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Time Crystals

David Cowles

Feb 1, 2024

”Would you trade that rock you’re sporting on your finger for a crystal of time? What if I threw in Knicks tickets?”

We are used to straight lines. We love them, in fact. They make us feel comfortable…and powerful. “I can get it done!” Time lets us turn our backs on the settled past and our faces toward the undiscovered future. We are like ploughmen, churning fields and leaving furrows.

We draw a line on a map to indicate our route. It’s ‘the shortest distance’; it’s the very definition of what we value most these days: ‘efficiency’.  Who doesn’t hate connecting flights? We think of logic as a sequence of deductions, which we refer to as a ‘chain of reasoning’. So, we may be forgiven for thinking that all processes must be linear processes (LP).

A    →     B    →     C

We are even tempted to say, “What else could it be?” We have such poor imaginations! In fact, IRL nothing is ever perfectly linear. Better said: linearity approximates non-linearity. Better? “Looks straight to me” means “it’s not straight - but it’s straight enough for today’s purposes.” There are no straight lines in nature.

We’ve known, at least since Newton, that a reciprocal version of LP applies outside the realm of intentional behavior. Every action entails an equal and opposite reaction:

A         ↔         B

Lex Telonis, ‘an eye for an eye’, may have been our species’ first attempt to codify social justice. Although harsh to our ears, in its day it was an attempt to reign-in ‘street justice’. We can use the form of the LP schematic (above) to illustrate it:

A     →      B     →     A

Curiously, the much-renowned Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) relies on the same modified LP, but this time inverted:

B     →      A     →      B

Makes sense: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is the reverse of ‘Do unto others as they have done unto you’. Pay it forward…or pay it back!

It required the correction known as the Great Commandment (‘Love your neighbor as yourself’), drawn from Leviticus and Matthew, to move us off-the-line:

But that’s just us. Our Eastern cousins have understood this longer…and perhaps more deeply; they call it ‘Karma’ – we say, ‘what goes around comes around!’



This is a quantum of Pure Process (PP): A → B, B → C, C → A. I believe it is an irreducible ontological minimum. It’s also the schematic for a game you might know: Rock-Paper-Scissors

It’s the Great Mandala; “take your place” anywhere; there are no preferred spots, no asymmetries, no singularities; it has no beginning and no end. It’s a spiral – with a ‘degenerate’ 3rd dimension. The process here is not a means to an end (because there is no end). 

We mistakenly think of acts as ‘open-ended bits of string’. That is not what an act is. An act is a closed loop. An act leaves nothing to chance. It is ‘objectively immortal’; it is a settled matter of fact…but only after the fact!  It is the process of its own confection.

In school, we learned to ‘diagram sentences’ by separating the subject from the predicate; IRL that’s the one thing you cannot do! Naked subjects and naked predicates don’t just bump into one another on the dance floor; they must at least be ‘going steady’.  

Pure Process (PP) can be diagrammed differently by other thinkers in other contexts. Christians, for example, could use a similar schematic to illustrate the Trinitarian Process (TP): 


Karl Marx might have used the graphic to illustrate the Dialectical Process (DP):


Then there’s The Beatles’ variation: “I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together…” (I am the Walrus)                                                                      

There are even ways to model PP for non-orientable spaces. In common with fermions (massive subatomic particles), non-orientable spaces are characterized by 720° symmetry vs. (the 360° we’re used to):  


Jim Croce promised us ‘time in a bottle’. Well, what if I could give it to you as a crystal instead? Plain, ordinary crystals, like the Hope Diamond, for example, consist of molecules arranged in a fixed, often complex, repeating pattern. Ordinary linear space is magically transformed into a metaphorical winter wonderland. 

What if we could do the same with time? Would you trade that rock you’re sporting on your finger for a crystal of time? What if I threw in Knicks tickets? 

A time crystal is a state of matter that has periodic motion ‘built-in’ to its structure. We are used to states of matter where energy dissipates, motion slows. Stasis, aka my couch, is the Great Attractor; it is the most energy-efficient well. 

In the case of a time crystal, oscillation (motion) turns out to be more energy efficient than stasis. Crazy? I dunno. People rock from one foot to another; they bounce when they hunker, my dad could not relax unless he was fidgeting. Perhaps we are all time crystals at heart.

We are just beginning to unlock the mysteries of this new state of matter. It demonstrates what Process Philosophers (e.g., Alfred North Whitehead) have been saying forever: Process is primary, not time; time is one possible manifestation of process – but only one.

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