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Life is a Movie

David Cowles

Mar 1, 2024

“Our so-called World is a reflection without an object; it is the sound made by one hand clapping.”

Have you ever been to the movies? Nothing’s better than a high-speed car chase projected on the big screen (French Connection)…unless you prefer, like me, to watch Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory eating dinner in a fancy Manhattan restaurant for two hours (My Dinner with Andre). 

Either way, you experience motion as continuous…just like in real life.  But that’s an illusion. In fact, you are seeing 2,000,000 static ‘frames’, uniquely ordered and sequentially displayed at a pace that creates the impression of continuous motion. You’ve just paid $18 for the privilege of being fooled. Real life isn’t like that at all…

…Is it? What if the ‘continuous motion’ we seem to experience IRL is itself a cinematic illusion? What if the world actually consists of discrete events, somehow ‘edited’ into the unique order that we call spacetime? 2,000,000 distinct frames can be ordered in an unimaginable variety of sequences, only one of which corresponds perfectly to what we recognize as RL.

According to Stephen Hawking, RL tracks the Second Law of Thermodynamics – it arranges events along a scale that reflects a steady increase in entropy. The events themselves are sui generis, free; the arrangement of those events in spacetime is not.

So, life’s not a beach after all; it’s a movie! And a ‘film’ is nothing but its 2,000,000 frames, presented at standard speed, in a unique order. The writing, acting, directing, staging, etc. are only relevant in so far as they are manifest in the frames. The director breaks up the continuous motion of ‘real life’ into discrete frames; the projectionist reintegrates those frames to generate the illusion of continuous motion on the screen.

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Over the millennia, a handful of philosophers have questioned this ‘spacetime centric’ model of reality: Parmenides, Zeno, Democritus, Whitehead, and Severino come to mind. According to them, it is…or it is not! If it is, it’s a matter of fact, an ‘actual entity’. If it’s not, it’s not. 

Seems straightforward enough, yet almost no one believes it. Instead, we sign on to the Heraclitan fallacy that everything is in the process of becoming, i.e., coming to be…and coming not to be. Unlike Hamlet, Heraclitans say, “To be is not to be.” Everything that is…also is not. But they do not hold that everything that is not…is. Therefore, there will come a time when the universe will be empty and once empty, always empty. This too is Nihilism.

Alessandro Carrera (b. 1954), writes about “the pervasive nihilism of a civilization embracing the unquestioned belief that ‘all things must pass’.” Emanuele Severino (b. 1929), adds: “Being is, while Nothing is not…Being is that which is opposed to Nothing, it is this very opposing.”

If Severino is right, Being itself is sui generis: Bootstrapping! It creates itself by not being not-being. A = ~(~A). We think of ‘nothing’ as the negation of ‘being’, but Severino suggests that we have things upside down: Etre is the negation of Neant. The poet and theologian, John Donne (d. 1631), reflected: “I am re-begot of absence, darkness, death: things that are not…” He anticipated Sartre (d. 1980): “I am not what I am, and I am what I am not.”

Since all Being is good (Augustine et al.), not-being is the absence of good, i.e., evil. Then “deliver us from evil” is a primal scream…for Being! Nihilism is the worship of time and, synonymously (Hawking), of entropy, disorder. “Now I am become time, the destroyer of worlds. (Bhagavad-Gita) Now I am become death...” (Robert Oppenheimer) 

Time = entropy = death. Et voilà, the true identity of ‘Satan’ is revealed; he is entropy, he is death, he is disorder, he is time itself. Nihilism and Satanism are one and the same! 

We live with the fear of death, of nothingness. In Carrera’s view, Nihilism is despair and therefore the ultimate, unforgivable sin, a sin against the Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord, the Giver of Life’ (Nicene Creed): “Greek philosophy (after Parmenides)…engenders the most dreadful and terrifying meaning of death, that of going into nothingness.” 

Sometimes Christianity can seem convoluted. I get that! But not this time. This is a case of Christianity being crystal: non-being = evil → despair = sin…a vicious cycle.

We are mesmerized by time. Generation and decay link Past and Future: what’s ‘not still’ and what’s ‘still not’. But we’re missing what-is, we’re missing Presence. In the immortal words of Walter Mondale (and Wendy’s), “Where’s the beef?” Our so-called World is a reflection without an object; it is the sound made by one hand clapping.

Neither Past nor Future exist. Only the Present is. So what of generation and decay? Well, can you construct a model of generation or decay that does not include a reference to the non-existent Past or Future? Then to base an ontology, like Heraclitus, on generation and decay would be to ground what is on what is not.

Generation and decay are spatiotemporal concepts; they have no meaning in the context of the eternal Present. The thing itself, on the other hand, exists only in the Present. What is, is…period! The Past and the Future, by definition, both consist solely of what is not: not yet, not still.

The Present does not exist ‘between’ Past and Future; it does not exist on the timeline at all. Instead, it exists entirely outside of time. It is a-temporal…‘eternal’. ‘Eternity’ and ‘Presence’ are denotatively synonymous and entirely different from Immortality. In fact, eternity (no time) and immortality (infinite time) are antonyms, even though they are often used interchangeably in ordinary discourse.

The Present is where the thing itself lives. In Kant’s terms, noumena are Present, phenomena are traces of the Past, images of the Future. Qualia are ways in which the Present ‘feels’ the past and ‘projects’ the future. Qualia are inherited; they are never created. Our job is, quite literally, to rearrange the deck chairs (qualia) on The Titanic.  

Alessandro Carrera: “Every slice of reality is, and therefore is permanently, since whatever is cannot come into being or cease to be.”

“Go ask Alice!” There is the World and then there is the Looking-glass World. That’s space. The mirror is the limit of both worlds, but it is part of neither world. Now rotate 90° off of the real number line. That’s time, represented mathematically as an ‘imaginary number’ (i). The Present is the mirror (membrane) separating and connecting the Past and the Future. But as Alice knows, everything that happens, happens in the mirror.

Therefore, a thing either is – or is not. It does not come to be or cease to be. It either is, whole and entire, or it isn’t. Coming to be and ceasing to be happened in time but have nothing to do with the thing-itself which happens only in the Present.

This is not to say that actual entities are static. In fact, they are pure processes; it’s just that the process is a-temporal, outside of time. 

Along with Yahweh (Exodus 3:14), every actual entity ‘asserts’ “I am”. Mark 12: 26 – 27: “…‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living…” From God’s perspective, there are only ‘actual entities’, and all actual entities are Present.

Unfortunately, we have come to accept the coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be of entities as reality rather than projection/abstraction. We view the thing itself as a ‘projection of’ or an ‘abstraction from’ the process of becoming and decaying, not the other way around. In our ‘philosophy’, what is not is what is. No wonder; we live in the age of Nihilism. 

While understanding Being in terms of Presence rather than Spacetime has not been popular in recent centuries, it is not at all new. 2500 years ago, Parmenides of Elea, often called both the ‘father of Western science’ and the ‘father of Western philosophy’, wrote an enigmatic poem called On Nature. The poem consists of three parts: a brief Prologue, the “Way of Truth” (Aletheia) and the “Way of Appearance” (Doxa).

Regarding the Way of Truth, he wrote:

What-is is ungenerated and imperishable, whole, single-limbed, steadfast and complete. Nor was it once, nor will it be, since it is, now, all together, one continuous...Whence did it grow? Not from what is not…It must be completely, or not at all… How could what-is be in the future, and how could it come to be? For if it came to be, it is not… Thus coming to be is extinguished and perishing not to be heard of… Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike…it is full of what-is… It is not right for what-is to be incomplete. For it is not lacking, but if it were, it would lack everything.”

Regarding the Way of Appearance:

“It has been named all things that mortals have established, trusting them to be true: to come to be and to perish, to be and not to be, to shift place and to exchange bright color. Thus, according to belief, these things were born and now are, and hereafter, having grown from this, they will come to an end. And for each of these, did men establish a distinctive name?"

The simplest, and probably least accurate, analogy is the mirror (above). A better metaphor treats Doxa (Spacetime) as a holographic projection of Aletheia (Presence). Perhaps even better, we might think of Doxa as the rainbow projected from an apparently featureless prism.

Plato and Aristotle moved philosophy away from Parmenides’ vision, but Christianity restored it. We find a familiar affirmation of the Christian rediscovery of Parmenides and the other Eleatic philosophers (e.g., Zeno) in the Lord’s Prayer: “…on earth as it is in heaven.” Our true being is not in spacetime, but in Eternity. To be (earth) is to be eternal (heaven).

A movie passes before our eyes; it is an illusion. Each of the 2,000,000 frames is eternal in the sense that it lives forever in the medium in a way that is not dependent on the projector. Likewise, we live our lives in spacetime; it is an illusion. Each event is eternal in a way that is not dependent on Past or Future.


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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