I am always cautious about treading in fields where I have no degree. This post starts the discussion of ‘time’, which entails references to entropy (the Second Law of Thermodynamics), the arrow of time illusion, quantum uncertainty, the Special Theory of Relativity and multiple, philosophical considerations harking back to Plato and Aristotle. It should be clear that I am not about to tackle any of the above in depth, as that would entail writing a book and taking multiple, advanced mathematics courses; that is not the purpose of Soulbank. The purpose of Soulbank is to consider broadly theories of reality and consciousness that might explain ‘paranormal’ events to readers who are primarily interested in anomalous experiences. In order to do that, we MUST dive into the topic of time. Without the notion of (or the belief in) time passing, there is no death; without death, there is no afterlife to consider. Perhaps life, the ‘after’ life and death are simultaneous, yet we experience them as sequential. That is, more or less, what I hope to discuss here. The space where ghosts reside might be the same space where we reside; we are experiencing a difference because the human brain is wired that way. That does not mean that there is, in reality, a difference.
Let’s start with some key ideas regarding our perception of time passing and see how they might be connected.
- There is no inherent ‘beforeness’ or ‘afterness’ of events. Events that one individual perceives as having occurred before or after another are relative to the observer. If an observer is moving through space at a different speed than the individual perceiving an event, when event X took place will vary (Special Theory of Relativity). One’s position and movement in space will alter the perception of when an event has happened.
This places special emphasis on the individual consciousness observing events in time. The person watching events unfold is organizing and ‘collapsing’ all the possibilities in spacetime down to the measurement that the observer has chosen. How can one measure when an event happened? You could say: Event X happened 20 years ago; or, X happened before Y, but after Z; or Event X occurred a little while ago; Event X happened on October 2nd, 1982 at 5:30 PM; or, Event X will happen shortly. There are many, many ways to place an event in time, all of which are language and observer dependent. Some events require the agreement of a broad community of observes as to when in time they occurred, and most academic disciplines require a consensus on this issue in order to teach the history of the discipline. I must be able to state that Cervantes wrote Don Quijote in 1605 as a stable, unchanging fact in order for my discipline (Modern Languages) to have an authoritative story to tell that is passed on to students, who in turn will pass on the information to others, thereby cementing this fact again and again for the canon of Spanish literature.
Authority and consensus, then, become the determining factors for what is accepted as true. I can say that I saw a mountain lion in my backyard at 3:00 PM last Thursday, but if I am the only one who witnessed this event, others can only take it on faith that it happened when I said it did, according to accepted time measurement standards. However, nobody in the Western world of a certain age and education will deny that George Washington was the first president of the United States, and that his term ran from 1789 to 1797. HOWEVER . . .
Just because we agree on the dates does not mean that the dates or the time referred to has an independent existence in the past. Remove the observer(s), and you remove the reality of the event. An event may ‘happen,’ but without human consciousness fixing it in a time frame, there is no time dependent reality to it. The event happened, but when it happened depends on our system of measurement.
- The flow or ‘arrow’ of time arises from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that “the totalentropy of an isolated system can only increase over time. It can remain constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state (equilibrium) or undergoing a reversible process. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics)
Natural processes—more importantly, our perception of natural processes—are determined by the progressive disorder and dispersal of particles in a closed system. An example of this that fascinates me is aging. We all watch ourselves grow, age, and eventually die (I believe the ‘watcher’ is not the same as the ‘experiencer’). One of the biggest questions we face as humans is why we age in the first place. It appears that our telomeres degrade and shorten, which sets off a chain reaction of biological damage that the body cannot repair quickly enough. That damage results in all the external and internal signs of aging: wrinkles, sagging skin, organ failure, cancers, and all manner of disease and infirmity. This seems to happen over time, quite consistently. In fact, using our measurement tools, we can say with some certainty at what age certain illnesses are likely to show up and when your crow’s feet will exceed one millimeter in depth. We have hitched our conscious measurement of time passing to the natural effects of entropy in the body. We measure time as a biological process that takes us from birth to death; what we are measuring is ENTROPY, and entropy is not a fundamental property of the physics underlying our reality:
“But if we look in detail at these arrows, they seem to all boil down to the thermodynamic arrow: entropy increases. Systems in states of low entropy evolve to be in states of higher entropy. If a room starts neat, with everything piled up in one corner, eventually things will be spread out all over. This is the celebrated second law of thermodynamics that the entropy of an isolated system increases until the entropy is at a maximum.
And since the universe started at the Big Bang in a state of low entropy (everything piled up into one corner) the Big Bang becomes “the Mother of all Arrows of Time”. The directionality of time that we see is a side effect of the initial conditions of the universe, not something fundamental.”
Let me pause to let that sink in. The directionality of time is a “side effect of the initial conditions of the universe, not something fundamental.” In other words, we have ordered, organized and understood our lives based on a notion of time passing that is NOT FUNDAMENTAL TO REALITY. We correlate aging and death with time passing because it always seems to work that way, yet what we are actually doing is making entropy our time-measurement tool. Aging and death do not define time passing; they correlate to a side effect of an event that happened very, very far away. However, entropy as viewed from the point of view of nature (and the following are my ideas only, subject to revision and criticism as needed) appears to be a self regenerating process; it doesn’t move forward inexorably, but renews itself and plays out the low to high cycle again and again. All of nature—including us, since we are a part of this system on the material level—moves through cycles and seasons. This circular nature of material reality might have its parallel in time. If time also moves in cycles of renewal and regeneration, then it would be following what entropy appears to be doing: allowing for the infinite recreation of forms. Time and entropy are not then moving relentlessly forward, but moving in regenerative cycles that allow for new realities to appear. Perhaps entropy really isn’t important here as a definition or explanation for time, but simply important for our perceptions. Yet, if we wish to move beyond perceptions, then we need to stop referring to an illusory arrow of time, arbitrarily linking it to entropic aging, and start thinking about more fundamental ways in which events happen in or out of ‘time’.
- Here’s another quote from John Ashmead: “In his Time and the Inner Future: A Temporal Approach to Psychiatric Disorders, Frederick Melges, a practicing psychiatrist, discusses at length the connections between problems with time perception (of duration, of sequence, of the relationship between past, present, and future) and various psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, depression, mania, paranoia, and others. Melges quotes a paranoid physicist saying: “Time has stopped, there is no time… The past and the future have collapsed in to the present, and I can’t tell them apart.” Given that this statement is also is essentially a description of the block universe view, it appears that there is only a single step from our mathematics to madness! Care will be required.”
Past, present and future are effects of human consciousness, according to the “Block Universe” theory of events. We have to perceive events as happening in a sequence, or we would go insane, seeing all possible events and outcomes as happening right now. It is unsettling to think that those suffering from these various disorders of human perception are actually witnessing the universe as it actually is; but it makes clear why we see time the way we do. We can only process information sequentially and partially. We cannot ‘take in’ more information than our brain has equipped us to handle. If we do, the result is an inability to function in this world. Neuroscience has demonstrated that we filter and block information in order for us to focus on what is important and necessary, often a function of serving the needs of the predator. If you are hunting something, your peripheral vision fades away as unnecessary. By the same token, you need to order your experiences into before, now, and after or risk information overload. Our need to order experience in a temporal sequence is a function of biology, not of fundamental reality. We consistently confuse our needs as animals with the true nature of spacetime. What was, what is and what will be are always already ‘out there,’ but our consciousness orders events a particular way: tied to entropy. There are other ways we could organize events, but Western culture has chosen entropy. We can’t assume that all cultures at all ‘times’ have used entropy in this fashion. Aging and death as the ultimate tools for time measurement is probably culturally specific.
- “It is the act of observing the universe that triggers its time evolution. . . If nobody is looking, the Universe can be in any of the possible arrangements: it is only when observed that one, and only one of them is picked up. At this point, the Second Law kicks in, generating the arrow of time. It may not be just a coincidence that one of the basic properties of consciousness is to tell the past from the future of an observer.” –Riccardo di Sipio
This quote fascinates me, as it combines the Second Law, the arrow of time and consciousness. Instead of the “Big Bang” setting off the arrow, it’s our conscious mind that creates the Second Law, therefore creating past, present and future. We collapse the wave function of an eternalized ‘when’ into before, now or after by simply measuring time. Again, we create time by measuring or observing it. If we create time, can we stop it? If we stop it, can we then thwart the process of entropy and therefore never die? That seems unlikely for material bodies and the natural world. Entropy will always destroy and create, create and destroy; the trick is not to perceive yourself as a lump of material subject to dispersal. If consciousness is not part of the natural world of bodies and materials, then it is not subject to entropy. If consciousness is not subject to entropy, then it does not disperse into randomness. It remains intact, organizing and ordering experience. Death would be another event in the natural world that requires understanding and temporal ordering by a consciousness that has been engaged in that activity all along.
If entropy is not time, if consciousness triggers the universe and time evolution, if consciousness IS THE FUNDAMENTAL PROPERTY OF REALITY, then material processes are incidental and malleable. If material processes are incidental and malleable, then even if all events are ‘out there’ to be ordered by us, those events are still subject to alteration by consciousness. There are many ways to interpret what we call ‘past events’ (or, events that we have access to via memory and a consensus community) and many ways to experience ‘future events’ (or events that we do not have access to in this present moment). One of the big objections to the block theory of time or Eternalism is that there is no room for free will; yet, I don’t see why not.
If the past, the present and the future are already ‘out there,’ and only require our collective and personal consciousness to call them into order, that doesn’t mean that the events of ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ are written in stone. They are more like a cloud of possibilities that we collapse into one choice, one reality. We can do this on a personal level, or we can do this on a collective level: the consensus community might operate via quantum entanglement, all of us instantaneously calling up the reality that makes sense for our need to organize, understand, sequence and create history via narrative.
For now, the takeaway is that consciousness cannot be relegated to the world of material bodies and so identified with them that it believes it ceases to exist via the properties of entropy. That isn’t just some New Age blog writer with an affinity for ghosts stating that. It’s the converging opinion of some prominent physicists and other scientists (not all, of course, and I’m sure that there are plenty of physicists out there happy to shoot me down).
For those of you looking for how the preceding understanding of time and events might relate to what we call ‘ghosts,’ that is the subject of the very next post. It’s lunch time. The brain has told me as much, and it’s always a good idea to listen to your brain about such basic needs as eating a cheeseburger.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD