Time is something we live by everyday, but what really is time? Can we touch it or see it? No, of course not. We use scales and reference points to get a sense for this notion of time. But, fundamentally, time is the of things changing. Without change, there could be no time.
Buddha famously stated that life is constant change, and I continually to agree more and more.
But, before we look more into time, lets think about existence itself.
Rene Descartes was a 1600 French philosopher and is considered the father of modern western philosophy. Descartes was a radical skeptic and on his pursuit of truth he concluded only one thing that he could be certain of, “I think, therefore I am.”
This was a radical thought, but it left out certainty on the physical world existing.
Enter German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant thinks more deeply about the idea of existing and the nature of time. He realized that by saying something exists, you are really saying something exists at a precise point in time. Furthermore, he concluded that if you are existing in time, then there must be some external world that contains the notion of time.
But, how do we perceive time? You might say that we perceive it hours, months, years, and so forth, or in minutes and seconds, or whatever scale you use its really just some interval we choose to denote as “time.”
According to Webster’s dictionary, time is defined as:
“the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.”
Regarded as whole is the point I want to emphasize because this comes back to how we perceive time.
Here is an example. If I ask you want time it is, you might say 12 o’clock. If I say that is wrong and I keep asking you enough times, you might, eventually, say it is “now.” That is the answer I was really looking for. No numbers or quantitative entities.
The real lesson comes though when I keep asking you. You continually answer me that it is now and you are completely right. But, surely there is a difference between your first now response and your last. Likely, inside of you, you are now annoyed and frustrated by me.
But, the “nows” aren’t the same, yet we continually perceive that we are living in the now moment. Our whole life we do this. Every moment, we perceive ourselves to be at the forefront of our existence. Of course, then that disappears and we perceive a new moment as the new forefront of our existence. Were we wrong the first time when we said we were living in the forefront of our existence? Of course not! Were we wrong the second time, or the third or fourth time — no.
We have all heard the idea of living in the present moment but physicist Julian Barbour takes it very literally. He claims that each moment exists in its own right and that time is just simply change between these “now” moments. More can be read here:
I like to think of this theory by reflecting on TV. Most people have seen something on TV and it seems like the people are moving and speaking in real time. In reality though, TV pictures are moving about 24 frames per second. All the motion we perceive is simply small still frames speed up really quickly.
So what though? Let us say that time truly is just a series of “nows” and it is just an illusion. How does this change any part of my life?
This is where I am stuck and where I hope one of you has more of an insight.