Time, the Universe, and Belief

The Universe

So I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 7am. Usually I don’t remember my dreams, but occasionally, when they are particularly vivid and when I am woken up suddenly, I will remember little pieces of my dreams. For example, this morning I remember that my dream seemed to be a mix of the television show House and Harry Potter. I particularly remember Olivia Wilde (she played the character “13” on House) holding a wand and shouting some incantation as Hugh Laurie stood nearby wearing flowing robes and smirking.

It must have been an interesting dream. Too bad I only remember flashes of it.

But sometimes life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes the things we enjoy seem to flash past us in the blink of an eye, while the things we wish we didn’t have to deal with seem to drag on for eons. These days, time seems to move the fastest for me when I am actually physically moving. I had my Tai Chi class yesterday and it seemed as if the hour-long session actually took 10 minutes. It just breezed past. I also seem to accelerate through time during my meditation. It isn’t because I fall asleep, because that hasn’t actually happened in a while. I think it is because at times I may be escaping the flow of time.

I know I have discussed this idea of time as being relative or just a construct of the human consciousness. Yes, I know I am returning to a familiar theme. But after watching The Dark Knight Rises last night, and having had a discussion over dinner a couple days ago, the theme of time keeps popping up.

And you know how I feel about things that keep popping up. (If you don’t, read When the Universe Speaks)

So back to time. We may have quantified our idea of time, but in reality, we don’t know a whole lot about it. Is it a dimension like the three spatial ones we live in? If it is, why is it that we can move forward/back, left/right, up/down, but only forward in time? Is time truly woven together with space to form a fabric of space-time? Sure, that seems to make sense, but perhaps there is actually no time at all, perhaps there is only space, and time is just another measurement of distance…

And those are just the questions that assume a standard, three spatial dimensions plus one time dimension and assume the physical universe is limited to the things we can experience with our senses and prove with repeatable, measurable experimentation (in other words, a completely scientific universe).

If we dispense with those assumptions, that yields more questions:

Does time exist at all? Is time linear or is it merely uncountable billions of isolated moments, none of which are inherently connected, which our mind puts into a logical sequence based on its need for a logical universe? How can we explain time if there are truly men and women with the power to bi-locate? What about people who seem to experience the feelings, dreams, and thoughts of other people from thousands of miles away with no time interval? What about déjà-vu…perhaps we are experiencing the same moment in time twice because time has recycled itself?

Here is one of my favorite ideas, which I have partially co-opted from one of my favorite Science Fiction books, Children of the Mind (written by Orson Scott Card, from the Ender’s Game series):

Imagine that the universe is like a big balloon. When it exploded into being billions of years ago, it began expanding, and has been expanding ever since. When you think about it that way, if you started from the edge of the balloon and began travelling inward, you would never reach the center of the universe because the universe would be expanding outward faster than you could travel inward.

But what if that outer surface of the balloon had no space or time attached to it. And what if every single point inside the balloon were attached to a point on the outer surface? And further, what if we could travel to the outside surface of that balloon briefly and then return inside?

That may be complicated, so let me tell you what that model of the universe implies. It implies that if one were to travel to this “outside” universe where there is no time or space, and one could then return “inside”, then they would be able to instantly travel from one point inside to outside then back inside at any other point they wanted, including other points in time. Because time and place do not exist in the outer universe, it is like the outer surface of that balloon is actually just one single point. So when you travel there, you suddenly have the ability to return inside to anywhere.

That is an interesting idea. What is even more interesting about this particular model is that Card writes that this outer place also contains the primal forms for all beings and all matter. Imagine that everything, plants, rocks, water, people, animals, everything we know had a soul. Imagine that all of those souls (called aias in this book) had to be called from outside. So when we are born, our body calls forth an aia from this outer world to reside in our bodies and to control the billions of living cells inside us.  Imagine that there are different types of aias, some that are more suited to being the control center of a tree, perhaps, while some are more suited to a particular type of human or animal. In this book series, there are alien species, and one of them is a hive species, with queens that control millions of smaller, less intelligent organisms. And the aia that their species must call from outside for a new hive queen must be incredibly powerful. But the best and most interesting part of this idea is that the aias of all things are intertwined.

However, the aias of most things are tied to the planet they live on. Rocks, trees, animals…they are intimately connected with their world. But humans and perhaps other sentient species are tied to one another in a complex web of light, and that we are also tied to the stars somehow.

I have always thought that this is a beautiful picture of our universe. All people are tied to one another, no matter their race, gender, circumstances, or even, shall I say, species. And the web of interconnected souls also reaches up to touch the stars.

Lovely.

But I have gone on a huge sidetrack from where I was meaning to go.

I was meaning to return to the idea of time and how we don’t really know a lot about it. I was going to tell you how time was a significant theme in The Dark Knight Rises, and I was going to question our assumptions that we move consistently in one direction through time.

But this post ended up with me just describing this inside/outside model of existence for you, and I think that I must have been meant to write about that after all.

I would love to hear some comments from you about how you think of time, and how you experience time itself. Perhaps some of you have had moments like I have where you seem to temporarily suspend or transcend the flow of time? Perhaps some of you have other, even more interesting models of the universe to share with me?

I’d love to hear from you all, and remember, I am treating this topic with a mind as open as I can make it to all possibilities. I don’t care how “out-there” your ideas are, I will respect them. And, of course, although I accept the possibility that this inside/outside model of the universe might be real, I don’t necessarily believe it is real. I just like the idea, and like to think about these types of things.

And with that I will close by saying that I suppose I don’t truly know what I believe. I know that I believe we are all connected somehow. I believe that time is not linear, although I don’t know the true nature of time. I believe that the universe is greater than the sum of its parts, greater than that which we can see, hear, feel, smell, touch and taste. But the true nature of existence is something I am still discovering and probably will be learning about my entire life.

I want to challenge you all to challenge your own assumptions about life and the world we live in. I want to challenge you to think about new ideas and accept them as possible even if you disagree or don’t believe in them.

It is hard, but it is worth it.

Thanks for putting up with this post as it meandered all over the place!

Peace to you,

-Nathan

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One response to “Time, the Universe, and Belief

  1. I have often wondered some of the same things. Especially de’ja’vu… It seems like “blip” in our brains and/or time. It’s like momentarily traveling forward in time, and then backward again in the same instance that you don’t even remember it happening, and you are only left with a very real sense of “this has happened before.” Time and the universe also makes me wonder about destiny and fate, and if it were possible to travel, what would happen to our free will? We could almost be immortal, if you will, because as soon as we make a mistake that could cost our lives, we simply get a do-over and fix it! I’m not sure if I would like that opportunity. Sure there are many things I have done that given the chance, I would have made a different choice, but then again my life wouldn’t be the same, nor hold that thrill of mystery and the unknown that is also exciting and worth living for and exploring… I could go on and on, because I love this kind of thinking! Thanks for such a cool post. 🙂

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