Sitting in the northern hemisphere in the middle of the summer, as the light of day stretches over long hours, I always feel a sense of the slowness of time, a sense of expansiveness.
Then as we head toward the hottest months in my neck of the woods, September and October, no fog to provide the natural air conditioning, I sense impending change, a quickening toward the fall when nights begin to cool, and time seems to speed up.
Our sense of time is affected by the seasons, the Gregorian calendar, the contemporary work schedules that remain the same throughout the year, the tick-tock of a clock, and the changes our bodies go through as we live and age.
As technology makes it easier to access more information in a few minutes or connect with other people instantly, we also feel the sense of the pace of time itself speeding up. How do we remain healthy and live in a world in which our DNA has not evolved as quickly as our technology? We must step outside of this type of rigid time and step into sacred time—we must learn to become more fully present in each moment, to bend time, even move backward or forward in time, to stretch or shrink time as needed.
There is nothing that physically prevents us from doing this. It’s simply a choice, a perspective, and an ability that can be cultivated.
Here’s what I find interesting about time as it appears in science, specifically in physics.
The time, t, in mathematics comes with Newton’s development of differential equations, needed to mathematically predict causal relationships. If I throw the ball up in the air with a certain force, how can I predict exactly where it will land? If I observe this planet revolving around that star, how can I predict where it will be two years from now? If I want to send a man to the moon, what do I do? I bow to Newton, and I run my Newtonian equations.
Time in this sense can be a useful construct, but it is only a construct and therefore limited. Why? The goings on around us are non-deterministic, non-causal. One thing never causes another thing, but many things can cause many other things. Which event caused another event to happen cannot be determined. Experiments show that a photon takes many paths simultaneously to go from one measurement device to another. Sometimes scientists are amazed and say how can that be? Yogis and other mystics might say how could it not be? Some things are more likely to happen than others, but the probability can be changed depending on the choices we make.
From a cosmological perspective space goes out “forward and backward” “up and down” and “side to side” to the extent of the universe, all points in spacetime existing at once. Then the fourth dimension of time behaves the same, the forward and backward extent existing together, the whole existing at once.
With a small exception, the fundamental equations of science are reversible in time, including all the equations of quantum mechanics. All of chemistry and biology can be understood through the lens of quantum electrodynamics. Quantum electrodynamics describes the movement of electrons (matter) and photons (light), and their interactions.
When experiments are conducted with electrons and photons, the information that is gathered from the history of their interaction and movement depends on how the observation is conducted. This can be thought of as a person’s awareness affecting the information and understanding of the past.
In calculating the likelihood of a current observation, or describing the present moment, in order to be accurate, we must consider all the possible past histories (see Quantum Electrodynamics).
In addition, when physicists and engineers want to calculate a probability (what is more or less likely to occur), they must take the past and future wave functions, or possibilities, and combine them to come up with a current probability from a range of current possibilities.
Roughly speaking, the future combined with the past will create the NOW.
The exception I referred to above is the case in which the particle’s antiparticle is required, in addition to reversing the time variable, in order for the equations to work out. (See Note 2 of Chapter 6 regarding K-mesons and B-mesons in The Fabric of the Cosmos).
Entropy, the quantity considered in the second law of thermodynamics, seems to have direction in time. This second law is often described as “disorder is always increasing.” Examples range from milk spilling, to raw eggs breaking, to ice melting, to gases diffusing—all of these phenomena seem to naturally go in one direction, but not in the other.
What you may not often hear is that increased entropy can also be described as “things tending toward equilibrium, toward the lowest energy state possible.” Or more precisely, entropy is “the number of ways particles can be arranged in the energy states of a system.”
And yet, we observe very complex systems, complex life forms, and intricate ecosystems with a very high degree of “order.” The source of the life we see on our planet is the highly ordered, high energy, low entropy light of the sun. As the sun fuses atoms and sends us light, ecosystems develop, heat is released and entropy increases. This indicates that the overall entropy in the past must have been very low, and it turns out that this was true at the outset of the inflationary period of the expansion of the universe (what used to be called the Big Bang by cosmologists).
From the perspective of the inflationary model, the order that exists in our universe (life) must come from a small statistical fluctuation of a modest jump in energy when the universe was but a speck of life right before it burst through the inflationary period and evolved through various phases to provide the perfect conditions for our existence.
Now, there is another perspective from cosmological theory called the brane-world scenario. In this model our multi-dimensional world is linked via another dimension to another similar multi-dimensional world, and every so often (trillions of years) the two worlds collide creating the conditions that we attribute to our early universe. The cycles continue into the future and have been going on in the past. For how long and how they started is beyond current cosmological theory.
In M-theory (superstring theory) physicists translate from one description or shape of spacetime to another— each translation may have a different number of dimensions and a different shape to some dimensions. The solidness of this fabric of spacetime seems to morph and bend. From one translation or perspective physicists can see and calculate some things, and from another translation or perspective they can see and calculate other things. Finally, when physicists enter into the realm of the very small, the quantum realm, the concept of space and time used in all the fundamental equations becomes an average of space and time, an average of rapid fluctuations on this very small scale. In at least one quantum/string picture the vibrations of tiny loops create the fabric of spacetime and are not fundamentally different from the vibrations of the particles interacting with spacetime itself.
The concept of space and time spreading out in smooth lines and curves in each direction dissolves into a picture of jitters and turbulent motion in each dimension, in every direction, including time. Perhaps this is the dance of energy, different bits of energy colliding and interacting, transforming, teleporting, tunneling, and re-emerging, creating our worlds, our perceptions, our prejudices, and our choices.
The sense of time flowing seems to be a figment of our imagination, or a human interpretation of the change we experience. It is not inherent to physical spacetime, in which all moments exist at once and at the same time dance around.
So the next time you feel a sense of dread regarding time and whether or not you’re in time, on time, have enough time, or have too much time, perhaps it might help to remember the dance, to relax, and to say thank you for the moment.
Richard P. Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985).
Linda Fitch, Discussions in The Mastery of Time, The Four Winds Society, April, 2010
Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).
Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., The Yoga of Time Travel (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 2004).
(This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in August, 2010)