As usual, we have to look up in a dictionary to find out what the word “condition” actually means. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “condition” as a noun means, among others: 1. something essential to the occurrence or the fulfillment of some other thing, and 2. the state of being. As a verb it means, among others: to adapt, modify, or mold so as to conform to an environing culture, and 2. to modify so that an act or response previously associated with one stimulus becomes associated with another.
Let’s now try to reflect on what we mean by “condition” here. If, for instance, someone happens to ask you to describe the condition of a certain object, what he expects to hear from you is usually everything you know about the object as a whole. In your description, you may then have to include such things as its properties; its relationship with other objects; its age; its quality; its weight; its volume; its origin; its legitimacy to the society; etc. Similarly, when someone asks you to describe the condition of a certain area, what he needs from you is everything you know about the area as a whole. Whenever we talk about a “certain condition” of a city, what we normally have in mind here is the “local condition.” The fact, however, is that no matter how small an area is, there constantly occurs a situation of mutual influence between the area and the universe as a whole. That the lights from the various stars and also from our sun have reached the area is one proof of such an influence. Under no circumstances could one localize the condition of something, except for such reasons as to ease understanding in communication. There is just no way by which we could split up the open space or the sky up there just for the sake of completely localizing conditions. It is only because of the visionary partition created by man in his brain to localize conditions that we are prevented from perceiving things in their more holistic sense.
It is, in fact, due to the changes of conditions that the contents of the universe seem to be “moving,” which though at variant speeds, yet share the very condition of the universe itself. Thus, any change of condition that we may be undergoing is concurrently a change of the condition of the universe as a whole. Doesn’t it ever occur to us that all the basic materials that form the universe, i.e. the sub-atomic particles, move together in unison?
That is why, we have here attempted to see “condition” not only holistically but also locally, the way man commonly sees it. This is to ease understanding of the discussions that follow. Seen in the light of the condition of the human brain itself, however, it may look as if the human brain had been so conditioned as to enable the various impressions, particularly those of light, to adhere to it. The memory is then stored and can even be recalled; consequently, he assumes all these to be “the past.” Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like if you were unable to recall all the memories stored in your brain? Clearly, you would still be able to see all the changes taking place in the universe, but you wouldn’t be able to recall what it was that you had just been through. It is as if you were seeing things undergoing a series of changes, but without having the slightest recollection of any of the conditions prior to the latest change. You would not be able to remember your family members, not even yourself. You would not be able to express yourself in words, not even in your mind, because all these require the ability to recall things. It is at this very moment that you would feel you are always “in the present.” And if it so happens that you are then watching a bird flying in the air towards a branch where it then perches, you may feel as if you are watching a series of film strips, one after another, about the bird. Unfortunately, you instantaneously forget all about what you have just seen in the previous condition. After all these discussions we should by now have already understood the reason why we know about the past, and why we don’t know about the future.
We are all fully aware that in our childhood we had a variety of experiences. The question now is, “Where have all these childhood experiences of ours, which had in fact been recorded as memories in our brains, gone?” Verily, a larger part of our childhood body matter has remained preserved, together with all our childhood memories, in our adult bodies. Similarly, a larger part of our adult body matter has remained preserved in our aged bodies. Thus, at the time a person recalls all his childhood kite-flying experiences, for instance, he seems to feel the childhood period that he had once had and all the things he had once experienced. Now, if you still find it difficult to comprehend where your childhood body has gone, then let’s just take a balloon as an analogy. Say, for instance, to inflate the balloon to a particular size you need five seconds. Now, inflate it for another ten seconds to make it bigger, and inflate it again for another twenty seconds to make it even bigger. The question now is where has the balloon at its smallest size gone? Certainly, the answer is: The matter of the balloon, which was then at its smallest, is still inside the balloon, which by now is at its biggest. Naturally, the word “seconds” used for the balloon has to be replaced with the word “years” when it comes to talking about the growth of man. Though the balloon exemplified above may not be a perfect comparison for man with all his life processes, yet the fact that the addition of external matter has caused the balloon to expand is reason enough for us to say that it is similar to man in that man too grows bigger and heavier with the entry of external matter into his body. What we are trying to imply by our experiment with the balloon above is that even with our bodies growing to such conditions as they are at the present, we are still preserving a larger part of that matter of our childhood bodies. What we mean here is the atom, not the configuration or the composition of the matter itself. If during its inflation, whereby it becomes bigger and bigger by the second, the balloon still exists at the present, the same thing holds true for the human body following its years of growth; Man always feels himself to be consistently at the present. (Relate this to “the feeling of existence” below.)
Here’s a bit of the writer’s experience in his attempt to contemplate time:
Out of my confusion about this issue of time, I had once brought up to myself a question which, though “very common” as it may sound, has yet kept nagging me for years. “A few days ago I was in city X, and at present I am here. Where then is the ‘I’, who a few days ago was in city X?” I asked myself. Now, if I were to say that the “I” here at present is the same person as the “I” there a few days back and who is now experiencing “the present,” would this not mean that the “I” is still the same person who has always been at the present, though “in a different condition”?
If I were to claim it to be an action of my past, would I then be able to prove my being in that city? If you happened to be me, you would perhaps say, “Why not? Isn’t the photo that we took together proof enough? Isn’t the document that you signed proof enough?”
As already discussed above, what we assume to be a proof is but mere traces left in our brains, which we conceive as marks of our past actions. Obviously “human assumption” plays an important role here.
What seems to complicate matters is the fact that apart from having to face those changes of external conditions, we are also faced with the changes within our selves. During the night we find ourselves in a sleeping condition, while during the day we find ourselves in a variety of physical and mental states. Illnesses, emotions, the various brainwork, etc. cause us to be intensely influenced by all these changes. Further, the ability of man to move from one place to another also adds to the complexities. In the long term, we experience a physical growth, becoming an adult and growing bigger, which makes us come to feel as if we are moving from one period of time to another period of time. What seems to make matters worse is the fact that the various units of time—with all those meanings consistently attached to them, such as the past, the present, and the future—have, since long ago, been accepted as part of our culture.
Let’s spend some time imagining that the earth is completely still, no longer rotating on its axis, and that we are constantly having daytime. If we now imagine that we are all alone in the stillness of the desert, we shall perhaps be able to more strongly feel that there is no such thing as time and that we are consistently being in the present. If you happen to live at the North or the South Poles, where you have 6 months of daylight and 6 months of darkness at a stretch, only then will you find it easier to feel that you have always been in existence without any change of time.
This experiment may perhaps ease us in our attempt to digest the various ideas that we have discussed above. Of course, it would be impossible for us to absorb them all at once. But, even if we are able to understand them partially, questions will nevertheless arise as to their certainty. So, has the past ever existed?
Below is a simple explanation that may be worth comprehending.
Imagine that you have one hundred marbles with you. Now, arrange them in a row so that they form a circle. Next, change their configuration so that they now form a rectangle. Question: Where have the marbles that form the circle gone? The answer is, of course, that they have now turned into rows of marbles that form a rectangle. Similarly, if we rearrange these rows into ones that form a triangle, we will no longer have those rows that earlier formed the rectangle as they have now become rows that form a triangle.
If every line is made up of a row of dots, all these dots naturally move to other locations to form a new row or a new shape, or, to put it another way, to change their condition into a new condition. All past shapes have now turned into the present shape.
If a lump of clay having a shape as shown in Figure 2a changes its shape to one as shown in Figure 2b, it naturally loses the shape it has in Figure 2a. Similarly, instantly after it takes the shape as shown in Figure 2c, the shape it has in Figure 2b disappears.
The above illustration may well represent the changing condition that a living creature undergoes throughout the different phases of its growth, i.e. from being a zygote through to becoming an adult. Of course, the change is not as simple as is illustrated above, because, as we all know, the growth in size of all living creatures is a result of the entry of external matter into their bodies. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this illustration will at least serve to provide some clarification as to the whereabouts of our childhood shape.
The example of the marbles above may serve to represent the change of places and condition man experiences as individuals; the atomic and the molecular changes that occur within the human body, which result in the zygote taking the shape of an adult human being; and the various changes that occur to the celestial objects.
The following elaboration is perhaps worth our consideration:
· If all the celestial objects are assumed to be marbles, then, like the marbles too, they will also show a change of condition, after the contents of the universe evolve to become what they are today and naturally each change will have its particular composition. To these different compositions man then gives different names such as the solar system, the galaxy, or other labels as given to some other compositions. This is very much similar to the case of the different compositions of the marbles to which man gives such names as a circle, rectangle, triangle, etc.
· If we assume the earth, moon and sun to be giant marbles, it will become obvious to us that the revolution of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun keeps bringing about a new condition to our solar system. This is similar to the case of the group of marbles (exemplified above), which changes their composition from one that is circular to one that is rectangular and later to one that is triangular.
· The rotation of the earth on its axis causes the particles of marbles or dots on the surface of the earth to move away from their original positions, such that even if a man stays put where he is, he will still experience a change in his external condition, e.g. day changes to night. Like all other changes of condition, as soon as day changes to night, the day condition that we have ever had is gone, now that it has turned into the night condition.
· If we view the earth from a spot in the air and assume human beings to be marbles, it will come to our notice that the movement of human beings from one place to another takes a particular form. The condition of the group of human marbles is then given a particular name, the way we name the marbles by their configurations as exemplified above. Example: The condition of the people of village A; the condition of a group of pop music fans coming together; the condition of tourists enjoying a sunbath on the beach; the condition of a group of youngsters encircling a campfire, etc. As soon as they move to another place, a new condition is formed. Man then gives new names to these newly formed groups of human marbles, e.g. youngsters leaving the campfire in a line, etc. The past condition no longer exists, now that it has turned into a new condition.
· A man who is fast asleep on his bed experiences a change not only outside his body but also inside it. The process of the body metabolism, in which there occurs a change in the sub-atomic particles, the atomic composition and the molecular composition inside the body, could be looked upon as a change of the condition of atoms. If we assume the red corpuscles to be the marbles, the flow of these corpuscles throughout the body should perhaps serve as an example that is easy to imagine. If we assume all the atoms in our body to be very fine particles of marbles, it would then become obvious that the whole life process shows the total condition of these fine particles of marbles inside our body. The atoms change the shape of the human body during its growth from a zygote to an adult. This is understandable, because it is the presence of the life process inside the body and the entry of food from outside that enables the body to grow in size. As soon as we become an adult all those conditions we were in as a zygote, as an embryo, as under-five baby, and as a child have turned into one of an adult. The shapes that we have ever had no longer exist. Thus, the word “ever exists” only in connection with the memory. In reality, however, the past condition is not there any longer.
· Similar, is the case with the changes in the position of those molecules inside an object, e.g. the changes in the position of the atoms inside the molecules, and the changes in the position of the sub-atomic particles inside the atoms.
As is the case of the circle illustrated above, which, by transforming itself into a rectangle, has resulted in its losing its circular shape, so is it with all the other conditions exemplified earlier. This is to say that as soon as a certain condition is past, this condition will undergo a change and turn into a new condition.
Back to the original question: “So, can we still say that we have ever had the past?”
What follows below is an attempt to examine how the change from one condition to another takes place from the time we try to remember things through to the time we begin to remember them.
Let’s now view, in a very simple manner, the process by which we have come to remember “the past.”
Please note that the changes from condition one to condition two and then to condition three all take place at “the present.”
All the examples above are simply meant to ease understanding, and by no means represent the actual condition of the process of what we call “remembering.”
Now, why is it that with this contact between the “trace” and the “something” we are able to feel the “trace” as one that has ever taken place? If we assume the “trace” to be a marble in stillness and the “something” to be a marble in motion, we can then definitely say that the instant these two marbles come into contact, each is able feel the presence of the other. (See below: “feeling of existence.”) Such is the case; we can also, therefore, say that as soon as the “something” and the “trace” come into contact, each is certainly able to feel the presence of the other. What this implies is that when “something” existing at “the present” comes into contact with a “trace” that was imprinted by a certain past condition this “something” will feel the “trace” as an impression of the past. Because the original condition of the trace is no longer there, we thus refer to this “trace” as an impression of a condition that has ever occurred.
If you think this explanation sounds too difficult for you to understand, here’s another example which, hopefully, could help clarify matters:
Suppose, for instance, that at this very moment, there on the sand before us are tracks of a tiger. Such a sight will naturally lead us to believe that a tiger has ever been there. Why do we come to such a conclusion? The answer: We already have the records or “impressions” of such tracks of a tiger in our brains, because we have ever seen them, either in real life or in pictures. So, as soon as we come across a similar sight, a contact is established between the “something” as the data-searcher and the “traces” as “impressions” of the tracks of the tiger, so that we are consequently apt to say that a tiger has ever been there. Now, what about all the other phenomena in this universe? Is it not to be admitted that all these are but mere “tracks” of earlier conditions, which consequently have led us to refer to them as things that have “ever” happened? This explains why man has been able to talk about his past, write history, and narrate events dating as far back as billions of years ago. Here we learn that any assumptions about those impressions are things that apply to only living creatures having memory.
In short, the moment the brain is in a condition in which we “remember” a certain thing, we assume that this “past” thing did once take place, though what actually happens is merely that we have managed to discover the traces of the past thing, which is now recorded in our brain as a memory. This explains why man, when not in a state of recalling things, feels that he is constantly at “the present.” Thus, it is the very fact that man keeps recalling the past condition that has led him to assume that “the past” does exist. Thus, in answer to the questions above, the writer affirmatively says that we tend to acknowledge that “the past condition was once there,” because we, being humans, are equipped with memory.
Back to the issue of the sequence again: As the description above shows, it is obvious that our state of remembering a past condition can be achieved only after we have passed through the first stage and moved into the second stage, and then into the third stage. The first stage is no longer there, now that it has turned into the second stage. Similarly, in the third stage, the instant we are in a state of “remembering,” the second stage no longer exists, now that it has turned into the third stage. What then, if after that, our thoughts wander to another issue? Certainly, the condition in our brain will also undergo a change. The “trace” and the “something” are no longer in contact with each other and because of this the condition in our brains changes. And as soon as we move into a different condition, what originally has been a state of “remembering” now turns into a state of “forgetting.” From this, we can conclude that what man normally refers to as “to remember” is no more than one particular condition out of the various changing conditions.
Given such a case, the only thing that the writer can affirmatively say is that the “past condition” which was once there is by now absolutely “changed,” now that it has turned into the “present condition.” Or if we are to follow Albert Einstein, who said that we are constantly experiencing “the present,” it could then be said that the whole content of the universe is constantly experiencing a change and that human beings have been keeping up pace with this change, constantly at “the present.” So, all that the man of today has is, in fact, mere traces of the past conditions, which today are recorded in sheets of paper, books, the various data storage devices, and even in his brain. Hence it sounds natural if one should say that the memory is by nature deceptive, as it seems to give us the impression that the past did exist. What actually is taking place is the “present” condition, in which a contact is established between the “something” and the “traces” in our brains.
The essential meanings of “condition” and “change of condition” as discussed here: As already explained above, the condition of a certain place is inseparable from the condition of its particular surroundings. Similarly, the condition of the past is something that is inseparable from that of the present in the human mind. What this means is that there is no way in which we could really localize a “condition” simply by mentioning its particular condition, or really dissect a change of condition of another change of condition by saying, for instance, that we are at the moment in a condition in which we have torrential rain. It is only for the purpose of easing communication that we localize and dissect conditions. This is so because man has memory, which consequently enables him to store the various impressions of the past events and compare them with the particular condition he is currently experiencing.
A lump of clay of irregular shape, when rounded, will definitely lose that irregular shape it had earlier. In fact, each time we change the shape of the clay, its earlier shape will definitely disappear. And if the clay is subjected to a change of position, it will also definitely lose its original position. Though in the example set forth here the object we are talking about is something visible, yet in reality within this visible object itself there occurs an invisible change. That’s why, even if it remains static, for instance, its inner parts continue to undergo a change. This is so, because the matter of which it is made up keeps changing its position from time to time. The electrons of the atoms forming the clay constantly change their position, as they keep moving around their nuclei and on their own axis. This is also true of the nuclei which rotate around their own axes.
Man seems to have a condition quite similar to that of the clay with all its changes as exemplified above. From the time he exists in the form of a zygote through to the time he becomes an adult, he keeps changing shapes. By his movement and mobility, man changes his position and location. Apart from this, his internal parts also experience a change.
Remembering the past is no more than just the moment’s condition out of the many conditions of a man’s body in general, and of his brain in particular.