Relativity & Time
It seems strange that relativity, the physics of vast distances, huge masses and the speed of light, should be instrumental in discovering our true nature as individuals. But the nature of time in relativity shows us what consciousness is, and that reveals to us who we really are.
Relativity tells us that physical reality exists in a four dimensional space-time. This means without question that time is a linear dimension, just like the three dimensions of space. And this means that the past and even the future exist in the same way as the North and the South. It is all there, ‘already’. This is what gives rise to the concept of a ‘worldline‘.
The worldline is the path an object traces out in space-time. In the illustration below only two dimensions of space are shown so that we can show the dimension of time running up the page. The key point here is that the whole existence of this entity is there ‘already’, throughout its duration in time.
The great problem is this means there can be no such thing as the passage of time, as Einstein himself noted. There is no flow of time, as seems obvious there is. All of existence, past and future, exists already in space-time. As philosopher Rebecca Goldstein states:
In Einstein’s physics, there is no passage of time, no unidirectional flow from the fixed past and toward the uncertain future. The temporal component of space-time is as static as its spatial components; physical time is as still as physical space. It is all laid out, the whole spread of events, in the tenseless four-dimensional space-time manifold.
Of course, it seems obvious that one is moving along the worldline, into the future. But in the context of modern physics this is an impossibility. We are physical beings, and as a physical being you cannot possibly pass into the future because the future you is there already!
Therefore, if the passage of time cannot be a real phenomenon, it must be some kind of illusion. As physicist Paul Davies describes:
… it appears that the flow of time is subjective, not objective. … I and others argue that it is some sort of illusion. (2006)
As cosmologist Max Tegmark describes:
… time is not an illusion, but the flow of time is. So is change. (2014, 176)
But this makes no sense. Some of the illusions revealed by physics are perfectly reasonable. The illusion that the Earth is stationary, while in fact it is orbiting the Sun at great speed is easy to understand. But it makes no sense that we constantly find ourselves at later and later times if the passage of time is an illusion. Hence the great paradox of relativity.
The Train Window
This whole problem was solved by the great physicist Hermann Weyl:
The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the life-line of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time. (1949, 116)
This is only known solution to the paradox, and it explains it all very nicely. Objectively, the world is a static four-dimensional layout, as symbolised in the diagram. But subjectively, the passage of time is a fully real phenomenon, as the viewpoint of consciousness passes into the future.
This means that our experience of the passage of time is the same kind of thing as the passage of the landscape from the window of a train. Obviously, the landscape is not moving. It is just your view of the countryside that is changing. But inside the train, from your moving viewpoint, you experience the passage of the landscape. Weyl is saying that the experience of the passage of time is exactly the same kind of thing. The world simply is. It does not change at all. What is changing is the perspective of the moving viewpoint. As the moving viewpoint of consciousness, ‘the Now’, passes along the track of the worldline, into the future in the space-time layout, there is the effect of the passage of time, from the point of view of this moving perspective.
The trouble is that the implication is momentous, and far too absurd to be taken seriously. It means that consciousness has to be something totally extraordinary, both utterly non-physical but at the same time somehow altering the physical reality.
Nothing Can Move
Nothing in physical reality can move from one moment to the next. Everything in the physical world is part of one specific moment, stuck forever, like a fly in amber. And it seems obvious in the discipline of physics that this must apply to consciousness also, whatever it is. As the eminent physicist David Deutsch emphasises:
It is often said that … our consciousness is sweeping forwards through the moments. But our consciousness does not, and could not, do that. … Nothing can move from one moment to another. To exist at all at a particular moment means to exist there for ever. (1997, 263)
But Weyl and Deutsch are both right because the world consciousness is being used for two very different kinds of phenomena.
This is described in detail by philosopher of consciousness David Chalmers, in his book The Conscious Mind. The word consciousness is used both for that which gets experienced, which is of course just a property of the brain, and the actual experiencing, which is not. This distinction is vital because without it the whole subject of consciousness never really makes sense.
That which gets experienced Chalmers calls the ‘psychological consciousness’. This is the perceptual reality, meaning what you are actually experiencing based on what your eyes and ears detect. This perceptual reality is the display of information that the brain produces so that we can accurately perceive the world and interact with it. This system is also called the ‘sensorium’, meaning the sensory system that coordinates all the sensory input, from eyes, ears and so on, to produce the visual and auditory field of information that is experienced as the perceptual reality. This is all very familiar to modern science. Neurobiology has mapped a great deal of the way all this works.
But that which does the experiencing is something completely different. The experiencing itself he calls the ‘phenomenal consciousness’. This is the experiencing of this field of information that the brain produces. This is a total mystery. As noted by philosopher of mind Jerry Fodor:
Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. So much for our philosophy of consciousness. (1992)
This is not surprising because this is not a material phenomenon. As Weyl states:
… the consciousness in this function does not belong to the world. (1934, 1)
As Chalmers describes:
… experience must be taken as something over and above the physical properties of the world. (1996, 331)
As stated by Michel Bitbol, Director of Research in Applied Epistemology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research:
Consciousness is existentially, transcendentally, and methodologically primary. (2008, 16)
In other words, it is a property of the universe itself. It is universe consciousness. This is the answer to the question posed by the great physicist Steven Hawking:
What is it that breathes fire into the equations? (1988, 174).
It is the experiencing consciousness. This is how reality actually works. This is how the real world comes to life. Here, the word consciousness on its own is used exclusively to mean this experiencing phenomenon.
But how does it work? What is it, really? This is where we come to logical type. As Weyl describes, consciousness is to the succession of moments in physical reality as the projector is to the sequence of frames on the film. As described in Logical Types, this means that it is an utterly different type of phenomenon to physical reality. It is a ‘third-logical-type’ phenomenon. It thus has the property of bringing the world to life just as the projector brings a movie to life. Which is what we all constantly witness.
In this light the paradox is simply a ‘category error‘ of logical type, a mistake about the kind of thing this is. The consciousness that iterates the moments can only be something contextual to the world-line along which the viewpoint moves. It has to be a third-logical-type phenomenon in order to generate the experience of the passage of time that is encountered.
The third-logical-type phenomenon is also required to make sense of ‘quantum time’, which is something quite other than the time dimension of space-time. This explains how the mysterious collapse dynamics of quantum mechanics actually operates. This is described in Quantum Time.
Given the physics of relativity, and thus the static totality of the four dimensional space-time universe, there is a fundamental requirement for a moving viewpoint to account for what is experienced. There has to be a third-logical-type phenomenon. And as we all experience, consciousness is in precisely this position. The unthinkable implication is that the experiencer ‘in here’ is universe consciousness, a property of the entirety. But this is not a new idea. This is simply spirit. The word means that which brings to life, and it is this that brings to life the reality of each conscious individual.
This is how we come to be ‘transtemporal’ beings, meaning existing through time. In the light of the nature of this consciousness, we are now in a good position to understand the true nature of ourselves. As described in The World Hologram, the only determinate identity is the mind. And at each moment, this defines the whole of what is determinate in the world of this individual. It means we are the movies of life, experienced by the spirit of the whole. The implications are remarkable. As described in Quantum Immortality it means there is life after death.