“These gigantic timescales are truly humiliating...”

These gigantic timescales are truly humiliating in the sense that they force us to realize how close to Earth we are. Infinity is far easier to cope with. Infinity brings to mind our cognitive powers, which is why for Kant the mathematical sublime is the realization that infinity is an uncountably vast magnitude beyond magnitude. But hyperobjects are not forever. What they offer instead is very large finitude. I can think infinity. But I can’t count up to one hundred thousand. I have written one hundred thousand words, in fits and starts. But one hundred thousand years? It’s unimaginably vast. Yet there it is, staring me in the face, as the hyperobject global warming. And I helped cause it. I am directly responsible for beings that far into the future, insofar as two things will be true simultaneously: no one then will meaningfully be related to me; and my smallest action now will affect that time in profound ways. A Styrofoam cup will outlive me by over four hundred years. The plastic bag in Ramin Bahrani’s movie (in the voice of Werner Herzog) wishes to talk to the woman it knows as its maker, the woman who used it to carry her groceries: “If I could meet my maker, I would tell her just one thing: I wish that she had created me so that I could die.” To hear a plastic bag wish such a thing is profoundly different from thinking abstract infinity. There is a real sense in which it is far easier to conceive of “forever” than very large finitude. Forever makes you feel important. One hundred thousand years makes you wonder whether you can imagine one hundred thousand anything. It seems rather abstract to imagine that a book is one hundred thousand words long.

Reading Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (University of Minnestota Press, 2013, this quote from pg. 60) is the closest I’ve gotten in a while to feeling like I’m in the Total Perspective Vortex.

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