What is the shape of time?

Sixteen rocks, by Joanna Wiebe, 1995

What is the shape of time?
Is time long and wide?
Or tall?
Is it a bunch of boxes?
Is it digital or round?
Maybe a spiral?

Every day is different.

We all know that.
But then why do we have
Blue Mondays
and Harvest Moons?

Days can be particles and waves.

Time is the habit from which life erupts in novelty.

It helps  if you have a capacity for paradox.
You’ll see
Life isn’t messy,
Time is a fractal;
There is a pattern to all of our experience.
We just have to step back far enough to see it.

Joanna Wiebe, 1999


Western science has believed that the landscape of time is smooth and featureless in all directions, and that experiments should yield identical results from day to day, from century to century. Yet no one will argue that the personal experience of time is highly subjective, and varies from culture to culture. As Rainer Maria Rilke says, “…the clocks move separately from our authentic time.” Sonnet XII, “Sonnets to Orpheus”)

Time is an arrow

We believe in the arrow of time, in evolution. The physical structure of our books says that time is wide and linear, like a river. In “A Brief History of Time”, Stephen Hawking describes the three arrows of time. First, the thermodynamic arrow of time is the direction of time in which disorder or entropy increases. “Then, there is the psychological arrow of time. This is the direction in which we feel time passes, the direction in which we remember the past but not the future. Finally, there is the cosmological arrow of time. This is the direction of time in which the universe is expanding rather than contracting.”

Time is round or spiral

Until recently, our clocks have told the story that time is round, but in fact we know that time is more like a spiral, because each time the hour hand revolves, we find ourselves in a new, entirely different day. Some believe in reincarnation, a theory which posits that people are reborn higher or lower on the spiral of life, according to one’s behavior during the previous lifetime.

Time is a double helix

The Mayans described time as an interlocking grid of precise intervals between states of being, this grid being diagrammed as a double helix. The interval between integers is the state of chaos which is the matrix for creative activity. The mathematical system of the Mayans “assumes a unified field expressed through harmonic, binary progressions that, being intrinsically harmonic, also describe the unified space-time matrix as a field of resonance.” (Jose Arguelles, The Mayan Factor). In an earlier work, Arguelles suggested that time is a mandala, with a definite center (perhaps the subjective experience of time?), radial points, and a symmetry which can be fixed or absolutely dynamic and fluid.

Time is a hologram

Or perhaps, as Terence McKenna suggests, time is a “hologrammatic medium” in which we are embedded like “biological oscillators. This theory springs from his study of the Mayan calendar and his work with the King Wen sequence of hexagrams of the I Ching, or Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese divinatory tool McKenna describes each event as being surrounded by a resonance field. In McKenna’s theory, time and space are the interplay of two forces: the forces which are traditional, conservative and entropic, which he calls habit, and new forces of coplexity and innovation, which he calls novelty. “The universe of time can be thought of as a struggle between habit and novelty…a struggle in which over eons of time novelty is slowly winning over habit. Slowly new forms of complexity, planetary systems, organic life forms, civilizations emerge and give birth to more complex versions of themselves.” He firmly believes all this complexifying will coalesce by December 21, 2012 — at the “zero point” — into a novel pattern of being, a singularity which ends time as a construct for human life. “History will end and the transcendental object that has been drawing being into ever deeper reflections of itself since the first moments of the existence of the Universe will finally be completely concrescent in the three-dimensional space-time continuum.” This reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point” — “Because it contains and engenders consciousness, space-time is necessarily of a convergent nature. Accordingly its enormous layers, followed in the right direction, must somewhere ahead become involuted to a point which we might call Omega, which fuses and consumes them integrally in itself.” (from The Phenomenon of Man)

Time is a fractal

In “The Mayan Factor,” Arguelles suggests that life and all of space-time may be a fractal, a simple algorithm which yields infinitely complex patterns all based on the same proportionate relationships. This implies some sort of beginning to time, and a possible black hole at the end. Stephen Hawking tells of how some believe stars and galaxies developed from small differences in the density of the early universe from one region to another. One theory is that perhaps there must have been some underlying order in the “conditions at the boundary of space-time that specify the initial state of the universe.” Hawking proposed in 1981 at a conference on cosmology that spacetime is infinite but had no boundary, “no beginning, no moment of creation.” (And remember,  McKenna believes that the singularity happens at the end of time.) And then there are those who believe the edges of space-time are chaos.

Time has no shape

Perhaps you have experienced yourself making choices which seem to break the closed loop of time. The truth is that we are creative beings. To create means to fundamentally transform raw materials, yielding random and unpredictable results. And through our creative processes we alter our perception of time — and our perception of time is all there is to time.

“…time is the sequence of events and of states of consciousness as registered by the physical brain. Where no physical brain exists, what humanity understands by time is nonexistent.” says Alice Bailey ( Esoteric Healing). In other words, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to observe it, no one knows at what rate of speed it fell! Furthermore, Bailey suggests that as one evolves the ability to use the abstract mind, the use of the time factor decreases. In heightened states of consciousness (heightened emotionality, hallucinogenic experiences, spiritual or sexual ecstasy, etc.):, time has no meaning. “…if we inspect consciousness we find no past, present, future, but a unity embracing complexity. EVERYTHING is in consciousness…” (Benjamin Lee Whorf).

No matter what the physicists and mathematicians tell us, ultimately the human race and all of creation is quirky. Patterns generate novel patterns or perhaps merely yield algorithms for patterns which can’t be built because conditions are unsuitable, or they’re edged out by other patterns. In fact, time is a construct, so it doesn’t have an intrinsic shape. It only has the shape we assign it. As we learn to think and behave with more complexity, we give our time more fantastic shapes. As Einstein believed, “..in the theory of reativity there is no unique absolute time, but instead each individual has his own personal measure of time that depends on where he is and how he is moving.” (as described by Hawking). Time and space are dynamic — our choices and behaviors are the algorithms which determine the patterns which are generated. Our will and energy and feeling comprise the engine which determine the character, velocity and spread of the patterns.

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