I want you now to envisage the sky at night. Imagine yourselves standing in some country place, far away from the distracting lights of the city.
What you are looking at may look like blackness dotted with points of light, but is actually an unimaginably vast space filled with enormous balls of fire, like our sun, roaring and crackling with nuclear power, hurtling with tremendous speed and force through the universe, using and emitting incalculable energy… And between these billions and billions of dynamic power points are great clouds of dust and plasma from stars that have exploded and from which new stars are emerging.
All this is going on but we do not see it. We see only points of light in immeasurable darkness. We know now, because scientists have worked it out, that light travels at a certain speed, and the light of the stars we see left those stars at different times. This one left 20 million light years ago, that one 100 million light years ago. Yet we see them simultaneously and they seem part of our same vision – our immediate experience. We are experiencing vastly different times – simultaneously.
Now I want to focus on this room.
When we look at our fellow human beings we see very little of what or who they really are. We see only points of light in darkness as we did when we looked outwards into space. Each one of us is a complex of bones and veins and organs on the physical level doing an extraordinary job of keeping us alive, while our minds encompass the greater universe without, and our souls and spirits reach into realms of reality we can only guess at. In this room, memories are flashing and sparking from every brain, from every time. At this present moment memories from our childhood, from our ancestors, from books we have read, from films we have seen, from relationships we have had – all, all are influencing the interpretation we put on the words we hear – the way we react to the present moment. We are experiencing vastly different times – simultaneously.
In our minds multi-dimensional time is a commonplace. But the clock is ticking, and for the sake of convenience we rule our lives by it. That is what Linear Time is – a convenience won over centuries of scientific endeavour. Until very recently every part of the world was out of synchronicity with every other. Edinburgh was twelve minutes different from London until they had to fix a standard time for all the country for the convenience of the railways. Greenwich was chosen. But even now, as we know, the Christian Millennium is dawning in the Far East before it does here, and the Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic Millennia bear no relation to the Christian ones.
As a by-section of Linear Time and associated loosely with it, is the category of time I will call Physical Time. This is the time of the biological clock.
We are surrounded by clocks that tell us about Linear Time, but other things mark the passing of this type of time too. Aging, the crumbling of buildings, decay…
Under the heading of physical time I would list the growth of tree rings that archaeologists use for dating ancient sites and events, a woman’s regular monthly menstruation, the nine months of gestation, the onset of puberty, the gradual (or, it seems to me – not so gradual) aging process. At this point in my thinking Andrew Marvell’s lines to his coy mistress some to mind:
‘But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.’
These things, although measured against Linear Time, are actually more individually orchestrated. Puberty may start at different ages, and the prodigy of twelve who graduates from Cambridge undermines the neat regularity of our measurements of brain capacity at certain ages. One woman of seventy may ride a bicycle, while another of seventy can barely walk.
We mark our lives out into the compartments by birthdays and anniversaries which keep us aware of the passing of this type of time in relation to Linear Time. I sometimes wonder whether if we did away with birthdays we would be happier because we would not be so aware of time’s inexorable passage. We become obsessed by fear of the passing years because we count them.
Women approaching forty years of Linear Time who have been perfectly content with careers suddenly get panic stricken that they won’t be able to have a child if they don’t immediately find a mate and procreate. No doubt scientists are figuring out a way to extend the child-bearing age for women – no taking into account the very good reasons why the natural process worked so well in the past. Too late women of fifty or sixty find their levels of energy are not up to the demands of bring up a child.
I am told that every seven years all the cells in our bodies are destroyed and replaced. This means that as I stand here now, not a single physical cell in my body is the same as any I had when I left my mother’s womb. Yet why am I convinced that I am the same person? There must be more to us than the cells in our body.
Multi-Dimensional Time: Part 1