Time does not have a single direction


Caution. Ideas under construction. Participation encouraged.


Does time move in one direction, like and arrow? I don’t think so. Well, I certainly don’t know so. How would I know?

Most people believe that time flows in a single direction from past to future and we are all carried along in parallel fashion. And some things happened in the past, before we were born. And some things will happen in the future, after we die. Pretty convenient way of thinking. Makes sense.

As human beings we try desperately to reduce things into forms we can understand. We try to simplify vast complexities into convenient simplicities that make sense in our limited minds. Maybe we are doing that with the concept of time.

Have you heard of these scientific studies where someone is asked to wear a pair of glasses that makes everything look upside down? You can learn about the Erismann and Kohler study here, for instance. At first, the wearer is very confused and stumbles around a lot. But over time the brain adapts and everything starts to appear normal. The brain takes the complexities and confusion of what it sees and adapts it to something meaningful; a way of seeing the world that makes sense.

How do we know it’s not like this with time? Perhaps our brains make sense of the the world by putting one event after another. That’s what we’re used to. That’s what we “grew up” with. In fact this notion is so engrained into our culture that’s what “growing up” actually means: one thing after another. But maybe time is actually moving from future to past. Our minds might be adapting what’s actually happening to make sense of what we are seeing.

I am not trying to make the case that time can, and does, travel in two directions. I’m just starting with this notion to begin to open a window to new ways of thinking. Actually, I am trying to make the case that time travels in all different directions, and all different paces.

Rather than being constant and outside of us – something out there in the universe that travels like a big wind from past to present carrying us along for awhile between birth and death – what if time is variable and inside us. Can you see where this is headed? Let’s imagine that time is relative.

Let’s imagine that the life of a living creature does not “take up time” but rather “makes up time.”

Imagine that time is not a big sweeping wind, a small volume of which I occupy as a living creature. But instead, let’s imagine that apart from living creatures, there is no time at all. It’s not so hard to imagine actually. Think: for something that does not exist, time stands still.

So if time stands still for something that is dead, we might say that for time to exist it must be experienced by a living creature. Actually, even more than that, for time to exist it must be “made” by a living creature.

Imagine that living creatures don’t all travel through time in the same direction, from past to future, but rather we all travel through time on different paths from birth to death. And you know what? Sometimes I am growing and sometimes I am dying. At some moments in my life I am healthy and growing fast. I am physically growing new cells and learning new things. And at other moments in my life I am unhealthy and cells in me are dying and I am losing my mind. And who’s to say that as I vacillate between growing and dying, time for me is not going forward and backwards, or speeding up and slowing down. My life is moving towards lengthening or my life is moving towards shortening. At times I am having a positive impact on my duration, my lifetime, and at other times a negative impact.

All living creatures have different durations and we are all always changing the pace at which we move towards or away from death. Perhaps this phenomenon, the extent to which we are lengthening or shortening our duration, relative to the overall size of our duration, is what sets the “pace of time” for each of us.

Link the pace of time to the size of a living creature (physical size known as volume and chronological size known as duration) rather than to the speed at which something travels, and you can begin to imagine how travels in all different directions, and all different paces.

 

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