We don’t create time – we freeze it in its tracks.

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 7 Comments

We have learned to see time as if it appears in chunks – minutes, hours, days, and years. But if time comes in chunks how do we experience past memories in the present? How does the previous moment’s chunk of time connect to the chunk of the present moment?

Wait a minute. It will take an hour. He is five years old. These are all sentences that contain expressions of units of time. We are all tremendously comfortable with the idea that time comes in discrete units – but does it? William James and Charles Sanders Peirce thought not.

If moments of time were truly discrete, separate units lined up like dominoes in a row, how would it be possible to have a memory of a past event? What connects the present moment to all the past moments that have already gone by?

One answer to the question is to suppose the existence of a transcendental self. That means some self that exists over and above our experience and can connect all the moments together for us. Imagine moments in time that stick together like boxcars of a train. If you are in one boxcar – i.e. inside the present moment – how could you possibly know anything about the boxcar behind you – i.e. the moment past? The only way would be to see from outside of your boxcar – you would at least stick your head out of the window to see the boxcar behind you.

If the boxcar represents your experience of the present moment then we are saying that you would have to leave the present moment at least a little bit to be able to see what happened in the moment behind you. How can you leave the present moment? Where do you go if you leave your experience of the present moment? Where is the space that you exist in when you are outside of your experience? It would have to be a space that transcended your experience – a transcendental space outside of reality as we experience it. It would be a supernatural space and the part of you that existed in that space would be a supernatural extra-experiential you.

For those who had been raised in a Christian context this would not be so hard to except because this extra-experiential you would sound a great deal like the soul. In fact Immanuel Kant who first articulated the idea of a transcendental self was through his philosophy actively trying to reserve space for the human soul in an intellectual atmosphere that he saw as excessively materialistic.

William James and Charles Sanders Peirce believed in unity and therefore they could not accept the idea of a transcendental ego that would exist in some transcendent realm. In some of their thinking they were anticipating the later developments of quantum theory and non-locality.

William James described who we appear to travel through a river of time – and like all rivers the river ahead of us already exists before we arrive there. In the same way the future already exists now. Not in a pre-determined sense but at least as some potentiality. As we arrive at the future moment our arrival marks the passage from the fluid form that we call future to the definitive solid form that we experience as the past. We do not create time by passing through it; we simply freeze it in its tracks.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Frank Luke
Frank Luke
9 years ago

I see the model for our minds as software operating with the brain as the hard drive, like our marvelous computers with all the fantastic capabilities and faults of our wonderful tech toy.

With regard to time and memory, our memory can also lose info, frustrating us big time. When computers and our brains function well, they’re wonderful and miraculous. When they fail to function well, as they are wont, it can be cause for concern, frustration and a whole lot of grief.

Don Briddell
Don Briddell
9 years ago

You got that right! Old people tend to forget things that just happen and yet remember things 50 years ago perfectly. That is because the old stuff has become the “bricks” as Jeff says of our personality. They happen and take their position in the structure of our being. As new experiences come along the older ones have to take the weight of the new experiences. They become “load baring”, fixed in the wall of our personality. We depend on them to define who we are, and for that reason we remember them. The new experiences can come or go,… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

This is quite a mind breaker.. Kant: we cannot explain time because, time and space are a priori, it is the way our brain functions, we can only think in time. The building block for perceiving reality is time and space, that is basic. The basic building blocks for reason are the twelve, which leads to concepts and so on. Knowledge only exists through uniting sensory representations and mental concepts. The brain produces thoughts and that can only happen in time. But this doesn’t say that there isn’t another way to experience reality, it is just the way the human… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
9 years ago

My posted reply of a few days ago seems to have been erased.

What happened, was it deemed not worthy or something?

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
9 years ago

Pls disregard my above comment. I failed to see where it had been posted.

Glad to see ENext sails on with continuing comments. I was concerned for awhile.

Aloha, Frank Luke

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squishyalt
squishyalt
8 years ago

Time, as a thing, does not exist. Time is a measurement, not an abstract object that can be manipulated. It is not a force. It is not a physical object. It has no mass, no physical properties that can be measured in and of itself. Think of it like this…A point in time is like a point on a highway – say one mile down the highway from where you are now. That measurement tells you about a point in space, but you cannot hold a mile in your hand. You cannot fold or alter a mile, as if it… Read more »