The Original Think Magazine (Published since 1996)
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Time Perceptions

Perceptions of time

When did humanity first acknowledge the existence of time?  It must have happened at different periods through out human existence because a global perspective or a world citizen is a very recent idea....

So, at what point in a society's evolution did that specific society decide that time exists in a past/future context?

One can point to genealogies in the book of Genesis but, then again, genealogies are not necessarily the acknowledgement of the past and the future, they are more likely the refinement of tradition for those who kept them.

When God created the world in seven days, it was due to a translation from a more ancient language that had an ambiguous word meaning (seven) "periods of time."


Even anthropological studies show that non-literate societies (genealogy keeping or not) have different conceptions of the human existing on this linear past/futurive level.

One can delve into nature's example.

Animals look neither to yesterday or tomorrow, they live in the present either fulfilling the desires and needs of instinct and survival, or in relaxation and contentedness.

One can then draw conclusions that the less industrial/agriculturally/technologically advanced the society, the closer it parallels nature's example of the existence of time. Likewise, the more technologically advanced the society, the more temporally it is driven and the more its members acknowledge time in the context of the past and the future.

This in turn leads one to question: Does time exist as we know it? Are current acknowledgements of time due to current levels of technological advancements? Does time exist at all?

Upon reading the eleven definitions of time in a 1991 edition of a Merriam-Webster dictionary; one quickly discovers that (by definition) time does not exist, it is merely a conception.

Whether your mind decides to notice (#11) an experience during a particular period, or (#8) a moment, hour, day, or year as indicated by a clock or calendar; it becomes quickly apparent that all these definitions describe a way we have decided to conceive memorable events, important moments with global relevance, or a way to clock our life on earth as a human, but these definitions do not describe something which is tangible.

One can theorise that only the present exists, after all, one can not experience the past or the future only anxiety and hope; even psychics can only regress to the past with feelings or have premonitions of what might be.

This theory, however, comes close to an animal's conception of time and therefore seems a bit too shallow. There are past/future theories of time traveling (suggesting it must exist), but infinite mass keep them as theories.

We have altered time in measurements on atomic clocks. But these extremely small increments lead more to a theory that if time does exist, it is much less tangible than most humans picture it in their minds.

It would be foolish to say "time does not exist" and then stop; as Merriam-Webster pointed out, one can pick up a history or science book and see that the universe has been a everlasting succession of events best described by the word time. But one must also realize that time in reference to the living human being is simply that human's conception of it.

A strange example of time-bending lies in the 1950s when a Canadian brain surgeon by the name of Penfield was performing operations on epilepsy patients. Because the brain feels no pain, he was able to use only a slight anesthetic (in order to open the head), and then proceeded to operate on patients in relatively full states of consciousness. Penfield would touch the temporal lobe of his patients with various tiny electrodes, and simultaneously his patients would have a complete recall of past experiences. Although Penfield remained in the room, the patient began to co-exist in two different places - the past and the present were no longer the past and the present - they were both the present.

One could argue that the same situation occurs in dreaming, except in the case of Penfield, his patients were aware of both places with relative clarity. In dreaming one is not aware of their physical existence. This coexistence is impossible in a past/future perspective of time; it is also impossible in a perspective that only experiences the present. It does lead into a quite old and forgotten perspective of time, eternity, or more specifically stated, an eternal moment of now.

Through out humanity there have been generally three types of ways in which people have been conscious of time; the past/future thinkers, the eternal thinkers, and those who do not think about it at all.

The eternal thinkers (who are few in number) nearly always are identified (and identify themselves) within a religious sect. A shallow but easily understood phrase to help one understand their perception is: "At one time I am out of time (before birth) at another time I am in time (during life) then I am eternal once more (after death)."

However, upon reading excerpts written by eternal thinkers one soon comes to the understanding that life (to them) is an opportunity to experience their eternal existence in the temporal realm without falling victim to temporal desires.  If the individual exists physically and spiritually, and the mind lies between these two forms of consciousness, then the eternal thinker tries to pay complete attention to the spirit which in most cases is the same as the pursuit of knowing God or the divine ground.

{xtypo_quote}Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time. And not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but temporal affections; not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time. - Meister Eckhart{/xtypo_quote}

The past/future thinkers, who would deny the existence of an eternal now, have been proven again and again to be the enemies of the betterment of humanity. These people, although they live in it, rarely experience the present. They live to a great extent in memory, anxiety, or anticipation.

Whether the influential figures/thinkers of the temporal thought process lie in politics, religion, the market place, or wherever they can influence a great number of people, their influence has always led the human race on a path of idolatry, egoism, destruction, and/or mass death.

The most effective way to address the past/future thinkers is in three idolatrous classes: the technologically idolatrous, politically idolatrous, and religiously idolatrous. Take note that each of these forms have not advanced humanity, yet are highly respected by present society.

Technological idolatry (i.e. big business, capitalism) deals nearly completely with the future rather than the past. The technologically fooled public believes that liberation and betterment lie in the advancement of machines, gadgets, artificial intelligence, or generally speaking, in modern technology. This belief denies the spiritual nature of humans to the highest degree.

It says, the future will be better because a capitalistic environment will produce faster cars to get to work in, cheaper flights to get to the Bahamas, air conditioners to blast colder air, greener golf courses, etc.

People seemed to be fooled into thinking that these technological improvements will eventually lead to a better future of sloth and luxurious living. But this is ridiculous when one considers that technologies first advancements have always been installed into mechanised war making.

The idea is that through this specific kind of future-worship, technology can get us something from nothing. And what average mind would not think this when the product that propels us to our utopian existence is surrounded in advertisement by perfectly figured women in bikinis or some other unreal yet physically idealistic situation.

Nothing is wrong with better machines as long as they do not cause a form of idolatry, but history proves that they always do.

The cotton gin never liberated the slaves of American plantations. It only allowed them to pick the seeds out faster and give the plantation owners more cotton to sell.

The slaves remained slaves.

{xtypo_quote}The present is the only aperture through which the soul can pass out of time and into eternity. - Aldous Huxley{/xtypo_quote}

Likewise, today's medical advancements rarely help the majority of the population who really need them. If a cure for AIDS was found, it would be certain that Magic Johnson would be saved from a horrible death, but would all the needle infected heroin addicts in New York still perish?

The only liberation that occurs in a technologically idolatrous society is amongst the upper class.

Besides, liberation of humanity could never exist in this context because it feeds upon human egoism, which is one of the greatest enemies to anyone realizing the eternal existence of now.

Members of the second form, political idolatry (i.e. Marxists, members of the Third Reich, Nationalistic Americans) believe that liberation can be found in the specific organization of social and economic matters. Rather than placing one's faith in technological progression, political idolatry usually takes the form nationalism (a pseudo religion).

Nationalism presents an easy way to illustrate the past/future mind set by using the example of its most destructive changing process, which is also its most predictable false-promise for deliverance into a brighter future: war and specifically speaking, revolution.

Any large-scale political movement has begun in revolution, and the aim of all revolutions is to change what is bad about the present and fight for a bold new future or for what was good about the past.

Either way, the populous and its political leaders are infatuated with the past or the future. They are enveloped in a temporal idea, which says they will be doing something new and better in the future or something within the more desirable traditions of the past.

The problem is that this form of idolatry is so completely consumed by time that the people leading these kinds of rebellions feel completely justified using any physical means to get to their false-deliverance, which always results in the massive loss of human life.

It is ironic that no political idolater has ever consulted someone knowledgeable in the psychology field. Had this happened, it would have been completely apparent to him or her that the psychological and social conditions created by mass killing and destruction would never allow the population to enter a state of utopia.

In the Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley recalled the Epicurean attitude of life: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." This is not a very noble, nor even a very realistic kind of morality.

But it seems to make a good deal more sense than the revolutionary ethic: "Die (and kill), for tomorrow someone else will eat, drink, and be merry."

The third type, which is by far the most sad and deceiving of the three because it puts forth a false idea on how to reach a spiritual plane, is religious idolatry (i.e. the history of western religion).

The easiest religion to cite is Christianity simply because it is the most historically documented (which already points to time obsession). Since the first three hundred years after Christ was martyred (the years in which it became the state religion of the Roman Empire and the Bible was compiled), Christianity has been time obsessed. It has paid great attention to happenings in time and very little attention to what is true deliverance - eternity in heaven.

By not recognizing (in Genesis 1:27) that man was created in God's own image, it was easy for Christians to create a God in their own image.

In a state of religious idolatry one replaces the divine (in this case the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by setting in his own desire for what he believes is right or what he wants out of the temporal life, rather than actually having divine intuition on the matter.

Worship, in this sense, is idolatry because it is not worship of God and the divine or eternal. It is worship of their own ethical ideas. As the politically idolatrous will kill in the name of a better future the religiously idolatrous can see fit to kill or do other ungodly acts in the name of their God.

Thus, as soon as Christianity became mixed with imperialism, it was not hard to imagine a God who justified forced conversion, assimilation, or else slaughtering in his name.

Crimes such as the crusades, the inquisition, the conquests of both Charlemagne and the Spanish empire, and the various Protestant/Catholic wars suddenly become quite predictable in a religion based upon love and forgiveness because the God who loves and forgives had been molded in man's time obsessed image.

The religion of Christianity is good in teaching but, all too often, rather than becoming a pursuit of spiritual knowledge and unity with God, it becomes a practice revolved around recitation and interpretation of the English translation of a document originally written in many different languages.

The fact that words are mere symbols and truth lies in direct experience not vocabulary is usually ignored. Hence, throughout history there have been two types of Christianity, not Catholic and Protestant, but eternal based and temporal based. The line can be easily drawn between the two when citing an instance during 1688.

Quaker theology is a form of eternal philosophy.

The Quakers renounced worldly desires and ignored historical events. They believed that the spiritual light is in all human beings and that salvation is achieved by conformity with this inner light. Their practice was very spirit-oriented and many would go into physical convulsions while reaching their spiritual realm.

The name Quakers refers to their spiritually quaking experiences. It is no surprise then, that due to their spiritual (and thus eternal) based beliefs they were the first (in 1688) to denounce slavery and proclaim racial equality in the new world.

While most other sects of the Church were busy interpreting Matthew 17:27 and 22:15-22 (instances when Christ paid a tax to the Roman government insinuating that all should consider succumbing to their governments) and beginning to morph into today's political idolatry, the Quakers were making the first stand towards racial unity, and in their minds, a step towards spiritual unity.

This Quaker philosophy can be seen on a grander scale when comparing world religions. One should take note that unlike Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (all of which are time obsessed on a general scale), Hinduism and Buddhism (both of which ignore time and pursue the spirit) have put forth almost no holy wars and have never evolved into religious imperialism. This leads into the forgotten yet much more enlightenment-pursuing thought process of the eternal thinker.

The eternal thinker recognises that ultimate good is in the eternal and the spiritual, not in the immediate future or on a physical plane. An eternal thinker realizes that if an eternal moment of now does exist then what one is doing presently projects eternally.

And at all times one must realize that he or she is projecting the image of themselves (by their thoughts and actions) directly into eternity.

When the ultimate good is taken from the future and placed in the eternal it is simultaneously placed in the present. Things such as killing or liberation by material gain become absurd because it does not further an eternal goal. And not everyone involved in traditional Christianity has shared traditional views.

During the history of murder and crime committed by the imperial Catholic Church, there were also numerous saints and mystics (who were usually disassociated from the papacy) writing incredibly insightful documents on finding and describing the true spiritual/eternal nature of humanity.

Christianity in its origin is an eternal philosophy and Christ (as documented by the New Testament) lived in the ways of the eternal thinker, exhibiting passive awareness, selflessness, and nonviolence.

It is possible for two completely different thought processes to occur within the same religion. When one reads the history of the temporally minded Charlemagne and his attempt to reinstate a holy Roman-Catholic empire in the west, one realizes it was really an attempt at the mass genocide of cultures refusing to take on imperial Christianity as their own belief.

Which seems extremely similar to an attempt made by Hitler about 1100 years later on any culture that refused to accept a religion based on a future of Aryan rule. But if one looks into the history of Christian mysticism in the Middle Ages one finds a completely opposite statement being written by Meister Eckhart.

"People should think less about what they ought to do and more about what they ought to be...Do you imaging that you can rest your salvation upon actions; it must rest on what you are."

Certainly both Charlemagne and Hitler (along with every other temporally minded leader through out history) typically thought that their salvation lied only in actions. But Shankara warned, "Work is for the purification of the mind, not for the perception of Reality.

The realization of the Truth is brought about by discrimination, and not in the least by ten million acts." One must also note with Meister Eckhart that "What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love."

Ones thoughts must transcend the typical Christian belief that we are helpless until we die and must sit around trying to behave and pray for salvation. Both thought and action are significant according to eternal projection, but more importantly, it is their mixture that truly brings about awareness.

One must conquer the mind and the body to reach a spiritual, and therefore, eternal awareness past a mere theory.

Buddhism (probably the most eternal minded religion), Jainism (Indian), and all sects of Christianity except those made impure with one of the three idolatrous classes have used virtue and right action as the way by which the mind is made ready for contemplation and more importantly real eternal awareness.

Recitation and interpretation for the purpose of manipulation and meaningless servitude, however, is rather insignificant unless recitation is used as a tool to control the mind or the body - but this is more likely to be a form of chanting.

Simply put, if an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, being or form does exist and does exist in virtues put forth by the eternal philosophers such as charity, love, selflessness, and understanding.

Then it would be a shallow interpretation of that being or form to say that it damns you because you coveted your neighbor’s wife, or you lied, or because you worshipped an idol (which could be anything considering the three forms of idolatry described above).

This interpretation only describes a divinity with characteristics such as jealousy, egocentrism, and insecurity, not understanding or charity. It makes more sense to say that these things are brought to one's attention because they are great obstacles on the path of one ever realizing that one exists on an eternal plane with a omnipresent being who is defined by love, truth, joy, charity, and so on.

The end of all eternally aware individuals is in contemplation and unitive knowledge in the divine. Eternally minded individuals feel no need to get wrapped up in technological, political, or religious idolatry.

From the perspectives of having "all the time in the world," yet knowing that "now is the time," contemplation seems to be the most logical route. Contemplation can and does exist outside of the eternally aware, but it is most likely contemplation of a form of idolatry. It is very recent that Western humanity has taken upon this concept of progress and advancement.

The current ethic seems to say that if we build fast enough computers or liquidate enough of the right people we will finally reach a utopia: a future with no problems.

Before, when people generally believed in a more cyclical pattern of time and at a time when the general majority of people were God-fearing or at least believed in a divine ground, being a contemplative was much easier. Although most people at those times were held back by obstacles such as superstition and myth, people who chose to understand life on an eternal plane could do so with many less distractions and problems.

Compare this to today's spiritually minded person living in a time-worshipping, idolatrous, capitalistic population. Today people granted with insight into the psychologically conscious, namely psychics and those with other forms of extrasensory perception generally use their powers for temporal gain, not in search of God and the spiritual meaning of life or even the betterment of humanity.

As Aldous Huxley made abundantly clear in his Perennial Philosophy the time-obsessed people of humanity (whether they are intelligent, psychic, influential, or normal) are at a chronically improper relation with their spiritual existence and thus, with God, along with nature and other members of the human race.

They are out of touch with God in the sense that they deny the existence of a true spiritual realm despite evidence to the contrary. Or else they use religion to misinterpret people's place on Earth, taking the attitude of "pray for deliverance and wait for death." Some even claim that salvation is in industrial/technological progression on a grand scale to ensure a lie of a problem-free society, when all they are doing is hastening the end by destroying irreplaceable resources and keeping the wealthy on an elite level.

Finally, there are those who discriminate or persecute others based on race, religion, sexual preference, or financial standings. Which is illustrated historically by slavery, hierarchy, or a caste system, or more recently by the massacre of Christians by Muslims in Africa, neo-Nazis, the KKK, or something more discreetly like urban racial zoning or project housing.

It is quite evident that a spiritual realm does exist.

And from the writings of those humans blessed with enlightenment it is also evident that the spirit is eternal and spirit remains ever the same. But it is also evident that man (being influenced by his psyche and physical desires) cannot easily remain with his spirit.

Although the path to spiritual/eternal awareness is a road much less traveled, its lifestyle seems to be infinitely more beneficial to the self. Living in contentedness, in virtue and with perceptive enlightenment seems the better alternative.

Although the stipulation of being virtuous comes across as intimidating to most, virtue is certainly much more desirable than the characteristics that define those who are too involved in the past and the future.

Those who are ruled by habit, prudence, temporal desires, and what they "feel" is their future expectation are never able to experience a life where selflessness and charity have put a stop to egoism, or where anticipation and hope have been replaced by vision. Those who spend their life to a great extent in memory and anticipation, not in the present or the eternal, are sacrificing themselves to a life of much less fulfillment.

In closing: Many of these ideas were taken directly from Aldous Huxley's master piece The Perennial Philosophy and recorded lectures he gave in 1957 at the University of California. For a more detailed look at ideas presented in this column see pages 184-200, 243-244, and 250-253 of the Perennial Philosophy.

Who are the eternal thinkers?

They are all around you. Look for those who are interested in the human situation not in the pursuit of temporal gain.

I could suggest Jesus Christ (the one described by reading the New Testament yourself not by some narrow minded enthusiast), Aldous Huxley (of course), most followers of Buddhism, Meister Eckhart, Jalal Uddin Rumi, St. John of the Cross, William Law, Socrates, Neil Donald Walsch, John Dewey, Mahatma Gandhi, and many, many others but look around yourself or join in the pursuit of the spirit, the eternal, and of human interest past temporalities.