Life, a Time Paradox

Or, we live simultaneously in linear, cyclical and circular timelines

Dargenta_&_Salvador_Dali_The_persistance_of_Memory @ Wiki Commons

You create time. Every day. From the get go, you decide when your day start and when it ends. You decide its pauses and rhythms. Your time is not everyone’s. It is yours. Worst punishment you can inflict on someone? Steal from that person the ability to decide on her/his time. This miracle can only exist because of your perceptions, your mind, your decisions. It is quite simply the paradox that fascinates me most.

In my article Calling Time on Time, I shared some of the apparent contradictions between perceptions of the past, as seen today and yesterday. That led to the conclusion that linear and circular time could not possibly co-exist, yet always did.

Let’s dig further into this apparent contradiction.

What is linear, cyclical and circular time?

a) Linear time

Linear time is the easiest to experience. You can define linear time as a succession of events drawing from a point, we call “start” or beginning, to a point we call “end”. A chronology. There is a past and a future.

Both past and future are actually immaterial. We largely imagine or construct them. Even with photographic, eidetic memory, the past remains a selection of events. The past is always a patchwork which does include a date, for sure, but also a mixture of emotions, colours and sights which we glue together in a photo album we call “the past”. By definition, the future does not yet exist and hence remains a function as well of our imagination, fantasy and ability to project ourselves into alternate realities and logical deductions. Hence, both past and future are defined in the exact moment you call “now”, the present.

Like the 1900s movies and science fiction illustrations, past and future are both imperfect and relative imagined pictures. However much you try to refine your vision of both, it remains a selection.

The present (“now”) itself is a time concept that is defined by loss, decay and choices. This definition is not a negative one. It just describes a natural process.

Linear time is quite literally the time we are born with. We are born – although we generally don’t remember it – at a day we preciously note down. We live in rhythms defined, until we die when the systems stop working. We personally won’t know that date, that end. But someone else will note it down and it will be a marker in his/her own timeline.

b) Cyclical time

Cyclical time is most of the external time experience we have. A never-ending succession of events that repeat themselves endlessly at our own personal scale. Planet rotations, meteors, seasons, day and night cycle are the most obvious. But add fashion and tastes, there is here also some kind of cycle. You can talk about clothes fashion, such as the 10 years apparent cycle of jeans between bell bottoms and skin-tight jeans. A cycle of ideas.

Love of nature against push for technical progress has also not ceased alternating since the early 19th century. We know and follow actively these cycles.

c) Circular time

Circular time is the most intriguing, as it denies notions of beginning and end, to replace it with a loop. It does not necessarily mean that individual events on this timeline repeat themselves. The elements re-occur, like an endless loop.

Take an example: hydrogen and oxygen are both individual gasses. In a void, they can combine and become water (H2O). From water, they can again become individual gasses – without material loss. Bar the reaction induced, it can be argued that the two phases are in a circular time loop.

This is what we know so far. There exist 3 different types of time:

a) linear, with a beginning and an end;
b) cyclical, a continuous movement of recurring events, a chain of events;
c) circular, no beginning and no end and no repeating cycle, just an endless loop.

The time paradox

Logics tells us that time should be either linear, cyclical or circular. Either it begins and ends. Or it repeats itself endlessly. Or it does not begin nor end but is a loop. These 3 states are mutually exclusive.

However, our individual experience tells us something different. Our experience tells us that time can be linear and cyclical and circular. Time does begin and end every year, from the first of January to the 31st of December. A measurable unique timeline, i.e., time is linear. Simultaneously, time moves from winter to spring, summer, then fall, and then back into winter again. A chain of events, i.e., cyclical time. On top of this, we also experience time as being circular, as in, the 1st of January follows again after the 31th of December. An endless loop.

Logic tells us one thing. Experience another. We happily accept this paradox.

We accept as normal a complete paradox that time is on one hand linear and cyclical and circular, but in our experience it is not. Linear and circular time could not possibly co-exist, yet always did.

The scientific community did not resolve the time paradox… yet

Check out Quora for the latest scientific discussions. Everyone has an opinion, whether physicists, philosophers or astronomers. Yet it does not seem resolved.

Now, by the above definitions and views, in all logics, time would have to be one or the other, within a single system. That is why the debate seems so intense.

On a fundamental level, it is or seems critical to define which is the underlying backbone of our existence, our universe. After all, we have to decide whether our entire universe started with a singularity as the Big Bang, and is in continuous expansion, or if the Big Bang is an end-event in itself. Or, are we are perhaps part of a longer contraction-expansion cycle.

I can’t judge the arguments of these ones or the others. But to me, it does seem that this debate should not be needed on a human level. We need the science to answer it for physics, astronomy, etc… probably not for life.

Time travel – our biggest dream

Many of us are intrigued by the notion of time travel. Basically, we would like the opportunity to travel along a linear line. Admittedly, to go back and correct wrongs. Most probably because we would like to give our young selves the lottery winner tickets 😉. Except that if we would all do that, then, there would be little to win. Oh well, then at least to correct our own wrong decisions.

Even the r/GenZ Reddit forum is full of “the good old days of our youth”. Which is like… 10 years ago. How many would dream to relive their childhood? Now, if we can’t relive it, the next best thing is to go have a look-see, right?

Time travel remains one of humanity’s biggest dream. The very concept of time travel would naturally open up numerous physical, practical and moral dilemmas, as briefly hinted at. Linear time seems constricting as it cannot be modified. No turning back! Circular and Cyclical time would offer also the opportunity to skip to the decision part, but as everything would end up anyway where it started. Not much point to the whole endeavour as such. So, the main belief says that you cannot go back in time, as merely travelling would modify the present. Even with quantum, string and other theories, the scientific debate is still up in the air.

Actually, we are still pretty much unsure if time travelling is right, wrong, possible or not.

We live in layered timelines

Individually however, we do not live in singular types of timelines. We live in simultaneous types of time. It is not a simple matter to dial up or down on a singular timescale. Our own systems combine monodirectional (linear), cyclical and circular timelines. We do that consciously. Science agrees with this.

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Consider your day

We naturally live in linear time. We measure it. We count it.

We live also in a cyclical time. We alternate rest and activity to refuel energy. During the “rest”, time does not feel like moving. It is only on waking up that we determine that a new cycle has started.  We can measure where we are within that cycle as well. The nature of that new day is not different from the one before, i.e., from yesterday. Experiences showed that we naturally fall down into daily (circadian) cycles.

We finally live in circular time. Indeed, these very days exist because we measure time based on cycles around the sun. Because of science, we also know that we need one more day every 4 years, as a year is actually 365.25 days. Forever at our own level. But we marvel also at the launch of satellites, and know that some of them are launched specifically to take pictures of time. Why? Because we know that we are on a rock moving in space, and that the universe is expanding. But it could be that the universe could eventually be contracting again. That would make it a circular time.

Research shows that “a day” is also an intellectual construct

If Newton’s Law of transformation and conservation of energy is to be believed, the universe contraction-expansion cycle would indeed seem more logical, rather than an endless expansion into… what? Anyway, at our level, it would only change our perspective if we were immortal, so there.

NASA a day on mars

These definitions are pretty factual, measurable, scientific. Fixed. A day on Earth is 24 hours. 25 hours on Mars, 10 on Jupiter. Interestingly, recent research shows also that a “day” is not so much a physical reality as an intellectual construct.

Did you know that humanity before watches and clocks slept in two takes per day? Is it not fascinating to see how much technology changed our very view on what is a “day”, as much as what is a “week”?

We live in layered timelines, within our own minds. We accept without (much) blinking that the universe expands toward a still debated end state, that planets revolve around each other and that galaxies collide. What does this mean in our daily lives? We accept that we will go through yet another winter, maybe do some skiing in February, wake earlier or later, and eat 2 or 3 times a day. At the same time our body slowly decays all the time towards an end-date we will never exactly know.  Circular, cyclical and linear times.

So then, do we actually make up a whole time-system to fit our circumstances? Seems so!

Time itself is the most relative and universe currency

The fact is that we happily layer all these rhythms, and agree that this points to a certain direction in life. We also know at the same time that we can’t be certain of this, but know that we have to have a solution to this. Some cultures have totally integrated circular time for example.

The fact is, that all of us have to shape, use and grasp all of these paradoxes naturally.

This reinforces the idea that time itself is the most relative, as well as, universal currency we share as humans.

I think therefor I am.

Would love to hear what you think! 

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