“The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” ~ Albert Einstein
We measure existence temporally. The mind experiences time roughly through durations scaled to our ambient sense of existence.
The present moment is a mental construct within the current 2.5 seconds: just long enough to create a comprehensible context. The experience of now is an ever-emergent fabrication of the mind.
“Our sense of now can be viewed as a psychological illusion based on the past and a prediction of the near future.” ~ American psychologist David Melcher
Our awareness may dilate or compress time. Everyone occasionally experiences time distortion, where events unfold more slowly or quickly than strict chronology would have it.
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” ~ American author Henry van Dyke
Rough sketches of experiences are stored in memory, providing a fictive cushioning of continuity. The future is a cognitive template: framing fears, hopes, and goals.
“The past is a ghost, the future a dream, and all we ever have is now.” ~ American comedian Bill Cosby
In physics, time does not pass or flow. Instead, time is laid out as a map rather than a sequence. Despite relativity’s twining of spacetime, time stands alone in its inexorable qualities.
At the macroscopic scale, time differs from space in introducing causality: the myth upon which we rely to grasp the order of events, and so ascribe their nature, such that we may exert some control.
“We don’t understand the fundamental quantum mechanics from which spacetime emerges.” ~ American physicist Netta Engelhardt
In modern physics, when is always a probability, as is causality. Whereas special relativity insists that the order of events is subjective, quantum mechanics claims that uncertainty is objective.
“If quantum mechanics governs all phenomena, the order of events could be indefinite.” ~ quantum physicist Fabio Costa
As such, quantum causality in the strict sense does not exist. Correlation serves as an approximation of causality in quantum mechanics; and so too in our own lives: connecting dots of coincidence and deeming them cause and effect.
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There is a more immediate temporal issue than hanging onto the past or facing the future: how we view the world in the present moment. Thinking in terms of objects rather than processes is the greatest deception. Phenomena are nothing but localized processes, with individual dynamics spread over a wide range of disparate durations. There is an irony here: while the only moment is now, existence is properly perceived as a transformative continuum in spacetime.
Generally, the larger the object, the slower its process. Bosonic interactions occur at light-speed, or even instantaneously (a physical impossibility which happens nonetheless). Molecular reactions typically transpire within thousandths of a second (milliseconds) to seconds. The natural lifetimes of organisms range from hours (e.g., microbes) to millennia: some trees may live for thousands of years. Planetary objects process in geological time: millions to billions of years.
Stability is the strongest illusion. Nothing is ever the same. Mountains crumble in time; in the meantime, prodigious peaks constantly change. Star systems and galaxies come and go; so too the cosmos.
“There is nothing, high or low, that time does not destroy.” ~ Indian guru Vasistha
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“Your real identity has no body and no thought.” ~ Indian guru Nisargadatta Maharaj
You know you are not the same person you were a decade ago, or even yesterday, for that matter. You think of your behaviors as fluid, appropriate to the situation. When you catch yourself behaving not so appropriately, you tend to think of yourself as a work in progress.
But you don’t look at other people the same way: as processes. Other people are objects, with personality traits, which you consider somewhat stable. You may wonder about another person’s psychological stability: making them a flaky object, but not a fluid process as you think yourself to be, even (especially) when flaky. Hence, we have a natural dichotomy that is actually a built-in bias: a process-oriented view of self, but objectification of the world, including other people.
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Now let’s look at the other side of the coin of time.
Time stands still when awareness remains focused. This has been empirically demonstrated for localized quantum and atomic systems where observation is continuous: a phenomenon known as the Zeno effect.
“The quantum Zeno effect is real; a watched quantum pot never boils.” ~ English astrophysicist John Gribbin
But awareness cannot cover the world at large; whence seemingly chaotic dynamics ensue, and time’s arrow takes the irreversibility with which we are so familiar.
Under the gaze of awareness, there is no time. Time is a matter of inattention.
“Nothing in known physics corresponds to the passage of time.” ~ English physicist Paul Davies