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Time

I was on my way to the university one day, some ten years ago. Not knowing what the lecture would be about – other than guessing that it would be archaeology related since I was in fact studying archaeology.

As I shoved my bike up the long, arduous hill that I had to pass in order to get through town, a thought popped into my head. A question, out of nowhere.

What is time?

The unexpected question gripped me completely, and I was completely lost in thoughts about time until I got to where I was going. It felt as though I got the tiniest insight, a little fragment of the puzzle that is truth, and it amazed me.

I walked into the classroom, and on the whiteboard it was written, in large letters:

WHAT IS TIME?

Turned out the lecture was about how time has been viewed by different schools of thought, from traditional folk lore to esteemed philosophers to very current physics theory. Me already being in the philosophic head-space and focused entirely on the question of time, had perhaps one of the most rewarding lectures during my years at uni, that day.

The fragment I stumbled upon is  hard to understand. Its apparent simplicity is deceiving.

All times exist simultaneously. Yesterday was always existing yesterday, and that never changes. Today is today no matter how many more days pass afterwards. 

Part of the problem is that we can not discuss something as existing simultaneously with another without including time as an aspect. But what we must try to do here is see time from the outside.

Imagine time as a line. Yes, that is an immense simplification and perhaps not at all accurate, but for the sake of the explanation just do it. Time as a line. Tomorrow is one point on the line. Yesterday was another. One cold evening a thousand years ago is another point on the line and sunrise 2 million years ago is another. Step out of the line, see it from the outside. The line exists. The past does not go away, it will always be there – if you imagine the word “always” as not being locked solely to the concept of time.

A simplification would be to speak of it as layers, like pages in a book, each one existing on top of the other. Each time, a different page. But that simplification is also difficult to deal with, it helps in one way but messes up in another, since it gives the impression of separation. That the person existing on one page is somehow separated from the version of himself on the next page, or the one before. And that is simply not the case. Just as yesterday’s me will always me in the now yesterday, and today’s me will always be in the now today, and tomorrow’s me will always be in the now tomorrow, it is still the same me.

A person, or an item for that matter, if seen from outside of time, consists not of separate little instances, but the sum of all. If I could step out of time and look at myself, each fraction of myself, existing in each moment, are all just pieces of a whole.

And when I hold an ancient object in my hand, I know that if seen from outside of time, that item is not only in my hand, but in a countless number of other nows as well. Somewhere another hand is holding it too. Somewhere it is created. Somewhere it falls to pieces. Not one moment of the item’s lifetime is ever gone. It all exists in the same time.

There is the fraction of an existence, which is in the now – whichever now we speak of – and there is the entire existence.

Time is but another dimension. And just as my town doesn’t mysteriously vanish just because I have left it and gone to visit another one, the past doesn’t vanish just because the fragment of myself that is now can no longer see it.

Fragments of existence are mere fragments. Live in the now, they say. And yes, we should. But we are also more than that. I am today, yesterday, the day I was born, the day I will die, and everything in between. The true self is not each fragment, but the whole.

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