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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Time - Some Personal Reflections

What is Time? One view is that it is a perception of the human mind. We perceive the “passage” of time based on movement from here to there and by changes (increase or decrease in size or modification) in the structure of objects around us and in us. The alternating cycle of day and night is probably the primary determinant for the experience of time for life in this world. Do animals and plants have a sense of time?

Can there be “time” if there is no perceiving mind? The answer probably is “yes” since the primary determinant is the day and night cycle, at least in our world. Is the perceiver of “time”, namely me, who is the subject also  a part of time, the object? Again, the answer seems to be “yes”. But, Time is also independent of the perceiver and the process of perception. Time, indeed, rules space and what is in space, since no two physical things can occupy the same space at the same time. Space and Time are inter-related.

Time implies space or change. To go from one place to another requires time however short that distance may be. The movement gives the sense of passage of time.  What about change? Does passage of time causes change or does change gives a sense of time? For a change to occur, time is needed. But, if there is no time, will there be change? And why should change occur at all? If things are static, with no change, will there be time? Some would say that the perception of change is what gives us a sense of time.

What was there before time? That is a silly question. If we talk about time like we talk about any other object, we need to ask “when did it start?” If it did have a beginning, then what was there before time? That is also a silly question.

Kannadasan, a major Tamil poet of the 20th century said that there are two kinds of time.  One is cyclic and one is eternal. The cyclic one is associated with life, and therefore with pain and suffering. The eternal one is associated with bliss. Kannadasan thinks that there is only one time; humans see it as two. He goes on to say: “I am in charge of the drama called Time. I keep today for myself and leave tomorrow for time.  If time asks me I do not answer. I do not cry when time hurts me; and I do not laugh when life hugs me”.         

Life is a mystery. Time is an even greater mystery. Time was existent before life appeared on this planet. But, there was no one to call it by a name.

Time is a constant of the universe. There are only two ways to look at Time, as Kannadasan pointed out – as eternal, with no beginning and no end or cyclic, in which case it has no beginning or end. The word cyclic implies passage of time.

Once we human came into existence and found the ability to speak and invent words, we coined the term Time to explain two things: A. changes that take place in our own selves as modifications of the body and around us with the rising of the sun and setting of the sun, flowers blossoming and withering etc.  and B. relation between objects in space and the process of moving from one place to another,which takes “time”.

Time is a constant of the universe, but only at the present moment. Sloka 1:14 in Uddhava Gita calls the Lord as Time (kaala) which is beyond matter and energy. Bede Griffiths (in his book on The Marriage of the East and West, page 168) says: “We are conditioned by time so that we see one thing after another and can never grasp the whole. But the intuitive vision is a vision of the whole. The rational mind goes from point to point and comes to a conclusion; the intuitive mind grasps the whole in all its parts”. He implies that spiritual intuition is the grasping of the whole, all in one moment, not sequentially in time.

All these musings are based on metaphysical, spiritual and common sense views. Obviously this topic is a complex one and one has to be an astrophysicist or an expert in topics such as Einstein’s Theories and Quantum mechanics to fully understand the physics of Time. If you wish to delve deep, please read Stephen Hawking’s book on A Brief History of Time and Richard Muller's recent book with the title Now – The Physics of Time.

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