Discussion of time will never end. We will never exhaust this subject. My short review today was inspired by a dear friend who has been thinking deeply on the subject of time and asking me difficult questions. I cannot answer most of her questions but I never shy away from speculating either.
I listed some of my favorite quotes and books at the end. There is also a special issue of Scientific American titled “A Matter of Time” which is worth reading. The final list at the end contains links to the essays on time at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other resources.
I want to be as direct and as brief as possible. My understanding of time is based on the Cosmic Cycle (Brahmacakra) theory. Briefly, the Cosmic Cycle theory says that the infinite ocean of love and bliss which is Consciousness transforms its infinite potential into infinite life in stages.
Absolute Being (Godhead, Nirguna Brahma) —> Divine Center (Cosmic Soul, Cosmic Consciousness, Parama Purusha) —> Reality (Saguna Brahma) —> Cosmic Mind (Divine Mind, Mind of God) —> Cosmos (spiritual, mental, physical realms) —> primordial fabric —> space-time-matter —> galaxies —> planets —> organisms —> individual mind (encapsulating the individual soul which is a reflection of the Cosmic Soul) —> expansion of the individual mind —> merger of the individual mind with the Cosmic Mind —> identification of the individual soul with the Cosmic Soul —> Absolute Being (Godhead, Nirguna Brahma)
Progression (Divine Time)
In the Cosmic Cycle, before the appearance of the “space-time-matter” there is no time as we know it but there is clearly a progression. There are stages of the divine transformation. The stages follow a progression. We may call this progression “divine time.”
My friend asked me why there has to be a start? I cannot answer this question. I cannot provide an intellectual answer.
A variation on my friend’s question would be: what about miracles? Consciousness is present in all entities in all stages of their becoming. Consciousness is the absolute truth so it can appear as relative truth in any shape and form. I don’t deny the truth of miracles. Yet, I see order, progression and evolution in Cosmos. We observe certain universal principles and natural laws in the physical realm. It seems that miracles and natural laws co-exist. This co-existence is another mystery.
We can never understand Consciousness intellectually but we try. The Cosmic Cycle theory is such an attempt. It brings sanity to our discussions. Don’t forget that it is just a theory until you experience the truth of Consciousness yourself.
I brought the concept of progression to your attention because I wanted to point out that it is a different kind of time.
Ordering Principle (Causal Time)
Cosmic Mind organizes the Cosmic Life which is Saguna Brahma. Entire Cosmos is a thought in the Cosmic Mind. Some people describe it as a dream. It does not matter what words we use, what is important to know is that nothing exists outside of the Cosmic Mind. Physical reality is a mental projection of the Cosmic Mind. All manifestation is internal to the Cosmic Mind but we perceive these cosmic thought vibrations as physical particles, as physical worlds. This is the meaning of “relative truth”. Universe is a relative truth.
Mind is a mechanism for causal expression. Cosmic Mind establishes the causal relationships. Therefore, the Cosmic Mind is also the ordering principle. Causal relationships constitute the causal order which is a different kind of time. We can call it “causal time.”
The “time” in the “space-time-matter” is the physical time. I also refer to it as the “time effect.” The space-time-matter emerges from the primordial fabric. The “time effect” is just one aspect of this whole called “space-time-matter” which is a condensed form of the primordial fabric. The primordial fabric is a formation in the Cosmic Mind.
In the essay “Prometheus and Chronos” I theorized how “time effect” might manifest. I said:
The primordial field (citta) is magnetic-field-like. When fundamental interaction (symmetry breaking) results in the formation of closed loops of a primordial thread, an orthogonal electric-field-like flux will emerge. This electric-field-like flux creates the real-time and the real-charge. Since the symmetry breaking starts with the twisting of a primordial thread closed-loops can only form in pairs.
Please see “Prometheus and Chronos” for more details. Basically, I am saying that the “time effect” and the electric charge manifest simultaneously.
In science there are many different conceptions of time but they all belong to the category of physical time.
Time as Motion (Time in Classical Mechanics)
In Classical Mechanics (branch of physics dealing with macroscopic objects), past and future play the same role in the description of motion. The equations of motion are symmetric in time. More precisely, the motion of an object moving backward in time is described by the same equations.
Time as Irreversibility (Time in Statistical Mechanics)
If we heat part of an object and isolate it thermally the temperature of that object will eventually become uniform. This is an irreversible process. In physics irreversibility is known as the “second law of thermodynamics”. The irreversibility is also known as the “arrow of time”. The concept of entropy is related to irreversibility as well.
Time as Evolution (Time in Biology and Sociology)
In biology and sociology, time is seen as evolution. In evolution there is a progression towards higher levels of complexity with a corollary that Nature destroys the non-working structures whether they are organisms or societies.
Time as Dimension (Time in General Relativity Theory)
In 1754 d’Alembert mentioned that time appears as a geometrical parameter in dynamics. Lagrange called dynamics a 4-dimensional geometry in 1796. These early notions found their full expression in Einstein’s theory of relativity (1905 and 1915). Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (1915) unites space and time but it cannot unite spacetime with matter. In that theory matter is a separate reality and it distorts spacetime causing gravitation. In Einstein’s theory, time appears as the fourth dimension of spacetime, others being the length, width and height of a volume of space.
Einstein did not invent the term spacetime and he was not particularly fond of this terminology. Others, Minkowski especially, interpreted Einstein’s theory in the mathematical language of geometry and the physics community started to refer to that geometrical entity as spacetime. Einstein eventually accepted the spacetime terminology.
Einstein’s theory of General Relativity predicted that time slows down
- for those clocks zipping around at great speeds
- for those clocks experiencing strong gravity
relative to the clock which is at rest and experiencing less gravity. A “clock” can be an inanimate or animate object including humans. These predictions have been verified experimentally.
Information Physics: time as order imposed by our mind
In the words of Kevin H. Knuth “…physical law does not reflect the order in the universe, instead it is derived from the order imposed by our description of the universe. Information physics, which is based on understanding the ways in which we both quantify and process information about the world around us, is a fundamentally new approach to science.” You can read his interesting paper at http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.5161v1
Time according to Information Physics sounds very similar to the “causal time” of the Cosmic Mind.
Time in Quantum Mechanics
The treatment of time in Quantum Mechanics is very problematic. In other theories of physics we model the time evolution of the system and hope that measurements (snapshots in time) conform to the model. Quantum Mechanics works in the opposite direction. Quantum Mechanics models the measurement process. The dynamics (time evolution of the system) is derived in an awkward way.
Time as Illusion: Some Old Arguments
Some of you may remember J. M. E. McTaggart’s arguments on the unreality of time.
- The Unreality of Time by John Ellis McTaggart (original paper from 1908)
- Notes on McTaggart, ”The Unreality of Time” (Trinity University)
- New Empricist Critique of McTaggart’s arguments
- “McTaggart on Time” by Nathaniel Goldberg
- John McTaggart’s The Nature of Existence
- The Unreality of Time (Wikipedia)
Time as Mental Measurement of Motivity
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar) described time as mental measurement of motivity. The dictionary definition of motivity is “the power or ability to move.”
Anandamurti’s conception of motivity is closer to the concept of “action” in physics. Action is the change of place of any object. Action takes place in space. Physics says that physical systems evolve in such a such a way that minimize action.
“What is motivity or mobility? It is also based on the change of physical place or space. When this physical world was first created, then the measurement of action was done by the psychic body of the Macrocosm.” (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, 12 May 1979 DMC, Fiesch, Switzerland)
Note: In Anandamurti’s writings Macrocosm is synonymous with Cosmic Mind.
Anandamurti reminded us that measurement is a psycho-physical action.
“It [measurement] starts in the psychic sphere and ends in the physical sphere.” “Motivity [functions] in both the psychic sphere and the physical sphere.” “Anything that comes within the scope of space, comes within the scope of time and person also, so it is a creation of relativity.” (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, Q&A session on 18 May 1979 morning, Berlin)
When I searched the digital records of Anandamurti’s writings and discourses, I noticed that a significant number of Anandamurti’s comments on the concept of time were made while he was traveling in Europe. I find this interesting. He was probably giving us a message regarding the Western mind’s obsession with time.
The following quote is also very relevant, in my opinion.
“As there is no entity, psychic or physical, outside Saguńa Brahma, the experience of pain and pleasure is purely internal. And since the number of internal objects is unlimited, Saguńa Brahma’s pain or pleasure is also unlimited. The innumerable microcosmic minds within Him perceive time as an infinite entity. But as there is no spatial entity outside Saguńa Brahma, for Him there cannot be any awareness of the time factor as the measurement of pain and pleasure. Hence, He is beyond the periphery of the three realms of time. His emergence took place before the beginning of time, and His all-pervasiveness spans across the past, present and future. But human beings’ awareness of time does not extend very far into the past or the future.” (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, in “Adoration of the Supreme”, Ánanda Púrńimá 18 May 1957)
“Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”
“I hold space to be something merely relative, as time is, that I hold it to be an order of coexistences, as time is an order of successions.”
“Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind’s nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it were, for coordinating everything sensed externally.”
“Time is the fourth dimension. The passage of time is an illusion. We have this illusion of a changing, three-dimensional world, even though nothing changes in the four dimensional union of space and time of Einstein’s relativity theory. If life were a movie, physical reality would be the entire DVD: Future and past frames exist just as much as the present one.”
– Max Tegmark
“All species of life on the planet are perpetual-motion machines. Time really doesn’t operate, except where it does according to a genetic program. The cells in our body are programmed to age, and so time has an impact on our skin and bone and blood. But we’re capable of making babies over and over again, and they’re always born young. Species have been doing this for hundreds of thousands of years. From a gerontologist’s standpoint, biological time is not wear and tear, it’s a genetic program.”
– Michael West
“We know from experiments and everyday experiences that the speed of our internal clocks can be manipulated, by changes in body heat, differences in the type of the stimuli to which we’re responding, and by high-adrenaline situations, such as car crashes or combat. For example, sounds are perceived as longer than light flashes of the same actual duration, while adrenaline makes it seem as though time is slowing down.”
– Luke Jones
“I think the only time that matters is the time that each of us experience as individuals. Time is as variable as the human range of experience. This was most expertly expressed by Einstein when defining relativity in a paper published in the Journal of Exothermic Science and Technology in 1938: ‘When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.’
– Alexander Rose
“From the Buddhist perspective, time is the experience of being present right now, in this very moment. We in the West, however, like to measure things. In this way, clock time gives us a sense of coherence and stability. But in terms of our inner lives, no time exists except for what is happening in the present moment.”
– Joan Halifax Roshi
“Time is a series of experiences that create who you are. Therefore, your timepiece is an expression of that journey.”
– Ulrich Wohn
“About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution” by Paul Davies, Simon & Schuster (1996), ISBN: 0684818221 / 9780684818221
“The Voices of Time: A Cooperative Survey of Man’s Views of Time As Expressed by the Sciences and by the Humanities” by J.T. Fraser, Univ of Massachusetts Pr (1981), ISBN: 0870233378 / 9780870233371
“From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences”, by Ilya Prigogine, W H Freeman & Co (Sd) (1981), ISBN: 0716711087 / 9780716711087
“The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality” by Brian Greene, Vintage (2005), ISBN: 0375727205 / 9780375727207
“Physical Origins of Time Asymmetry” by J.J. Halliwell, Cambridge University Press (1996), ISBN: 0521568374 / 9780521568371
“Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (Bradford Books)” by Paul Horwich, The MIT Press (1987), ISBN: 0262580888 / 9780262580885
“The Art of Being and Becoming” by Hazrat Inayat Khan, Omega Publications (2005), ISBN: 093087241X / 9780930872410
“On Space and Time”, by Shahn Majid Eds. (Alain Connes, Michael Keller, Roger Penrose, John Polkinghorne, Andrew Taylor), Cambridge University Press (2008), 052188926X / 9780521889261
“The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe” by Roger Penrose, Vintage (2007), ISBN: 0679776311 / 9780679776314
Essays on Time: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Experience and Perception of Time
- Being and Becoming in Modern Physics
- Thermodynamic Asymmetry in Time
- Quantum Gravity
- Singularities and Black Holes
- The Uncertainty Principle
- Time Machines
- Time Travel and Modern Physics
- Backward Causation
- Temporal Logic
- Newton’s Views on Space, Time, and Motion
- Kant’s Views on Space and Time
- Leibniz’s Philosophy of Physics
- Kant and Hume on Causality
- Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle
- Hans Reichenbach
- Conventionality of Simultaneity
- Identity Over time
- Causal Determinism
- Zeno’s Paradoxes
- Personal Identity
- Process Philosophy
- Causal Processes
- Cosmological Argument
- Quantum Approaches to Consciousness
- Backward Causation
- Medieval Theories of Future Contingents
- Temporal Parts
The resource list below is given at the end of the “Time” entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Centre for Time at the Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney.
- Eternalism, entry in Wikipedia
- Philosophy of Space and Time, entry in Wikipedia
- Presentism, entry in Wikipedia
- Time, entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Time, entry in Wikipedia
- Time Travel, entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy