The Edge of Time
Updated: May 19, 2018
Marisa Guerin PhD - May 15, 2018
OK, buckle up, shall we? The first half of this reflection presents a bit of science; the second half shares my thoughts and feelings about it.
Why science? Well, I read a book about *time* not too long ago, and it keeps popping back up in my thoughts. The book was a physics text. (If only my high school physics teacher could know!) It's by Richard Muller, and the title is "Now: The Physics of Time". I definitely couldn't wrap my mind around much of the physics that was presented, but I appreciated the book's accessible style and lively arguments. For the life of me I can't remember what possessed me to download it to my Kindle.
But here is the most amazing thing, the bottom line, if you will, of the whole book! Read through these few paragraphs (emphasis added by me), and then I'll share what it provoked in me:
"Is the Big Bang an explosion of 3D space? Yes—but a more reasonable assumption, one closer to the spirit of space-time unification, is that the Big Bang is an explosion of 4D space-time. Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created. The continuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both the arrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as now.
"Although many people find the continual creation of space to be counter-intuitive, the continual creation of time fits right into our sense of reality. It is exactly what we experience. Every moment, new time appears. New time is being created right now. The flow of time is not set by the entropy of the universe, but by the Big Bang itself. The future does not yet exist (despite its inclusion in standard space-time diagrams); it is being created. Now is at the boundary, the shock front, the new time that is coming from nothing, the leading edge of time.
"Now is the only moment when we can exercise influence, the only moment when we can direct the increase in entropy away from ourselves so that we can orchestrate local entropy to decrease. Such local decrease is the source of expanded life and civilization. To direct entropy in that way, we must have free will—a capability that physicalists call an illusion, even though current quantum physics theory has similar behavior built into its essence." *
Is it just me, or is it incredibly stunning to realize that we - all of us - are living each moment at the newly-created edge of time, a moment that never existed before, a moment in which our own actions influence the future "nows" as they arrive?
Yes, of course, I know this is not new thinking for philosophers and many spiritual leaders. The power of living in the present moment has long been appreciated -- but I suspect many would have considered that a "now" that is sandwiched between a real past and an equally real future, known somehow at least to an all-knowing God or a powerful enough computer. Instead, physicist Muller is affirming that there actually isn't a future until it arrives, and that how it arrives can vary in some (not-deterministic) way as a result of what we do in the now.
This is deeply congruent with the mysticism of so many contemporary writers about cosmology, Teilhardian thinking, the new physics, etc. I find it plain, unvarnished, and extraordinary to simply contemplate the reality that I live at every moment on the forward-moving edge of the universe's time.
So does this make a difference, actually? I think so, and here are some of the ways that it keeps coming up for me:
In a recent conversation with a close friend, we mused about how she might turn a treasured relationship in a more positive direction, a choiceful, intentional plan. That hopefulness finds its echo in this view of the ever-arriving new moment.
As I prepare with my colleague I. W. for our workshop for consultants next month, we are working with the stimulating ideas about Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM), a perspective on communication that helps us focus on how we are being, what we are creating, what we are enacting through our communication acts. There it is - new time created, free will creating opportunities for new turns in our relationships.
As I read the international news and wonder about the future of our fragile planet with its militant nations and anxious peoples, I think about the radical impact on the future that can flow from decisions large and small in the now. It is consequential what world leaders say and do; and, likewise, it is consequential what we regular people say and do.
The experience of meditation and prayer, contemplation of Holy Mystery, the desire to walk a path of trust in the unknowable but intimately present Creator -- it feels like great grace to seek God from within each completely new moment that God is creating, just as God is at this very moment sustaining the breath and heartbeat of my life. No way to understand, just a profound awe.
Here's to recommitting to doing my personal part so that, as MLK Jr** said, "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
*Muller, Richard A.. Now: The Physics of Time (Kindle Locations 4097-4101; 4101-4106; 4285-4288). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
** This famous quote is originally from the sermons of Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist born in 1810 who called for the abolition of slavery. Appreciation to Rev. Allison Cornish for the sourcing.