Swimming At The Deep End Of Time

Deep time is linear time. Any conception of depth involves a top and a bottom and a plumb line dropping between.

We humans experience time as linear because our perceptual apparatus is built that way. Physics strips out the errors and contingencies of fleshly perception, using maths to investigate the universe. In the whole of physics there is just one equation that is unidirectional: the thermodynamic equation for entropy. This is the only equation that cannot be run backwards as well as forwards, and thus it is the only equation that distinguishes between past and future.

This means that time’s arrow only flies in physics when there is a progression from less disorder (low entropy) to more disorder (high entropy). In other words, the passage of time is no more nor less than an increase in disorder.

The flame burns the incense. The powder turns into smoke. The smoke rises and swirls and drifts away. The ash falls as the flame burns out. Heat turns to cold. That’s entropy.

And this is where the problem of human perception comes in. What looks to us like “more” or “less” disorder depends on the kinds of order we can detect with our perceptual apparatus. We can perceive some forms of order but not others. “Increased disorder” is just a rearrangement of things into a different kind of order that we can’t see.

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases over time.

So entropy is a product of humans’ blurred perception of reality. Which means that time itself is a product of our blurred perception of reality. We experience time’s arrow because we’re too short-sighted to see properly. We are not in contact with full reality. Or at least, not at our current level of perceptual evolution.

In certain states of consciousness you might intuit another order. A shaft of sunlight captures the smoke and holds it suspended. The light becomes a vivarium. The smoke trembles and shimmers there, an exhalation from another dimension that breathes right here beside you. Reality teems beyond your apprehension.

You think you want more reality? You’ve had nothing yet, so you can’t have more. Or I mean you can’t have less. It’s very easy to have more than nothing. Well, nobody asked my opinion. But let’s have some more perspective on this. Let’s step back from the general fuck-up, by which I mean, let’s step back from time.

Take some more tea…

Human consciousness is time consciousness. If you think your reality is just one reality among others, you’ve missed the mark. If you think your consciousness is just one consciousness among others, you’ve missed the boat. It’s sailed without you, but it’s going nowhere.

You feel time’s passing as a speck of life in a limitless ocean. The ocean does not exist in time; the ocean itself is not time. The ocean contains a million billion times, a million billion specks. They appear and disappear, just as time appears and disappears.

Reality has neither time nor timelessness. You walk in the forest and you’re stumbling across the wrinkled palm of a golden giant. Time rises and passes like smoke in a shaft of sunlight, but the sky remains when even the sun has fallen into entropy.

Each one of us humans is time, and all of us times are connected to one another’s time, but the connection is not a line that runs backwards or forwards, up or down, deep or shallow. It’s the connection of smoke to itself as it rotates in light.

I know that I’ve expressed this poorly. I apologise. I’m still only a humble time being, speaking with a fleshly mouth that cannot help but grow cold. Yet.

Zen master Dogen, circa 1250 CE

Do not think flowing is like wind and rain moving from east to west. The entire world is not unchangeable, is not immovable. It flows. Flowing is like spring. Spring with all its numerous aspects is called flowing. When spring flows there is nothing outside of spring. Study this in detail. Spring invariably flows through spring. Although flowing itself is not spring, flowing occurs throughout spring. Thus, flowing is completed at just this moment of spring. Examine this thoroughly, coming and going.
– Dogen, 1240 CE

Parts of this blog post have been adapted from my previous post Reality Is Not What It Seems.

Image credits: Milky Way In The Valley Of The Gods by John Fowler, licensed under CC-BY-2.0. All other images in the public domain.

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