The Land of Now, Or: How Time Goes By
by Robert Gulack
There once was a man who was certain that he was always right. He could prove it, he said – because, to the best of his knowledge, he had never been wrong.
Well, we are all the prisoners of our individual perspectives. This man was merely an extreme example of the phenomenon. The habit of only seeing things from one point of view can lead you into making serious mistakes.
I am going to be arguing today that our culture is in the habit of making a serious mistake when it comes to talking about the nature of time.
We are in the habit of saying that the past no longer exists, and that the future has yet to come into existence. Since the past is gone, and the future is yet to be, all that can possibly be real is the present moment.
Once again, it is a question of our perspective. The present moment is, literally, all you ever see. Standing here, I cannot see the past. All I can see is people and things left behind by certain activities that took place in the past. Neither William Shakespeare nor the 63rd U.S. president is currently available for an interview. Since the present is the only thing you can see, it is quite natural to conclude that it is the only thing that exists – that all that is real is the exact present moment.
We all remember the scene in the war movies where the soldiers all synchronize their watches. We say two events are synchronous if they occur at the same time. If we are right, and nothing is real but the present, it follows that all real events in the universe are synchronous: to be real is to exist in the same present moment as everything else, and therefore to be real is to be synchronous with everything else that is real. If it is now 11 AM in Teaneck, it is now 11 AM on Pluto. From every point of view throughout billions of light-years, every real event is occurring at the same time. This is considered to be true beyond doubt. It appears to be true almost as a matter of definition.
This is not only the view of common sense and everyday speech; it was the unspoken assumption of Western science until a century ago. Laplace’s demon, who was supposed to have perfect knowledge of the current universe and unlimited skills of calculation, could perfectly deduce what the past had been and what the future would be, but the demon’s deductions did not bring either the past or the future into existence. The universe was a three-dimensional object existing, and changing, in the present moment.
This commonsense theory was always a little strange, however. In the commonsense theory, all that could possibly count was the present moment, for the present moment was all there was. Yet we often speak as if the present moment is understood to have no duration in time. If someone claimed that present moment was really the present minute, we would patiently explain that, no, half of that minute was in the past and half in the future, leaving literally no time for the present. We had a theory of the universe in which all that was real existed without duration, a contention which certainly appears to be a contradiction in terms. Furthermore, we ordinarily think of change as occurring over time, but, according to the present moment theory of the universe, all change has to occur over no time at all, because the only real moment in which real things can happen is a moment without duration. Finally, both the commonsense view of human affairs, and our entire legal system, are premised on the concept that much human conduct is the result of free will. If free will is real at all, if it does any real work at all, it does that work in the present moment, which is just another way of saying that free will does its work in zero time. This last point, of course, is merely a subset of the general problem, which is to explain how it is that anything, far less everything, can be said either to exist or to change if existence and change have no time at all in which to take place.
One might respond that existence, change, and free will all operate over the course of a very large series of present moments, but an infinite series of durationless events still lasts for zero seconds.
To say, as we appear to be saying, “I live my entire life in a durationless bit of time called Now” is the equivalent of saying, “I live my entire life in a tiny little country called the Land of Now, which is located on the border between the United States and Canada. Where the Canadian border comes down to meet the American border, there, where there is no distance between them, is the Land of Now.”
Neither can we escape the problems associated with the idea of a durationless Now by attempting to assign an actual duration to the “present moment.” To ask how one would begin to measure such a duration is to realize how meaningless the whole concept is. The “present moment” is a concept used in casual conversation, not in science. Nowhere in any science is there a definition of the crossover point between the past and the present, or the present and the future. Nowhere in science does the term “the present” do any work. Nowhere in science is there any distinction between the laws governing past events and the laws governing present events; or any distinction between the laws governing present events and the laws governing future events.
We have discussed the possibility that the present is durationless, and the possibility that it has a fixed duration. The only other possibility I can think of is that the present moment is infinitely short in duration. We might compare the present moment to a point on a line – a point is defined as that which has infinitesimal length, but, together with an infinite number of other infinitesimal points, makes up the line. But there are two objections to this.
The first objection is that we still have no clear understanding as to what marks the crossover or transition point from the past to the present, and what marks the second crossover or transition point from the present to the future. What defines the borders of the present moment, this object we are supposing to have infinitesimal duration?
It is not as if, sitting in the present moment, any of us sense the point where the present moment began, or sense the point where the present moment fades into the future. We don’t sense the borders of the present moment at all. We sense, instead, particular things that are actually happening, as they happen, in the order that they happen. We sense one thing and then another, later thing.
If you are looking at me, for example, you are looking at an object that is continuing to exist. You are having a continuing experience of a continuing object. But you are not having any sensation of me continuing, again and again, to enter the present moment, as I must be doing all the time.
The second objection is that there is something misleading about comparing the present moment to a point on a line. A point on a line has part of the line to its left and part of the line to its right. It is sandwiched between two things that are, in some sense, real. The present moment, on the other hand, is sandwiched, as it were, between two things that we are told don’t exist: the past and the future. It is very unclear what it can mean to be defined by, indeed, to be bordered by, the presence of two things that are absent.
So it turns out this so-called commonsense notion of the present moment is, in fact, a very slippery thing, impossible to get a hold of. A sort of ghostly chronological figment – something that makes no sense whether we suppose it to be durationless, of specific duration, or of infinitesimal duration. And yet we are told that this phantom present moment contains everything that is real.
In any case, given all of our shared assumptions, it is still something of a shock to be confronted with some of the implications of Einstein’s four-dimensional space-time continuum. In the Einstein theory, now a full century old, the universe is conceived of as a four-dimensional object, an object that exists in three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. Einstein says that objects have length, and height, and width, and that they have duration, giving them four dimensions in all. Each person here is an example of a four-dimensional object, beginning at a particular point in time and ending at a particular point in time. This building is another example of such a four-dimensional object. So is the planet Earth. So is our current universe, the hundred billion galaxies which now exist and which began with the Big Bang about 15 billion years ago.
One of the first indications of how weird Einstein’s theory is occurs when Einstein points out that one of the consequences of his theory is that whether two events are synchronous depends entirely on whom we ask. It all depends on how the observer is moving. From one person’s point of view, Event #1 may have clearly occurred many decades prior to Event #2; from another person’s equally valid point of view, Events #1 and #2 occurred at absolutely the same time. We have gone from knowing, without doubt, that (1) all events are necessarily synchronous and (2) it doesn’t matter whom you ask, to a situation in which (1) no events are necessarily synchronous and (2) it is entirely up to whom you ask. This must be regarded as a fairly radical change.
Einstein’s revolutionary reconstruction of synchronicity amounts to saying that the contents of the present moment, far from being self-evident, vary from one observer to another. Depending on whom you ask, the universe has an infinite number of different present moments, each containing different things. And that’s only the beginning of how weird this gets.
Let’s go back to the idea that it’s the same present moment everywhere. If it’s 11 AM in Teaneck, it’s 11 AM on Pluto. One hour later, it’s noon in Teaneck and noon on Pluto. Time is passing at the same rate everywhere. All of space is sharing one inviolable flow of time. But Einstein proved this was all wrong. In fact, the rate at which time passes depends on the speed you’re moving. Einstein allowed us to see that each location in the universe experiences time as a single, unchanging flow – but that, when each location in the universe looks at each other location in the universe, it may perceive that other location as having a time flow that varies in an infinite number of different speeds. Time has been measured as flowing more slowly in a moving airplane or spacecraft. To a minor extent, time flows more slowly in my lips as they are talking to you than it does in my liver, which is standing still. There is no such thing as a movement that is solely in space. Every motion takes place in space-time, and has a consequence, major or minor, with regard to the speed at which time is passing for the object making the motion.
In general, during the ordinary course of life at speeds up to tens of thousands of miles per hour, each of us stays so closely in synchronization with the other people we are talking to that, as far as one can tell without laboratory instruments, we are all sharing the same present moment and advancing into the future in the same way. But when particles are accelerated toward the speed of light, very clear distortions occur that make it plain that we are not all continuing to share the same flow of time.
In the four-dimensional concept, the past and future are every bit as real as the present. What is seen to be in the past, present, or future depends entirely on who’s doing the looking. It should therefore come as no surprise, for example, to read the many physicists who say that relativity permits time travel, or, indeed, to hear physicists such as John Wheeler and Richard Feynman talking comfortably about antimatter particles traveling from the future to the past. If the past did not, in some sense, continue to be “there,” there would be no there to which these antiparticles could be traveling. If I succeed in taking a plane from Newark to Los Angeles, both Newark and Los Angeles are there. If an antiparticle travels from 9 PM back to 9 AM, then both 9 PM and 9 AM must be there, too.
According to this new, Einsteinian concept, the future is real, and therefore in some sense fixed, from the point of view of each and every present, so there is no great surprise when particular and specific time-travelers, or at least time-traveling antiparticles, appear out of that perfectly real future. The present moment goes from having no duration to being eternal. In effect, the present moment expands from zero time to become the entire history of the universe. Talk about shifting your basic assumptions! In the world according to Einstein, the Land of Now includes within its borders every moment that has ever been and every moment that will ever be.
As a Harvard philosopher named Hilary Putnam has pointed out, if you try to fit Einstein together with our ordinary concept of the present moment, you will see that the two things can’t work together. Let us consider the work of two observers. Remember that, according to relativity, for one observer, Events A and B are happening now. For another observer, Event A came first, and Event B hasn’t happened yet. According to our ordinary concept of the present moment, Event B is real, part of the present, and fully determined, according to the first observer. Event B is not real and not yet fully determined, according to the second observer. Therefore, according to our ordinary idea of the present moment, Event B is real and unreal, fully determined and not fully determined. This clearly can’t be the right answer. So our ordinary theory of the present moment can’t be the right answer. We need a new theory of the present moment – the four-dimensional theory proposed by Einstein. We need, in sort, a theory in which each and every moment — past, present and future – is equally real and fully determined, and is thus available to be observed, by some observer, in what (to that observer) is the present moment.
Incredible as it may sound, what Einstein was announcing in 1905 was that you, as the second observer, may see someone in your present performing what is, for you, a current act of observation. And you may, at the same moment, observe an event which, for you, is in the present, but, for the other observer, is still in the future. Under these conditions, you know that, to the other observer, you are Merlin – able to see something that hasn’t happened, able to peer into the future.
By the same token, when one observer sees Events A and B as happening now, and another observer sees Event A come first and Event B come later, when the second observer gets around to seeing Event B, and the first observer comes across Event A and B, according to the first observer, the second observer is directly observing something – Event A — that has already happened – something that’s in the past – something that, according to our ordinary worldview, is gone forever. In principle, that’s as strange as if, in this moment, I knew you were now listening to the lecture I gave here last January.
According to Einstein, observers may disagree over exactly what happened in any particular present moment. But all Einsteinian observers agree that the entire history of the universe, from billions of years in our past to billions of years in our future, is all equally real. There is no sense in which our current present moment – the present moment in which I am delivering this sentence – is in any way privileged over any other present moment. The past is not gone. The future is already here. (That is why you, like Merlin, were able to look into what was the future for another observer.) Every moment in the history of time is “now” to some observer – and the 2005 “now” is no different than any other “now.”
We are advised to “Be Here Now,” and that’s often very good advice. But, strictly speaking, wherever we are is “here” and whenever we are is “now.”
It is as if the universe were one big novel. On each page, the characters exist in what to them, at that moment, is the present. If you could ask the characters, they would remember the earlier chapters, but would not know how the novel comes out. Yet the first and last pages of the novel are as real as any other page in the entire volume. If it turns out there is, in fact, a God, He knows the whole book as well as some of us know the latest Harry Potter.
Incredible as it might sound, the fact that the past is, in some sense, still there — and, in some sense, still accessible to us — was experimentally confirmed twenty years ago at the University of Maryland and at the University of Munich. You may have heard of the experiments that have been done on whether light is a wave or a particle. It turns out that, if you set up the experiment to show light is a wave, it behaves like a wave; but, if you set up the experiment to show light is a particle, it behaves like a particle. That outcome was certainly weird enough to freak out three generations of physicists, but it wasn’t weird enough for John Wheeler.
Building on these earlier experiments, Wheeler proposed an experiment to see what would happen if you delayed in deciding which experiment to set up until the light had already crossed the laboratory table. Could choices made in the present control the previous behavior of the light? When this “delayed-choice” experiment was carried out by two different groups in the middle 1980s, it was shown by both the Maryland and Munich teams that the delayed experimental choice always proved to be consistent with what the light had done prior to the time we made the experimental choice. By making a particular choice at a later time, we were determining what the light, in fact, had done at an earlier time. The present was determining the past, something the present could not do unless the past was in some way still real and accessible. It is impossible to overstate how startling this is. In both Maryland and Munich, the cause came after the effect. On these simple laboratory tables in Maryland and Munich was demonstrated the physical reality of something that looks a great deal like time travel. And this all happened, as I say, twenty years ago. And, by the way, Wheeler has taught physics for 50 years at Princeton, so it is fair to say that New Jersey is not only the place that gave the world the light bulb, the motion picture, and the phonograph, but also time travel, as well. We here in New Jersey missed out on inventing the airplane, but, otherwise, it’s a very impressive record.
Articles discussing these “delayed-choice” experiments appeared in the New York Times on December 12, 2000 and in the June 2002 issue of Discover Magazine. According to Wheeler, the same effect would allow experimenters on Earth to control the behavior of light particles billions of years in the past. It would appear that the earliest regions of the most distant past are literally close enough for us to touch.
If the present moment is all that exists, it is impossible to explain these experimental results from Maryland and Munich. These experiments clearly show one time period impacting upon a previous time period. To insist, in the face of this experimental evidence, that only the present moment exists, is like insisting that the U.S. is the only country in the world when all your clothing says, “Made in China.”
Our contemporary knowledge of physics flows from two great sources. The first is the work based upon Einstein’s theories of relativity. The second is the work based on discoveries in the area of quantum mechanics, which is what is involved in the Wheeler delayed-choice experiment. It is significant that both relativity physics and quantum physics are telling us that the past, present, and future are all equally real – that the past, present, and future exist equally, and are all different aspects of the same thing. No modern physicist still operates on the so-called commonsense concept of the present moment.
Existence and change may be easier to explain in the four-dimensional view, but a clear account of free will remains as elusive as ever. Free will now has time to do its work, but it remains unexplained how free will can choose any other future than the one that is, in fact, sitting there, erupting particular time-travelers and time-traveling particles from time to time.
We are used to thinking of the present as the unique arena in which free will functions – an arena that is neither unalterable, like the past, nor non-existent, like the future. If there is, in fact, no unique present, distinguishable from the past and future, there is no office in which free will (as we usually think of it) can sit down to do its work.
If a theory of free will is to be considered in the context of relativity, free will must be reconceived as a four-dimensional process connecting a fixed input point and a fixed output point. Furthermore, every stage of this hypothetical four-dimensional free will process would be equally fixed. I cannot see how a coherent theory of free will can be built up on this basis. In any event, I am certain that this four-dimensional fixed-process theory of free will is not the theory of free will judges are currently relying upon to sentence Americans to death.
From the point of view of Lincoln’s present, which co-exists equally with our own present, we are the future. Lincoln therefore had no choice but to save the Union, since we know he did so. (Lincoln himself would not be surprised by this outcome, since he dismissed the idea of free will by saying, “The human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control.” Lincoln also said, “[W]e [are] impelled along in the journey of life with no freedom of the moral will.”) It means as little to say, “Lincoln is a part of the past,” as to say, “Teaneck is west.” Just as Teaneck is west of some things and east of other things, Abraham Lincoln resides in the future from Mozart’s point of view, in the present from Marx’s point of view, and in the past from my point of view.
The most painful part of life is the death of people you love. Seen from the point of view of Einstein’s theory, however, every precious moment you spend with a loved one was and will remain, for all eternity, part of the totality of space-time. The parents we have lost are lost to us, but they are not lost to the children they have raised. They remain in the same loving relationship to those children. Furthermore, if, as seems likely, we find no room for free will in a fixed, four-dimensional universe, then you are not personally to blame for any mistakes you have made, nor even for any sins you may have committed. All of this, of course, smacks of Spinoza – and it is no surprise that Spinoza was the philosopher with whom Einstein was most comfortable.
In short, wherever you wander on the surface of the Earth, your immediate surroundings look pretty flat, but that doesn’t mean the Earth is flat. And whenever you look around you in the present, it looks like the present, but that doesn’t mean your current present is any more real than your past or your future. Your present looks no more real to you now than your present looked to you a year ago.
Things don’t take place across a series of durationless or infinitesimal points. They occur across durations in space and time. “The present moment” does not specify a particular time any more than “the horizon” specifies a particular place. You can be seen doing your walking across the same dimensions of space-time in which your distant ancestors and your distant descendants can also be seen doing their walking. Both the horizon and the present are mere appearances that are apparent solely to you, generated by how far you in particular have walked; they are not objective realities.
Many people are confused by the idea that antimatter particles may come out of the future and travel backwards into the past. Surely, they say, if antiparticles, or anything else, can travel back into the past, then their arrival changes the past. The past was one way, and then the time-travelers arrived, and their mere arrival already makes the past different than it was. But this again is a misunderstanding. The past is what it is – an undefined part of the changeless whole of space-time. If, in fact, antiparticles or other time-travelers have arrived in the past from the future, then they have, in fact, arrived there, and their arrival is part of the way the past always was. When one chooses to go on vacation in Rome, and successfully makes the appropriate arrangements, one’s choice does not change Rome. It is simply part of the future history of Rome that you will arrive there, staying at a particular place and purchasing tickets to particular attractions. Similarly, if one chose to go on vacation in ancient Rome, and was able to make the appropriate arrangements, it would simply have been part of the past history of Rome that you arrived there and did whatever you did.
Let’s assume Wheeler and Feynman were right, and antiparticles travel backwards in time. When we see a positron at 9 AM, it is not the case that we arrived at 9 AM and saw no positron, but then the positron arrived at 9 AM and changed the past so that we began to see the positron at 9 AM. The forward-traveling observer and the backward-traveling antiparticle simply happened to meet at a particular time, which in this case was 9 AM.
There is no denying that what modern physics is offering us is a totally new and shocking way of looking at things, and, a century after relativity arrived, it would appear that most people still have not come to grips with it. We all still say the sun rises and sets, while knowing that this is not quite right. But we continue to speak of the present moment as though that concept had not been buried a century ago, back at the beginning of the twentieth century.
It is interesting to re-explore our own introspective experience of our own mental processes in this new four-dimensional context. Let us assume, for the moment, that the simplest hypothesis is correct and that our minds are, in fact, our brains, composed of the same materials as the remainder of the cosmos. While our brains are clearly composed of both matter and energy, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as being made of matter.
Under the present moment theory, each of you only exists in the present moment when you are hearing this talk. The you who had coffee this morning no longer exists, and the you who are not convinced and who have walked away – that you has not yet come into existence. I will call this hypothetical person “A.”
Under Einstein’s four-dimensional theory, there are an infinite number of A’s, all simultaneously in existence across the entire lifespan of A. Each of these A’s remembers what A has experienced up to a certain point. Each of these A’s stares into an unknowable future. The interesting point has to do with how A moves from being A at any given time to being A at any subsequent time.
A’s experience of herself is not broken up into moments. As long as A is awake, she has a continuous experience. A understands she is not precisely the same from moment to moment. Over the very short haul, she sees different things and has different thoughts. Over the medium haul, she gets hungry. Over the long haul, her hair turns gray. But her continuous experience of herself provides meaning, for A, to the concept of A’s continuing identity. Her continuous experience of herself also verifies, for A, the fact that it is not only the case that the total amount of matter in a closed system is unchanging over time, but that the matter seen in a closed system at any earlier time and the matter seen in a closed system at a later time are, in fact, the same matter.
Less complex forms of matter than A — a one-centimeter cube of radium, for example — do not, strictly speaking, feel. A radium block has no nerve endings. But if the radium could, in fact, perceive itself, it would also perceive itself as a lasting entity, also subject to a process of aging (in the case of the radium, radioactive decay).
Assuming, as we said earlier, that we are matter, then this is how it feels to be matter. It feels as though you exist as a continuing entity, moving into the future. Furthermore (leaving aside various relativistic effects and the possibility of time travel), we experience this movement into the future as irresistible. Nothing is gently but irresistibly pushing all of us left, up, or back (that is, moving us along one of the three dimensions of space). But something, somehow, is pushing us into the future. It’s as if our entire universe were in free fall along the dimension of time.
Yet, strictly speaking, there is no movement into the future. There is simply a fixed, four-dimensional totality. We feel as if each of us were a car on a mass-production assembly line, changing and growing as we proceed down the line, but still, undoubtedly, that particular car. (The one with the slightly chipped ashtray, say.) But the assembly line simile is misleading to the extent that there is, in fact, not an infinite supply of fresh A’s constantly being born and placed upon the assembly line for further modifications. The illusion of being irresistibly conveyed into the future might be said to be simply how it feels to be a piece of matter undergoing modifications over time. Yet the fact remains that (again, leaving aside relativistic effects and the possibility of time travel) something about the relationship between matter and time leads matter to be modified as it must be modified, step by step, at later and later times. No piece of matter we know of has experienced a cessation in its movement along the dimension of time. It is typical of rocks to lie still in one place. But it is not typical of rocks to lie still in one time.
Because we are matter, we have the opportunity to perceive, at first hand, that matter does, in fact as well as in appearance, persist into the future. Each of us is modified first by one experience, and, later, modified by each subsequent experience (though, as Einstein points out, each may have his own idea of the order in which the experiences occurred). Considered properly, this is really no great surprise. We have always thought of matter as persisting from the past into the future, just as Wheeler and Feynman envisaged antimatter as persisting from the future into the past. Each of us directly senses her or his particular expanding library of memories, but, in addition to that, each of us directly experiences her or his persistence in time. The universe, seen from the outside as a four-dimensional entity, is not changing; but each of us is, nevertheless, experiencing a continuing process of change.
Because how it feels to be matter involves this sense of experiencing a non-existent movement, it is easy to see how the manner in which each of us perceives her or his own life confuses each of us about the fixed and four-dimensional nature of reality as a whole. It is precisely this illusory sense of movement out of which each of us creates the illusion of the present moment.
The reason why A so often finds it difficult to think of the past as equally real with the present is that A distinctly remembers being A at so many previous times. She believes she knows, for a fact, that those A’s no longer exist, because she knows what has become of them: she is what they have become. The challenge is to see that something that has been transformed into our present selves can still be sitting there, untransformed, in what to us is the past. If you yourself are straw that has been woven into gold, it is almost impossible to credit that, in some sense, your “past” straw self remains as real as your “present” golden self. The sense that our current identity is our only “real” identity prevents us from accepting the equal validity of our past and future identities – but, once again, this is an illusion generated by the fact that, at any given moment, one can only experience the identity one has at that moment.
Furthermore, the sad fact remains that each of us is not only DNA that has been woven into bodies; we are also bodies that must someday be unwoven into less complex substances. To the extent that we fall into the trap of believing we are only what we have become, and that there is no reality to what we have been, it is painful to conclude that someday we will become nothing. The four-dimensional perspective reveals that all of the moments of our lives remain unalterably fresh and real.
Nothing is of more central importance to each person than that person’s own sense of her or his own identity, for the meaning and value of all else we experience is rooted in the relationship of our experience to our continuing identity. We each feel love for others, and we each feel their love for us. To a great extent, our relationship to Rembrandt depends upon the fact that we personally are not blind and our relationship to Beethoven depends upon the fact that we personally are not deaf. But the undoubted importance of our sense of our own identity — the sense that each of us is, over time, a continuing personality – cannot be allowed to hide from us the fact that the previous manifestations of our personality are as real as the previous manifestations of any other material object.
It is especially difficult to focus on the reality of the past because, for very practical reasons, we are structured to focus our concern on the future. A will look forward with pleasure to a romantic encounter, or look forward with horror to the inescapable imposition of torture, precisely because A is structured to focus on her individual destiny as a persisting individual. There is no similar need to focus on the reality of A’s past selves. Indeed, it might even be said that A’s awareness that the past is as real as the future might dampen A’s incentive to evade future perils to A. In this sense, and perhaps in others, there is no guarantee that being a good philosopher will increase your chances for survival.
Our individual experiences of life can also lead us to false inferences in the area of free will. When A searches her individual experience, she does not directly experience her desires being brought into existence by specific causes. She experiences the continuing reality of A as a discrete individual. This self-perception gives her no reason to doubt the reality of A’s free will. That reality is placed in doubt, not by introspection, but by asking the general and objective question as to whether, given all the data currently in our possession, the simplest possible overall theory of the entire universe includes the idea of human free will. (In the present moment, as you are hearing me deliver this talk, sound waves in the air are causing complex events to occur in the language center of your brain and then in the remainder of your brain. But you are not rigged up to focus upon this cascade of causal events, because there is no need for it.)
Nevertheless, it remains a fact that it is solely the experience of time by those entities that are capable of having experiences at all that provides the concept of identity with any visceral content. Were no entities present capable of having experiences, one might just as well note that, if one sees an asteroid hanging around in a given place at an earlier time, one might well note an extremely similar asteroid hanging around a very nearby place at a closely subsequent time. It would certainly be the simplest theory that they were the same asteroid, but the felt conviction that a continuing asteroid had remained in existence between the two times of observation would be lacking. It must be admitted, therefore, that human introspection puts the question of the continuing reality of matter on a very different footing than it would otherwise have.
If you wish to train yourself to think like Spinoza and Lincoln, simply imagine that you are a time-traveler who has arrived back in the 21st century with a set of data disks from the 24th century setting out the entire history of the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries. Imagine that you may, at any time, go into your private stash and find out what you will be doing tomorrow; but that you already know, in a general way, that there will, in fact, be a 24th century and that it will include you getting in the time machine to come back to the 21st century. That attitude is very different from what we ordinarily consider the commonsense attitude, but it does seem to be what modern physics has been trying to tell us for a century. Furthermore, as the examples of Spinoza and Lincoln indicate, such an attitude is not inconsistent with having a very high degree of moral character.
Always remember that whatever you do is forever. Seen in the context of the four-dimensional model, there is no such thing as a temporary screw-up. Bear in mind, as one of the causal factors that impel you to make your future choices, the fact that whatever conduct you wind up choosing to exhibit is part of the permanent fabric of space-time.
I believe we have now arrived at that moment in the process of time when it is really your turn to ask me questions. Thank you.
by Robert Gulack © 2005 by Robert Gulack