The purpose of this dialog is to uncover a common foundation for both Spiritual and Scientific knowledge.
All that we experience, even our thoughts, is structured by, and happens within, Time and Space — both of which are terms that are empty of any independent concrete qualities at all. Instead, Time and Space are circularly — and self-referentially — defined. So what are we saying when we speak of them? And is it possible that mathematics is so effective at modeling time and space in part because the inherent logic and structures of mathematics are central to our defining of time and space? That is, is there a deeper logic that we are not seeing simply because we have blinded ourselves through the arrogance of believing the truth of what we theorize?
As a re-starting point, our ideas about time and space, if we think about them, are based upon our everyday experiences — getting up late, rushing to get to work, forgetting things that needed to be done, rushing across a huge parking field, after finally finding a spot, because we are late for an important meeting (aren’t they all?) as the sun moves across the sky and our watches race ahead, impossible to keep pace with — and thus, our understanding of time and space are not scientifically derived from fundamental facts but rather are based upon our everyday experience.
But this dialog isn’t about how we all coordinate our days — by using a clock — but rather, how utterly absurd our ideas of time are, and by extension, those of space too.
Our understanding of time and space — and the qualities of things we place within them — is marked by a plethora of concepts whose meanings are wrapped up in tight circular dependency upon one another.
Take “time” for instance. In our most basic understanding this word means a continuous sequence of moments that is in motion, flowing out of the future, into the present, and then passing away into the past. Without the understanding that time is flowing, our idea of time would not be time-like because it wouldn’t match up with our experience of it. But motion is an activity that occurs over time. And motion is activity, while activity is motion — and both of these cannot be defined without the idea of duration.
In other words, time is defined as being in motion, while motion is defined as being in time. It is a circular definition that says nothing useful in knowing what exactly time is.
We say “time and space” as if they are two different things, but neither can be said to be independent of the other — as we normally understand them — because neither is defined without reliance upon an understanding of the other.
I am ignoring any theoretical conception of “spacetime” which posits time as the 4th dimension of space. That is a useful idea that makes it easier to calculate the positions and movements of planets, and the like, but really doesn’t help us position ourselves.
Instead, I am focused on our common understanding of these two aspects of our experience — duration and distance — and the way this understanding structures everything else we know, even our understanding of “Time and Space.”
So to begin, Time is thought of as a continuum of moments, called a “timeline,” but with the special quality that all “points” on the continuum, being real time, continue in some way to exist — both after they have “happened,” as well as before they have occurred. This is the foundational belief underlying our idea of “time travel,” as well as being the basis for our identity as a distinct person with a unique history.
We fantasize about voyaging backwards and forwards in time, because we hold both the past and the future to be real. And we continue to base our identity on things we’ve done, and events we have lived through, because those moments continue to have a real effect on where we are, who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going, in our lives.
Thus, Time is not just a continuous sequence of moments that are purely conceptual, like clock-time is, but are instead an extended sequence of real moments, and so Time has a space-like extended quality, and duration is defined as distance along the timeline.
An insightful understanding of this “timeline” has it being a flat line of moments coming from the future, to the present, and then on into the past. I call this version of the timeline insightful because it places the origin of each moment of time in the possibility of the future. And isn’t seeing the future as real a kind of insight?
What form the future will take hasn’t manifested yet, thus it is only a possibility. Yet, since we think we can travel to the future, it’s something more than just statistical probabilities, it is a concrete eventuality that can shape our lives.
We can describe it in detail, write books about it, undertake massive projects to lay the foundation for its arrival, so also, we can focus and guide our lives into that future point: We live our plans for the future and the very concrete ideas of very specific moments to come — getting a job (which job? that job, in that field), marrying (who will we marry? that person, or someone like that kind of person), buying a house (where? what kind? we can often describe both), having children, making a great discovery in science, writing a novel, escaping to Mars — and we focus our efforts on making that thing come true, even to the point that it becomes our identity as a person.
A more ingenious understanding of the timeline has it looking like a three-dimensional tree, whose trunk continues to be a flat line trailing off into the past from the present, but whose branches are the potential futures which all share the present moment — which is the top of the trunk of that tree — and which is the point at which the future lines of possibility branch into the definite past.
This is obviously a causal view of time because all the action that has already happened limits the possible futures. So in this view, the past is present forever in the current moment, which can only connect to a few possible branches of the future because of what is past, and the future still flows into the present — but only one future that is selected to be the one with each judgment we make (or fail to make).
And what is ingenious in this understanding is that not only is the past still present, all the possible futures branching off from some earlier state of the tree — branches not taken by us because we chose a different path — are also still there. So if we travel back in time, and take a different branch, we will never arrive where we started from — but it will still be there somewhere in reality.
Beyond these two, there are more and more inventive structures for time, with the one common trait that they all share the idea of a “timeline,” (or variants like circles, loops, etc.) which presumably represents the true track of whatever story is unfolding…
It is because of this idea of Time being structured as a timeline of real points of time spreading infinitely into the future, and infinitely into the past, from the present, that gives us the foundation upon which to claim that things “endure” over time. Because without the idea of duration, there can be no “things” as commonly understood, and thus no need for an intrinsic self-reality to anything. Yet, if there are no “things” then our ideas of “causality” and “causal chains” are just bonkers, because what comes next will always be a surprise — but that’s not how our living experience unrolls.
For example, physicists today accelerate atoms to extremely high speeds and smash them together and then study the debris from the crash. They study the debris with the use of a bubble chamber — a special liquid-filled container that records the path of ionizing particles which leave bubbles periodically in the liquid, like a scuba diver in the sea. The presumption is that a ‘continuous’ stream of bubbles — like those “connect the dots” drawings we did as kids — is one particle.
But another possibility that has been proposed¹ is that particles are spontaneous and ephemeral, appearing momentarily in the fluid all at once, randomly, or even sequentially — thus bubbles are formed — but have no absolute relation to one another, and yet we see it as a line of travel over time for the particles we assume are actually there. That is not a widely accepted view though because it undoes everything we know to be true.
All motion is only possible if Time is what we think it is — an extended timeline of eternally existing moments. After all, these moments must be eternal if they continue to exist both in the future and in the past. For if moments of time did not overlap their existence in this way, then upon what basis would we be justified to say that any two phenomena were related? And likewise, for the things in motion, which must exist for at least as long as the motion endures, because how else would the motion be anchored, if not to the idea of the thing that endures over time?
Reflect upon this for a moment: It is the memory, or record, of one event in conjunction with the arrival of a new event — that enables us to tie the two together in time and space so that they are real to us. Thus, the reality of the flowing of time, and the enduring of events within time, are there at the genesis of the imperience — the lived event — that is the actualizing of that experience in our consciousness of it. Isn’t this how we construct the story of our lives?
So, does it help that points in space and moments in time are comprehended as having exactly the same structure — that of extended sequences? Or does it not, in fact, confound the one with the other? Isn’t there a difference between space and time? Yet, even the adjective “extended” has the dual meanings of physical extension in space and lengthening of duration in time. Look it up!
Well, of course, there is a big difference between space and time — time is in motion, but space “itself” isn’t. The funny thing is, though, time is the only thing — between those two — that cannot be “in motion!” Motion requires time — because it occurs over time — thus, outside of time there can be no motion. Realizing this raises the question of how time could be moving within itself.
But perhaps there is an issue with this common understanding of Time being in motion…
Because motion requires time in which to occur — which means that time would necessarily be moving through itself if it were in motion — then time cannot be a timeline, since every moment of time would be moving through, ultimately, every other moment of time, like some infinitely twisted Möbius strip.
Instead, rather than time being in motion through itself, every moment of present, future, and past moments of time could be eternally present throughout all of time, and that would make time the epitomization of an infinitely complex superposition of moments. And interestingly enough, we have a name for that superposition of moments — it’s called “Now.”
Pause here and see if this is true or not: all moments of time happen “now” — as the current moment flows into the past, and a future moment slides into the present, each of those moments — as it is happening — can only be happening “now.” And “now” is not a time because time flows through it. Or does it?
Even if time “dilates” for someone who is traveling near the speed of light, or nearer the source of a gravitational field, everything happening must share the same Now. If they didn’t, there would be a new active timeline created by each and every “thing” in the universe, that could never be rejoined — in effect proliferating universes at every moment — and this would be the effect of the passage of even a single photon of light traveling in space.
Everything we experience happens now, and only the extended nature of the flow of time — which we impose on what happens as we become conscious of it — makes us believe that there were other times, and other “nows” when things also happened, which came before this present moment that we also call “now” because it is our now. But just as in the particle-smashing experiments of physicists, who see the trail of bubbles as evidence of a particle that appeared for some duration while traveling in some direction, which may be just unrelated spontaneous appearances of some deeper truth — so, what is happening might not be as we think it is…
The thing is, we don’t actually experience time as a timeline, but more like a pool of water filled by a flowing waterfall — since the past is present and continuously fills up with the details of our lives, while the future is past as soon as it arrives.
Yet, we think time is in motion, but it can’t be.
Stealing a move from Einstein, if you were on a train looking out the window at another train that you experienced as being in motion — and it isn’t in motion — then it must be your train that is moving. So perhaps it is something about us that is in motion, and not time, which is just a superposition of every possible and actual (words that would have no meaning any longer) moments in a universal unmoving Now. It — the Now — would, in fact, be a kind of phase space of time.
In the case of Space, we have the same extended quality, in that space extends outwards from any point “in” space.
Whether or not space — real space, not conceptual space — is infinite or limited in some way is unknowable. Perhaps that is why space invites the question of where space is — if space is finite, what is it contained within and where is that located? Warning: continuing this line of questioning just goes down a rabbit hole into an infinite regression, leaving you lost in space.
But the question of whether space is infinite, doesn’t appear to have the same problem — it doesn’t fall into a regression because it is presumably infinite already, so we don’t even question where it is — there is only that! And that is very spatial of us indeed.
We assume, if we think of it at all, that space is extended infinitely in, well, space. And yet, coming back to us and how we experience the world, we are the center point always of the space around us. We call that point “Here.”
In fact, it seems to be the case that we cannot comprehend space that isn’t somewhere, i.e., actually is itself in something like a space, but we can seemingly do so with infinite time — because unlike with space, we have confused ourselves by thinking that time is in motion, and motion, of course, occurs in space, or is space-like, so the question doesn’t rouse itself in our minds… perhaps we are subliminally assured by its space-likeness.
In the same way as time is made up of real moments that always exist, all of Space is conceived of as enduring in that way. So real space is permanent. You can’t take a piece of space away because the extension of the space all around it is fixed — you can’t have a void in a void and have it be something different that what it already was.
You can confuse yourself if you are looking at space as if it is something physical — it’s just space, a void without any self-content. It’s a place holder — which is a circular definition again. Whoops! That requires that it’s holding place in something, but there isn’t anything outside of space that space is in — that’s just another space that we are imagining! And if this is correct, then “space” must just be the relation between things that are “in space,” because nothing else makes sense, i.e., like the timeline, it’s just a conceptualization for record-keeping purposes. Like a registry of property lines.
But what exactly does this mean?
Without Time, Space is an empty concept without meaning, rather than just a concept of emptiness or void — because without time, distance is meaningless in a void, as there are no property lines or reference points anywhere. Thus, there is nothing fixed to situate any place, and the relation of any two or more things “in space” is somehow related to the duration of motion that separates them.
So what would it mean if all points in space were instantaneously accessible from every other point? Because if there is no time, it could not take any time at all to go from one point to any other — in effect, that you could be in all points of space “at the same time?”
This is beginning to sound like the superposition of time in the Now, only now it’s the superposition of space Here. And perhaps that’s all it is.
The problem is, we believe we are actually defining each of these concepts when we use circular definitions for them to self-referentially define them.
For example, we cannot define what “Time” means without implicitly assuming the fact of duration — of the movement of time. If each moment of Time had no duration, not even an infinitesimally small duration, than Time would be meaningless because the sum of an infinite number of moments, each of which has absolutely zero duration, is zero — those moments never exist. Yet what is “duration” but a close-synonym for “time?” And doesn’t this result in Time being nothing but the passing of Time? It’s nonsense!
And yet it seems to make sense to us because it is so familiar — there is something about Time that is so very close to us.
Duration is the passing of some amount of time as we usually think about it, but the word “time” is meaningless if there is no duration, and of course “passing” in the sense used here means “time passing,” so what have we accomplished with this definition? Ah yes, Time (duration) is the passing (motion) of the duration (time) of Time… oh, but, motion is not possible without time, so Time is the passing time of the time of Time!
I am speaking like an idiot, aren’t I? But that’s ultimately what our understanding of Time means!
In a similar manner, in the case of space, without implicitly assuming the fact of place — which is an identifiable area in space or expanse of space — we cannot define what “space” means. But place is the existence of space, at least someplace in space, and the word “space” would be meaningless if there were no place in space, so again, what have we accomplished with this definition?
Notice how much sillier this last objection sounds as compared to the one above it about time and duration. The silliness derives from the fact that place and space can be pointed to, whereas time and duration — as opposed to movement in space — seem almost mystical.
Travel in space, even if we “warp” it so it takes less time, is perfectly understandable, yet travel in time is a fountain of alternative paradoxes. But then, once we take into account the “dilation” of time when we travel through space, even space travel gets weird.
Duration is a passage of time, a kind of movement in time by that which is enduring for some duration, while time is that which is in motion, like the water in a river. But space and place do not share a relation like that. There is no motion of space, just motion in space, and that requires a duration of time, while time does not require any kind of space to endure in.
This is the reason that time is seen as a necessary fourth dimension to the three of space, even though it really has nothing whatsoever to do with space. It has to do with what is placed in space, and it has to do with the structure of our maths that we use to define Space, Time and their interaction that is called Spacetime. That is, things that exist do so by staying for a while somewhere in space so that we can address them and mark their presence.
And if you missed it, this is the problem with the idea of the motion of time! Time does not endure like space — time is seen to be in motion — while space isn’t in motion. And this leads us to think that space exists in time — that space is an extended sequence of places that exist all at the same time. But notice that “exists” is a close-synonym for the passage of time again, as is “in motion,” so that, by existing in time, all of space is in motion and not in motion. A logical paradox that only a philosopher could enjoy.
And yet, we commonly believe that things endure “through time” as they exist somewhere in space, meaning they can be in motion through time for a while, as if they are out for a Sunday drive along a section of the timeline. But if time were in motion, wouldn’t these things be more like pieces of flotsam in the “river” of time, and thus always at the same point relative to the flowing time?
Unless it’s time traveling, of course…
All of which leads to unsolvable, well-known and studied paradoxes. However…
If “Time” is this autogenous in nature — arising from within itself, moving within itself, holding within itself everything that is, was, or ever will be, infinite in its extent, then it is fairly clear to me that we have found God and just given God a different name.
I say “God” because of our insistence that Time is independent, and yet implicated in the existence of everything — including itself — just exactly as God is understood to be.
So without being able to conclusively define what “Time” is, without relying upon itself for that definition, then all our concepts that are dependent upon the idea of duration, or in which duration is directly implicated, remain merely “magical thinking” because whatever we are talking about is no more, nor less, than God’s grace — and ultimately you can’t build scientific knowledge upon that.
Too harsh? Or too hard?
So what do all these words mean then?
How else can we see this?
Happily, this problem, and it’s surmounting is the goal of traditional meditation: to have a direct experience of mind. “Mind training” (called meditation) specifically develops the capacities (mental clarity) needed to be aware of what is happening as we become conscious of something.
Those words — awareness and consciousness — are technical terms. Another way of saying it is: we are fully cognizant of the arising of some phenomenon as it arrives — and not just cognizant of our consciousness of the known content, its qualities, and the character of that content, i.e., what it is.
Based upon my personal meditative imperiences, (the cognizance of the arising of phenomenal consciousness) which for me are beyond dispute, and which happily coincide with the standard progression of insights known within various spiritual traditions for millennia, I cannot see Time as a “dimension of reality,” and certainly not one that is a linear dimension of a “progression of moments” unfolding within itself.
Meditative imperiences are actual, and unmediated by conceptual structures as they arise — and I find that our common understanding of Space and Time does not fit them. So I had to find another way of mapping these concepts to the reality of those meditative imperiences. And I want to stress that not being able to map these concepts to the reality of the meditative imperiences that can arise can be debilitating in one’s life.²
To begin with, I have noted that everything that I try to say about my “self,” my “experiences,” my “life,” my “being,” (and everything in between) speaks to an irrefutable sense of something “arriving” upon an immobile backdrop, which I know of as the “Now.” And the words that I am using in my descriptions to describe what is arriving are always a close-synonym for, or circularly defined by, time, as even the word “arising,” which I just used, is. So, everything that I try to plaster onto this immobile backdrop — covering it with qualities, relations, stories, and names — cannot stick because they are in motion.
Unlike all the other words we use, the Now is neither in motion, nor enduring in time — it is fixed, unmoving, and unchanging. There is always the arrival of a phenomenon — but never an enduring of it. Always newness, never sameness. That is, nothing sticks around. We are always on the cusp of an epiphany — even if nothing changes.
You see, we have it backwards. Reality is time-less — in the sense of being beyond time — and this Now is very real so it too is beyond time, or otherwise than time.
Instead, Time is what I am trying to capture with the words I use, like “being,” and “experience,” and “life,” and “my enduring self,” and most of all, “awareness.” “I” am nothing but what we are trying to call time — a discrete form of time that is called a “human being” to be sure — as well, “time” is what we mean when we say “I am aware.” All those aspects, the qualities, my relations, the stories, and names, are the unfolding of “my” time.
And yet, nothing is unfolding. It’s a just a superposition of all possible epiphanic acts “strung” together by their coherent codependencies — this happened, so now this happens — like records of song, or story, within the “unmoving light” of the Now.
Thus, there is no real movement, there is no real change. Nothing flows. The superposition of all possible epiphanic “moments” is the cognizance itself of those moments — unlimited in some unknowable process of spontaneous epiphany that is “everything” always already as it is — just as how every moment of our time-like passing experience arrives with its full history and potential wholly intact.
Yes, “I” am time, and nothing but time. Each form of time, each unique instance of time, unfolds in this venue that we call: “the Now,” which is universal and immobile — a superposition of everything that is happening because it only ever happens Now — because there is no such thing as Time outside of that which is “happening.”
And in a scientific sense, time is relative because time is all that is happening, not where it’s happening, and not the container for what’s happening — it’s the foregrounding of the plexus of coherent possibility of the nexus of forms of time entangled with each other that are contained by and containing other forms of time resulting in the universe that we kNow.
Because our understanding of Time and Space structure our thinking, it also objectifies our imperiences by cutting the life out of them — i.e., the time — which is our presencing in the Now. We then name that once living abstracted aspect and call it Time, but we cannot define it because all our concepts are similarly dead and we struggle to find a way of saying the living truth with dead words. We deal with all of these ideas never aware that we never deviate from the realm of magical thinking.
The problem is, we are so inculcated into this magical way of thinking — it happens so automatically — we can’t see it any other way, unless we can train our minds to break free of the programming and see the illusion correctly. And that is called “Enlightenment.” So if you were hoping to be able to dance on the end of a sword before leaping 200 meters into the distance, as Hollywood presents it, you’re out of luck.
Thus time and space are both concepts whose use is entangled by their relative codependence: In the absence of time, nothing can exist to establish the measure of space. In the absence of space, there is no setting for things to exist in to establish their duration in time. And if this is difficult to disentangle, it is because we are thoroughly confused by this structure of our experience because deep down it does not coincide with reality. There is a flaw somewhere that makes experience “unfold” the way it does.
Finding that flaw and overcoming it, is the subject of the following dialogs.