THE DIMENSION OF TIME
In the same way that the third dimension adds volume to what would otherwise be a flat plane, time adds dimensionality to the three spatial dimensions, enabling persistence. Without time the spatial dimensions could only flash into and out of existence for an infinitely brief instant. This discussion focuses on how vertebral animals utilized the temporal dimension as they developed tactics and strategies to leverage their evolution through the spatial dimensions. Like the spatial dimensions, qualities of time can be experienced and described, but a full understanding may exceed our human potential. Why space and time exist is quite a mystery.
Similar to how our recent ancestors understood their physical surroundings to be a flat plane with hard edges (“the four corners of the world”) they modeled time with a beginning and an end – a first and last day (Genesis and Judgement Day is one example). They perceived themselves as inhabiting a special place in a spatial and temporal bubble extending outwards from themselves and their god(s). A prerequisite for this bubble is the concept of linear time, with a past and future as real as the present moment, and a universe contained within a beginning and end. It is important to note here that the past and the future do not exist other than at the synapses of our brains. Our awareness of linear time is an artifact of our ability to utilize time successfully in progressively more complex ways as our lineage evolved. The ability to memorize sequential present moment experience, and use these memories to make predictions about the future, has such utility for our lineage that it is challenging to dispell the perception that time flows linearly – it feels very real. We are almost universally entranced by the illusion of linear time, and the doing of things it enables, as a real thing.
We experience time indirectly when we recall the past and forecast the future. Experiencing time directly – the present moment – is challenging from our established perspective of time as a linear progression. This duality is reminiscent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where you cannot measure the position (now) and velocity (past to future progression) of an object simultaneously. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we can either experience time as an illusion of linear progression from past to future, or as the reality of the present moment, but we cannot perceive illusion and reality simultaneously.
Forecasting has great utility for animals and is embedded foundationally into our lineage’s neurophysiology. It enables animals to predict and implement powerful tactics and strategies, facilitating the evolution of more complex animals that could implement more complex forecasts. Forecasting requires cognitive abilities tailored for this task, whereas experiencing the present moment requires awareness of how one feels and senses. The informational feed which we have dedicated to forecasting originates from our brain’s present moment awareness – sensations from our body and senses [Sherrington and other references for this statement]. Without sensory inputs, these calculations cease. The section below on the Utilization of Time by Paradigm elucidates the evolution of these sensory/cognitive correlates.
Utilizing our ability to perceive time as a progression is foundational to the functions of industrialized societies. There are cultures and certainly religious/spiritual practices that encourage forgoing forecasting for a more direct experience of oneself here in the present moment as a living being. As one becomes more proficient with being present, the more obviously apparent it becomes that the past and future are illusions. Our awareness is easily captivated by the neurology that enables us to forecast our future based on our past experiences. The section on “The Now” below offers some suggestions on how to better experience the dimension of time.
UTILIZATION OF TIME BY EVOLUTIONARY PARADIGM
A better understanding of how we forecast enables moving from experiencing our related neurophysiology in action with the example of the perspective of: “I am worried” to the perspective “My neurophysiology for forecasting is expressing concern”. By applying the descriptions below the statement can then be refined into: “My reptilian brain conditional logic is anticipating this outcome”, or “My mammalian brain relational projections suggest these dynamics”.
Forecasting is an extension of, and reason for the existence of memory. Memory is an extension of sensory processing. Discussing the evolutionary progression of the utilization of the dimension of time is foundationally a discussion of the evolution of the structure and function of memory, and how memory catalogs information gleaned from how we process sensory inputs. The complexity of the memory function evolved as our lineage entered dimensionally more complex settings, synchronized and synthesized with the emergence of more complex sensing, sensory processing, and structural animal forms.
ALL LIVING THINGS AND ANIMALS: Most Living Things experience time in the way in which we experience the spatial dimensions, purely in the present. Whereas animals invoked movement, the ancestral forms from which animals emerged are organized around the cyclical processes which form the basis of life. Awareness of the passage of time has no utility, and these organisms simply work through cyclical processes required for Life, responding to stimuli when required.
VERTEBRATES: Movement opened up the possibility of predation and prey behaviors. The initial movement organisms explored was extension/contraction which evolved into movement along a line. The ability to move has no utility without some sense of where to go in relation to where you are, and why to go there (If I go there, then “X” will happen). This form of cognition requires either genetically hard-wired or learned experience – at least a rudimentary form of memory (Based on experience (of the past), if I do this, then I can anticipate that(X) will happen).
At this evolutionary level, the utility of present moment awareness is to contextualize past experience for formulating intention – as a key for tactical planning. The formulations require an influx of sensory information for processing. This sensory information percolates upwards, expressing as Drives and Instincts. The vast majority of human considerations and actions are based on tactical cognition – doing something. Individuals whose developmental maturation stalled at this stage are challenged to experience themselves in the present moment, have a strong sense of a linear timeline and organize their perceptions around what they are doing individually.
MAMMALS: Mammals mastered movement over the horizontal plane. Utilizing this ability required being in the right place at the right time. This required evolving a type of memory that collated experience based on where an event occurred. A map of the surroundings could then be built up over time which when analyzed could suggest the most opportune expenditure of the mammal’s energy. This type of memory is called Place Memory. Whereas more foundational memory structures tactically link perception with action (see Vertebrates above), Place Memory enables strategic, planned actions based on complex forecasts of potential future events. Building a map of what is occurring in the surroundings over time adds another dimension to animals’ manipulation of time in a linear manner, using the surrounding horizontal plane to vastly increase the utility of forecasting.
PLACE MEMORY CELLS NOT ONLY BY PLACE, BUT ALSO TIME. PLACE MEMORY CELLS CAN ALSO BE USED TO PIN AWARENESS OUTSIDE THE TEMPORAL/SPATIAL DIMENSIONS.
PRIMATES: Mammals developed complex neurology to enable usage of the passage of time, collecting rich memories of their experiences over the course of their lives and the places they had visited. Primates took this further, collecting knowledge that would otherwise be lost first in oral and eventually written histories. This treasure trove of information has enabled us to build on the work of our forefathers and thereby discover that the earth is round and circles the sun (600 years ago), that the speed of light is a constant (100 years ago) and to map our genetic code (20 years ago), as well as innumerable other bits of knowledge that enrich our human lineage. None of this would have happened if we had not built tools to extend our innate cognitive ability to forecast beyond the brain’s neurological potential to predict the future based on genetic or learned experience.
A good example of the sophistication with which we manipulate linear progression time is the invention of money, which enables us to convert an action into a unit that can be converted back into action at a future time.
USING ONE’S TEMPORAL COGNITIVE PREDISPOSITION DIAGNOSTICALLY
The dominant or default means by which one engages with time reflects the individual’s developmental maturation. Insight into their perceptual predisposition using the above outlines can, therefore, be used diagnostically and as a guide to the application of the therapeutic strategies listed in the TRAINING PROTOCOLS section of this website. For example, if one’s use of time is dominated by the perception of time as a linear progression, which is common in American culture, the Vertebrate neurophysiology will be dominant, and the training protocols in the other sections will have better efficacy.
Experiencing the present moment is challenging for most people. Many of us feel that the quality of our lives would be better if we could experience them more directly, instead of being caught up in processing what has passed and absorbed in concern about the future. Our Built Environment is organized on established parameters for using the linear progression of present moments. Successfully navigating our Built Environment requires that we acquire the necessary skills to utilize the dimension of time as a sequence of linked events and is one of the first skills we acquire. However, there is a pitfall in thinking that because this is an important skill, that this perception is real. Falling into this trap forces us to accept illusion as reality. If we suspect that our actions lack authenticity, that we fabricate our sense of ourselves in the world tactically and strategically, it is because that is in fact what we are doing. The real living being that you are has existence only in this present instant. Learning to hold forecasting as a tool, without defaulting to the concept that linear time is real, enables using the tool without being driven by confining awareness to its perceptual constraints.
Here are some methods that find utility in bringing a stronger sense of your presence as a Living Being into your awareness:
METABOLIC CORE: There are a couple of excellent methods for tuning into the present moment. Our gut neurology has no sense of the past or future, living purely in the present moment. Tuning into how our guts feel, or our breathing connects us with parts of ourselves that are here. Our gut neurology and physiology is the attribute of ourselves which we share with all living things, engaged as it is with our most foundational metabolic processes. This is commonly called our Enteric Nervous System. There is a more comprehensive discussion of this most ancient part of our lineage here:
GRAVITY: It is possible to easily perceive the present moment by focusing our awareness on the feel of Gravity interacting with the mass of our bodies. The two equally opposing forces interact only in this present instant. Getting a better grasp on how our mass interferes with the earth helps to become more perceptive of now:
NOTICING WHAT YOU SENSE: By noticing that you are sensing, instead of labeling objects that you have sensed as we are trained to do, you can tune into the sensory feeds for cognitive processes, which are occurring now. Focusing one’s attention on the information feeding our brains originating from our senses can be described as attending to the journey instead of the destination. The sensory feed is a fountain of energy continually washing over our cognitive neurology, energizing and enabling our thoughts. When this feed of information from our vision, hearing, and other senses stops, cognition stops – it is vital for our brain’s creation of attention. The point in our cognitive process where attention is generated is occurring (approximately) now. Actions that are generated by our attention are based on the past. Witnessing the sensory feed as it expresses is a way in which we can experience that which we are experiencing now.
There is a way to experience the effect of this sensory feed on our cognition. Sensory Deprivation Tanks, or FLOATING, isolates the body from sensory information. Visual, auditory and tactile stimulation is removed. After some time in a Float Tank, the cognitive processes that require sensory input (First-Order Cognition) cease, the brain pretty much grinds to a halt. Awareness, decoupled from its cognitive underpinnings, is free to wander, fully occupied by the present moment.
SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT/EMPATHY: Mammals evolved group based tactics for predation and protection. These options require present moment awareness of the status of other members of the group. This awareness enables the group to function as a cohesive unit to implement a plan. These functions could only emerge after the development of cognition able to process information in real-time about the status of the surrounding social structure in relation to the plan. This real-time social awareness is a neurological evolutionary masterpiece that gave our lineage a profound “leg up” in the race for dominance. When we engage socially we activate this neurological circuitry, and we experience ourselves as more fully present.
SITTING WITH THE QUESTION “WHAT AM I”: Sitting with this question is perhaps the most powerful method for coming into conscious awareness of the present moment. (Please note that the question is what, not who am I) As you continue to reduce the answer to the most foundational level you realize the experience of being a living being that perceives that it is alive. The perception of aliveness is present moment awareness. This is a gateway state to the Mystical and Spiritual, and beyond the scope of this project.
There is an excellent example of how we are extending the boundary of forecasting. The Long Now Foundation promotes long term thinking and planning. A brief example is their promotion for adding a decimal place to our date, ie: 2020 should be written 02022, embedding the assumption that we will use a 99,999-year calendar. If we do in fact need the extra decimal place, this highlights how close we are to the beginning of our emergence from the caves of our ancestors. The idea behind Long Now is that many of our decisions might have very different rationalizations if made from this reference frame. An overview of Long Now talks and projects can be found here:
LONG NOW FOUNDATION