Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash
Our modern society is absolutely obsessed with time. Over 5 billion people own cellphones; most carry their devices with them at every waking moment. They are constantly being reminded of what time it is, where they are supposed to be, and what they are supposed to be doing.
It can be very challenging to take a step back. To consider the truth.
Time is an illusion.
How Can Time Be An Illusion?
The initial reaction to this concept can be that of disbelief. How can time be an illusion? If I’m not at the train station by 7:30am, I miss the train. If I’m not on that conference call at 3pm, I don’t close the deal and don’t earn my bonus. If I don’t make it to the restaurant by 7pm sharp, my date gets annoyed and ghosts me.
But think back a mere thousand years ago. A farmer woke up when the sun streamed in through their window. Cows were milked when udders were full. Supper was enjoyed when dusk spread its rosy fingers across the sky. There were still agreed-upon cycles, to coordinate activities, but they were in tune with the natural world around us.
Take it a step further. A person sitting with their soulmate in a summertime meadow, breathing in the beauty of the afternoon, might feel that time went on forever. That nothing else existed except this here and now. Conversely, a blacksmith wholly in tune with their forging of a sword, completely immersed in their task, might glance up and realize night had fallen. The day had whisked by in an instant, because they were so at one with their project.
Time is not carved in stone. Even modern physics understands that.
Time as a Dimension
Sometimes discussions attempt to simplify time as a dimension. We have length, width, and height. And then we have time, which marches forward at a steady rate.
But does it?
Countless examples show that this regimented view of time is incorrect. Imagine twins, one an astronaut, the other a teacher. The astronaut goes off in a near-light-speed spaceship on a five-year mission exploring the stars. The teacher stays home. Astronaut-twin returns after five years feeling five years older – but teacher-twin has experienced over a decade of life. Time ran at different speeds for the two individuals.
Even right here on Earth, time is impacted by speed and gravity. Time isn’t a constant. It warps and pulls. Astronauts in the space station experience slower time than us on Earth. The only reason we note a difference is that both agree to look at a clock and use it as an objective measuring tool. But the astronaut feels their time is natural. The Earth-dweller feels their time is natural.
Time as a River
Sometimes we look at time as a river, ever-flowing. We are standing, fixed, on the shore. We can only experience this one moment which goes past us. Poof, it’s past us and gone downstream. We can never touch that moment again. It is wholly gone and beyond impact. We might have flawed memories of what it was like, or other documentation, but it no longer exists in any tangible sense. We cannot alter it or undo it.
Similarly, if we glance upstream, we might try to make guesses about what the river will be like when it gets to us. But we will never know for sure until it is there before us. There’s no way to directly impact that upstream river. We can only work in the now to change what we are doing and how we are doing it. That way when the upstream river arrives at our now, we are ready.
In the end, though, the only moment which really exists is now. Right now. This is the moment where you can act, think, and choose. The past is gone and unreachable. The future does not yet exist and is unknowable.
That time stream is an illusion full of misconceptions and assumptions.
The only thing which truly exists is now.