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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Thoughts on Time


Why do I foolishly enter an arena which even the minds of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking could not decipher? But my question is “why should this subject be a field for only physicists and mathematicians to think about?” I certainly do not have knowledge of physics or astronomy. But I experience time, all the time, and think about it often. Why should I not reflect on time using common sense and intuition?
My intuition tells me that space is real. Time is phenomenal, a concept to comprehend movements and changes.
Life is a mystery. Time is a greater mystery. Time must have been present before “life” came on the scene. But there was no one to call it “time”.
Time is a constant of the universe. May be. It is eternal with no known or knowable beginning or end; may be cyclic, like Moebius strip. May be, both.
Once humans came into the scene and found ability to speak and name things, the word “time” was invented to explain 1. Changes that take place in front of their eyes, such as birth and death, sun rising and setting, moon growing and diminishing, trees blooming year after year and 2. The relationship between objects during movement, since movement implies space, and time to traverse the space.
Time is a constant of the universe, but only as THE PRESENT MOMENT. For the rest of the “time”, it is just that – TIME, impermanent. The other constants of the universe are matter, Energy, and Information.
Time seems to have two parts to our perception. So suggests the Tamizh poet, Kannadasan. Time is like a two wheeled cart. One wheel stays fresh. The other decays and reforms, ever-changing. It is only in reference to the ever-fresh TIME that we perceive the ever-changing time.
Plants and animals perceive time too, but in another sense. If it is not so, how can leaves change color at the approach of winter? How do birds start building nests long before they lay their eggs? All the plants and animals have built-in genes to cycle their metabolism to be in rhythm with sunlight.
In biology, time implies entropy. Everything complex requiring energy exchange tends to reach a level of equilibrium and inertness with time unless there is a compensatory mechanism. In essence this is time during biological lives. Trajectory towards increasing complexity and equilibrium inert state gives us the sense of time.
Time implies space and change. Does time cause change or do changes induce perception of time? Why do changes occur? If things were static without change, will there be time?
What was there before time? What a silly question? Is it? Do we not imply that there was a beginning when we say time? If so, how can time be there without beginning? If it had a beginning, what was there before? If there was a “before” when and how did it start? Why?
Time is stationary, like a string stretched to infinity. Or, may be like a membrane stretched into a massive round or elliptical ball reflecting the shape of the movements of the planets and stars and constellations. We move along the string, from birth to death through series of changes, and think time is passing.  But we are the ones passing or moving along the fixed dimension of “Time”.
In other words, Time is eternal. Time as experienced by a living organism is based on its perception of movement and changes (such as appearances and disappearances). Movement of the earth around the sun and the consequent days and night cycle was probably the first human observation of what we now call time. If we were to enter deep space, there is only darkness. What is time in such deep darkness?
Time is not an illusion, however. It is not maya of the Vedas but mitya of Sankara. It is neither real nor unreal. It is both, depending on the point of view. Since any movement in space implies “passage of time”, time exists in the background as an eternal, non-moving phenomenon. In that sense it is a fixed entity. But  it requires a human (or some such entity) with ability to perceive changes and movement to conceptualize it and give it a name. Thus, it becomes phenomenal and real for us.  
We know that only one piece of matter can exist in any one place, however small that place is. If two objects try to be at the same place, the assumption is that they try to exist at the same time. That will result in one of several outcomes – both get destroyed; they collide, lose parts of themselves and move in another direction; one eats up the other which also means one merges into the other with no remnant; a new “thing” comes into existence.
In the vast space of the universe, when something like a  planet moves, it will keep moving as long as there is no impediment. This will be true at the atomic level too. That unimpeded movement gives a sense of time for a sentient being like human. This is liner time.
If an atomic particle or a large object encounters another particle or object during this movement, there will be an event – destruction, change of direction or appearance of a new object. That will give a sense of cyclic time.
If light and dark appear alternately, that will also give a sense of cyclic time. If during  cyclic times of days and nights, new “things” appear and disappear or undergo changes, we experience cyclic time. In addition, our mind as it is constituted looks for causes and results. It also looks for beginning and end reinforcing the idea of cyclic phenomenal time.
Will we experience time if there are no changes in animals, plants, mountain, oceans and rivers? If changes occur in the mountains and oceans as they have been for millennia, and there is no one to perceive them will there be a concept of time.
Put it differently, space is real whether a sentient being is there or not. But time is not. It is a concept or a construct to explain movement and changes.
We cannot comprehend them fully and definitively given the limitations of our senses and the mind. May be the physicists and astronomers among you  have a better or different understanding. If so, please share your knowledge and insights.

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