What is time? We think we know because we all experience it and it seems an intuitive phenomenon. However, our sense perceptions are highly fallible and most pattern recognitions (read science) turn out to be approximations that get modified as time, ironically, progresses and more accurate patterns are noted.
The Nature Of Time
Newton felt that time was absolute but Einstein discovered that it was malleable. Both special and general relativity showed us that it was dependent upon the observer. He suggested that, “past, present and future are persistent illusions” and his model of the universe was termed the ‘block universe’ where every moment of time has a position in space as do physical objects.
And yet time is the progression of events from the past to the present into the future. Basically, if a system is unchanging, it is timeless. Time can be considered to be the fourth dimension of reality, used to describe events in three-dimensional space. It is not something we can see, touch, or taste, but we can measure its passage.
Of course, different definitions of time arise eg Eckarte Tolle would say there is only ever a permanent now and that formless coming into to form and back again, within consciousness, gives the perception of time flow. In a sense this ties in with what most physicists state: past, present and future are illusory.
Anaesthetist Stuart Hameroff noticed that patients under general anaesthetic wake up feeling as though no time had passed, even for those who had been asleep for hours. This would seem to indicate that a certain aspect of waking consciousness is what leads to the perception of time passing. This does not mean that time ceases to exist in our reality for all the conscious agents that continue to participate in reality, but it does for those under general anaesthetic.
It is not as though their physical presence transcends time, but it seems that the mind loses its ability to sense change and form memories and so time ceases to exist for this duration, from their perspective.
If the block universe model is correct, it would imply that all the information ‘occurs’ at once and it is like some giant DVD that is already written whereby individual points of consciousness / conscious agents encounter information as it arises in their sphere of perception. In other words, the events that are pre-set entering into consciousness is what gives the illusion of time passing. It is more complex than this flip book model though because the conscious agents themselves co create the information. However, if linear time is an illusion as suggested – this would mean that all from Big Bang to Universe Heat Death is an all at once set of phenomena but consciousness itself ‘participates’ in what is both created and perceived (at arbitrary points along an illusory timeline). This would mean that we are all in an agreed upon hallucination we call reality and that the perception of time passing is contrived.
This implies that the dinosaurs are in the same now time as we are, but that our focus of attention creates the illusion that they are in our past. Even more bizarre is that the dinosaur bones we unearth are part of them as they were when they were alive just as much as now that they are dead, millions of years later. If past, present and future are an illusion then this is one of the many bizarre implications.
Ever since Einstein arrived on the physics scene, time has always been bizarre. In the twin paradox we have the potential for one twin who travels near the speed of light to meet up with the non-travelling twin and for them to be different ages (the returning twin having aged much slower by comparison). Things get even more bizarre with quantum mechanics. In the deferred choice double slit experiment, we see what appears to be retro causality (future event effecting the past), although with past, present and future being illusory it seems that a more accurate interpretation would be the fact that the apparent future event is augmented into perception in such a way that past is re-written; when the future information was never really the future and only appears to be in accordance with conscious perception.
These quirky, counterintuitive, outcomes are not science fiction and Einstein’s theories have been evidenced experimentally numerous times. For example, subatomic particles called muons survive much longer than their normal lifespan when travelling near the speed of light – showing that clocks really do slow for fast moving objects. Likewise, GPS satellites experience a slowing of time due to fast orbits and a speeding of time due to the huge reduction in gravity (given that they are a considerable distance from earth). The reduced gravity has the greater effect of the two and so the net result is that the clocks run faster than ones based on earth. If adjustments were not made for these, satellite navigation would not work.
In view of the fact that we can measure time with instruments, it is often overlooked that these instruments are a part of the same “out there” phenomena that are ultimately built of consciousness and perception. In other words, everything arises via consciousness and so it should not be so surprising that paradoxes arise that ultimately point to us being in an agreed upon hallucination. The many paradoxes we observe seem to be the result of creating a physical universe where an infinite regression in time or space would not allow the universe to operate as it is perceived.
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As long as consciousness is missing from the equation, the ultimate cause of any of the phenomena we encounter will be incomplete and this includes time. Time is just one of the matters explored in my upcoming book, The Meaning of Life.