The Nature of Time

David Cowles

Sep 1, 2022

Confining events within a single order of magnitude reinforces our tendency to categorize events as past, present, or future. After all, if a quantum of experience can be no more than one second long, almost everything must seem past or future from that perspective.

At first glance, our lives seem to be strings of bead-like events. No sooner have we experienced one sensation, thought, feeling, or action than another takes its place. We have a vague sense that we can string these events along a timeline and group them as past, present, or future.


But on further reflection, it is clear that this idea is absurd. Events don’t succeed one another like conscripts boarding a warship; they overlap. I am all at once aware of many sensations, thoughts, feelings, and acts; it’s hardly ever clear when one stops, and another begins.


Events are not points…or beads. Events have duration and different events have different durations, and the duration of one event necessarily overlaps with the duration of at least one other event.


The human nervous system is attuned to events that fall within a certain range, i.e., events with a duration of somewhere between one second and one-tenth of one second. If an event has a duration of less than one-tenth of a second, we normally don’t register it at all, unless perhaps as undifferentiated background.


If an event has duration of more than a second, we normally try to break it up into multiple, sequential events. Our naïve sense that events normally last a second or less has everything to do with our perceptual & cognitive apparatus and absolutely nothing to do with the nature of events themselves.


Whatever the world may be, we experience it in one second bursts. There is absolutely no theoretical reason why event duration should be confined within a single order of magnitude. On the contrary, we know that there are events with durations orders of magnitude shorter than a second and there is no reason not to assume that there are other events with durations orders of magnitude longer than a second.


Confining events within a single order of magnitude reinforces our tendency to categorize events as past, present, or future. After all, if a quantum of experience can be no more than one second long, almost everything must seem past or future from that perspective.


We need to ask a different question: How do the myriad events that constitute our lives relate to one another? Are they always laid out more or less neatly along a timeline, like clothes drying in the sun, or are more complex species of ordering possible? It turns out that any two events may relate to one another in 6 different ways:


(1) They may be tangent (i.e., sequential)

(2) They may overlap.

(3) One may be embedded in the other.


A model universe that is connected in these three ways and only these three ways does not fully account for the phenomena of connectedness (solidarity) that we experience in everyday life, or in the laboratory, so we so must continue.


In these first three modes, connectivity is a function of overlap: at a point, across a region, or in the entirety. Therefore, in these modes, connected entities do not require space or time to operate, and we do not need a concept of space or time to understand them.


On the other hand, the connectivity delivered by these three modes, even working together, is fragile, and in my view, too fragile to account for the persistent and enduring universe we experience.


This level of connectivity lacks redundancy (and therefore it lacks resiliency.) It can neither correct itself nor reinforce itself. The entire House of Cards is always ‘just one false negative’ away from total collapse.


From here on, though, things get more interesting. The final three modes of connectivity provide the glue needed to hold our world together and allow it to function as an organism:


(4) Two events (A and B) may be disjoint, but both events may overlap a common third event (C).


This is the special case of relatedness that single-handedly leads to the popular notion of “past, present, future”: when three events are connected in this way, one is commonly, if arbitrarily, thought to be in the past and one in the future of the third event (the so-called present).


In this mode, A and B do not overlap. Therefore, A and B do not directly influence one another. A and B both overlap C. Each potentially influences C and both are potentially influenced by C. Therefore, indirectly, A and B may influence one another after all, through the mediation of C.


Let’s do a deeper dive! The phenomenon of time ‘happens’ when and only when A influences B and B influences C and no other ‘influential pathways’ are operative. No reflection, no recursion, and no reciprocity; no 3 R’s.


But there is no a priori reason to assume that influences are linear. For example, influences couldrecur (as in a loop).


A could influence B and B could influence C and C could influence A. “Karma is a b*tch!” In this model, A, B, C together constitute a self-organized unity, a triangle, an uber-event snatched from the ‘flow’ of linear time.


Perhaps this is the origin of ‘societies,’ groupings of events (or entities) that function, at least sometimes, as one single coordinated entity. So-called societies include the persistent and enduring groupings we know as objects.


This phenomenon is what we call recursion; it lies at the heart of what we call identity.


Or perhaps, while A is influencing B, B is busy influencing A. This phenomenon is what we call reciprocation, and it lies at the heart of what we call relationship.


Finally, as A is influencing B, A may be influencing itself in the exact same way. “What I do unto others, I do unto myself.” This phenomenon is what we call reflection; it lies at the heart of what we call growth.


In this last case, A’s relation to B is also A’s relation to itself.


It is the contention of this essay that events are ultimately connected like the vertices of a Platonic solid (e.g., a tetrahedron), not like points on a line. Every event (node) connects with every other event, exhibiting multiple forms of connectivity in the process.


Our naïve concept of linear connectedness is valid only when confined to each individual edge of the Platonic solid, and then only when the connecting line segment is viewed as a vector.


Linear connectedness, if it’s even a thing, is a very special and limiting case of the broader, more inclusive, reality.


Imagine a child sketching a Tetrahedron on a piece of paper. She starts at a point (call it A) and draws a line segment (vector) from point A to point B. Then she draws another vector from point B to point C and so on until all 4 vertices are connected with each other by these vectors. So, what’s wrong with this? Well, first, does anyone really think this is how Tetrahedra come to be in nature?


Second, note that she cannot complete the Tetrahedron without (1) lifting her pencil off the page or (2) retracing (and reversing) a step. This should set off alarm bells everywhere. Nature does not lift its pencil off the page, nature does not retrace its steps, and nature does not reverse itself.


(5) #5 is a more generalized version of #4. We're just extending the notions of #4 to physical fields. Now we’re talking connected and disjoint light cones instead of mere regions.


If there is no single event or string of events (C) that connects the fields associated with two disjoint events (A, B), then A and B are said to be simultaneous: in the language of physics, they “lie outside each other’s light cone.”


But even simultaneous events may enjoy a species of connectedness. Two events (A, B) may lie outside each other’s light cones, but both may lie in the light cone of a common third event (C). In this case, we can say that A and B are simultaneous with respect to each other but not with respect to C.


(6) Finally, two events that lie outside each other’s light cones, which in turn are not mediated by any third light cone, may nonetheless constitute a single event. The two events are said to be entangled. The existence of this mode of connectivity (‘spooky action at a distance’) was a matter of conjecture until John Bell proved it in 1964. “Bell’s Theorem,” as it’s called, has since been verified experimentally by Alan Aspect (1971) and many others.


Is this list of possible modes of connection exhaustive? Suppose there are two events that do not enjoy any of these modes of connectedness. What can we say about such an event pair? One thing only: we must say that no such event pair exists! A and B do not exist for one another.


Looking more closely at these modes of relatedness, we can see that they fundamentally resolve into just two modes: Serial Connectedness (#1) and Embedded Connectedness (#3). The remaining modes are hybrids of #1 and #3.


This prompts further reflection. Is one mode of connectedness more fundamental, more substructural than the other? Is one a special case of the other? Does one ‘emerge’ from the other?


If we could find a phenomenon that exhibited one mode of connectivity and excluded the other mode, that would go a long way toward establishing one mode as the more general, more substructural mode. I believe we can do just that:


The 6th mode of connectedness allows two disjoint events (A and B) to function as a single event (C). The phenomenon of quantum entanglement described here requires as an absolute condition that the two disjoint events not connect (serially) with any other events.


Any sort of serial connectedness would abort the embedding event, but without an embedding event, the two embedded events would not exist in a common universe (since they would lack any connection to one another). Therefore, without quantum entanglement, Universe as we know it would not exist. Which is what John Bell proved, QED.


While we can observe the effects of quantum entanglement only under very specialized laboratory conditions, we should not conclude from that, that such events are rare. I would speculate that the Universe consists of more event pairs with “entangled connectedness” than with any other form of serial or embedded connectedness; but that is mere conjecture.


In any case, the existence of entangled connectedness is sufficient to prove that serial connectivity is not a universal characteristic of all events in the Universe. Embedded connectivity, therefore, must be the more general case of connectivity, and, therefore, the sub-structural mode!


Imagine that! A mode of connectedness not thought of before 1900 and unproven before 1964, turns out to be the primordial mode of connectedness across the universe.


Where does this leave time? It is a particular manifestation, linear and serial, of a much more varied concept of connectedness. That is the nature of time!



 

David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at david@aletheiatoday.com.


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