“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” -Borges, Labyrinths.
If you knew that all of time existed at once, would you live your life any differently?
The theory called the Block Universe states that the past, present and future are all equally real and we are only experiencing forward time…but the you that you were yesterday and five years ago is just as real as the you ten years from now and today and tomorrow. I learned about this when I was writing this piece for Vox about how our perception of time changed during Covid.
The issue many philosophers and physicists have with this theory (which I should note is supported by Einstein’s General Relativity which just makes this even more mind blowing) is that what does this mean for our free will and agency if everything that will happen has already happened? There’s something oddly comforting to me about the fact that regardless if this this theory is true or not, we still are only aware of the present moment and can only make the choice to live our way into each oncoming second and discover it for the first time.
Oddly enough the Block Universe doesn’t make me focus much on the future, regardless I don’t have access to what is going to happen in my life but my past on the other hand, now that is an interesting conundrum. If you really think about every minute that you’ve existed in this world as a slice of time and if that all is just as real as you reading this letter then how does that make you feel about who you are today, right now in this moment? Does it detract from your present or add to it? To know that you’ve always never existed and always existed and always will but always already did. (That’s a tongue twister but it makes sense I promise)
In the Vox piece I talk a little bit about what time is and I learned that it is many things. That is one reason why the word “time” is the most used noun in the English language because it has multiple definitions and values. When you love someone you give your time to them, when you want to set a date or go out you need a time in order to confirm what you’re doing, it’s also our most limited resource.
And this week we are more aware of time than ever. The country just reached our one year anniversary of lockdown from Covid and it’s brought about a lot of strange feelings. It’s weird to honor anniversaries like this which is ironic given that what’s really warped our sense of time in 2020 is that so many of those markers are gone. This is our is big marker–one year inside.
We’ve joked a lot that time is an illusion and in some cases it really is, while also being perhaps the most real part of our existence. Our ability to perceive the delineations between past, present and future is the only impediment if we are really living in a Block Universe. Perhaps the removal of our markers of time have allowed us to better connect with the illusion that they are in fact separate, when they really might not be at all.
I’ll leave you with a poem called, Clock by Linda Pastan.
Sometimes it really upsets me–
the way the clocks bands keep moving,
even when I’m just sitting here
not doing anything at all,
not even thinking about anything
except, right now, about that clock
and how it can’t keep its hands still.
Even in the dark I picture it, and all
its brother and sister clocks and watches,
even sundials, all those compulsive timepieces
whose only purpose seems to be
to hurry me out of this world.