This theory has been part of my thinking since it first occurred to me several years ago. As I remember, it happened while I was still working a regular job. Back then I was very interested in planning and how to arrange my life to be most effective (which is still an interest – just not in the detailed fashion of before).
As I sat and made my daily plans, I saw very clearly what I intended to happen each day. The days were part of a progressive plan that moved from month to month, ostensibly toward some specific goal.
What I noticed, however, is that my life – as seen from month to month – betrayed a very different character from what my planning led me to think. I knew who I was, and the choices I was making day to day, but somehow another creature was appearing between the lines: a personality who lived only from month to month.
This concrete, well-defined, daily me became my Short Man – the person I see over short time-scales; the other is my Long Man, who strides across the years. Sometimes they are very different, having opposite goals and means; other times they are harmonized and we work together.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes you do things without explanation? An impulsive word or deed, a sudden change of plans, an inspiration following from a dream or a sudden moment. This is how the Long Man acts; he slips between the moments of our otherwise ordered lives. Nor is he easily put off. You can deny his existence altogether, but he still finds ways of accomplishing his ends.
At times the Long Man has scared me to death. Do I want what he wants? Why is he moving me down a certain road? Who does his thinking? Other times he’s given me a sense of security, because although I have no idea how I will achieve certain things, if the Long Man wants it also, I can be pretty sure it will eventually happen.
Nor is the Long Man necessarily a moralist like my Shorter self. He seems to play out a deeper life of the heart, which may go against what I believe to be right. Other times he will stop me – in the end – from denying what I truly believe in. He is neither good nor evil, just inexorably true to my heart.
Lately I have even begun to think there are many Long Men: one who walks the months and years, another who passes slowly through the stages of my life, and another who encompasses the whole and whom I might call Destiny. And beyond these, there might be another who spans a greater whole – my part in the zeitgeist of mankind – and yet another who expresses the most basic desires of my species. I even wonder if it does not continue, until I would find that my Longest Man, the Infinite Man, is none other than the role I play in God’s Being.
To see the Long Man in action requires either keeping a long diary, or having a good memory and enjoying self-reflection. I first noticed the Long Man when I started seeing certain things coming to fruition in my life, mostly regarding career and relationships. I realized that these changes were complex, and required too much “planning” to have simply happened of themselves. There are times when one can even sense the Long Man in another person, which prompts us to feel like we know what the flavor of their future will be, despite what they imagine for themselves.
Both Long and Short Men seem to express facets of one personality with many strata. They are only incompatible if there is doubt and conflict in the individual. A harmonized mind (in my experience) tends to move in a more synchronized fashion, as if we possess the capacity for multi-level, simultaneous thinking spanning multiple time frames. It’s amazing to me that the Long Men “think”, but they do seem to express a coherent intent. This is a side of myself I have wanted to cultivate and enlist the help of, because some of my desired personal changes are daunting to the Short Man Alone. To harness the power of all our dimensions would allow us to grasp for futures which deny immediate comprehension.
Then one day I was reading a book by Greg Egan titled Quarantine, in which he played with the idea of human’s control over the function of quantum coherence in the observed universe. He suggested that life naturally exists in a state of superposition (cf., the movie “What the Bleep do we Know?”), but that humanity possesses a unique capacity to collapse these states based on our intention. For this reason, the rest of the beings in the universe quarantine us, so that our particular biases and prejudices are not allowed to decide what the rest of the universe will look like.
The main character in the book is surgically altered to be able to exists in a natural state of superposition, only causing a collapse when he consciously chooses. In this way, for example, he is able to open combination locks by trying every possible combination simultaneously, and “collapsing” the desired result. But, he wonders, who chooses what is “desired”? He is separately conscious – through superposition – in every one of these possible states. In all but one state he experiences frustration and failure, while in that chosen state he knows success. What troubles him is that there must be another entity, a state of unity higher than all the separate states, who chooses the outcome most profitable to the whole. This “super identity” exists beyond nature, beyond superposition, expressing its desires through the choice of which superimposed state to collapse.
This sounded an awful lot like the Long Man I was experiencing! The Short Man always looks at immediate details, while the Long Man seems to choose which set of details his counterpart will face. Are we at each moment presented with a multitude of possible futures, our Short Men confronting them all, while a deeper aspect to our being – beyond place and time - decides which of these is incorporated into our realized future?
Perhaps there are even Shorter Men than the immediate will: the decisions of my organs, cells, part of cells – even molecules. Looked at this way, I see myself more as a pan-dimensional being, my feet in the raw stuff of my body and surroundings, with my head and heart reaching up through levels I can barely visualize. At this point, thinking of “I” is like taking a slice through a being who crosses multiple potential realities. Is the function of my soul a cohering aspect of Infinity to bring out Its colors and flavors? Is my “self” just the experience of witnessing that effect?