The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Time: What?

The subject of Time has puzzled and fascinated philosophers since the dawn of consciousness. What is Time made of? What is the matter of Time? Is Time a human invention?

There is no doubt that physical Time does not reflect psychological Time. Time, as we know it, is subjective and relative. There is a feeling to the flow of time that no equation of Physics can reproduce. Somehow, the riddle of Time reminds us of the riddle of consciousness: we know what it is, we can feel it very clearly, but we cannot express it, and we don't know where it comes from.

If you think that there is absolute time, think again. Yes, all clocks display the same time. But what makes you think that what they display is Time? As an example, let's go back to the age when clocks had not been invented yet: time was defined by the motion of the sun. People knew that a day is a day because the sun takes a day to turn around the Earth (that's what they thought). And a day was a day everywhere on the Earth, even among people who had never communicated to each other. Is that absolute Time?

What would happen if the Sun all of a sudden slowed down? People all over the planet would still think that a day is a day. Their unit of measurement would be different. They would be measuring something else, without knowing it. What would happen today if a galactic wave made all clocks slow down? We would still think that ten seconds are ten seconds. But the "new" ten seconds would not be what ten seconds used to be.  So clocks do not measure Time, they just measure themselves. We take a motion that is the same all over the planet and use that to define something that we never really found in nature: Time. 

At the least, we can say that measurement of Time is not innate: we need a clock to tell "how long it took". 

Unfortunately, human civilization is founded on Time. Science, the Arts and technology are based on the concept of Time. What we have is two flavors of Time: psychological time, which is a concrete quantity that the brain creates and associates to each memory; and physical time, an abstract quantity that is used in scientific formulas for the purpose of describing properties of matter.

The latter was largely an invention of Isaac Newton, who built his laws of nature on the assumption of an absolute, universal, linear, continuous Time. Past is past for everybody, and future is future for everybody.

Einstein explained that somebody's past may be somebody else's present or even future, and thereby proved that time is not absolute and not universal.  Any partitioning of space-time into space and time is perfectly legal. The only requirement on the time component is that events can be ordered in time. Time is pretty much reduced to a convention to order events, and one way of ordering is as good as any other way.

In the meantime, the second law of Thermodynamics had for the first time established formally the arrow of time that we are very familiar with, the flowing from past to future and not viceversa.


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