Published on by Catherine Toulsaly



Each new work is destined, in the mind of its author, to correct the preceding one, to complete a thought -- which will not be completed. He does his work over and over again, wherever his sensation or thought was rendered imperfectly in the preceding work. When man interrogates and exerts himself, he does not really change. He only rids his nature of what is foreign to it, and deepens that portion that is his own. Those who burn their work before it is known, because it no longer satisfies them, are credited with great courage. I ask myself whether there is not still greater courage in admitting that one has not always been what one has become, in becoming what one is not yet, and in permitting to remain alive the material and irrefutable witnesses of the variations of one’s mind.

Ellie Faure, History of Art


Leaves have started to fall off the elm tree. Autumn is settling in. Yellow and red colors are slowly taking over the green canopy and understory of the native garden. Being is only briefly real for becoming isn’t an illusion, but forever real. Time is a process. It’s like catching the wind and trying to contain it in a bird’s cage. Kerri Welch suggests that time is a subset of temporal symmetry, which in turn is a subset of timelessness, a “fundamental aspect of the Universe” . “Timelessness and temporal symmetry,” she writes, “ are distinct from time in that they do not obey the unidirectional causality of time”. They are “distinct from one another in that temporal symmetry requires that the transition between points in time proceed linearly through connected moments in time, whereas timelessness suggests a simultaneity and unification of temporal moments”. 

In another of the stories in Calvino’s Cosmicomics, the protagonist, whose name is Qfwfq, spends a long time as lowly mollusc condemned to a moment-by-moment existence, a prisoner of the eternal present. Days and nights crash over him ‘like waves, all interchangeable, identical or marked by totally fortuitous differences’. In an attempt to separate his present from all other presents, Qfwfq starts to build a shell, hoping to lay down markers in spiral accretions as if he were making his own clock. He tries to create an extremely long, unbroken shell-time, but an infinite spiral proves impossible: the shell grows and grows and at a certain point stops -- and that’s it, finished. Thousands of other molluscs try too but the effort is wasted: time refuses to last, the shells are friable, destined to crumble into pieces. Theirs are only illusions of time that last as long as the length of a tiny shell spiral, splinters of time that were detached and different from each other. Eventually, Qfwfq realizes, someone else has to try to ensure that everything that was left or buried [becomes] a sign of something else… (Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary)


Obedient plant

Obedient plant


Timelessness hosts the passage of time. Some may describe it as the eternal present or Nowness, a continuum of present moments at which “time touches eternity”, as C.S. Lewis said. It is the unknowable eternal Now that encompasses all the fragmented, monadological nows. It alludes to Julian Barbour’s “nows that make up all the points” on the Universe’s path where we all stand.  In opposition to timelessness in which past, present, and future aren’t closed compartments, those ephemeral nows underscore the subjective aspect of time. I felt as if I had caught a glimpse of the “moving present” with the three circles of dance, and that my body could instinctively position itself in relation to it. Our understanding occurs on three levels: the mind, the heart, and the body. When we say that we have learned to spatialize time, it means that our body -- that which moves through space -- senses its place within the passage of time.


...‘thinking with imagery’ and even ‘thinking with the body’ must have preceded language by hundreds of thousands of years

Stephen T Asma


The experience of the Now is the only way for us to know that we’re alive. Paradoxically, the present is an illusion that is gone as soon as it passes. It appears as a line of demarcation on the edge of which we are ready to plunge into the unknowns of the future. Time moves nonstop from one instant to the next, and the future is already here insofar as the present has passed. In a post about process, I pointed out that the present is a vanishing entity that we are helplessly chasing. As soon as we stand in the now, it has already gone in the past. What is now anyway? I asked. A brief second? A day? A year? We are uncertain of its limit and scope, for we are in a state of becoming. In reality, every second that passes is already part of the past and the next is part of the future. We might as well say that time does not exist because the present time is indeed an illusion. 


What I see is four temporal dimensions: that which is, that which has passed, that which will be, and that which is always in the state of becoming. The first three are subjective. The latter is timelessness. The eternal Nowness is what we are removed from at the time of death.  It is indeed true that the Universe talks to us in so many ways, and every time we find a new way of listening, we find something else, as Ellie Zwebel is quoted to have said. Those many ways could overshadow the objective reality of physics. Time is a complex and multi-layered web of geometry intertwined with that of space. Precisely because we understand the Universe through our body,  we have learned to spatialize time and can’t separate it from space. The internal eternity of spacetime is reminiscent of Blaise Pascal’s two spatial infinities to which time-domain astrophysicists could relate.


Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God, that imagination loses itself in that thought.

Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret, he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.



Upland ironweed

Upland ironweed


Time may be found in the quantum Universe. “Could the parallels between the flow of our subjective, felt experience and the flow of energetic quantum reality indicate something of the nature of their deeper interconnection?”  asks Kerri Welch. In the evolution of the wave function,  a physical thought -- a speck of metaphysical dust -- acts as a proto-will and interacts with us. In so doing, it triggers in ourselves the awareness of information passed on to us. We might still debate whether consciousness “causes this” or is caused by what occurs during intervals of quantum superposition before collapse.


In Orch OR, quantum information is ‘pre-conscious’ or ‘sub-conscious’, becoming conscious at the ‘Now’ moment of objective reduction. Thus each conscious moment incorporates quantum information from the past and the future, as well as classical information from the past (‘working memory’).

Stuart Hameroff


Whether we perceive time as “flowing in one direction because it does flow in one direction” or “because our brains perceive it that way” is at the core of the intrinsic circularity spoken of by Paavo Pylkkänen. As consciousness emerges, it appears to cause in ourselves the impression of time asymmetry. The collapse may be independent of how we experience it. “In the same way that entropy may be a subset of a larger temporal reality, our subjective experience may too describe only a portion of a larger reality” adds Kerri Welch.


Entropy has many faces. It has been interpreted as a measure of disorder, the unavailability of work, the degree of energy spreading, and the number of accessible microstates in macroscopic physical systems. While each of these interpretations has a logical basis, it is unclear why any of them should have the dimensions of energy per unit temperature.

Harvey S. Leff


I have talked in the past about the possibility that our future influences the way the present unfolds, that the increasingly complex reality of the future is somehow compactified in the simpler reality of the past and that in the future lies an attractor that pulls the essence of reality within the expanding Universe.  Kerri Welch suggests that the quantum information incorporated from the future could be the “hidden variable” that explains the non-deterministic aspect of the Universe.  Such a view would support a deterministic theory of everything. She points out that backwards time may be hiding in plain sight. One particle could oscillate “between backwards and forwards time” appearing as particle and antiparticle at the same time. They may therefore occur “simultaneously” rather than being mutually exclusive. The Universe may allow “overlapping”. 


Having said that, I have brought up other scenarios involving time-reversal. I  have pictured in my mind the negative-energy particles of the dark sector traveling backwards from the future somehow meeting at the intersection of past and future those positive-energy particles traveling forward in time as if they both were traveling the same distance in their determination to meet. That is how I see a cosmic coincidence unfolding. It was also suggested that antimatter goes backwards in time. In his latest paper, Salvador José Robles-Pérez proposes that the most natural way in which universes can be created is in pairs of universes whose time flow is reversely related. Internal inhabitants of a universe-antiuniverse pair could identify matter with the particles that move in their spacetimes and antimatter with the particles that move in the time reversely symmetric universe.


The mind circulates in a space-time continuum while the body remains anchored here and now. Timelessness rules over the “interior dimensions” of memory and imagination which involve all of the possibles “outside of space but inside of time” -- as Stuart Kauffman formulates it. While imagination builds new connections,  memories rise to the surface before sinking once more into the mnemonic chaos of the Unconscious. We could argue that we need both perspectives from past and future to face the present. In those extra dimensions outside space but inside of time, they play an active role in the way time goes backwards and forwards right under our nose. Although memory travels backwards, vivid moments are fading away because aspects of past information are somehow “inaccessible in the present”. 

The pre-conscious superposition phase may also be equated with the Freudian sub-conscious including dreams and perhaps altered states. This suggests that consciousness is a ‘stream’ of discrete events, rather than a continuous state.

Stuart Hameroff

Imagination is the mind’s way to travel forwards. What if dreams were a resonance structure in which information from future were passed to present? Dreams unfold like a dialogue and maintain a precarious balance between the deep waters of the Unconscious unaffected by the passage of time and our consciousness, between infinite possibilities stored away in parallel worlds and the reality in which we live. Could our ability to experience time-reversal be trapped in our Unconscious? Are premonitions “an effect of reverse causality or of tapping into a timeless knowledge”? As we evolve and become increasingly aware, we may “detect the subtleties of reverse causality, similar to the way we have evolved into our current understanding of time”. 

Either we’ll transcend to a higher level of consciousness, or the day will come when our species will evolve. We would then understand the Universe in the most subtle way.

There is something that feels

Blue wood-aster

Blue wood-aster


Consciousness walks the roads of the future and the trails of the past. Our brain is a time machine. We do not have full access to past and future because of the “symbolic language” of our Unconscious.  Faded images and buried feelings may be all what is left of a time 50,000 years ago when the first humans migrated to the Eurasian continent as far as Australia and dispersed along the coast or when the first plants, before the time of hominids, integrated the capacity for photosynthesis more than 2.6 billion years ago. 

In the pitch-dark early morning, I heard the call and screech of an owl for the first time in a long time.  She sounds like a barred owl. Her call tearing the silence of the night is said to herald a time of spiritual balance and to be a sign that the cosmos is moving towards equilibrium. In the end, our free will and ability to express ourselves may be limited. Although there is ‘order’ in how the Universe appears before our eyes, I still see it as a clueless thing that reveals itself by expressing itself,.  The nature of that order, though, may be deterministic.  No doubt I’ll return to the subject of time when Julian Barbour’s new book The Janus Point is out next month.



Kerri Welch, A fractal topology of time: Deepening into Timelessness

Robert Lanza, Beyond Biocentrism

Julian Barbour, The End of Time

Dean Buonomano, Your brain is a time machine

Stuart Kauffman, Humanity in a Creative Universe


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