A Temporal Perspective
As you can see in the title, this is part 2 of a series on the conscious, if you’d like to have a look at part 1, click here. Having said that, this article does stand alone and will be more science-oriented and less metaphysical and mystical in our approach to unraveling the conscious as we did in the first part.
Seeing the 4th
So, let’s start by sticking with the actual physical reality as much as we can to explore this idea of consciousness. We are all aware, with sensual reminders, of the first three spatial dimensions of the universe. But just for a quick review:
1D - Line
2D - Plane
3D - Solid
More simply, the three spatial dimensions allow us to 'move' up/down, left/right, and forward/backward. As of now, we basically accept that we take up 4 points in the universe (until the string theory is proven…). Meaning we take up points on the 3 spatial dimensions (as shown above) and a fourth point on the temporal (and invisible) dimension… aka Time. The graph of this dimension is best thought of as ‘line’ of time from the beginning of the universe to the end it.
Most people don’t really consider their place in the dimension of time in their lives. Yet humans are unique in the way they see time. Unlike our best friends (puppies, of course) who no doubt have a sense of time, they aren’t necessarily the hairy Buddhas we see them as (though still better than us at living in the moment). They can tell how long you’ve been gone from home and when it is time to eat even if they don’t use our measured view of time.
We, humans, however, are believed to be special (as far as we know) in the way we perceive time. We use episodic memory in order to travel through time. Meaning we see our lives in sections of time, recalling past events and looking forward to future ones.
So, for example, you are sitting in this ‘now’ moment reading this (most likely on your phone). But in order to get wherever you are in this ‘now’, you had to walk there or be taken there, over roads and through doors. Can you point at the period in time when you went through that door as easily as you could point to the door itself?
Temporal dimensions just aren’t as easy for us to ‘get’, to sense, the way spatial dimensions are. But in order for you to be, (wherever you may be,) today, you once had to have been younger. Can you show me your point in the temporal dimension, on the universal timeline, to being 5 years younger?
No. You can’t.
(And I swear I’ll stop teasing you about it now. Put the calendar and clock down.)
We can only see and experience time through our memory. We can’t actually go there even though we know there is a place called the past where all that stuff happened and all those old little souvenir elephants you keep came from. We can’t go there, except in memories (and we won’t talk about if those are real right now).
The Magic of Time
Think of yourself as the leading edge of you.
This is you.
Moving forward through time.
And behind you is all the different versions of you going back and back and back. And it’s exactly the same for everybody else around you and not around you.
And it’s the same for me. Except when you are reading this, it will be from an older version of myself writing this, a point of the temporal dimension while you were doing something else. Hopefully, laughing or making love or doing something worthwhile to keep in one of your episodic memories. (And please don’t get me started on how magical I find writing… time travel… telepathy… incredible.)
So imagine this for a moment and enjoy the show. Going back through time, through the door, driving over the road, staring at yourself in the mirror before you start your day. There isn’t a front and back as simple as our spatial dimensions. It’s a long trailing thingamajig like the image above with all your gooey parts and feelings along for the ride. And it moves backwards through time, constantly getting younger and younger on the magical trail of youth. (Tickets for this ride still unavailable beyond your own imagination.)
A 'Magic School Bus' Field Trip
So our point in time is more like an inchworm or an anaconda in time depending on what unit of measure we use. Like a spatial line, but, no, not really. Our lines are a little more squiggly and they are all weaving in and out of each other’s. Kids running around, adults walking to order another round to forget said kids, all shooting backwards through time. All the way back to being one day old.
Somewhere in time, you are one day old, because if you hadn’t been one day old at some point, you wouldn’t be reading this today. And back further along the ‘timeline’, you disappear into your mother’s womb. Still physical, still you, just getting smaller and smaller. Like a line starting at point A on our easily visible spatial dimension going to point B.
Then that same physical thing divides into an egg cell and a sperm cell. The egg cell grows out of your mother. It still exist and is still present (somewhere in the dimension of time). Nothing has disappeared entirely in the big picture of existence and space-time. The actual physical thing of you has just become an egg in your mother… and zoop, a sperm cell inside your father.
Backwards division all the way back. Back to your own parents division with their parents and on and on. All the way back to the point where all the human race goes back to one place somewhere in time where we evolved and divided (or joined depending on your perspective on this time-traveling, imagination machine) with apes.
The 'Smart' Branch on the Tree of Life
And all this time, it’s still been this one thing. Like one tree branching off in different directions. Back to my apple metaphor from part one: We are all just different apples growing from the same one tree. In our case, a tree of life.
And this ‘tree of life’ rooted and grew from one cell (possibly) 4 billion years ago, and it has been dividing ever since. The DNA inside of your right now is the forefront of a very long series of divisions. In a sense, it is immortal.
The DNA that was once one and is now countless versions is still the same original DNA, never dying, just dividing and copying itself into all living forms on earth. Evolving, maturing, growing, sure, but still that same original flame forever burning despite being passed from one candle to another. (Perhaps this is a form of reincarnation or rebirth?)
So whether you imagine a petri dish, a sea anemone, or my favorite tree metaphor, we are this one incredible divided single cell growing over a billion of years. We look separate with all our different bodies and forms, but we are all growing, not made, from the same thing.
We as humans just happen to be the smart part of this ginormous living organism.
And because we have this ability to think better than most of the other branches on this tree, we have a way of seeing our roots and understanding how connected we really are. (Once again, ability doesn’t imply consent.)
Time as Proof
So that’s where we are today. (Pun intended?) If you can imagine existence on the spectrum of time. If you see this extensive form of life on Earth that feeds on itself and grows and matures and evolves, branched out in different directions but all connected, that’s what we are.
And just because you may ‘die’, you are still alive. Like all the hairs on your head that end up in the sink, millions of them everywhere, each playing their role. All with their own structure and DNA (just like yours) falling off. Proteins and all. All of your cells, however long they may live before breaking off, decaying and withering away, they all played their part.
You have other cells, little living things that create, destroy, move around, and work. Just like us. Some are the soldiers that come in and kick ass when you get infected. Others are the nurturers that ease the pain when it becomes too much to bear. And a million other roles played out, dividing labor based on their specialty, but all for the greater good of your body. Their home.
The life of a cell, going about its day until it realizes its time has come to an end. 'Oh my,' we would say, 'this is it. This is the end.' Of course their lifespans may seem short and insignificant to us. Everything is relative based on the scale that we live by in the temporal dimension, yet the same drama is performed in its own way.
Back to Consciousness
So are we not just cells to the planet? To the universe? To this magnificent existence we grew from and will soon flake off and decay from? You may be dead on the floor for a little while like the hairs that fall from your head, but the body is still alive.
It keeps going. Constantly in a state of renewal. Everybody being either bigger or smaller than another part of the process, but all a part of the same process. We are a performance. We are verbs, not just nouns, performing a series of operations (mechanical or chemical) in order to change or preserve (us/existence).
Are we really so unique and separate that we are the only ones with a conscious? That ‘6th sense’ of thinking and sharing thoughts is maybe how we are all connected, we’ve just limited ourselves to using words and symbols to express them. Yet, we are, in fact, all part of the same conscious. A stream. Forever alive.
Even if we ‘die’, and leave it, we never really do, because it never dies. We came from it in a particular form, and played that form for all it was worth. (Or I hope you did.) Then that part is played, and we must go back into the fold of it all. Forever being.