points to how we might conceive this.)

If 0 is nothing and invisible (to humans), then, as I have mentioned, perhaps it is related to time, which is also invisible to humans, even though we can sense that it is there. How can we establish this relationship? It is to return to Aion. If Aion involves no coherence, and if coherence is a property of 1, then incoherence or chaos is 0. Aion, time as it is as opposed to time as it is perceived by humans, is 0; Aion subtends Chronos, which is also 1.

(By this rationale, is 1 really only the shorthand, the symbol, for 0? It is the chronologisation of Aion, the ordering of chaos, the spatialisation of time, and this is done not necessarily by a human brain, but by the process of organisation itself – again, a kind of cosmic system of folding and archiving. The universe as brain.)

Light is the measure of space and it is the measure of Chronos. The universe may be bigger than the furthest source of light, and it may also be older, but we cannot see these spaces nor measure how old they are, because they are in darkness. The limits of knowledge are based upon that which has come to light, or which emits its own light upon us. If light allows for understanding, since it is only through light that we can see and thereby know anything, then light is at the core of organisation/coherence. Light allows humans to see organisation, but more particularly it allows coherence or organisation to manifest itself. Light allows for life.

(Here I can interject with the curious, esoteric, but very exciting prospect of biophotonics: the transfer of energy and information via light that is produced in the human body (and elsewhere). Light is organisation, is life.)

Light is the measure of space and Chronos. It is because light travels at a constant and unwavering speed, or so we believe, that we can measure distances. It is because of light’s constant speed that we can also measure Chronos, or the age of the universe. Light is also made up of matter, or particles, in the form of photons. Light, then, is a, perhaps the, originary coherence, or 1, that lets life into the world.

If light is 1, then the opposite of light – that is, darkness – is 0. In darkness, nothing can be differentiated, nothing can be measured; there is incoherence or chaos. Or rather, it is not that there is chaos or incoherence in darkness, but that darkness is chaos and incoherence.

And yet, darkness is what subtends light in order for light to (be perceived as) exist(ing) as such. Light must travel into or through darkness.

(The light-dark dichotomy again makes us think of cinema, which is writing with light (photography) plus time.)

If light is matter, it is 1, the principle of organisation, and perhaps also the principle of Chronos. Incoherence, chaos and Aion are 0, which is the opposite of 1, and which is darkness.

Is light the limit of space and time? I would argue not, but it is the limit of organisation, organisation here being also equated with knowledge – we can know little of that which we cannot see, that which we cannot fold and archive.

Now it is ‘time’ to address the grand contradiction at work here. I started by saying that time is a particle, and since I have been hypothesising that time is the 0, the nothingness that sits in between the 1s of space and allows them to cohere. How can this work?

If 1 is the symbol of 0, if it is the spatialisation of time, which in turn is temporalised when multiple 11111111s are morphed into 8, then we might say that 0 is already a particle, at least virtually so, with the potential to become 1, which at times it does, but which then disappears back into 0 when it is put into the ‘memory’ of the universe/archived.

But I want to take this further and say that 0, paradoxically, is made up of particles. The darkness is made up of particles. That time is made up of particles.

In part, this is implied, but in an odd way. We might say that time is not made up of particles, or chronons as physicists sometimes refer to them. Time, rather, is a particle, something perhaps already hinted at in the suffix –on that typically is given to particles and which is already in the word Aion. It is the unitary 0 (which is also 1) that underlies everything.

Aion, for itself, is not some ether, but it is undifferentiated. And the creation of particles is the creation of matter, light, organisation via the differentiation of the previously undifferentiated. God divided into everything, perhaps.

But while this may be so, it is not that God is time, or if he is, he is only time as Aion. But Chronos itself, as the 1 that is materialised from the 0, has traces of Aion in it; perhaps these are the (multiple) particles of time to which I referred earlier, the paradoxically fragments of nothingness/0 that cling to the underside of all fragments that are 1s (and which allow them to return to the virtual world in the form of memory?). This is the realm of tachyons and dark matter, or perhaps antimatter, the darkness the precedes all of the light that allows us to see. The darkness into which the light travels, meaning that darkness travels faster than light, meaning that it is always receding from us, while at the same time always being an ever thinner veil between us and all that we see, the black frames in between the still images of the cinema projector, the blink itself that punctuates all vision, the darkened sleep that seems to uphold waking reality.

(Why does Earth spin? Why do planets and galaxies rotate? Perhaps so that there is a balance between darkness and light. As string theorists argue, everything spins, down to the smallest particle, and perhaps the difference between 0 and 1 is simply the difference between rates of oscillation from the same thing; 0 rotates so fast that it seems that it is two (0 and 1). But in what space is it rotating? In what time? Is it here that we need to invent new dimensions?)

Time is a particle of 0, in the same way that a 1 is the actualisation of a particle of 0, but a 0 particle is its underside, its dark side. It is perhaps its invisible memory.

More silly thoughts: Ai is the Western transcription of both the Mandarin and Japanese word for love. Aion: a particle of love?

We have 0, or death, within us at all times. Converting 0 into 1 is creativity. Creativity, paradoxically, is enabled by being closer to 0, therefore, since we need to go to 0 in order to turn it into 1. States of exhaustion, oppression, are, sadly, tools of creativity…?


About wjrcbrown

I am a Lecturer in Film at Roehampton University. I am a sort of filmmaker.
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