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12. Transient time

Another deeply entrenched belief is that of a linear, transient or protracted time that seems to pin down our present experience into a stream of moments already past and moments yet to come. In doing so, we forget that the so-called past consists only of memories which, like expectations about the future, are only thoughts that arise in the single, present, changing moment. The past is only in the memory and thus gives rise to knowledge. The future is everything we don't know yet. In fact, there is neither a past, nor a future, nor a present. You cannot grasp the present because it has already changed.

Of course, everything that happened did happen, but that too happened NOW, just like what happens tomorrow or in the next second also happens NOW (and I will not abolish my calendar). In THIS moment the complete history of the universe is taking place. In this moment we can look at stars and galaxies that are billions of years old. The "Big Bang" is happening right now!

This moment of experience is, always, the origin.

This illusion, the belief in passing time, is also difficult to see through. We live with the clock and our calendar. Yet we also know that 10 minutes in the dentist's chair pass very differently than 10 minutes in the arms of our beloved. Perception of time duration is purely subjective. In a dream of half an hour of clock time, days can pass.

The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant saw time (and also space) as an a priori, subjective form of intuition that structures our experience. He argued that time is not an external entity, but a necessary framework through which we perceive and understand the world.

For Kant, time is not derived from our sensory experiences, but rather a fundamental aspect of our mental faculties. It is a pure intuition that exists within us and enables us to order and rank our perceptions. Time, according to Kant, is a universal and necessary condition for the possibility of experience. Kant distinguishes between phenomena, which are the objects of our sensory experience, and noumena, which are things as they are in themselves, independent of our perception. For Kant, time belongs to the realm of phenomena and is a subjective framework imposed by our cognitive faculties. It is not a property inherent in the noumenal world.

Even in modern physics, people are beginning to question the existence of time:

"This distinction between past and future is not present in the basic grammar of the world. It arises only because we have an imprecise vision of reality."

Carlo Rovelli

Time is often treated as a kind of fundamental substance. But the more scientists investigate time, the more the idea that it is a substantial property of the universe turns out to be false. We create a sense of time flowing by in a world where it does not physically exist. This relativizing effect of time is consistent with what scientists have observed at the quantum level. When you study the behavior of the smallest physical quantities in the universe, as Carlo Rovelli does in "The Order of Time", you quickly discover that there is no evidence for time. Instead, quantum physics suggests that the sense of ordered, flowing time may well be purely the result of our human perspective. We cannot possibly register all the quantum fluctuations that occur at any given moment, so our interaction with the world becomes partial; we see a vague version of it. In a world without time, we seem to create it - and that process is highly personal.

Carlo Rovelli:

"A big aspect – the key aspect – of the way we have this sense of flowing time is actually related to our emotions. We don't have an emotionally neutral relationship with time. Time passes and takes things away from us; it gives us life and takes time away from us. So there is a big emotion of time.

"But this presents physics with a major problem. If the whole endeavor of science is to explain the world in the most objective way possible, how can we respond to this idea of time as a largely emotional construct?

"In science we try to clean up from emotions—but if we do that we fail to understand what time is. Understanding time, to a large extent, becomes understanding the way we work – the way our brain and consciousness works – and that's why the problem of time is so fascinating."

John Archibald Wheeler:

"No space. No time. Heaven did not hand us the word 'time'. Man invented it… If there are problems with the concept of time, they are of our own creation…as Einstein put it, 'Time and space are modes by which we think, and not conditions in which we live.'"

Wheeler, J.A., 'Information, physics, quantum: The search for links'

In his book "The Case Against Reality", the cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman argues that time and space are symbolic categories that set up a kind of container similar to the graphic "desktop" of a computer. The things we perceive are mere "icons" on this desktop. The propagtion of DNA, or "evolution" is the force behind this development. It creates an environment for us that is not in the first place a truthfull representation of the outside world, but one that is the most fitting for our survival.