Time Does Not Exist: Let’s Reclaim Our Timeless Creative Space
All of us feel the pressing influence of time on our creativity. But quantum gravity suggests time is not what it seems. So perhaps we can…
All of us feel the pressing influence of time on our creativity. But quantum gravity suggests time is not what it seems. So perhaps we can regain control of life and work.
It’s strange, we all get this feeling of a lack of time yet we can never really explain it, touch it, see it or feel it. What is this thing we call time, this thing of which we seem to have so little?
Time is a concept, a rule, a mathematical constant, a social convention we use to measure ourselves and the things we make against the world. Time is a representation of relativity, a measure of one worldly phenomenon against another in a place called here and now. Personal time is subjective. Universal time is abstract. However, according to Quantum Gravitational Scientist, Carlo Rovelli, there is no such thing as universal time, a reliable constant that exists independent of the observer.
Time seems to pass linearly one way or another — left to right, front to back, up or down. In the western industrialised world, we hold the wholly-embedded idea that we live along this line reaching back to the past, through the present and on into a mysterious future. We are born, we live our lives along this line of subsequent events, one creating or leading to the next, then we die. But some people don’t experience time this way.
In some eastern cultures, time is conceived in a stack, one experience on top of the other. Other cultures see time as a scatter of events like a random array of dots on a page. Anthropologists believe the ancient Egyptians saw time as a continuously repetitive cycle linked to the birth and death of their Pharoh, a cycle in which they lived. The Native American Hopi tribe made famous by studies of their culture and language by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf see no time. Their language has no verbs that represent a concept of time. They appear to live in an ever-present moment.
The Hopi concept of time is interesting because it seems to me that time becomes something different depending on what I am doing. When I am immersed in my work, there is no time, and when I come back out of it, by all conventional accounts, time seems to have passed. It appears that only upon reflection and remembering that this thing I call time exists for me.
Maybe if I were reared in the Hopi culture, that wouldn’t be the case.
The modern idea of time exists as an arbitrary concept based on the relationship between the earth’s rotation and its path around the sun. In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII tasked his scientists with unifying the people of the Christian world under a single system of time. This became known as the Gregorian Calendar, the one we use today. Before that, days, weeks and months varied depending on where you lived.
But the Gregorian Calendar is not accurate. It’s out by just less than one-quarter day per year, so we’ve got to add one whole day every four years to make up for it — the leap year. But even that’s not sorting it out because the relationship between the spinning earth and its path around the sun doesn’t fit. By adding one day every four years, we overdo it by 11 mins resulting in another correction required in every 128 years. And the problem goes deeper still.
The cultural renaissance period of the 14th to 17th century came and went and as the industrial revolution arrived travel between cities became faster. But the lack of a unified concept of time led to problems. Every town and city in Europe had a clock tower that displayed mid-day according, of course, to where the sun was in the sky for that particular town or city. Mid-day was different depending on where you lived. This wasn’t an issue for people travelling on horseback, but as rail transport developed, it became one.
Trains travelling across Europe were leaving and arriving at different times, and this caused real problems for passengers and rail companies. Long story short, the scientific power centres of Europe and the rest of the world had to come to an agreement, which they did. This is even though the “time of day” is quite unique for every person on the planet. Few contemplated this problem until Einstein’s papers on general and special relativity blew the whole thing wide open.
Einstein suggested that space, gravity, and time were curved. Consequently, time was shown to move quicker the further you are away from the mass of an object in spacetime such as the earth. The closer you were to the centre of gravity, the denser the gravitational waves and slower time is for you. This phenomenon has been proven in modern times using precise atomic clocks. So much so that a difference in time can be recorded between a clock on a table and a clock placed on the floor. Time, therefore, is not a fixed container within which we exist. Like gravity, it bends and flexes, expands and contracts according to the density of objects such as planets around which it exists. Quantum gravitational physicist Carlo Rovelli says in his book Reality Is Not What It Seems;
“As we abandon the idea of space as an inert container, similarly, we must abandon the idea of time as an inert flow along which reality unfurls… we must think of time istead as a localised phenomenon: every object in the universe has its own time running, at a pace determined by the local gravitational field.”
It’s all a bit paradoxical, isn’t it? On the one hand, we have our linear experience of the growth and decay of things telling us time exists. Then there’s our creative experience, those times when we immerse ourselves in our work, where time seems to speed up, slow down, or even completely disappear.
So does time exist or not?
Consider that at this moment, it is what we call daytime somewhere on this planet. At the same moment, it is what we call night on the opposite side of the world. The clocks will tell a different time, but it is the same moment. It gets light outside, and it gets dark. It gets cold, and it gets warm. The wind will blow or maybe it won’t. Change is constant, but it is always now.
As you read earlier, we manipulate the clock and calendar to make things uniform, and it creates the impression that reality is universal — but perhaps it’s not. Where you and I witness the same event or collaborate on a project, it may be merely that our spheres of experience are overlapping. Like a 3D Venn diagram, you have your unique experience of an event, and I have mine, but where we overlap we have common ground.
Our modern concept of time appears to be a psychological one, linear and continuous. Collectively and individually, we believe that the past created today and today will create tomorrow. It seems that causes bring about effects, and so it goes creating the history of our lives.
Consider instead that what we think, say and do now creates everything — effects bring about causes. When we contemplate the past or imagine the future, we do it now, at this moment. Every experience you’ve ever had or indeed will have, you will have now. Therefore, the past you think you know continually changes based on your right now thought about it. As you contemplate your future, be it good or bad, you do it now, pre-paving the way for yourself.
Thoughts, beliefs and ideas are shared amongst the collective, and so we create a collective consciousness. It is in that collective mind that worldwide events materialise and play out.
It is an interesting concept.
Perhaps time exists on one level of thought and on another, it does not. Maybe there is a place for time in creative work just like there is a place for a ruler, a hammer or a weighing scales. Then when we’re done with it, we can put it away.
However, if we want to access creative inspiration, I believe there is no place for a concept of time. If time must come into play in our creative process, then it must be used by us, rather than the other way around. Therefore, one of our most significant challenges as creatives is finding the quiet internal space where we can isolate ourselves from its influence.
In the realms of quantum gravity, Carlo Rovelli suggests that time and space do not exist. Then all of a sudden, at our particular level of existence, they do. So there’s no getting away from it, whether we want to believe in time or not, we’ve got to work with it.
So, better perhaps that we learn to control and dictate to it, rather than it controlling and dictating to us.
I just can’t see a life worth living with things the other way around.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters