Does Time Really Exist?

Image of a clock

We’ve been taught that time and space exist. They’re real. And that reality has been reinforced everyday of our life—every time we go from here to there, every time we reach for something, every month we pay the bills.

Most of us live without thinking abstractly about time and space. Time and space are such an integral part of our lives that their examination is as unnatural as scrutinizing breathing. In fact, many people feel rather silly talking about time and space in an abstract, analytical way.

The question “Does time exist?” can make a person wonder about taking the time to ponder such philosophical babble. A reply might be, “The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die. Time is the only thing we can be certain of.” Equally inconsonant is the question of whether or not space exists. “Obviously space exists,” we might answer. “Because we live in it. We move through it, drive through it, build in it.” It’s the “when, what, where” scenario: ten o’clock, coffee, Barnes and Noble.

Time and space in the concrete sense are easy to talk and think about. For example, find yourself short of either time or space, or both—late for work, standing in a stalled subway car packed with riders—and issues of time and space are obvious: “It’s crowded and I’m uncomfortable and my boss is going to kill me for being late.”

But the idea that time and space are tools of the mind, our source of comprehension and consciousness, is an abstraction. Our day-to-day experiences have indicated nothing of this reality to us. Rather, our life has taught us that they are external realities. They bound all experiences.

Our minds are organized to think this way. We use dates and places to define our experiences to ourselves and to others. History defines the past by placing people and events in time and space. Scientific theories of such as the Big Bang and evolution are steeped in their logic. Our own personal experience of aging confirms the reality of time. Our physical experiences of parallel parking or standing on the edge of a cliff, confirms the existence of space.

When we reach for a glass of water our sense of space and timing is (almost) always impeccable. They’re essential to our every movement and moment. We know they exist because the glass is always there when we reach for it. We forget that the glass is composed of a shimmering swarm of matter/energy. The results of quantum physics, such as the two-slit experiment, tell us that not a single one of its subatomic particles actually has any physical properties until we observe it. The glass, as we know it, can’t be thought of being there when you leave the room.

We’ve spent a lifetime believing that time and space are external realities. To place ourselves as the creator of time and space, not as the subject of it, goes against every bit of our common sense, life experience, and education. It takes a radical shift of perspective for us to intuit the idea that they’re tools of intuition because the implications are so startling.

Yet we all instinctively know that space and time aren’t things—the kind of objects you can see, feel, or smell. There’s a peculiar intangibility about them. We can’t pick them up and put them on a shelf or bring them back to the laboratory in a marmalade jar like a kid brings home lightning bugs. There’s something oddly different about them.

In biocentrism, space and time aren’t physical things. They’re forms of animal intuition. They are — as Kant eloquently pointed out — modes of understanding, part of the mental software that molds sensations into objects. When we feel poignantly that time has elapsed, as when loved ones die, it constitutes the human perceptions of the passage and existence of time. Our babies turn into adults. We age. That to us is time. It belongs with us.

But you might ask “What about clocks?” We have sophisticated machines, like atomic clocks, to measure time. But measuring “time” doesn’t that prove its physical existence? Clocks are rhythmic things. We use the rhythms of some events (like the ticking of clocks) to time other events (like the rotation of the earth). This isn’t time, but rather, a comparison of events. We called these manmade devices “clocks.”

But these are just events, not to be confused with time. Indeed, one could measure time by measuring the melting of ice on a hot day. We might even devise a plan to meet for tea at two ice-cube melts or 50 top-spins, which ever “time piece” you each happen to have on hand. Clocks just have springs and things. People get sidestepped into believing time exists as a physical entity because we’ve invented clocks.

From a biocentric point of view, time is the inner process that animates consciousness and experience. The existence of clocks, which ostensibly measure “time,” doesn’t in any way prove time itself exists.

New experiments confirm this concept. In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that pairs of particles knew in advance what its twin would do in the future. Somehow, the particles knew what the researcher would do before it happened, as if there were no space or time between them. More recently (Science 2007), scientists shot particles into an apparatus, and showed they could retroactively change something that had already happened. The particles had to decide what to do when they passed a fork in the apparatus. Later on the experimenter could flip a switch. It turns out what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle did at the fork in the past. The knowledge in observer’s mind is the only thing that determines how they behave.

What does all this mean? Does it make a difference in our daily life or how we see the world? This will become clearer as we collectively come to understand its implications, yet visual descriptions of a world without time and space have been steadily brought to us by popular culture. We’ve been digesting a world that’s categorically different than the one we’ve been living in, albeit we generally accept these alternative universes of Star Trek, The Matrix, and such, as fiction. Yet most of us simultaneously intuit a morsel of truth in this popular culture genre.

Increasingly, popular culture has been honing in on a sense that our world isn’t as it appears to be. Films, novels, music, and television shows overflow with examples of characters transcending the everyday boundaries of space and time. Most people think about the end of time as an apocalypse, like asteroids destroying the earth—or like those disaster movies: Mars Attacks, Tornado, and Armageddon.

However, it’s not the end of the world, but rather the beginning of a new one. We’re living through a profound shift in worldview, from the belief that time and space are entities in the universe to one in which they belong to the living. Only for a moment, while we sort out the reality of time and space not existing, will it feel like madness.

Biocentrism” (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza’s theory of everything.

View article on Psychology Today