The Human Experience -- Time and the Hope of Immortality
Your Time's Up?
"Your Time's Up" is one of the most frequently used phrases in human experience. Whether "Your Time's Up" applies to minutes allowed for speaking in a formal debate, students taking a timed test, time for game show contestants to answer a question or time allowed for legislators to present a bill in Congress, the importance of time is engrained in our human experience from an early age.
"Your Time's Up" can be the message, unspoken or not, given to terminally ill patients. It is also the message that lurks for many of us when we think about our own death.
The End of Time?
The belief that time itself will end is embraced by many religions and has long been a subject of debate among physicists. Many who believe in an afterlife also believe that, for them at least, time will either cease to exist or will have no impact on them, because they will continue to exist forever. In other words, the hope of immortality will be fulfilled.
Many physicists have believed that The Big Bang, that explosive event that purportedly created all matter as we know it, presumably also created time itself. Many of those same physicists have also believed that both the universe and time will eventually end.
With the development of quantum physics, the concept or reality of time is thrown into question. Quantum physics establishes that there is no time or space, that everything inter-reacts with everything else instantaneously without regard to distance. Most physicists believe in the actuality of quantum mechanics, but have been trying to unify quantum mechanics principles with the time and space principles of Einstein's theories of relativity.
Is Time Real?
Albert Einstein said “Time has no independent existence apart from the order of events by which we measure it.” When, toward the end of his life, he was informed that a physicist friend of his had died, he wrote a letter to his friend's family, saying that although his friend had preceded him in death it was of no consequence, "...for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one."
If Time Isn't Real, Then What About an Afterlife and Immortality?
I spoke with noted physicist Julian Barbour following his publication of his renowned book "The End of Time" in 1999. In his book he had affirmed Einstein's statements regarding the illusion of time. I told Dr Barbour that I had long been fascinated with concepts of time, death and immortality, and that I had migrated from a very conservative Christian fundamentalism to views more consistent with Eastern philosophy and religion. I also told him that I had long believed that a person's view of the world was simply a projection of perceived beginnings and endings, for instance the most basic childhood observation that whoever "we" are started with our birth, was defined by our physical limitations (e.g. the edge of our skin separating us from everything else), and ended when our physical body ceased to exist.
What Dr. Barbour then said has completely changed my world view. "Our bodies as we presume them to be undergo infinitesimal, continuous and instantaneous deaths and rebirths at the molecular and subatomic levels." He went on to say that it is only our brain's memories of point-in-time events that promote the illusion that we either have been or will continue to be a person who exists from birth, to death, and then to some kind of afterlife and immortality.
The key message, which I still struggle to understand, is that time, transcendence beyond time, and immortality are all illusions. What really exists is the infinite existence of a now that connects and interrelates everything to everything else.