A Slice of Your Time

(Empirically speaking) are we living out our existence on the crest of a wave, or are we travelling down the river in a boat? I mean, does reality fall away as time progresses, or is the present moment a slice of a temporally extended universe? I mean, is now all that exists, or is the past still there (and/or the future already there)? I mean, is reality paper thin, or is it the whole tree? I mean, come on, it can't be that difficult!!

If I've got my relativity theory vaguely on the mark, physics favours the (latter) perpetuity model; for time to be relative to an object's spatial location, reality is stretched out across the cosmos through space and time, and we can look back in time as we observe distant activities in space. On the face of it, then, the past is still there…but we already start to slip with this stance. If the past 'exists' objectively, where is 'now'? Is it over there, millions of years ago, or is it here, which is millions of years ago if you are an observer looking back at us? I believe there is such a concept as 'now', which is our frame of reference when we speak about time being relative. How can we say we are looking back in time unless 'now' exists in a very real sense? How can we judge how far back in time we are looking if there is no absolute 'now'? - Even if that reference point is some kind of phenomenon abstract from scientific encapsulation. It's a bit like the number zero; where infinity is as far as you can go, zero is your starting point. Uniquely, the present instant, to an experiencer, is elementary to their existence; zero is elementary to a number sequence; and infinity is elementary to the concept of no end to that sequence. All three are points of reference; they are, in a sense, contentless, but at the same time elemental to their field.

So 'now' is here to stay. What consequences for 'then', then? The question continues to loom…is time a surface along which we skate, or does reality vanish behind us? (respecting that the physical reality which exists relative to separate individuals implies we are viewing ancient events (or at least ancient from our perspective; were we to go back in time they would be happening 'now')). Is yesterday still there, our actions standing statuesque for eternity as time develops and leaves them in their prior state? Or, to put the question in an absurd juxtaposition with the alternative, is all that ever exists an immeasurably thin slice of the 'present instant'? Is that all we are, all the universe is, a sheet of space-time? Or, to take the question further, is it our perspectives as conscious beings which travel through time while inanimate things stay right where they are? Are we witnessing time passing, whilst a rock simply exists? Are we the reason this barrage of questions exists? Without conscious beings there would be no perspective on time, it might be argued, and therefore time would not pass in any important sense. But this is counter-intuitive - the universe has an evolutionary path which occurs irrespective of observers. So, once again, the physical scientific relativistic facts seem to lean us towards believing reality is an extended thing, not an evaporating phenomenon.

It's not a done deal of course; what if 'now' enables us to look back in time, but the 'now' of over there has finished, and all we see is the after-effects (the light travelling to us over millennia)? But let's go with our gut and say the past is still there…what can we say about the future? Is reality 'growing' so to speak? Of course, it is developing, evolving, but is it evolving unpredictably and becoming something original, or is it turning into a thing it is predestined to be? Determinists argue it can only happen one way, because the universe obeys certain physical laws. Even if this were true, it could still be beyond our grasp to fathom the course of the future, but it does suggest the future is 'set in stone', insofar as what will be, will be. So, the final question I will leave you with is: do you believe the future is pre-determined, or do we have the freedom to influence our destiny? My own view is that the past is objectively real, and the future is enigmatic; we control aspects of our destiny, and the question of how it can be that free-will is exercisable in a deterministic universe is a secret it is the prerogative of the cosmos to withhold from our full understanding. A phenomenally mysterious essential cosmological dichotomy whose eternal riddle ensures corporeal continuity whilst preserving the capacity for existential wonder in the face of a relatively unforeseeable future.



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