The concept of time originally derived from the constantly changing conditions, which man later divides into the “past,” the “present,” and the “future,” has, as it turns out, been giving rise to a number of questions. Isn’t it an irony that while all we have the whole of our life is but the “present,” the fact that we possess memory has yet led us to assume that we have a “yesterday” and a “tomorrow”? This admittedly is an issue that contradicts the various ideas associated with the word “time” as it is popularly used in our daily life, in the various scientific literatures, and in the different Holy Books, which consequently makes it real difficult for us to have it brought to the surface. What seems to further complicate matters is perhaps the very fact that even scientists have so far tended to look upon the issue as one that is strictly a matter of our misconception of time, thereby ignoring the fact that man is destined to have memory.
The Misconception of Time and the Holy Books
A quick look at the heading above may naturally lead one to conclude that anyone, no matter who he is, who dares to denounce the prevalent concept of time must certainly have the guts to denounce the way the word “time” is used in man’s daily life as an obvious misuse—and this includes the ones used in both scientific literatures and Holy Books. Is this true? First of all let’s discuss what we mean by “time.” An easy way to find the meaning of the word is, of course, by looking up in a dictionary. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, what we mean by “time” is: 1 a. the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues: DURATION. b : a non-spatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future c : LEISURE (time for reading) 2 : the point or period when something occurs : OCCASION 3 a : an appointed, fixed, or customary moment or hour for something to happen, begin, or end (arrived ahead of time) b : an opportune or suitable moment (decided it was time to retire) –often used in the phrase about time (about time for a change) 4 a : an historical period : AGE b : a division of geologic chronology c : conditions at present or at specified period – usu. used in pl. (times are hard) (move with the times) d : the present time (issues of the time) 5 a : LIFETIME b : a period of apprenticeship c : a term of military service d : a prison sentence 6 : SEASON (very hot for this time of year) Though there are admittedly numerous other explanations concerning time, we take it that the above explanations will for our particular purpose suffice. Certainly, to know what “time” is exactly, we have to ask ourselves this question: “How did men originally come to foster the idea that time exists?”
In ancient times all people were able to say was that when the sun rose above them or when there was brightness then that would mean daytime; on the other hand, when darkness befell them, then that would mean night. Despite their inability to express their feelings in words, the cavemen had yet been able to know, every time they found themselves in the afternoon, that they had passed the morning and that it would soon be evening. This is understandable. They all had their memory. If only they had been able to express themselves whatever they had experienced that morning, in words which they themselves would be able to understand, they would, for example, have certainly said something like: “At the time I was having breakfast a tiger appeared.” That fragment of the short period of the condition in which he was having breakfast would have been replaced by one short word, i.e. “time.” And in a man’s life, there are so many such short periods of condition, e.g. “hunting time,” “sleeping time,” etc. In fact, there are also even longer periods of condition such as the period of the condition extending from the brightness of the day through to the darkness of the night, commonly referred to as a day. Strange though it may seem, it is obvious that while the world has, since the ancient times till today, had so many different languages, men have yet been able to acquire a shared understanding of this phenomenon. Later, when they became more advanced, for the sake of accuracy in communicating meanings and by means of a device which they themselves invented, each period of the condition of sunshine or day was divided into 12, and so was darkness or night. Although such an initiative did not, it is believed, originate from some place at the equator, they somehow still managed to divide the day and the night equally into twelve hours.
In conformity with the further improvements they achieved in communications, they then divided the hour into sixty minutes, and the minute into sixty seconds. It was since then that we have come to know such terms as hours, minutes and seconds, and even one-hundredth of a second. From the revolution of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun we have such things as months and years. Apart from these units of time (second, minute, hour, day, month, year, century), we also have such adverbs of time as “the past” to refer to any period of time that we have passed, “the present” to the period of time we are undergoing, and “the future” to any period of time that is to come. Our growth from being an infant to becoming an adult further confirms that we have always been undergoing a condition in terms of time, which leads us to acknowledge that such things as the “past,” “present,” and “future” do exist. A period of condition that we have passed, either short or long, is commonly referred to as the past. A period of condition that we are undergoing is commonly referred to as “the present.” A period of condition that we will pass is normally referred to as “the future.” By implication, therefore, the “past,” the “present,” and the “future” are what we shall inevitably be experiencing on and on for as long as we live.
How did man first come to have the notion that things such as the “past,” the “present,” and the “future” do exist?
Long before the invention of the time scales, the cave men, uncivilized as they were, had already been in possession of memory. It is possible that in those days, whenever the sky lit up at sunrise, the only word they would say—of course, in their simple language—to refer to such a phenomenon was “day.” Similarly, whenever the sky turned dark after sunset, the only word they would possibly say to refer to this change was “night.” Now engulfed by night, they would accordingly feel that they had passed the day. During the day, they would be well aware that the night would soon come. Similarly, at night they would also know for certain that the day would sooner or later return. That the cave men had such awareness was an outcome of the very fact that these changes, apart from being their routine experience, had also been recorded in their brains. Later, however, with the advancement man made in his way of thinking, he began to divide the day into morning, the time when the sun rises; noon, the time when the sun is shining right above his head; and evening, the time after the sun sets.
Thus, whenever afternoon came, he would say, “we have already passed the morning, and soon we shall pass the evening too.” It could therefore be said that even in those days man had already been familiar with such expressions as “things that have passed” and “things that have to be passed.” “Time” is thus a term coined by man to distinguish the changing conditions as indicated by the scales on the Sundial, just the way the term “length” is coined to refer to the distance of anything as measured from end to end, and the term “area” to refer to the measurement of a surface.
It is from here that we have come to know such words as “time that has already passed” or “the past,” and “time to be passed” or “the future.”
A sundial is an instrument composed of two parts: a gnomon and a dial plane. The gnomon is a metal plate set parallel to the earth’s axis. It is the shadow-producing part that constantly points towards the celestial pole. The dial plane is the flat surface marked with scales, representing the times of day. Time is measured on the basis of the location of the shadow cast by the gnomon on the dial plane. Since the sundial serves its purpose only in the day-time, when the sun is shining, the dial plane thus takes the form of only a semi-circle, on which are marked the time scales which begin at the western side of the plane and end at the eastern side of it. It was by means of this device that man observed that whenever the sun moves from the east to the west, the shadow of the gnomon that fell on the semi-circular dial plane would instead move from the west to the east, tracing the time scales on it. It is on the basis of all these discoveries—the time scales and the direction towards which the shadow moves—that our present clocks and watches are designed. Thus, when morning comes and the shadow of the gnomon of our solar clock falls on the western part of the semi-circular dial, at the figure 7, for instance, any incident that occurs then is recorded in our brains and is said to have taken place at 7 o’clock. If, later, at 12 noon we happen to recall that incident, we are yet inclined to say that it happened at 7 o’clock this morning. And the reason for this is only that at the time we are at 12 o’clock, we say that the figure 7 is the past, and thus anything that occurs at the time represented by the figure 7 is said to have occurred in the past. Needless to say then, any figures after 12 that the shadow of the gnomon will pass will be naturally referred to as time to come or the future.
Although, like “time,” all other words and their definitions are man-made, what has actually been the matter of concern here is the proximity between these definitions and the reality. While, on the one hand, every condition that man has passed leaves traces in his brain, on the other hand, however, the changes that occur in nature are always measured in terms of time scales. This, as a consequence, has led him to feel any time that he has just passed as being his past. It is, in fact, this attempt to relate the shadows cast by the gnomon on the time scales and the changes that occur in his surroundings that has made man feel that every change of time coincides with the change of condition. What’s more, he tends to look upon every “change of condition” as having close relationships with the “change of time,” only because his brain has recorded the various conditions of what he refers to as “the past.” This is evident in such expressions as, “Everything is determined by time,” and “We grow older by time.”
Because every change of time scale resulting from the change of the condition of the shadow of the gnomon on the dial plane is also a change in nature, which corresponds to the change that occurs in the surrounding natural environment, we thus feel that we are moving from time to time.
To put it another way: Correspondent to the movement of the shadows on the time-scales and to the changes in the surrounding condition, we thus feel that we are moving from time to time. What’s more, this has subsequently led man to think of the universe as moving from time to time.
There are definitely a number of anomalies in the current concept of time.
First: All the objects that you see around you at present, especially those extremely distant stars, are in their past. That is to say, at present you are also experiencing the “past” of the stars, or, to paraphrase, you are at “present” simultaneously experiencing the “past.”
Second: Is it not a fact that no matter who you are and wherever you may be you will at any time feel that you are at the “present” the whole of your life?
Third: Apparently you will feel that you have the “past” whenever you recall the influence of the past condition imprinted in your brain as memory. Similarly, you will feel that you have the “future” whenever you recall any of those regularly changing conditions, e.g. the morning, the afternoon, the evening –changes that take place on and on such that you know for sure that as soon as the morning is gone you will have the afternoon, after which you will have the evening etc. Similarly, you also know full well that if your watch happens to show that it is now nine o’clock, you will later definitely be experiencing 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock etc. The fact, however, is that every one of us feels that he is always at the “present” the whole of his life. And what’s more, he constantly finds himself to be in an “always-changing present condition.” This is something that he is destined for and that humankind all over the world has come to recognize. Now, given all this, what then should we do to cope with this misconception? Do we have to change the current concept of time? What then are we going to do with the word “time,” about which so much has been said in both scientific literatures and the various Holy Books?
Certainly, to simply quit here and remain complacent about all this misconception of time will only lead us to blame each other for the current misuse of the meanings of time, including the ones to be found in the Holy Books/Scriptures. Nevertheless, as living creatures furnished with memory, men inevitably have to accept his destiny. And since it was with this very memory of theirs that they created time through the “changing condition,” it must naturally be reasonable for them to be aware of the misconception and thereby return to “condition” wherefrom they derived the concept of time.
Under no circumstance, therefore, must we misinterpret this as an attempt to change time. All we are doing here is to add new meanings to time so that all those anomalies discussed above can be understood.
Remember the case when we first began to realize the fact that it is the earth that revolves around the sun, not the reverse? So accustomed are we to the erroneous view that we had once held that it continues to survive. While on the one hand we acknowledge that the earth rotates on its own axis and revolves around the sun, on the other hand, we have till today kept saying that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Does this not imply that it is the sun that revolves around the earth from the east to the west? Admittedly, however, despite this syntactical error, we have yet the correct sense of the phenomenon.
We could, of course, do the same thing here too: While we keep talking about things in terms of “the past time,” “the present time,” and “the future time,” we may as well direct our thoughts to their “past condition,” present condition,” and “future condition.”
Obviously a similar case will recur here, but with our knowledge of these deficiencies concerning “time,” we could at least prevent ourselves from being led too far astray from the reality. More than that, you shall lose sight of “condition” as a whole, only because you are so overwhelmed by “time.”
That’s why it is necessary to re-emphasize here that we should not stop at only knowing that we have all this time been adopting an erroneous concept of time. Rather we must also be aware of the fact that, being living creatures with memory, all we could do is to accordingly supplement our existing concept of time with “additional meanings” in order to ensure that all those anomalies we have been talking about are comprehensible. By now it must have already become clear that this exposure of the misconception of time does not in any sense have any influence on the various scientific explanations about time and neither does it have any influence at all on whatever the various Holy Books have to say about time. By encouraging everyone to look into “condition” each time we are concerned about anything related to time, we will be induced to look into our selves more than ever before. This will serve to further facilitate us in our attempt to develop mutual understanding among the humankind, which is essentially a prerequisite for the establishment of continuing peace and human unity.