“This is a dualism, I think, that runs through all cultures, that there is time and then there is eternity, and that some things, in some sense, have an existence outside of time. They are eternal.”Paul Davies, interview from Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit by Krista Tippett
The human, and presumably earthly, experience of time is asymmetrical, or forward flowing. We cannot reverse time. We cannot visit the past. We cannot jump into the future in a supple quantum leap. We are born. We live. We die. We can only speculate over the idea of eternity because our temporal experience does not provide proof of anything truly eternal.
In Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, Krista Tippett interviews Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist about the impact of physics on religious experience.
“Augustine said that the world was created with time and not in time. He placed God outside of time altogether, a timeless, eternal being.”Paul Davies
Einstein held a particular curiosity about our earthly experience of time, and his theory of general relativity and space-time gave rise to a model of our universe in which our experience of time is illusory. The model is called the block universe. Imagine our universe exists in a closed clear box. Space and time are entirely contained within; thus, everything that has happened, and everything that will occur, exist concurrently within this time-space container. Suppose a being exists outside of our block universe. This being could, then, see our entire universe, our entire experience of existence, simultaneously. This being would see every stage of creation–primordial beings, the modern era, and the apocalyptic future–and it would enact before the being in one concomitant experience.
Such is the accepted view of our existence, and this conception yields implications for our human perception of time and eternity. For starters, if this is the true state of the universe, then past, present, and future have already occurred–are already occurring. This means our asymmetrical, linear experience of time is a mirage. Likewise, this model assumes the existence of a fifth, unseen, dimension of space, and this is what interests me most. A fifth, unseen dimension accounts for the existence of a being–or beings–outside of our temporal experience. The block universe model establishes the existence of a space for deity, for spirit. Some scientists argue that this also indicates that our existence–our temporal experience–must be predetermined. If forward moving time is an illusion, and past, present, and future are happening concurrently, then what of free will?
My husband and I had a conversation about this today. I am not a scientist. I know nothing of physics and I have always been terrible at math. I provide this qualification because I assert that predetermination is not implicit in the block model of the universe. My argument is philosophical in nature. Just because a being could exist outside of our universe and watch the unfolding past, present and future in one concurring production, does not mean the voyeuristic being created or willed the events as they unfold. My husband provided the following analogy: suppose you and a friend are fans of a certain popular television drama. You have already seen the most recent episode. Your friend has not. Your experience of the episode is much like that of the eternal being watching our block universe. Your friend’s experience of the show represents our temporal experience of the universe. Your knowledge of the episode has no bearing on the outcome. You cannot change the show or intervene in the conflict. Apart from interjecting spoilers, which will impact your friend’s emotional reaction to the plot, there is nothing you can do to change the outcome of the show.
According to Rachel Thomas, in several articles on plus.maths.org, cosmologist Marina Cortes arranged the Time in Cosmology Conference to debate and discuss, alongside other leaders of her field, alternative models of the universe that address the problem of the unlikelihood of the Big Bang and its impact on our temporal experience. Cortes proposes a model that accounts for the asymmetry of time as the fundamental force, giving rise to general relativity and quantum physics, uniting the two fields cohesively. I wonder, would this theory disprove Einstein’s assertion that our experience of time is illusory? Would it allow for eternal existence–a being outside of time–God? Cortes’s model indicates that both past and future do not exist–the one completely expired and the other forever outside of our grasp. What does this mean for our concept of eternity?
A romantic and an idealist at heart, I would like to believe eternity is real. That consciousness will outlast our temporal existence.
If you would like to know more about these topics, these are the resources that informed my post:
Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit by Krista Tippett