Our experience of time is sequential only if we choose to see it as a succession of separate moments – or if we are taught to see time in that way. Of course, we are all taught to see it in that way and it takes some doing to “untrain” ourselves to see it differently.
It is possible, and I think preferable, to experience and even comprehend what is called “time” as a continuum – a unified field comprising the whole of time and space as a singular instance of spacetime.
Common-sense notions of the present indicate an instant that exists independently from what we call “the past” and “the future.” While it is scientifically impossible to actually distinguish a measurable quantity of time that exists as a separate moment apart from the totality of spacetime, we continue to speak of “separate events” because the arbitrary divisions we create to mark specific intervals serve our material needs and desires.
But these arbitrary slices of spacetime also dislodge us from being fully aware of the totality of time. Because we hold on to it moment by moment, we create abstractions of experience – memories and so forth – in the present, polluting it with a sense of the past. We also project our experience forward into a future that, while it continually eludes us, becomes more and more a determiner of how we make decisions in the present.
To the extent that we are burdened by notions of the past and the future we lock ourselves out of experiencing the wonder, mystery, and fullness of time.
We are left to ponder the abstruse absurdities of ideas such as “where” we were before we were born, what happens “after” we die, and “the beginning” and “end” of the universe. Our experience of the present, of course, contains none of these things.
Image One: “Time is Now,” ink drawing, 2009, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis
Image Two: “Time is Now” (detail), ink drawing, 2009, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis