What is time? Does Time move? I find it very strange when some very innocuous question, about a simple day to day phenomenon, stumps me when asked about. I can’t seem to fathom how what I was so sure about, a moment ago, gets decimated into a maze of confusion immediately after being asked to define. Time is one such phenomenon, which has engulfed many leading brains, both ancient and contemporary, in the quest of being understood and explained. Something that is so obvious and seemingly straightforward has been an unresolved mystery for ages.
All the definitions of Time, suffer from circularity. Oxford Dictionary defines time as the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole: travel through space and time. Similarly there are definitions which state – ‘Time is what prevents everything from happening at once’ or ‘Time is what can be measured by clocks’. Is time a thing in which all other events happen? Or is time a result of all the events that happen? There are many fields that incorporate a concept of time but without being able to define it in precise terms, e.g.: Religion, Science, Philosophy etc. Yet we believe our life is a race against time and that time is running out. So another tricky question gets added, does time move? Even a casual observation would reveal that Time is unidirectional and only flows forward; never backward. Ofcourse, in colloquial usage we all would have used phrases like “time stopped for a moment” or “it seemed like ages” or “in a twinkling”. Statements like these give another interesting dimension to time that of -our experience!
Philosophers have found themselves divided on the question of “is there existence of time independent of our experience?” That is, is there a clock somewhere that is constantly ticking irrespective of whether I see it or feel it? Some believe in such a concept of Time that is ticking independent of our experience and such a concept has been called Newtonian Time. The anti-thesis to this is that time is completely experiential and has no independent existence. A view popularized by Leibniz and Kant.
Interestingly, inspite of all the confusion that exists about Time, we continue to conveniently incorporate it in our lives, run our respective races and carry on without any semblance of doubt. However one thing we are certain as an individual is that, Time seems to end with death. Death – what is death? Why do people die? Does the Body have a mechanism to measure the progress of time? Body is formed up of multiple cells; does each cell have a sense of time? If each cell has a lifecycle of its own, then obviously it must have some measure of the progress of time. However, if we take humanity as a whole or the world as a whole, death ceases to be the end of time. If we take the entire universe into consideration, time appears to be this phenomenon that’s constantly expanding. At this point, let me introduce another interesting point by defining time as the gap between two events. With this definition what happens is that we eliminate the possibility of a beginning of time or an ending of time. If there has to be a concept of time, there have to be two events, for a particular point to be called as beginning of time a prior event should have occurred thus defeating the concept of calling a point as beginning of time. Similarly there cannot be an end of time. Thus, through this logic time neither has a start nor an end. All the religions in the world today have a concept of time. Islam and Christianity believe in linearity of time. In a linear concept of time, applying the aforesaid logic there cannot be a beginning or end of time. So either this means time always existent or that time never existed. Interestingly Hinduism believes in cyclical nature of time. So the beginning becomes the end and the end becomes the beginning. Time does appear to move. There is the past, the present and the anticipated future. If we take the premise that time doesn’t exist then how do we justify the motion of time?
Time and the movement of time do appear to be entirely experiential. However, undeniably, all living organisms age and die. Infact, innumerable cells in the living organism go through their own respective lifecycles and perish. Some of them have lifecycles that are consistent and repeatable, almost as if they were encoded with the factor of time. These cells and cells responsible for aging of all species of the living world are sort of dictated by the memory of this code. A living organism at a macro level also appears to be strongly influenced by memory which in-turn has a strong impact on time and our perception of time. If each of the cell and somehow we, were to lose memory, would we stop aging? Would the body become immortal? On a different plane, if I didn’t know how I was and how I looked 5 years ago, I wouldn’t know if I have aged even if I look myself hard in the mirror or feel any pain in my body. Experientially I continue to be ageless. If experientially one becomes ageless can one defy death? Interestingly, nothing in our view has escaped the eventuality of death. Among all the uncertainty of life is a certainty and that is about Death. Memory has multiple functions to fulfill. The aspect of memory I am interested in, is the aspect which determines our personality and gives a consistency and continuity to it. It is a recording of all our likes, dislikes, knowledge, aptitude and everything that gives a continuity to our identity and hence our personality. The moment I lose this memory, my ego vanishes and so does my experience about time and its movement. I don’t know what it would feel like being so, or whether it would feel anything at all [extra sensory] , however the external (body) might die yet internally or experientially that death might not mean anything