by Ryszard Cichy

Can there be various present moments? Is there not only one such moment but billions just as there are billions of particles and objects in the Universe? Can a large number of present moments exist simultaneously?

Bookshops and libraries are filled with shelves full of books. A significant number of them are serious scientific works. Not many of them are speculations on time – a phenomenon we experience at every moment. If an author writes about it, I believe he only touches on the problem. On the surface, it seems that time is a notion well known to everyone – we have, after all, adapted to life in time and in space, and we manage perfectly well. When trying to define it, we stand helpless. It is as much a mystery as are life, space, the Universe.

What is time?

The newest scientific theories state that time probably began in parallel with the Universe and will most probably end with it.

No doubt these theories are true. For each of us time has a different beginning and a different end.

For every specimen time began at birth. The end of time is the moment of death.

It is generally understood that we divide time into three phases, the past, the present and the future.

What is the present?

It cannot be pinned down.

Every moment becomes the past although we think that we are immersed in the present. The writer of this text sees a computer screen and hears the tapping of his keyboard as each key is pressed. Simultaneously to the tapping, a new letter appears on screen. Over a second, he hears more than one tap and sees more than one letter.

Every letter and ever tap becomes a letter written and a tap heard in the past.

If someone were to ask me what I am doing I would reply that I am writing, extending the concept of the present to the whole activity of writing from the moment it started to the moment it ended, something which could last for even a few hours. Replying thus I would be simplifying, using a formula. Truly, however, every letter of every word written by me, immediately after being written or, in fact, already while being written, becomes the past.

Even such an apparently mundane activity as sitting in an armchair and looking out of the window only gives our minds the impression of stopping time – for in actual fact every moment of looking out of the window becomes a moment in the past.

How long does the moment called the present last?

My senses register every tap of my finger on the keyboard and it seems to me to be the shortest stretch of time I can call the present. But there are, after all, devices which register this action more accurately. It is doubtlessly possible to reproduce this action in slow motion on a film and break it up into a series of stretches lasting a fraction of a second. Thus the present could be narrowed down to every one of these stretches and, breaking up these stretches into even smaller ones, could ever shorten the duration of the present to an ever smaller fraction of a second (1/4 of a second, 1/8 of a second, 1/1,000 of a second, 1/billionth of a second) – endlessly right up to infinity!

It turns out that the present cannot be measured and we, using this description, have in mind various time-spans encroaching on the past and the future. It is like smoke rising from a fire – we smell the smoke, see it, but cannot catch hold of it.

We clearly experience it although we cannot hold it back.

We can mark out a spot in space by, for example, hammering a nail into a tree. The spot will be solid. We cannot, however, “hammer” such a nail in time.

Since the present cannot be measured because it shrinks to infinity, maybe it does not exist at all?

Is it not only an illusion?

Is not everything the past?

Since all information reaches our brain through our senses, it is registered with some delay. We see distant galaxies as they were many millions of years ago since light (their image) travels to us at a given speed. Everybody knows this. Perhaps, as we observe them they no longer exist. Looking at my fingers tapping on the computer keyboard, too, I see them with some delay. The delay is imperceptible. The distance between the eye and the hand is small and the speed of light carrying the image to my eye is enormous. My foot hitting the edge of a chair is also registered by my brain with some delay. The information about this event in the form of a signal transmitted by my nerve cells must, after all, travel from my foot to the brain, and that takes time.

We live in a world of signals coming from the past.

We think we exist in the present but really we live that which has already passed.

Throughout our lives we strive to get near to the present but we are always a little behind it.

We exist in a world which also has been created in the past. Roads, pavements, plates, books – all these were made yesterday, the day before yesterday, a year ago. Many of these things were produced by people no longer here, who have died. Entire continents, seas and landmasses were formed in the past.

What is the past?

It is those events which have passed, have disappeared. But if something has passed, it no longer is. In a physical sense the past does not exist.

So what is this phenomenon?

Nobody can stop the past or touch it like one touches a material object.

It is only information recorded on various carriers, in the brain, a book, on photographs.

A mass of information at least some of which we try to segregate according to the sequence of events with the help of “measures” invented by us. In order to make moving around in the past easier we use devices recording the chronology of events - the calendar and the clock. Without them, it would be difficult to establish which events took place earlier which later. All would merge into one mass called the past. They would exist in our minds simultaneously. These tools arrange the past into one line running backwards although the entire past could also just as easily be classified as a one-dimensional refuse basket into which only we, human beings, try to arrange refuse in the order in which we throw it away. Maybe comparing the past to refuse is not in good taste because, for emotional reasons, many events are very meaningful to a large number of people. No doubt each of us would like some events never to have happened while others could by repeated. Without a calendar we would probably mix the earlier ones up with the later. All would make up one past. Even now, despite having a calendar, many people find it hard to indicate what came first and what later.

Events from the past exist only in our memories. If we had no memories or had not remembered or fixed them in some way (in a piece of writing, a drawing, a photograph) nobody would know anything about them. Earlier, before human beings appeared on Earth, there were beings similar to us on Earth – we know nothing about them. We surmise their lives only through excavation. Other communities (ants, bees) probably do not know anything about what happened last summer. Besides, their knowledge of the world does not go beyond the boundaries of the forest they inhabit. Their knowledge of time and space is very small.

The past exists only insofar as we can recreate it. It is, therefore, a creation (a product). This image might differ when described by different people, depending on the state or capability of their mind. Furthermore, it is also subject to change for each of these individuals, depending on when it is being recreated. Describing an event which took place a moment ago is, in essence, describing the past in the past because as soon as each letter has been written the action of writing it becomes the past (a recollection of a recollection).

Probably nobody has managed to remember what has happened in all detail, including smells, temperature of the air, the way each speck of dust lay on the floor, every sound coming from the window and every thought.

If one managed to recreate whatever moment from the past as faithfully as it really happened, it would mean the person who managed to do this was in the same present twice.

Since the past is entirely a product of our minds, we can wonder - did all these recollected events really happen?

Does not the mind of each and every one of us create some sort of fable, fantasy?

Fortunately accounts of events from the past on the whole overlap when related by various people; photographs and films back them up.

Is it possible to “watch” the past at different speeds?

To watch the past is to register the light which reaches us. Scientists claim its speed is constant and unchanging at about 300,000 km/s. If we managed to chase at 200,000 km/s. a fleeing ray of light speed, it will continue to escape us at a speed of 300,000 km/s. and not 100,000 km/s. anyway. This seems absurd yet the explanation is surely simple. Along with the increase in speed of an object, time passes more slowly – on a rocket speeding at 200,000 km/s. every second lasts longer, which is why, during it, a ray of light manages to travel as far as 300,000 km and not barely 1/3 of that distance as it would during a shorter “normal” second. Measuring the speed of a rocket and the speed of light from Earth, people, of course, claim the rocket is travelling at 2/3 the speed of light while the light is travelling at its constant speed of 300,000 km/s. It is only a question from where the measurements are being taken.

A star which lies at a distance of one light year from Earth is seen by us as it was a year ago because that is how much time light requires to get from the star to us. If we managed to travel at the speed of light (although scientists claim that this is impossible) then moving in its direction we would reach its surface in a year’s time. In our imagination, of course, because landing on such a hot surface would be impossible. During the year’s voyage we would observe the image of the star in accelerated time and should be able to see what happened to it over two years (the year of our travelling and the year preceding the rocket’s launch because at the moment of launching we saw the star with a delay of one year).

Moving away from Earth, on the other hand, we would, no doubt, see only a still image (as on a photograph) throughout our journey, watching the same ray of light coming from the Earth to us and travelling with us to our goal – the star a light year’s distance from us. Earth would look as if time had stood still on it. After a year’s journey – being on the surface of the star – we would see Earth as it was a year previously. If we decided to return to Earth, we would probably see its image in accelerated time and the star as a still object.

Scientists claim no object can move at a speed greater than light. If, however, we managed to exceed this speed, an observer travelling towards a star at one light year’s distance from Earth would see it not as a still object (like a photograph) but would probably see its past. He would see it as in a film running “backwards” because during his journey he would be “catching up” with the light reflected by the Earth before the rocket’s launch.

Since the present is intangible and the past is only a recollection of it then:

What is the future?

Each of us takes it that the sun will rise tomorrow, the trams and buses will leave the bus-stop at a given time, that we will hear our favourite programme on the radio. Next year we will go on holiday, in a couple or a few year’s time we will retire. All this will happen with time. We cannot move from the present to the future and take part in an event which, according to the calendar is to take place in a month’s time, as we see fit. We have to wait out (live through) those 30 days in order to take part in it. This is obvious.

The future is a mystery because it is uncertain whether it will come to be.

There is no guarantee that the next moment will arrive. For some unknown reason the World could, after all, cease to exist this evening.

Does the future “exist”?

Does the future objectively exist?

Stating this is so, would be the same as stating that the future has been strictly defined and is unchangeable and all facts and events which are to take place are known to the Builders of the Universe.

In such a world we would be nothing more than actors playing in something like a film to a script which has already been written. The scenes and the end of the film would be perfectly well known to the Builders of the Universe and it is only we, actors, who would think that we were taking part in creating a work whose form depended on our invention and ingenuity.

If that were the case, it would, indeed, mean that each of us only thinks we have some sort of influence over our fate and life but in actual fact everything that has happened and is going to happen has already been directed long ago, including all the thoughts that arise in our minds.

Therefore, we would be dreading and worrying unnecessarily about many things.

Are we not, all of us living creatures, therefore, taking part in a journey towards events unknown to us, which, in fact, are known?

Could it be that we are passengers in a train looking out of the window with amazement at new landscapes although those would all have existed the same as the towns where, according to the timetable, the train was going?

I suspect most of us do not believe that a future, in such a sense, exists, and we think its form is a converging result of random events, unpredictable decisions and actions of other individuals, that it comes about spontaneously.

How can I believe the future exists objectively (so that we have no influence on its form) since I, for example, have not yet decided what I am going to eat in a minute?

How is it really?

If there is no future, its form is not “recorded” anywhere, so:

Can future events be predicted?

Knowing only some of nature’s laws so far and having increasingly fast computers at our disposal, we try to predict some fragments of the future, say, those such as temperature.

Scientists state, however, that it is not possible to say what the distant future will be like since it depends on an extremely large number of factors which are subject to constant change, and every change, even the smallest, may bring about an unpredictable effect. An avalanche in the mountains causing great damage may be brought on by one small snowflake slipping.

If, however, as years go buy, we managed to enter data into our computers about every particle in the Universe and the laws governing them, will we be able to predict all future events?

Theories supporting such a possibility (determinism) are not generally accepted since they lead to the ultimate conclusion that it is possible to predict the future and that this depends entirely on having the appropriate technical possibilities. How is it really?

And if we, human beings, cannot predict the future because of the enormous amount of data which it would be necessary to enter into our counting machines, then can the Builders of the Universe not perform (or have not already performed) such a task?

If they had, it would mean the future exists!

Every event, after all, has a cause and is the result of laws governing our World. It is only because of our lack of knowledge that many of them seem mysterious to us. A car can, at most, “accidentally” veer off the road and drive into a ditch but it certainly will not go against the law of gravity, rise into the air and fly towards the Moon. The accident is always precipitated by a specific cause, for example a tyre bursting. After the accident, an expert states that the tyre burst because of a fault in its manufacture. The fault was caused by the negligent work of a factory worker who, a year ago, had not screwed in a certain valve properly. He had not done so because he had not had enough sleep because . . . The sequence of events goes back many years but every event was caused by the one before it. This chain of events can be extended back into the past infinitely. It can also be extended the other way, that is, into the future.

And maybe it is only living beings who introduce the unpredictable elements which make the World fortuitous?

Maybe knowing all the laws of nature and the arrangement in time and space of all the elements in the Universe, it is possible to state how they will behave in the future, but only as regards inanimate matter?

For an outside observer (if such a one exists) the sight of a particle tearing itself from Earth and flying towards the Moon would probably seem completely fortuitous and incomprehensible. Its movement would be going against known laws of physics. And living beings do cause such events - in this case humans travelling to the Moon.

Every living being is an object inaccessible from the outside whose behaviour can be predicted only with a certain degree of accuracy but which, at any moment in its life, can act otherwise.

We are often astounded when we learn that somebody we know well has behaved in a manner in which – according to our knowledge of them – they should not have. We often amaze ourselves by the way we act. There are also people whose behaviour is totally unpredictable – people who are mentally ill.

We can only determine the average length of a person’s life, the average number of offspring they will have or the statistical (average) way in which they will behave in moments of crises (most soldiers fight but only some become heroes while a small number desert).

Asking questions about time I realise they may seem completely devoid of any sense – are, indeed, stupid – and that contemplating this is probably entirely pointless since the World has been functioning for billions of years without answers to such questions.

The next question in those grouped “stupid” is - which way does time run?

Does time run towards the future?

No doubt most of us believe it runs forward, towards the future. Just as in space. The roads, trees or shops we pass remain behind us, in the back. Walking on, we make towards new places and things. We walk forwards.

But during our journey in time we do not see what lies in front of us, every moment is unknown and surprising. Because in front of us there is an invisible wall separating the present from the future.

A wall hiding the future.

Of course, there is another possibility.

If the future did exist objectively and it only seemed to us that we are creating it, then maybe we simply do not possess a sense which enables us to penetrate this invisible wall and look into the future like we look into the space in front of us? Could it be that Nature has endowed us with sight which allows us to look into space but has not endowed us with a sense allowing us to look at the future?

Going back to the earlier question, we could put it another way and ask whether the wall which hides the future definitely does move forward?

Does not time rather flow backwards, towards the past?

Perhaps this impenetrable plane stands still and the present “flows out” of it steadily, like a stream running into the past?

Perhaps time pours out like a stream of water flowing from a turned-on tap?

According to such a model, the present would be a plane located at the spot where the tap ends and the stream of water begins. This plane, a thin membrane, would be an arena called the present. Every movement of matter and every event would take place only and exclusively within the narrow dimension of the membrane. The water running (flowing) from it could be figuratively compared to the stream of time running backwards towards the past.

According to such a model there would be no place for the future. Flowing out of every point in space, there would only be the present turning into the past.

The passing of time takes place at a determined speed.

Sometimes it seems to go faster, sometimes slower, and we look up at the clock amazed to see that it is already (or only) “this” hour.

Is there a speed at which the present slips into the past?

Has the speed in which the present turns into the past been the same for as long as the Universe existed?

We know at what speed Earth moves and the speed at which atoms move. If all the things in the Universe (atoms, photons, planets, plants and animals etc.) suddenly started to move faster but kept the same speed ratio (the object moving twice as fast as another would, after increasing its speed of movement still move twice as fast as it) probably nobody would notice the change. The scale according to which time is measured would also have changed. In our Universe the speed ratios of specific objects have been established. We know, after all, that in a vacuum light travels such and such a number of times faster than sound. We can also say that the speed at which Earth travels around the Sun is such and such a number of times faster than the speed, let us say, at which a horse can move.

If it is true that the entire Universe came about as a result of the Big Bang expanding in a split second from a small point then did not more “events” take place during that small period of time (split second) than during the subsequent millions of years? Would it not take millions of years to play back that split second recorded on film or another visual transmitter?

And nowadays is the speed, at which the present becomes the past, different in various areas of space?

Going back to the earlier example of a stream of water running from a tap, we could say that the water pours at a specific speed which can be accurately measured using a water-meter, and state that so and so many cubic metres of liquid poured out in a minute. Turning the tap, we can either increase or decrease this speed making the water run from the tap at a greater or lesser speed. This will be only the average speed. At the sides, smaller streams will form which flow faster. Others will flow slower as drops of water. Within the limits of a given speed, some of the water will run at different speeds.

Is it the same with time¸ with the speed at which it runs?

Scientists have no doubts that it can run at a faster or slower rate depending on how fast an object moves. They claim that at speeds close to that of light time flows slower, and that clocks moving at various speeds will show a different time of day.

This is, I believe, somewhat of a simplification. The differences in the times indicated by clocks moving at different speeds only shows that their mechanisms do not work at the same speed, that the mechanism of a clock moving at a speed close to that of light has slowed down.

If there were two identical Solar Systems and within these, on both the Earths, lived people who measured the passage of time in relation to the speed at which Earth spins around its axis (day and night) and Earth orbits the Sun (year), and if one of these Systems accelerated to a speed close to that of light, then an outside observer (if there was somebody like that) would most probably only see that in the speeding System, Earth spun around its axis and orbited the Sun at a slower speed than in the System which moved at a slower rate. People within the speeding Solar System, however, would probably not notice the fact. Both night and day and the year would last the same length as before. The metabolic rate of these people and the rate at which cells divide would slow down. At speeds close to that of light only the internal movements of objects slow down.

If we were to take it that time elapses at different speeds in different parts of the Universe, it would mean there were different present moments in different areas of the Universe!

Here on Earth, we would experience the present right now while beings living on other planets would not experience it at the same moment as us but “earlier” or “later”.

This would go completely against our concept of the world. We are all used to the fact that the present is the same for all of us. When we watch a football match, we all - ten thousand spectators at the stadium - simultaneously see the ball being kicked into the goal. This precisely is the present. If we look at a star in the sky right now, seeing it as it was a million years ago (because that is how long the light needed to reach us), then the animals living on Earth a million years ago experienced the present at the very moment that the events on the star were taking place a million years ago. Today, a million years later, we, living right now, all experience the present simultaneously – both you and I and all other beings (insects, bacteria, viruses).

Does the present always take place at the same moment in all areas of the Universe?

Can there be various present moments?

Is there not only one such moment but billions just as there are billions of particles and objects in the Universe?

Can a large number of present moments exist simultaneously?

If a large number of presents existed this would mean there was a large number of Worlds (shapes) overlapping each other! A large number of simultaneous realities.

It is easy to imagine a World consisting of a large number of presents, but in a somewhat different sense. Our lives – in such a case – would be made up of leaps from one present to the next, like leaping from one stone to another. These presents, however, would not overlap – they would exist adjacent to each other.

Let us imagine once more two Solar Systems where one system travels at a speed close to that of light and time passes at a slower rate. If the tracks of both these Systems were to cross and if moments of the present on both planets Earth were simultaneous, a catastrophe should take place. The collusion of two systems.

Whereas if the presents did not overlap would none of the inhabitants of one System notice the other System? Would both of them pass through each other like two shadows? Without colliding into each other?

Would they exist as two separate realities, as two Worlds?

The existence of many presents would allow “going back” in time (travelling into the past).

We are convinced that our childhood has gone by and that that reality no longer exists.

If somebody could meet me at a moment which has already passed for me it would mean I exist at several moments (presents) simultaneously or at least at two – in the present which I am experiencing right now (be it writing these words), and in the present which has already gone by for me. This would mean, moreover, that such a state (my being simultaneously in several presents) could be brought on by other people (and not Myself) who were able to “go back” in time.

But the state of matter is connected with the present!

At every moment inanimate material objects as well as living beings are in a given state (have a shape and energy state) and hold a place in space. Changes take place in line with the present. At this moment the Sun is in a certain place in space and is of a given size, shape and temperature. Tomorrow it will be somewhere else and somewhat different. This can be put more forcefully. Not only is the shape of matter connected to the present but so is its very existence.

It is, therefore, quite improbable that there are many presents.

Does our World exist only NOW – at this one and only moment which we describe as the present?

Is there nothing apart from this one moment?

With our experience (registering of) the present, I believe, comes the sense we all have of our own “I” (our separateness from the rest of the world), of our soul. This sense of being separate is felt only at the moment we call the present.

If time did not exist, the entire Universe would be inert.

But can inertness be identified with an absence of time?

Does time stand still for an object which is motionless?

Does time exist at all?

We say that photographs stop time because moments which have already gone by are reproduced on them.

But if every element in the Universe halted for a moment, stood still, like in a photograph - the stars, planets, photons, electrons, living beings - would that mean that time had stopped flowing?

If after a period of stillness, all the objects began to move again, it would not be possible to ascertain how long they had been still anyway, because there would be no point of reference to measure this by. All the objects whose movement marks time (watches, atoms) would, after all, have been still!

But, if in such an imagined state where the entire Universe is inert, somewhere at its very edge only one tiny particle moved, one atom by which time could be measured (one clock)?

Should we then acknowledge that time elapses in the whole Universe or that it elapses in this corner of the Universe only and has stopped in the rest, or that it does not exist?

Could an inert Universe exist?

If movement did not exist living beings would not need any organs whatsoever. Or limbs, because there would be no need to move from place to place. Or digestive system, because there would be no need to digest. Or brain, because there would be no need to think, plan or remember. So would inertia, then, be synonymous with there being no possibility of life existing? Would inertia also be synonymous to there being no possibility of anything existing? Since there would be no movement there would also be no need for the energy which propels it.

So can the Universe exist only when there is movement?

An affirmative answer would suggest that time is identical to movement. It is difficult to imagine a non-existent (because of the lack of movement) Universe in an existent time.

Is time only a movement? The movement of certain objects in relation to others and their speed ratio relative to each other?

This question is not new. Many people have wondered whether time and movement are identical or whether they exist independently, side by side.

Is the present not merely the smallest fraction of a movement where every fragment of the Universe can be found?

In the end, measurement of time is, in essence, measurement of movement. In order to measure it we refer to space and the location in it of another object or the state of the object. If we speak of somebody walking for 12 hours all we are saying is that he was doing so for half of the Earth’s rotation around its axis. We do not see this movement which is why we have invented the clock to follow its rhythm.

We have learned to exist in a world of ceaseless movement and ceaseless changes. We adapt the tempo of our lives, that is the speed at which processes take place within our body (periods to digest, periods of activity and rest, periods of procreation), to the tempo at which other things move.

We compare movement to movement. We do this instinctively. Knowing that we are soon going to be hungry, we store food whose period of conversion, that is, loss of nutritive value, will be slower than our basal metabolic rate. In order to build a house we choose materials which have a rate of movement (period of decomposition) longer than our lives. Foreseeing winter, we choose such textiles for our clothes whose movement (conversion leading to its disintegration) will be longer than the cold spell.

Is the phenomenon called time merely the state of objects in space (their location, temperature, energy state)?

If that were the case, the phenomenon called time would only be the chronology - invented for our use and registered by us - of energy changes taking place in objects and in space (movement broadly understood).

Is time only connected to our Universe or does it also exist beyond it?

If anything does exist beyond “our” Universe, of course.

We cannot exclude (something many have already contemplated) that every particle discovered by us and which we consider to be the smallest, might consist of a Universe similar to the one we inhabit – with billions of stars, billions of living beings, including intelligent beings full of emotions, thoughts and questions.

None of us can exclude the converse situation where the whole Universe in which we live is only a part of another, larger Universe and only one of a billion indivisible (elemental) particles of which that larger one is built.

Is it possible for our Universe to be only a particle of another “immense” Universe ( Multiuniverse)?

If time is a self-contained phenomenon, independent of movement, then:

Is it possible to turn the direction of time?

Scientists claim that such a process is quite probable. Since the Universe began from a small point which is expanding, it might possibly start shrinking again and return to that point. They imply that during the period when the Universe shrinks, time could run in the opposite direction.

Would time, in such a case, start running towards the past? Would that mean that each of us would experience their whole life in every detail once again but in the opposite direction?

Would each of us start to exist once more after many billions of years?

Such a model of returning to the past would be probable if we took it that time is running towards the future. If, on the other hand, it appeared that it was running in the opposite direction (backwards), “pouring” like water from a tap flowing from the present towards the past, then reversing its direction would mean something entirely different. The present, in such a pattern of things, would become not the past but the future. We are accustomed to the fact that the future is unknown. How then could the present change into something which is not known?

Living in such a world, would we know everything that was in store for us yet not know what we had already experienced?

It is hard to imagine a world where every one of us knows everything about their future – about their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, knowing their exact dates of birth and death – but has no knowledge of their grandparents or great-grandparents. The person writing these words would know when he died. From what those burying him describe, he would know what his funeral was like and how many people took part, whereas he would not know anything about his birth. Instead of growing old every one of us would grow younger. Life would begin with an old man getting out of his grave and would end with his birth and return to his mother’s body.

Like in a film running backwards.

Such a reversal of time would be synonymous with a reversal in the direction of movement. It would confirm the fact that movement and time are one and the same thing.

We believe that time flows at a constant pace and that its passing can be marked out on a straight line stretching a long way backwards. A million years, on a scale where one centimetre represents one year, would equal a million centimetres (10 kilometres).

No doubt many of us have experienced the feeling that earlier (according to the calendar) events seem to be less distant than those which took place recently. The calendar arranges events in the order they took place but not necessarily according to how we feel it.

Are these feelings not somehow justifiable?

Does time recede in a straight line?

Drawing a straight line requires a long surface. If the line was to be rolled into a spiral then all the information contained in a time line 10 kilometres long could fit into a small space. If instead of arranging it on a flat surface a figure shaped like a sphere was created, then such a line would become a small object, something like a ball of wool. All events would then run next to each other. A line of time from the past going back a million years would run next to the line of the present. The whole of the past would not be far away but right next to us.

Time understood in such a way would spin around one point or, to put it another way, time would be a spinning point.

Does it not only seem to us that events that happened a long time ago are distant whereas in reality they are all happening practically at the same time, in a small point of time?

It is the same with us, after all. Some of us live in high-rise buildings with many flights of stairs. A tenant sleeping on a bed pressed up against the wall knows nothing about the neighbour sleeping on the other side of the same wall. Even though they have been sleeping next to each other for 50 years, they may never have seen each other and, therefore, know nothing about each other’s existence even though only 20 cm. separate them. Many lives are going on close by which we fail to see. Could it be the same with time?

Abandoning the idea of imagining time as a line we could try to imagine it in yet another way - as a surface on which events are laid down one on top of the other. If the line drawn on a piece of paper by a pencil held in a hand were the present then all the lines drawn before would be the past. Since there is only one sheet of paper all the lines would have been drawn on top of previous lines, in sequence, covering each other. Scribbles, like those of a child, would appear. Previous lines (those underneath) would not be distinguished from later ones.

In such a scheme of things, time would be completely “flat” and lacking in depth. The whole of the past, all the events which had taken place over billions of years, would be “stored” under the tip of the drawing pencil. Subsequent events would obscure previous events.

I asked earlier if, perhaps, the Universe is not being observed, for example, by its Builders. We can expand this question and ask whether the observers are watching in a time which flows for them like it does for us?

And is such observation possible where all events are seen simultaneously and, moreover, everywhere, in every point of space?

Is it possible that all events, those of the past as well as those in the present and those which will take place in the future, happen simultaneously? Except that we are unable to perceive this?

If all events took place simultaneously it would be equivalent to the existence of many millions of presents.

The supposition that all events take place exactly at the same time, however, seems absurd.

After all, how could it be possible for Me to be the person I am right now and at the same moment be the little child I once was while simultaneously being the old man whom I might be?

Would I, therefore, be several individuals all at once?

This sort of fantastical possibility would confirm the existence of “flat” time.

The feeling that all event are happening simultaneously or close to each other probably comes from the everyday world in which we live, from the necessity to constantly repeat the same tasks. During their life every individual monotonously performs a few actions not so different from each other. Every one of us wakes up every day, meaning that during an 80-year-long life we repeat this action almost 300 thousand times. We eat breakfast the same number of times, clean our teeth, do our hair, put the comb aside, leave for work, close the front door, open the door where we work, say “good morning” and so on. For somebody looking on from the outside watching us perform these same actions all the time would no doubt be very tedious.

Let us look at our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, at our children and grandchildren. Every one of them has performed, is performing or is going to perform the same actions as us. First they will play in the sandpit, then at Red Indians, policemen and thieves. They will grow up thinking about members of the opposite sex so as to later work in order to provide for their family, and in the end will grow old.

This monotonous movement takes place with a repetitive rhythm.

As though we were bound by a cyclical rule. Earth orbits the Sun repeating this same pattern for millions of years. Electrons orbit the nuclei of atoms. Living beings are born then die – one generation follows another which follows another and so on, endlessly it would seem. Our lives are all based on repetition. The differences between each successive cycle are small, practically imperceptible.

Now and again this monotonous rhythm is broken. Two stars collide, a ship sinks, a human being dies.

We call events such as these (the interruption of a cycle) catastrophes.

Why do we have to keep on performing the same actions?

Could there be a World not based on the cyclical?

It is quite difficult to imagine a Solar System where the Earth would make a different orbit around the Sun (longer or shorter) every time or spin around its own axis (faster or slower), so that we would never know how long the next day and year would be and what the climate would be like. Every human being would experience puberty at a different age – some at two others at fifty.

The World would then be completely unpredictable.

Nothing could be planned. Planning came about as a result of the predictability of events. This predictability, in turn, results from an observation of their cyclical occurrence.

Such a World (non-cyclical) could exist probably in only two cases. If the laws of physics were not constant (and kept on changing) or if each particle had different (other) “properties”. In the second case, apart from there being no cyclical rhythm there would also probably be no “repeatability” of individuals and things. We have grown used to a school of herring being made up of a certain number of specimens resembling each other both in appearance and behaviour. All the trees we call oaks have the same kind of leaves, the same hard wood as well as the same climatic needs. It is difficult, therefore, to imagine a world in which no two specimens would be identical, in which there would be no species or races, in which every specimen would be different, in which there were no human beings. There would be one human being but another being, similar to them would be of an altogether different “species”. Living in such a world we would keep on meeting a new being every time and we would never know whether it was a herbivore or a carnivore. Every plant would have a different taste and different needs. The moment we got to know the properties of a new plant we had come across, this knowledge would become useless since every subsequent plant would have different properties unknown to us. Animal husbandry, therefore, would not be possible and every single meal would carry a threat of potential food-poisoning.

Could such a world, therefore, exist?

Could Life come into existence if the law of a cyclical rhythm of events, and the repeatability of objects did not bind?

Fortunately, we do not live in such a world. The world in which we live has been ordered. Somebody made the effort to make it predictable and for events to occur cyclically, for all objects belonging to one class (kind) to be the same (repeatable). We can joke and say that this Somebody (Builder of the Universe) did not “allow” for anarchy and chaos.

And how long has the Universe lasted?

We answer, (for so we have been taught), that it has lasted billions of years and, saying this, we imagine this to be a long stretch full of contents, or a glass filled to the brim with time.

In reality, the Universe lasts barely a short instant which we call the present – an elusive moment, barely some fraction of a second.

It is not a glass full of thick time but something like a soap-bubble. The glass is, after all, empty because there is no past!

It is the same with your life or mine. If you say you have the age of a 30-year-old, it isn’t true. The description “have” suggests possession. I can have one bottle of drink or a whole crateful. I will feel the difference between them. The crate is larger and heavier than a bottle. Whereas these 30 years are not there. You only “have” the moment called the present. You only have a fraction of a second. The remaining moments which make up those 30 years are only recollections (the ability to awaken nerve cells in the brain which will “recreate” one of those passed moments).

Do we really exist only for that one short moment called the present? Barely a fraction of a second?

If the Universe lasts only for that moment, where then does movement, where does change fit in?

Maybe only two moments exist in our World and we call them time?

Does everything, perhaps, happen in only double rhythm?

Can there be two moments only merely to make movement possible?

Like two little lights next to each other switching on in turn?

Does everything happen in merely double rhythm (there and back like windscreen wipers) except that each of these two moments which exist in turn differs somewhat, the moment it appears, from the one which went before? Like two little bulbs turning on in turn and burning a different colour each time. The first shines red for a moment and immediately afterwards the other shines green. Then the first turns on again but this time it is yellow (“pendular” time).

QUESTIONS by Ryszard Cichy, Wrocław 2008 Retro-Art, Warszawa 2008, ISBN 978-83-87992-56-9 translated by Danusia Stok