Time is a tricky thing. It seems obvious even to a child that time exists and flows in one direction. And yet with the smallest probe of contemplative or scientific inquiry the whole structure seems to unravel, revealing that we don’t really understand much at all.

Cause and Effect

  • If I’m taking a plane ride next week and that causes me to get a COVID test today, was the cause in the future and the effect in the past? No, we’d probably say the cause of both events was the earlier decision to take a plane ride. But what caused the impulse to arise to make that decision? A long chain of causal events that extends back to the big bang? Can we know that the impulse was dependent only on past events, or could that impulse be influenced by future events too? Could this whole thing be an interconnected causal spaghetti of phenomena that aren’t necessarily linear in time?

Serializing The Experience of a 4D Matrix

  • In relativity theory we could say that the past, present and future already all exist in a four-dimensional space-time matrix. And it seems that at the smallest scale space-time becomes quantized like sand on a beach. So if we have a giant 4D matrix of all possible space-time moments existing simultaneously, one way for the universe to experience itself is traversing this matrix in a serialized fashion by one or more consciousness-es. Is that what this is?

Time Symmetry and Asymmetry

  • Most basic laws in physics work the same in both directions. Physical processes can run in the backwards order and not violate any laws of physics. They are called symmetric with respect to time. And yet psychologically we have a radical distinction between the past and the future. The past is known, and unalterable. The future is unknown, and seemingly influenceable. The process of a fruit rotting or a gas expanding to fill a chamber is asymmetric. The way we account for irreversible entropic decay is to connect it to the expansion of the entire universe. As in, nothing really exists independently of anything else.

Now Is All There Is

  • Time is experienced moment to moment and actual experience happens only in the present. The past was experienced as a present moment, in the past. The future will be experienced as a present moment, too. Past is remembered as past in the present moment. Future is contemplated as future in the present moment. So each moment carries all of time, without exception. Can anything other than this moment be real? Is time just a mental construct, a pointer if you will, to refer to some aspect of the present moment that exists only in the minds of those experiencing it?

I don’t have the answers nor practical advice to end with. It’s just fun to stir the intellectual stew now and then.

More: Three More Thoughts on Time