Time, Timelessness, and Experience

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Time, Timelessness, and Experience

Post by mgjohnson2552 »

My question is this: is “timeless experience” an oxymoron?

I’ve recently been thinking (or rather, attempting to think) about the mystery of “time”. My intuition is that “time” and “consciousness” are inextricably related phenomena: you can't understand one without the other. In the course of thinking about the relationship between time and consciousness, I came across a blog post by BK that has some relevance to the issue. In the post, he responds to an argument against panpsychism made by philosopher Susan Schneider. Here is a link to that particular post for context:

Idealism and emergent spacetime ~ Metaphysical Speculations (bernardokastrup.com)

Schneider’s argument rests on the intuition that “timeless experience is an oxymoron”. Basically, she argues that if experience presumes time, and time (spacetime) is itself emergent and not fundamental, then experience (consciousness) cannot be fundamental.

I’m not particularly concerned with the details of her (admittedly interesting and insightful) argument or its ramifications, but rather the validity of her specific intuition. It is an intuition that I share. I’m looking to further examine this slippery but persistent intuition, and would appreciate others’ thoughts on the matter.

To help explain what I’m trying to get at with this question, I’ll clumsily attempt to put some of my own intuitions into words.

Could a changeless, “eternal” moment (call it “Now”, or “The Big Picture”) be experienced consciously from “within” said moment? Consider this thought experiment: what if God were to “pause” time in our universe, and then later “resume” our universe’s time? Neither you nor I, existing within that moment, would notice any experiential difference in the flow of time from our perspective. Time would continue to pass for God (he would continue to “accumulate perceptions”), but you and I would be “stuck” (unknowingly) in a changeless state. A million years of God’s “time” could pass, but for us it would be an infinitesimally small, barely perceptible blip in our consciousness, just as is every other moment we ever experience. Unchanging moments, no matter how “eternal” they may appear from outside, are not experienced from within as such. The eternity that might pass while we remained stuck in stasis would be, for us, devoid of significance, meaning or experience. Any given moment of experience only has meaning and reality in relation to other differentiated and contrasting moments. Existence is found not in “things” (such as moments), but in the relation between them. Consider this crude example. In and of itself, the concept of “UP” is meaningless. It only has meaning and reality in relation to “DOWN” (its meaning is “generative”). Or consider the nature of elementary particles. What are these particles but “relational properties” (“spin”, “charge”, “mass”)? Independent and in isolation of other particles, these relational properties are meaningless and nil.

The same goes for “moments”. Existence is found not in “moments” (these are mere dimensionless abstractions, having no actual duration), but rather in the relationship or “movement” between moments. My intuition says that existence is intimately related to, and indeed dependent on, change, which seems to presume “time”. Experience requires an independent, external workspace in which to draw distinctions, make comparisons, and register changes. I cannot conceive how such distinction-making could take place without some temporal sequence to structure it.

In the blog post, BK notes how we only ever experience the present, and that memories of the past and expectations of the future only ever occur as experiences in the present. There is no past or future “out there”, he points out. Of course, this is true. However, the question remains: why am I aware, “now”, of this particular moment or series of moments (this particular present), and not another moment (say, a moment from 10 years ago, or 10 years into the future)? What is now my “past” was once, for me, a very real “present”, yet it is “present” to me no longer. What is now, for me, the very real “present” will, at some point, be a past memory. Consciousness’ illumination of one moment at the expense of another, appears real. Perhaps Presentism is true, and only the present ever exists, but doesn't the present truly change? Doesn’t change necessitate some notion of time?

If timeless experience is possible, what would such an experience of timelessness be like?

What is change? You can have differences without change (say, a static image that is half black, half white), but no change without differences. “Change” is a special kind of “differencing”. The “difference” registered in “change” is a difference in ontological status: between being and non-being. A recognition is made that something that once was, now is not; or that something that was not, now is. It's not merely a recognition of the difference between two different existing qualia (say white and black), but rather a recognition of the difference between qualia and their absence.

So, is “timeless experience” an oxymoron? Thanks in advance if you have any insights on this question!
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Re: Time, Timelessness, and Experience

Post by ScottRoberts »

mgjohnson2552 wrote: Wed Aug 18, 2021 8:04 pm So, is “timeless experience” an oxymoron? Thanks in advance if you have any insights on this question!
My thoughts on the question can be found in this short essay. Briefly, I argue that if 'time' is defined as "awareness of change", then to make some sense of it requires a different way of thinking that I call tetralemmic polarity: that awareness of change is a polarity of time and timelessness, or change and changelessness. With this way of thinking about it, one can also make some sense of the mystic's claim of experiencing timelessness. Normally we are focused on the time pole of the polarity, but it might be possible to switch focus to the timelessness pole.
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Re: Time, Timelessness, and Experience

Post by SanteriSatama »

Changless, "eternal" moment can't be participatorily experienced without changing the inclusive whole. Unless you take some ridiculously weird mechanistic view to deny organic aspect of whole.
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Cleric K
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Re: Time, Timelessness, and Experience

Post by Cleric K »

mgjohnson2552 wrote: Wed Aug 18, 2021 8:04 pm My question is this: is “timeless experience” an oxymoron?
Hi mgjohnson,
I've posted a reply concerning your question here.
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Re: Time, Timelessness, and Experience

Post by mgjohnson2552 »

I appreciate the replies. I did read the two essays linked by ScottRoberts. You may very well be right that "time" is one of those phenomenon that is ultimately beyond our comprehension as human beings. I also appreciated your point that, while change in the "world" may indeed be an illusion, the experience of change in consciousness is an empirical fact.

Ultimately, I think that may be where Schneider goes astray. She appears to conflate "time" in physics (a static dimension of spacetime, with no preferred direction or special "present") with the mystery of psychological time (which has flow/direction, and a special "present"). How the experience of psychological time could emerge out of a static block universe (if indeed it does) remains unexplained by materialists. While physical time may indeed by emergent, this has little to say about the conscious experience of psychological time, since the relationship between the two is so unclear.

I also agree with SanteriSatama that a changeless, "eternal" moment cant be "participatorily experienced without changing the inclusive whole".

I'll head over to the thread started by Cleric K... looking forward to reading it. Thanks!
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