Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 September 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Time and mind

"In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep; one must, above all, be a sheep." - Albert Einstein

Time and mind flow together, and will stop for none; but is time an abstract idea of the mind? Is that why they are able to flow together? If so, how do we construct abstract ideas like, mathematics, justice, time, or mind? We are aware that as you read this sentence, you probably think that this moment - right now - is what is happening. It is real. However much you may remember the past or anticipate the future, you live in the present.

Of course, the moment during which you read that sentence, is no longer happening. In other words, it feels as though time flows, in the sense that the present is constantly updating itself.

Thus, we know that our mental representations of things we can never see or touch is, built in part, out of representations of physical experiences in perception resulting in motor action. This structure is, built into our language, thought, and behaviour. How we live our lives hangs on it. Yet as natural as this way of thinking is, you will not find it reflected in science. The equations of physics do not tell us which events are occurring right now - they are like a map without the "you are here" symbol. The present moment does not exist in them, and therefore neither does the flow of time. Additionally, Albert Einstein's theories of relativity suggest not only that there is no single special present but also that all moments are equally real.


Fundamentally, the future is no more open than the past, even though we have a deep intuition that the future is open until it becomes present, and that the past is fixed. As time flows, this structure of fixed past, immediate present and open future is, carried forward in time and mind. Thoughts of past and future are conceptual ideas that exist in the mind. They are ideas that filter and distort our understanding. Until you eliminate these paradigms from your mind, you are essentially looking at something with glasses that distort what you see.

We divide time into 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours, 7 days, 4 weeks, and 12 months. But in antiquity, there have been many ways of recording the passage of time, and many ways to divide up the year into seasons and months. Although the Egyptians may have first divided the day into 24 hours over 5500 years ago, it was the Babylonians in their stargazing, moon charting, enthusiasm who divided time into divisions based on the movements of the moon and sun.


They divided weeks into 7 days to correspond to phases of the moon, and hours and minutes into divisions of 60 because they had a base-60 numbering system, and gave us the Zodiac. Thus, came to be the moon-based and sun-based systems as the foundation of Jewish and Christian calendars. It has remained in place as the world's most common system of time telling. The Babylonians astronomers spent lifetimes making careful measurements of the stars and stellar bodies.

Aristotle was amazed when he found 1,903 years' worth of astronomical observations from Babylon, and Ptolemy, the Egyptian scientist, had a Babylonian record of eclipses that dated back to 747BCE. They fixed the length of a tropical year within twenty-five seconds of the truth; their estimate of the sidereal year - the orbital period of the earth around the sun - was barely two minutes in excess. They knew the causes of eclipses and, by the aid of their cycle called Saros - a period of 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours - could predict them.

Their estimate of the value of that cycle was within nineteen and a half minutes of the truth. They measured exactly how the moon covered up stars; correctly knew the workings of the solar system; and the order of the planets.


This methodical, consistent, and careful approach informed their views about the world; and because they adapted their descriptions of reality in accordance with the evidence they discovered, they were becoming increasingly accurate. However, Babylon did not receive due recognition from the religions of Judaism and Christianity. Both rejected evidence-based approaches in favour of religious inspiration and ideology. Studying Babylonian knowledge became anathema throughout much of the Judeo-Christian influenced world. This conservative religious ideology reversed the clock of progress of Mankind by over a thousand years.

The most common interaction between science and religion seems to be conflict: science finding that religious beliefs are false and religion insisting that science, mind its own business.

Is it necessary for science and religion to conflict in this manner? Albert Einstein seems to have felt not; but at the same time, he often recounted just such conflicts occurring. Part of the problem is that Einstein seems to have thought, there existed a 'true' religion that could not conflict with science. This is what he said in his writings about Science and Religion:

"To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress."


That being so; having remained in the darkness of ignorance, dark ages, for over a thousand years - the interval between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance and the Age of Discovery - as a result of the conflict between religion and science; man is finally emerging from the cocoon of ignorance.

The ancient Greek and Roman civilizations were, remarkably advanced for their time. Both civilizations immensely contributed to human progress, notably in the areas of science, government, philosophy, and architecture. Yet, despite 2,500 years of investigation into the nature of time, many issues about it are unresolved. For instance, how is, time related to the mind - especially when there are at least three identifiable types of time? There is the physical time: the time that clocks measure. Then there is the biological time; indicated by the rhythm of the body clock that is normally, regulated by the pattern of sunlight and darkness. Then there is the psychological time that is different from both physical time and biological time.


Thus, a major philosophical problem is to explain the origin and character of our temporal experiences. The mind takes an active role in building a mental scenario of what is taking place beyond the mind.

For instance, if you tap both your knee and your nose at the same time with your two hands, your brain should feel the sensation of taping your nose before it feels the other. But it is not so. Even though it takes longer for the signal from your knee to reach your brain than the signal from your nose to reach your brain, you will have the experience of the two tapings being simultaneous - thanks to the brain's manipulation of the data.

Neuroscientists suggest that your brain waits about 80 milliseconds for all the relevant input to come in before you experience a "now." Thus, the brain sometimes manipulates what the mind perceives. Hence, we may conclude that any organism's sense of time is subjective, but is the time that is sensed also subjective, a mind-dependent phenomenon? Throughout history, philosophers of time have disagreed on the answer.

Without minds in the world, nothing in the world would be, surprising, or beautiful or interesting. Can we add that nothing would be so without time? The answer to that is in the question: what is time? Space restricts me in answering that here.

May be at another time, another article, the mind will unravel the mysteries of time.

For views, reviews, encomiums, and brickbats: [email protected]


Daily News & Sunday Observer subscriptions
eMobile Adz

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | World | Obituaries | Junior |


Produced by Lake House Copyright 2015 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor