Life After Time

The future never arrives but present changes and choices mean that the present is changing in a certain direction, becoming more like a place of peace or war, well-being or sickness. Some consequences are very improbable, others are virtually certain. If you don’t wear a hat in the rain your head will get wet. If we fill the sea with plastic our nets will fill with nothing but dead fish. So a well informed picture of possible futures is a guide to the direction of change and tells us how our actions may steer it so that the present changes in a direction that reduces our personal or collective suffering.

The past exists only now as traces and imprints of earlier forms in shapes and structures of the present. Based on those imprints we form mental images of things that leave their traces here as they dissolve and feed the ground of energy and atoms.

From those traces in external things and our personal memories we imagine something called time as a continuum between all past, present and future things. Between what no longer exists, what now exists and what does not yet exist, between decaying or growing actualities of now and the immediate possible changes that are condensing from them.

The flow of changing forms always moves from cause to effect, seemingly along’ a fourth dimension of form which intellect abstracts from neural memory which is deposited in chronological order. Likewise the memory of earth and space, of geology, archeology, and biological evolution is deposited in chronological order which can be read by assembling artifacts or fossils into meaningful sequences and radio-carbon dating. The memories of brains and space generate histories which describe events in chronicles.

The development of writing naturally led to thinking of time as a book in which the present is the current page but this led to the fantasy that the past still exists as the previous pages and the future already exists as the pages not yet read.

The present is also like one frame of a movie but differs from film in a few ways: it is not a two-dimensional image but a three-dimensional moment and is not motionless like a film frame but may appear that way to a brain that cannot detect the motion that occurs in each millisecond. But the core difference between reality and film is that this moment is not preceded or followed by other moments all simultaneously existing on celluloid or a digital recording medium. Rather each part of reality is an array of three-dimensional things that are constantly, dramatically or imperceptibly changing.

Having abstracted the axis or dimension of time from the order of memory it’s natural for mind to imagine that time exists and extends beyond the changing now but I think it does not. This is why I avoid movies about time travel. They annoy me because they assume that the past still exists and the future already exists, further up or down that non-existent book or strip of film called time.

So nothing moves from the changing present into the nonexistent future and nothing fades from the eternally changing present into the past which no longer exists tho it can be partially read from present memories and its enduring effects in present things.

The only real moment is what is unfolding now. It has been unfolding since the beginning of all things and it will continue to unfold until all things end but at no point in its unfolding does it become a past moment tho it makes memories as it goes.

Likewise it does not at any point become an actual future moment, tho clocks and calendars change, but is always the unfolding now. As it unfolds the present array of possible future nows changes because each event and choice conditions what choices and changes can still occur. If Nestle drains your water table you will have to buy your water back or stop their pumps. If all the lions starve, your unfolding now will never include the splendour of a living lion.

So what good comes of seeing there’s no time but the present?

It’s good and needful sometimes to engage in fantasy so long as we don’t lose sight of the difference between imagination and reality. Imagination makes it possible to imagine future possible nows that are likely to result from the current choices we are making and so make better ones. But only acute attentiveness to the unfolding now enables us to see and enact large or small, incremental choices as they arise.

Discarding the consensus that the past is unchangeable allows it to dissolve, tho some of its traces in the present persist for good or ill. But we need not be its prisoners forever.

Discarding the notion that the future is predetermined by God, Fate or the unchangeable past frees us to choose different possible future states of this unfolding now.

Fully appreciating the real present we find ourselves in a garden of plant and animal souls, a garden everywhere despoiled, by the fear and greed of corporate kings and the clockwork soldiers of time.

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