The Illusion of Tomorrow
There is no future of which we can speak, tomorrow never gets here, so we have only one choice
There is no future of which we can speak; tomorrow never gets here, so we have only one choice.
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My son, Cian, came down to the kitchen this morning and asked me, “what day is it today?” I played with him for a while.
“It’s today”, I said.
“No, Dad, really, what day is it?”
“It’s today”, I said again. “it’s always today. There’s never a day when it’s not today.”
This was my usual from-the-back-pocket answer to their questions; what time is it, or what day is it?
He became a little intolerant, so I answered, “they call it Wednesday Cian”.
When they were younger, as I interacted with them and watched them play, it was very apparent they had not yet accepted a concept of time. Time seemed utterly meaningless to them.
When they were younger, I’d often observe that familiar quizzical look on their faces as Joanne, and I would try to explain to them what tomorrow, next week or next month meant.
So, as parents do when trying to explain things to youngsters in terms of time, we converted days until the holidays or that trip to the movies into the number of sleeps.
Kids can account for a small number of apparent discrete events such as the moment when it’s time to go to bed, mealtimes or some other repeated behaviour, so this works well.
For children, their reality it seems contains only a present moment. Free from the tyranny and constraint of time, they can get on with things. They become lost in their activity with no sense of or anxiety about what they “should” be doing.
Children are free, and that’s enviable.
So What’s Going On?
What’s going on in all of this exchange is that we are offering them a system of measurement, a means by which they can formulate a cognitive representation of their real-world experience. This representation allows them to interact with the rest of us under the terms that we adults have established. It enables us to do business, arrange meetings and parties, go on holidays and tell stories and get things done.
We, humans, have been doing this for our entire existence, and it continues to evolve. Remarkable, in that, we seem to be the only animal that does this — although I could be wrong.
We lay our physical bodies onto the world of experience, and we measure ourselves against it. Inches, feet, yards, millimetres, centimetres, meters, weight, temperature, light, direction, they are all means by which we form a relationship between what we perceive ourselves to be, and the physical world.
“Michele has left this strange world a little before me. This means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction made between past, present and future is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion.” — Albert Einstein, in a letter to Michele Besso’s daughter
In reality, there is no distance, just as there is not time, heat, light, direction, etc. These are merely abstract ideas that we form. They are how we realise our existence through the phenomenon of relationship.
We have, through the advancement of technology, mistakenly come to believe that time is universal, that it exists as an immovable and measurable quantity that exists objectively.
But we are grossly mistaken.
Time is subjective, not objective. If I live in the mountains and you live at sea level, I will literally age slower than you. Extrapolate this scientifically measurable phenomenon to a planetary scale, and there will be years in the difference to which you and I age.
There is no universal now. Now is subjective. There is a Now for you, and there is a Now for me, there is a Now for every point of consciousness that exists in the universe — rocks, trees, snails, dogs, the ocean. And by extension, there must be a universe for every point of consciousness; an infinite, on-off, fractal multiverse.
The relationship that a blowfly has with its world is very different from my relationship with the world of my experience. If I try to swat the blowfly as it speeds around my kitchen as I’m desperately trying to keep it from landing on my ham sandwich, I’m going to have a difficult time. Because the blowfly is moving so fast in relationship to me. My concept of time and my anticipation of it needs to be very sharp if I am to swat that blowfly successfully. For the common blowfly, I must be moving at a frustratingly slow pace, just like a snail moves from my perspective.
But I am, of course, limited by the extents of my sensory equipment. Best thing I can do is eat the sandwich before the blowfly gets a chance to land on it. Or keep the windows closed.
“Things change only in relation to one another. At a fundamental level, there is no time.” — Carlo Rovelli
Our interactions and relationships with one another and the environment seem to work well on the surface. However, in all of this exchange, there is an underlying dysfunction.
We believe it’s real.
We are completely immersed in our concepts of time and space. We myopically absorbed with the contents of our conscious waking minds that we have become lost from ourselves and one another.
We believe entirely in the illusion, in the abstractions of measurement and have lost our individual relationship with life. We believe money is real, and time is real, our status and jobs are real. The truth is they are merely representations of the real thing, not the real thing itself.
And so, with this screwed up idea of what we are, we justify all kinds of craziness. Choosing to work instead of attending our kid’s birthday party, pursuing staus instead of accepting who we are, and dropping bombs on people we normalise.
And in this, we never really get to it.
As the old saying goes; tomorrow never gets here. When we remember that, really get into what that means, we realise that there’s nothing else to consider.
Our only choice, if we are to survive as a species, is for us to escape the prison of the concept of linear time. If we can’t, we’ll keep chasing ghosts.
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act, — act in the living Present! Heart within, and God o’erhead!
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life
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