What Is It, Anything at All?
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Do you understand Time? I mean really. —Ever give it much thought?
(Yes, I do this for a living.)
And here’s the thing—what is it?
Do me a favor, indulge me. Think about the present moment, nothing else. Take ten seconds, but don’t count. Think about it until you feel in touch with it…
Take your time. There’s no hurry. Observe the emptiness…
Be right back, I’m gonna get a sandwich.
(This only works if you play along.)
—Was that anything, that moment, and what about the continuous moment, the one that is still happening? Is that anything?
If so, what, exactly?
Of course it is Time (or is it?) because we call it that, but what is Time?
We’ll get to that, momentarily, but first here’s what others say (and they may need to put a little more thought into the matter). Here are their definitions of Time:
The system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.
Sorry, earthlings, but this definition raises more questions than it answers. It tells us Time is a system, and a system, according to the dictionary, is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.
Can you see how this doesn’t cut it, given the moment you are now observing? —Is that moment a system?
Don’t think so.
Another definition goes like this: Duration regarded as belonging to the present life as distinct from eternity; finite duration.
These words of wisdom again tell us Time is “regarded” as something. Sorry again, Venusians, but regar-ded means it’s just a way people look at it, not what it actually is. Bill Cosby was regarded as a swell guy, if you know what I mean, and Time likewise may be regarded as something, but what is it really? What is it made of? What is its essence? Anything at all?
Now here’s another one that’s more to the point, but that still uses the word “regarded,” and that describes Time, as: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.
In this definition, they still can’t get away from telling us that it is regarded as something, rather than telling us what it is. Time, though, this time, is equated to the progress of Existence.
And that may say more about the moment, the one that keeps happening (there goes another one), than anything so far. The moment, after all, if you followed along, is just you observing existence, pausing to remove attention from other things and understanding what it feels like to be. Moments do not come one after another anyway; the moment, the now, is seamless, formless, continuous, without beginning or ending. The idea of successive individual moments is just a concept. As with drops of water in the sea, there is no differentiation.
Basically, the thing we (and scientists) think of as time isn’t essentially anything. It’s just a measuring “system.” You can’t even call it the passing of events, because when no event takes place (now, or before the Big Bang) there is and was something we think of as duration, the same unending moment evident in our little exercise (provided you gave it a try).
Time, then, is just a way we conceptualize or measure something, but a concept or measuring device is not the object it conceives or measures—a ruler is not space, a speedometer is not speed, a thermometer is not heat. A calendar is not a year.
Not something easy to put your finger on, is it? Probably because it’s a contrivance. Time, as generally and inadequately conceived, might be seen as a ticking watch rather than the essence of the intervals between the ticks—the “place” where the owner of the watch finds himself quietly residing as the witness of his own existence, in which case his watch is a distraction.
I know what you’re thinking—the author has too much time on his hands. But how could it be on his hands, when it’s not even on his watch?
Now that sandwich.
It’s about time.