Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Conscious Experience and the Mystery of Time

In this post, I briefly offer a speculative guess at what might be going on at the most fundamental level of the universe. This involves thinking about the possible links between time, causality, and consciousness.

We exist in time. There is no experience other than experience in time. So, what is time? Interestingly, in scientific theories time is taken for granted rather than explained. For instance, in classical and quantum mechanics, time is assumed as a backdrop for motion and cause and effect. From what I have read, the mathematical equations involved work just as well if the sign on the time dimension is reversed from positive to negative. There is not any explanation for the one-directional and irreversible aspects of time in our experience. In general relativity, the structure of the universe is described in terms of four-dimensional space-time geometry, but the designation of one dimension as time is arbitrary. This theory also fails to account for time as we experience it. As a more general point, “cause and effect” only makes sense in time. Therefore, the concept of causality, which underlies the deterministic worldview of science, has an element of mystery given this lack of an understanding of time.

It is only in our experience that time has a direction – the direction in which our being unfolds. This leads to an idea: just as there is no experience without the passage of time, perhaps there is no passage of time without experience. I argued earlier that consciousness went “all the way down” in the universe. Given this, I now speculate that the smallest, most basic unit comprising the universe is not a particle or wave, but is an elementary unit of experience. We would reinterpret the happenings in the world as a chain of experiential events. Now, this is a very difficult concept to work through and reconcile with the scientific view of the world, but I think it is good to try.

In this way of looking at things, time is not a backdrop for causality, but is actually created by the process of experience. For the bigger picture, this implies that the evolution of the universe in all of its manifestations can be described as the process of the universe experiencing itself. Tying this back to my discussion of freewill in the last post, I would also say that the universe and we human constituents have at least some element of choice in what happens as the next moment of experience unfolds.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog Steve.
I agree with the direction you're moving to with consciousness.
I have just started developing a blog focussing on Panexperentialism Web resources (online papers etc).
Its at



Steve said...

I will check it out. Thanks alot.