Time... time?

Source: Wikipedia.

Here is an intellectually entertaining thought for this special Sunday in the Christian world. Easter brings to mind rebirth, which is inextricably linked to the notion of time. Maybe for this reason time was on my mind this morning, a question ringing in my head as I still lay in bed: Does time really exist?

We divide time logically into three segments: past, present and future. It is fairly straightforward to conclude that past and future do not really exist but as notions in our minds. After all, the past is but a memory, while the future is but an expectation. Only the present stands a chance of being really 'out there.' This much is pretty clear, isn't it? So only through the present can time be said to be real. But where precisely is the present?

We could say that the present is today, while the past is yesterday and the future is tomorrow. Yesterday is a memory and tomorrow is an expectation, so both exist only in mind. But today is really there, isn't it? Well, if you come to think of it, today is quite a long period of time. Within today there is last hour, this hour, and next hour. Last hour and next hour only exist in mind. Only this hour is really there. Or is it? After all, within this hour there is last minute, this minute and next minute. Well, you know where I am going with this.

You could say that the present is a very short moment squeezed in between a growing past and an approaching future. But even that would be too generous to the present: it isn't merely very short; it is shorter than anything you could state it to be, because any period of time, of any length whatsoever, would still contain past and future. The present is infinitely short, so it isn't really there. If you try to pin down the present moment by saying 'Now!', by the time your mouth begins to move to say it, it's already gone into the past and exists merely as a memory. The conclusion is inescapable: the present doesn't exist but as an idea in our minds.

So we find ourselves arriving at an interesting conclusion: the past is a memory; the present is an idea; the future is an expectation. They all exist merely in mind. None of them is real in the sense of really being 'out there.' And since there is nothing to time but past, present and future, clearly time doesn't exist 'out there,' but is merely a mental construct. Mind invents time.

No, really, time is merely an invention of mind. What else could it be?

Happy Easter!


  1. I think the present is the most real, because however infinitely small it is, it is only in the present that anything can actually happen.

    1. Notice that my argument is that time is in mind, instead of being 'out there'... not that it doesn't exist in any form. ;) In that sense, I agree with you.

    2. Wonderful Mind blowing thoughts. Bernardo. Thank you!

      The timing of this blog entry is perfect for me. Yesterday, April 19, 2014, so to speak, I found a portal into Mind and out of time.

      There are other energy fields starting precisely where Mind begins and all else disappears. All else, which we see as matter, form, this world, all-important, is merely the exact projection (illusion) that we are making.

      I experienced this, and shared this experience.

      No, I was not on mushrooms or acid :-)

      It was not Nirvana, this alternate energy field. In fact, I was hesitant and reluctant to embrace it because you can't see BOTH "worlds". Its hard to let go of this one, even insane and unreal as it is.

      But I've had a small taste of something that is to be. A Bodhotsava took me by the (Spiritual) hand and led me across a portal.

      I can say through personal experience now that what your writing points towards, defines, postulates, and patiently explains, is Reality which, by definition, is both Tue and Real.

      Greg and I are enjoying your latest book, "Why Materialism is Balcony". "Magnificent!" and "Brilliant!" are frequent exclamations as we read. This is your best book yet, without a doubt.

      We are grateful for your gifts both of clarity of mind and of amazing writing skills.

      Kathleen and Greg Koehlmoos

    3. Two words autocorrected into objuscation above: "balcony" should be "balony" and "bodhotsavva" should be "Bodhisattva".

    4. Obfuscation, obfuscation! Indeed!

      I give up.

  2. Paul Brunton has an excellent exercise along the lines of what you write.

    Through the day, practice bringing to mind that all that has happened in the "past" (so called past!) is now a memory (that is, it is thoroughly mental). All that might happen in the "future" (so called future!) is also an idea, in the mind.

    And most important, at each moment of the (so called) present, be mindful that it will also as soon as it passes be a memory (thoroughly mental).

    A number of things happen as this is practiced more intensely. Rather than waiting for the "present" to pass and "then" become mental, the present is more and more viscerally experienced as being of the nature of mind (or Mind, if you like).

    A more powerful result of this practice is one begins to experience a profound stillness, stability, and rather than being carried along a stream of ever changing "time" - change occurs against a backdrop of utter stillness.

    In case this sounds like a duality, it is only in my clumsy words. There is no separation between the stillness and movement. in fact, stillness is woven through every fibre, every atom of movement. One sees that neither can exist without the other.

    how cool is that!!:>))

    1. I'll confess to a secret weakness: I have difficulties with the experiential realization of the very things I am intellectually convinced of. So this could be an excellent exercise for me... will try. Thanks, Don!

  3. time is an illusion, does it take time to cross the road? Take as much time as you like, if you just stand there, time does not get the job done!It takes movement (of energy), We use time to measure this movement, to give validity to the separate "me", I.E. I got up at 8 and had breakfast at 9,etc, so we seek the continuity of separateness (Me,I) through the measurement of time, without this measurement, the brain cannot uphold the illusion of separateness, which it creates out of a perceived need to protect itself.The universe has no space and no time (one cannot exist without the other), it is but a perpetual movement of energy,timeless and A-causal.Let's take vision as an example - simple stimulus and response - light hits the retina and signals go to the brain.The brain creates the "me" to protect itself by assessing the incoming information, to see if it is one of three things: 1- a threat, 2-usefull,3-to be ignored, so "me" uses "memory" (time as yesterday..i know that's called a "tree") and projects the image of "tree". So, without this "me-filtering" there is just the movement of energy, moving from one energetic expression (tree), to or through "another" energetic expression (brain), and there is no time (memory or image), space ( i am here, the tree is there),or "me" involved, just the timeless wonder of awareness as energy, and the spontaneous expression of the free movement of energy...words fail to describe this awareness, and I can just approximate as well as words allow.......

  4. Mind doesn't create time, not directly. Mind creates change. Change creates time. Change is the fundamental thing here and change is definitely real. Time is simply a process by which change can be structured, formalised, measured, compared, standardised etc. Time is a quite trivial but very useful process. Change is the fundamental thing. The present moment is real, just because it is a single point in time doesn't mean it isn't real. A dimensionless point is a real and meaningful description. Consciousness creates change. Change is the primary phenomena, nothing can happen without change. Time is then a useful tool to work with change. Change is fundamental to existence and experience and learning and living. It is in no way illusory.

    1. If only the present is real, then there is no time as such. Time, as a concept, requires more than an infinitesimally small point of itself. Therefore, I think I actually agree with you, without contradicting what I wrote int he essay. :)

  5. This argument is like the Zenon argument, only about time, not space, but it is a fallacious argument in my opinion. The argument assumes that the present can be divided infinitely, but this assumption may be false. In fact quantum physics point to that there is an indivisible moment of time, the Planch unit, which exists independently of our minds. Therefore it is not true that the present exists only in our mind.

    Also the past and the future can not be at same level because intuitively we think that the past is more real than the future, but this would lead us too far.

    1. I see Zenon as just a bit of fun with confusing our real experience with the properties of a diagram. Really, the time we experience isn't a line on a diagram - and that is the only sense in which space or time is divisible: after re-representation. We actually don't experience time at all; we experience change.

      Planck time - "theoretically, this is the smallest time measurement that will ever be possible". It does exist just in our minds surely, just like that diagram of a timeline. Which itself probably came about become most people, when asked, represent the past being 'to their left' and the future being 'to their right'. If the theory changed, the notion of the planck time would change or disappear. Our diagrams would change, but our experience wouldn't.

      Interestingly, this visualisation of time is culturally dependent: other cultures have time running front to back, with their past behind them, future in front but obscured by the present. This probably matches our actual experience better. I wonder what approach to science follows from that?

    2. The point of the Zenon paradox was to argue that Achilles could never take over the tortoise, which was of course false. The fallacy in the paradox is the hidden assumption that infinite steps require infinite time to be performed. Achilles does take over the tortoise because he performs infinite steps in finite time. How does that relate to my essay? It doesn't really. Even the argument about Plank's constant is a theoretical abstraction, not an experiential reality. We don't really experience time (only change, as some others said, although it gets tricky to define 'change' without time, so I won't go into that beehive). As such, time isn't really real.

    3. Zeno's paradox relates to your essay: like Zeno's paradox assumes that space is infinitely divisible, you presuppose that time is infinitely divisible, but I think that this assumption is false, because according to the current physics, there is a minimum time unit physically significant. So it does not follow that the time is not real.

    4. Hmm. I think that what Zeno assumed was what he wanted to reduce to absurdity. To say that space and time are infinitely divisible is to say they are not really real. Zeno. like his master Parmenides, seems to have been concerned to prove exactly what Bernardo is proposing, that our usual notion of time and space is incoherent as a metaphysical theory. .

  6. The point of this essay is to conclude that time is within consciousness and not an external thing outside of consciousness. I think the path it takes to get to this conclusion is an odd one.

    As, under idealism, everything is within consciousness I am not sure that a separate argument for time even needs to be made. Time is the measurement of change and as everything that happens is happening within consciousness then change is happening within consciousness and so too is time.

    As Bernardo points out in one of his comments, he isn't actually saying time isn't real. To say time isn't real would be as meaningless a statement as saying distance isn't real, or that 60 minutes or 100 metres isn't real. Time is the measurement of change just as distance is the measurement of space. Time and distance are the created tools of measurement of the more fundamental phenomena of change and space.

    So again, as idealism has already put change and space within consciousness, there is no requirement for a special argument for time.

    So now to the argument that is put forward in this essay. Firstly that the past is just a memory in consciousness. This is clearly not true. There is a huge difference between the past, what actually happened, and a memory of what actually happened. There can be many memories of varying accuracy within each individual consciousness for one actual event that occurred.

    Maybe it would have been clearer if Bernardo had described how events take place in Mind and that there is no reason why Mind could not accurately and completely record everything that takes place within it. The past would therefore be a record within Mind, not a memory within each individual consciousness. This would satisfy the conclusion that the part of time that is the past is still within Mind and not an external thing, without having to imply that the past is in some way illusory or unreal.

    The future could be addressed in the same way. Rather than appeal to the very limited view of an individual's expectations of the future, which are liable to have little association with what will actually occur in the future, it would seem more reasonable to imagine that Mind could have very strong and accurate predictive powers of what is to occur, especially as it can have as much influence over what happens as it thought necessary.

    These possible futures, in fact all possible futures, could then be clearly laid out and exist within Mind, rather than implying the future is just an unreal illusion of the limited expectations of each individual consciousness. These possible futures could even equate to the quantum probabilities that then collapse into what actually happens, which in turn then becomes the actual past.

    The fallacy of equating the present as being not really there because it is infinitesimal has been addressed in two other comments above. The present within Mind becomes the moment the probable futures collapse into an event that then becomes the past.

    The existence within Mind of possible futures would explain not only the ability of some to predict the future, but also why so many get it wrong; they see a possible future that never manifests.

  7. The point about change seems important. If change can only occur in the present, then it cannot occur at all. Ergo, Parmenides and Zeno were right, change must be reduced for a fundamental theory.