Thursday, March 18, 2010


3:30 am on my day off, and the cat wants me to feed him. I always set my alarm an hour earlier than the actual time I want to get up, namely because I have a knee-jerk (or arm-jerk) snooze button reaction. Today the alarm is set later, but the routine is as usual. I give up at 4:30 and go feed him.

As I lay there in a half-awake state, I start to think about time. Time is a human construct. We talk about past, present, and future. Physicists and Buddhists talk about the present only-the only real time is "now". At some point time as we understand it disappears. The Sanskrit "Kala" means time. The goddess Kali is the devourer of time. Time seems to slow down when we are aware, and speed up when we are unaware. We experience premonitions, deja-vu, and all other sorts of time illusions. In relativity theory, time is bound up with space--they're both measurements of what we subjectively experience, relative to the speed of light. Stephen Hawking says in his book on time that we measure time in the direction in which disorder increases. He found it interesting that we remember the past, but not the future. Time seems to be an arbitrary tradition of human consciousness.

This is all well and good for humans, but what about animals? We've just had our annual daylight savings time change, so it's not convincing to point to something like the amount of light in the sky or other subtle natural factors. The cat still wakes me up at exactly the same time regardless, as if he has his own innate sense of time. For that matter--what about plant life? Again, one could point to changes in temperature and light for plant behavior, but they also seem to have a sense of human time. I remember when I was living by the river about 12 years ago. It was around the 20th of September, and everything was still very green. Autumn was to begin the next day. The next day came and--remarkably--all the trees had suddenly started to turn colors. A LOT of colors, not just a smattering here and there. The air was cooler, but it had been for awhile. All I could think was, how does Nature know? Even understanding the subtle factors that cause these changes, the punctuality of them on that day was staggering.

There is an implied consciousness here, even if it's mostly instinctual. Human consciousness is different from animal consciousness, and animal consciousness is different from plant consciousness, to be sure. But somehow we've agreed on this mutual illusion. Is it some kind of genetically coded thing, something evolutionary idea that we need to survive? I recall some comments Stephen Hawking made about time travel. There are some theories in physics that suggest this is possible, but we may be genetically "hard-coded" to avoid such endeavors. There is also the psychological tendency towards "ordering"--we have an innate need to organize disorder, to make sense of things we don't understand or don't fit in with our worldview. Such measurements as space and time help us do this. But it still doesn't really explain plants and animals. Are we back to Bell's Theorem and the idea that our proximity to each other makes us like each other? Have animals and plants adopted human ideas the way two particles in close proximity adopt the same spin? Or is it the other way around?

I would think about this some more, but time has slipped away from me in my unawareness. Time to go have needles stuck into me at the doctor's office. Then off to enjoy this beautiful day...

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