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January 24th, 2020
Think of what it’ll be like when you go to bed tonight. It’ll most likely be dark, and quiet. Now here’s the question. If you drifted off to sleep, and slept for exactly 24 hours and woke up in the exact same conditions, that is, it’s dark in just the same way and it seems to be just about the same time, would you know that a day had passed?
Other than the fact that you might feel incredibly refreshed and energized, the answer is no. Unless you look at your phone for the date, or corroborate the missing time with other details, say the fact that you missed work, there’s simply no way to tell that time has past. Even if you’d had a slew of intense dreams, we’re all familiar with the experience of hitting the snooze button and having what seems like hours worth of dreaming in just a couple minutes.
This begins to unpack an unappreciated conundrum regarding time and our experience of it.
From a subjective point of view, time is not uniform. It ebbs and flows, it stops and then stitches itself together with huge gaps missing.
We’re all familiar with the experience of time seeming to crawl while we endure some less than ideal circumstance, like a boring day at work or school. Minutes seem to have complete painstaking lives of their own.
But when we have fun, time seems to fall away like cash on a spending spree.
However, regardless of how it slows down or speeds up, or stitches itself together across deleted portions, for us, our experience of time is endless.
But we die, you might say.
True, there’s a lot of evidence that points out the probable fact that we will all die. However, there lies a subtle unseen aspect of this experience.
The end of one’s time with death seems like an endpoint because everyone else who continues to live can mark that end point in a larger context.
This is an important point. The only reason there is an ‘end’ to anything is because people from other perspectives can place the duration of something, or in this case someone’s life in a larger piece of time. But for the person who has passed away, the experience of this expanded time quite literally doesn’t exist. The only way to be truly aware of the end of your life would be to experience the world after you cease to exist, which is of course a contradiction of terms.
The point of this exercise is to highlight something about our subjective experience of time. That is, since it’s dependent on our waking conscious existence, then our subjective experience of time and our life is that it never ends, our life is subjectively infinite. The moment we pass away, our life stops in time from the point of view of others, but from our own point of view, time ceases to exist. There is no future second, minute or hour during which we can look back and say that was my life and it ended right there. This inability to be aware of this end means that from our subjective point of view, it quite literally has no end. The awkward alternative is to say that our experience of time is infinite. This sounds ridiculous only because we quickly imagine that other people and the world will continue to persist beyond our life, but this is an imagined fiction. We have no way of accessing and experiencing those potential facts. We arrive at this imagined fiction inductively from the fact that other people have died, but this always fails to take into account what the subjective experience of time would be.
Another way to think about it is to go backwards: can you remember the moment you were born? No, or course not. We can all recall a few early memories, but it’s more accurate to say that our experience of time doesn’t really have a beginning. There is, however a point when we start remembering things in ways that we can recall, but this is no different than waking up in the morning. Your memory comes back on line. Perhaps you remember a few dreams, but you can’t remember every little toss and turn in the same way you can remember where you went at the end of the day.
While our conception of time and history allows us to place ourselves in a larger context, our own experience is one of a continually expanding, non stop ride.
We are in some sense strolling through infinity.
Albeit our own personal infinity.