With the pandemic in full swing, I have been watching Todd Rundgren's virtual Clearly Human tour that is being streamed from Chicago. This tour draws heavily from Todd's Nearly Human album, and the show ends with the album-closing song with lyrics:
"…time is an illusion
Time is an illusion, time is not real
Time is the dividing line between what is true and what is not true
Between what is real and what is not real
Between what is so and what is not so"
— Todd Rundgren, "I Love My Life"
What's that all about?
Imagine we are having a face-to-face conversation. I say, "Hello." You hear it. That's it. You can't rewind. Without some kind of recording device, you can't rehear it. My greeting only exists in the moment.
Now let's imagine an alternate reality. You are driving down a highway. As you look at the passing scenery, you see an oak tree. Moments later, you see a farmhouse. Now imagine that all your life that you've been taught that these things only exist in the moment. Like my oral greeting, the oak tree comes into view, you see it, and then it is gone forever. The farmhouse comes into view, you see it, and then it is gone forever.
We know that is not the case. Barring some catastrophic event, the oak tree and the farmhouse are always there. We could drive by on another trip and see the same oak tree and farmhouse. The oak tree and farmhouse do not only exist in the moment.
Now back to our reality. We experience time linearly. We can't go back. We can only experience time in the moment. Though we can only experience it in the moment, the events from our lives are always there. This is possible because all of the past, current, and future events happen simultaneously. We just experience events linearly. In the same way that the oak tree and farmhouse are always there, our past, present, and future are always there.
Don't take Todd's word for it. Check out what authors and physicists say:
"The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality."
— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Aristotle: Time is the measurement of change.
Newton: Time exists that measures days and movements (like the one defined by Aristotle) but also contends that "true" time passes regardless, independently of things and their changes.
"The synthesis between Aristotle's time and Newton's is the most valuable achievement made by Einstein." Time and space are real phenomena, but they are in no way absolute. They are not at all independent from what happens. They are not as different from other substances of the world. Time and space are the canvas on which the world is drawn, but this canvas is made of the same stuff that everything else in the world is made of, the same substance that constitutes stone, light, and air. It is made of fields.
— Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time
"People like us who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
— Albert Einstein
Our reality has to be like this. Otherwise, we can't address the question "What was there before the Big Bang?" As supporting evidence from Carlo Rovelli, the particles that make up space (length, width, and height) also make up time. Time is just the fourth dimension.
This was depicted in the movie, Interstellar when Matthew McConaughey's character looked down the tesseract and saw events from his life playing out simultaneously on walls at different levels within the tesseract.
Time is an illusion.
Time travel is alive in the lab.
[The title of this blog post is an allusion to a Trident gum slogan from the 1970s. It seems like only yesterday.]