∆ Before and After = Ahead and Behind.

Simplest motion. A detailed examination of the illusion of the past and future.

Picture : Passengers on this boat may think they are leaving the past behind them, and they are physically. 

But what is behind them is always just going on. As is what is ahead of them.
Although things are still happening behind them, the further behind, physically, these events are, the less effect they have.

Events ahead of the passengers are also just going on, but the closer they get to these events, the more 'current', or 'happening now' they will seem to become. 

Are we sailing from the past to the future (and 'affecting' the future as we do so)?

I would completely agree that the above title may seem rather complicated, "Are we sailing from the past to the future (and 'affecting' the future as we do so)" - But i wouldn't accept that this is my fault, rather that it is a symptom of the possibility that the 'idea of time' is completely unfounded, and thus it leads to awkward questions that are hard to word, let alone answer. In this section I hope to show how 'considering the possibility' that everything 'just' happens now, answers all queries and dis-solves the apparent need for such complicated questions.

To fully recheck some proposed ‘truth’ or theory, it’s a good idea to pick one distinct aspect of the theory and examine it carefully in detail. If the aspect passes inspection we can move on to the others until we find a fatal flaw or show all aspects of the theory to be reasonably valid. If the aspect examined seems to have errors we can still check other aspects to see if we can gather more and more evidence to reasonably say the whole theory is very poor or even completely invalid.

So with this re-examination of the theory of time we can start by examining the idea of the distinction of the time based, or ‘temporal’  past, and hopefully we will see that if this attack is successful the truth behind other apparent distinctions fall into place much more easily.

First let’s filter out some of the many different relative factors mentioned above by not considering lots of different kinds of objects, all moving and changing, in different ways, at different speeds and different directions all at once, but by just looking at a simple journey from our own physical location, and heading or direction.

We start off by considering the basic physical distance between ourselves and other things and the direction we may be moving in, because in general we, as humans can move either towards, or away from, other objects, and other objects can be either moving towards or away from us.

So we consider some simple, sedate, straightforward motion, and imagine leaving harbour by ship and heading directly for another port. Let's say we have had a day in the UK port of Dover, enjoyed a meal, and are now onboard a ferry heading for the French port of Calais.

Throughout our journey we keep a simple log or journal. The reason for this is that if in our ‘thought experiment’ we note the relative ‘times’ and order of events it will allow us to be very clear and unambiguous at every point in the journey about what we think is the ‘temporal’ past and temporal future at any point.

While in Dover, while eating the meal we could write in the journal,

  • ‘1 pm – Dinner in Dover’.

One hour later, onboard the ferry mid channel we add the entry

  • ‘2 pm – onboard the ferry mid channel’...


  • ‘Expect to be in Calais at 3 pm in the future’.

So we can look at the entries and agree it is clear that the event of us ‘enjoying a day in Dover’ is a past event. And that ‘being in Dover’ is in our past.

What is more, assuming nothing disastrous happens, ‘being in Calais’ is a future event for us.

So because we, onboard the ship are moving in a straight-line away from Dover, the event of us being in Dover is slipping more and more into the past, just as steadily as Dover itself slips further and further physically behind us.

And simultaneously[1] because we are moving in a straight line towards Calais, the event of us ‘being in Calais’ is in our future, and becoming a more and more imminently expected future event ‘as Time goes on’, and as we get physically closer to Calais.

In fact if the ship is cruising in a very straight line at a very steady rate the precise distance between Dover, physically behind us, and Calais physically in front of us will at every moment in the journey correlate precisely to what we would call ‘how long ago in the Time sense’ we would say we were in Dover, and how long in the Time sense we would say it will be until we are in Calais.

So we are looking at the possibility that …

The distinction between what you are physically heading away from, and what you are physically heading towards, may be the essence of what you think is the distinction between your past and your future.

Now this might seem oversimplified but remember that some aspects of persistent illusions hide in plain sight which is why they are sometimes not even considered worthy of examination so let's look into this further before we abandon the observation.

Calais is physically in front of us, and ‘arriving in Calais’ is expected by us to happen in our future.

But ‘Calais’ is a constantly changing place, if we are mid channel Calais may be an hour away, and as we approach Calais things in Calais are constantly happening, so in the ‘hour’ or so many kilometres, it takes us to get there countless little things will have happened and maybe a few big events, although most of the place will basically be unchanged,

So how Calais looks when we arrive there is both fairly predictable, 90 % of the population will have just moved around the town, percentage wise very few will have left or arrived, very few of the buildings will have changed significantly in structure or location, and also very unpredictable, we can’t be sure just where every single French man, woman, cat, dog, pigeon or speck of dust will actually be but we know on average these things won’t have changed that much.

Now unsophisticated as this seems, it actually fits the profile of what we expect the future to be like very well. Because we are saying that however Calais is while we are in the middle of the channel heading towards it, it is changing as we head towards it. So it will be different as we arrive.

Calais will of course be different to us, and to the local residents. But to us it will seem as if we have reached a new bit of our future (we wrote in the diary, ‘expect to be in Calais at 3 pm in the future’) but to the local residents Calais will have just seemed to be constantly changing in the present. This is an example of how the distinction that our own point of view is moving relative to some other place can be seen as the future arriving and being new.

The further into the future we try to predict events the more inaccurate we generally are, depending on what kind of events we are trying to predict. The physical location of a building doesn’t tend to change on average very much while the physical location of a lorry driver or a migrating bird does. Similarly the further away physically we are from Calais (or any other place) the harder it is for us to see or detect just what is happening at any particular spot ahead of us, although we can still be fairly certain that the location of big solid inert unenergetic things like buildings will be changing on average less than small light energetic things like animals, people, cars etc.

Why we can’t see the future.

(See also >> ∆ Remembering the past but not the future).

The main difference here, i.e. where this simple analogy seems to quickly break down, is that we tend to see the future not just as ‘things constantly going on now’, that we can’t see ‘because we are too far away’, but as future events, things that we can’t see ‘because they haven’t happened yet’.

But consider this very carefully. If you hold the ‘time view’, then one of the fundamental properties you would claim about the future is that it is essentially unseen. Even if you believe you can accurately predict that the tide will come in later or that the sun will set at 7pm, you would still declare that at midday this 7pm, i.e. the future cannot be seen [2]

So if you hold the time view, you insist that the future cannot be seen, and then you assume a lot of other claims about it ‘that it is something to do with the fourth dimension’[3] and so on.

But consider (from the time point of view) the argument that ‘what we see as ‘the future’, is just things that are happening now, ‘new’ in a sense to us personally, as we head into them’ seems wrong, because generally speaking part of the definition of ‘the future’ is that we cannot see it. So oddly enough, we are claiming to know something about a thing which by our own definition we claim we cannot say anything about[4].

In a sense this claim ‘the future cannot be seen’ is a bit like someone who believes in magic declaring that some parts of a magic trick ‘can never be seen’, if they do claim this they cannot also use this claim to legitimately dismiss all possible explanations as to what happens in the part of the trick that say cannot be observed.

So I am effectively referring again here to the idea mentioned before, that if time is an illusion, then it would more than likely be true that our definitions of things like the past and the future would be incorrect.

And therefore I am saying, let’s be cautious here, an inconsistency has arisen, but if we automatically assume ‘an inconsistency means - the view I originally held must be correct even though I hold it purely because it was passed on to me by those around me, and that I never fully analysed’, the we could be misunderstanding the error and using it to justify jumping to false conclusions.

If you were to ask a number of people who believed in magic just what it is and how it worked, say at one specific part of one specific trick, you would find that by necessity all their explanations would differ. This would be because they would all be ‘describing’ something that they had never seen, and that did not exist. So this ‘difference in opinion’ would in itself be a very good indication that they were all trying to describe something that they had incorrectly assumed existed, and were now trying to guess at properties it might have.

When we try the same cross check with ‘time’ we find that although time is apparently omnipresent and constantly experienced by everyone, opinions and descriptions about time as a whole, or about each of its separate elements (its past, present, future, flow, speed, direction and so on) all seem equally as varied and out of agreement, so likewise, perhaps this ‘difference in opinions’ about time[5] should in itself be seen as a warning that we may not be exploring something deeply mysterious, but trying to come up with descriptions for something that we mistakenly think exists but which does not.

If you hold the timeless view you just assume ‘things are happening everywhere constantly, simultaneously, it’s hard to tell how things are around the next corner literally just because I can’t see what is happening there’.

The ‘physical’ past.

(See also >> Timeless memories) 

Now let’s try a different angle, what about our past? Perhaps at first this analogy of physical location relating to time doesn’t at first really seem to tie in very well here either. We remember what we did during the day in Dover, and we say that is in the temporal past but we are halfway across the channel or 10 km from Dover and can still discuss details of what happened in the past.

And we could still actually changed and affect Dover even as we sail away, just by making a mobile phone call and asking them to put a coin in the parking meter, put the cat out or whatever.

But ‘Dover’ is getting more and more distant in our physical past, i.e. further and further away physically behind us as we continue to travel on the ship in a straight line away from it,

And Dover, almost certainly didn’t just ‘stop’ the moment we left, Dover is still continuing to change and happen and we don’t generally define ‘the past’ as something that carries on happening behind us and without us’.

So this must show that the idea that ‘what is physically behind, and moving away from us is what we mistake for our temporal past’ must also be as naïve at it first seemed.

But if give that where a replacement description for some distinction doesn’t fit perfectly it may be because the distinction we are replacing that is incorrectly defined, in this case perhaps it is our inherited definition of the past that is wrong[6].

To see what I mean we have to carefully prise apart three closely related ideas,

1-      The way the world around us actually moves and changes,

2-      The way our internal mental representations move and change, and

3-      What we logically deduce ‘the past must be’.

The way the external world moves and changes.

We have the idea that one of the key features of the past is that ‘the past cannot be changed but can only be added to’.

 Consider what you actually see if you watch some sheep enter a fresh field. At first the ground in the field might be basically smooth and flat, holding no hoof prints. As the sheep run around the pen they seem to create and ‘add’ more and more hoof prints to the soft ground.

So it is a fact that initially you might count zero hoof prints then after a day count 1000 hoof prints. It is also true that (apart from the sheep) no things have actually been added to the field.

So we say ‘more and more hoof prints can be constantly added to the mud forever’ and we kind of assume ‘hoof prints can never be taken away’, even if we flatten them out we still know they were there, and this is also how we see the past as being, whereas if you think about it, what we actually observe is stuff, mud, being constantly moved around into different shapes, patterns or formations, but we count the shapes the mud can be in as being ‘new things’ and so see other footprints as ‘old things’[7].

The way our memories move and change.

Externally the mud can be seen as a record of passing or happening events but the only record of ‘the past’ we ever actually see internally is the stored changes in the neurons and chemicals of our minds.

And in a simple way our minds are just sophisticated versions of the muddy field, events keep happening so we keep adding footprints or memories. The only real difference is of course that we add to our collection in a very organised way, and we like to think we don’t overwrite memories but just keep adding to them but if we are not adding physical material to our brains as we store new memories then we are not ‘adding’ anything to them, just changing the formation of some of the stuff that is there.

This desire or action to not rewrite, delete or change our own memories once we have created them makes perfect sense from a survival point of view. If we see a thing or an event then it is clearly a fact that such a thing or event can exist in the world around us and so it makes sense that we log that fact.

So if we see a tiger it makes sense to accurately log what one looks like, and not to alter the mental impression we make of seeing it, because the ‘source’ objects of everything we see are correct and valid (because we saw what is really there) and if we inaccurately add to or change our memory the information becomes less useful, specifically to our survival.

So if we see a tiger attack and kill a goat, but we change the memory to ‘seeing a tiger roll over and play with the goat’ we have made a dangerous alteration.

Finally as humans we try to keep adding to our collection of observed events and we all agree with each other that that is what we do, but just as footprints in mud get washed away when it rains, when we die the accumulated and more refined views of events in our minds must get destroyed or released. Of course if this happens as we die we can’t talk about it, and if it happens before we die, as in what seems to happen with an Alzheimer’s sufferer we tend to dismiss it.

In fact our own internal memories are no more ‘protected’ scared or unchangeable than a newspaper, a book, a roll of movie film, a silicon memory chip or an apple; ‘Memories’ are just matter in-formation, that is ‘integrated, but can, and will be dis-integrated. Either naturally because there are ongoing processes within it (an apple is internally unstable and constantly has within it the energy and materials to change or rot), or because the universe is a place so full of ‘change’ that everything is constantly getting heated up, cooled down, moved, crushed, dropped irradiated etc.

Whether this happens relatively slowly or relatively quickly it’s still always happening. (The only places where nothing much is happening are the places where there is nothing much existing.)

Our assumption about how ‘the’ past is.

So putting together how the world around us actually moves and changes (the muddy footprints seeming to accumulate) and how we run or organise our own minds, trying not to overwrite and reuse neurons that are already gainfully employed, we can get an idea of how without actually seeing ‘it’ directly, we can come to the conclusion that ‘the temporal past’ exists, and that it is something that can only be added to, and that part of its nature is that once the record is made it is not changed.

The problem here is very subtle and subtle on a number of levels[8] and misunderstandings slip in because (it seems to me) by looking at our own memories, and looking at the evidence of past movement and change we intelligently and correctly deduce that there is a constant flow of ‘new’ events happening. But, critically, we incorrectly add the idea that as these events happen they are also logged and stored in a thing called the past, which has the characteristics of constantly being added to, being unchangeable and of being unreachable.

The extra layer of subtlety here is that if the temporal past did exist then the above characteristics would make sense, so in essence, the problem is that if you assume that the characteristics we make up for a thing we ourselves claim we can’t even see directly, make sense, then you may end up assuming the past exists.

(We may confuse the fact that one thing may make perfect sense, ‘it is completely possible that my friend could have gone home’ with the idea that this proves we are correct, ‘therefore it is completely true that they did go home’.)

Unconscious Collaboration

What is more, all of us as humans work together to keep the misunderstanding in place, and what might be more confusing or misleading than a deliberate collaboration than an accidental, unconscious and unnoticed collaboration.

We as humans are all built the same way; we all have similar memories that are designed very sensibly to keep shuffling neurons and chemicals around to give the effect of constantly adding memories, until we die, and not to chuck out old information if possible.

We all live on the same planet so we all get spun around the sun in the same direction constantly and rotated around the same axis in the same direction at the same rate, and we all see the same matter being moved and changed in the same ways, and just like a few billion video cameras left on record, we all perceive this motion and change as us witnessing an accumulation of events (as opposed to us being an integral part of everything just constantly churning around into different formations)

So we can all jump to the conclusion that the past may exist, and that if it did exist it would have the properties of…always being added to, unreachable and unchangeable, and all of this reasoning works for all of us, so we all agree!, and because we all agree we mistakenly also add this fact as being another piece of evidence proving the case.

So the subtlety continues because generally speaking it makes sense to say that when everyone or the vast majority of a group of sensible people agree on something they are probably correct. But, and here’s the catch, the word probably suggests very often but does not suggest definitely or always.

This is perhaps a bit like all the towns folk agreeing that the emperor new robe is indeed perfectly invisible, there is great agreement but perhaps agreement should not be mistaken for logical reasoning and hard evidence[9].

So, can the past keep changing?

With the above possibility in mind, if we go back to the analogy of the ferry trip and seeing whether or not it makes sense to say that what is physically behind us and receding from us is what we mistake for the distinction of the past, we can see the situation as follows.

As we wander around Dover, as life there goes on normally, we experience our surroundings, we see things in Dover affecting other things in Dover and leaving evidence of all the motion and change. And much of the movement and change we experience automatically[10] means we constantly change our internal collection of mental ‘footprints’ or memories so it looks like we are adding to the total amount of information.

As we leave Dover physically behind us, Dover and its inhabitants continue to carry on doing what they are doing whether we are nearby or not. Our own internal impressions of Dover however travel physically with us, in our heads, and our own biology automatically works to keep significant impressions unchanged where created[11].

So while on the ship we may think ‘but I can remember what happened’ past tense, what is actually true is that ‘we can presently see the contents of our own minds’.

So when we have the idea or notion that the past never changes and that the past is constantly added to we are actually at first talking about our own internal version and store of events that have influenced us. And whatever else may or may not be true, it is basically true that this internal mental store is in effect added to, and protected from change.

Secondly we are working with the background notion that there is also a real temporal past that is another, similar, or apparently perfect, constantly accumulating record of all events.

But in fact, oddly enough we never actually see this other ‘constantly accumulating, completely unchanging, totally permanent, perfectly detailed record of absolutely all events that ever take place anywhere and everywhere in the universe’! We just assume it exists.

We also have no idea or explanation as to how or why this record of the past might be created, what powers or drives it, or any idea of where it comes from or where it is stored once ‘recorded on’ other than ‘in the fourth dimension’. A fourth dimension by the way that apparently stretches out not only into the past but also into the future infinitely… or at least out to ‘the end of time’, whatever that is meant to mean.

Perhaps, there is no constantly growing past.

So given that ‘time’ brings up all these wild assumptions, fantastic claims and unanswered questions it seems reasonable to at least suggest that – perhaps, there is no constantly accumulating and therefore unchanging ‘past’, and that perhaps any other suggestion that invalidates certain unanswered questions and offers replacement logical, observable explanations is worth considering.

And therefore, I suggest that when trying to replace the incorrect distinction of the ‘past’ we drop the requirement for this ‘stored past to exist’, and therefore also drop the requirement that there is an unchangeable aspect to the past, so when we do this we then find that it does make sense to say that ‘what is behind us and receding but just carrying on, is, what we mistake for the distinction of the past’!

Note also that as long as we keep sailing on, although whatever is happening behind us, in our actual, real, observable, physical past, keeps happening it becomes harder and harder for it to affect us. However, simultaneously (in the same way and at the same rate) whatever we are heading towards will find it much easier to affect us[12].

Summary of the error in our belief of what the past is like.

This point, I may rather inelegantly express as ‘we wrongly think that past events stop and accumulate as they have happened’ (as images on a roll of movie film ‘stop’ and ‘accumulate’ as the film is recorded), is built on the fundamental observation that ‘we never see the past that we are talking about and describing’... so any speculation we have about its nature is never automatically disproven.

So, while it initially seems that the idea ‘the distinction of that which is getting more distant behind us’ is what we mistake for our distinction of the ‘temporal past’ seems flawed because we know that whatever is just ‘physically behind us’ logically keeps ‘going on’ happening and changing, we can also see perhaps that it is our idea that there is a temporal past that may be at fault, and on top of this our assumption that the temporal past is in some way a pile of ‘frozen’ and ‘ever accumulating’ moments that may be in error.

That it is our idea of an ‘ever growing frozen past’ that may be the error, makes more and more sense as you examine reality more closely and as you find that the more you insist on seeing actual evidence of ‘how this temporal past is formed’ and ‘where it is stored’, the less you get any concrete answers at all.

But what is interesting is how you do find that the description we give for the nature of the past does fit very accurately with all examples of records of events being stored entirely in physical matter, books, footprints, fossils, films, brains and so on.

We realise we do see ‘change’ and that although there seems to be an accumulation of ‘events’ it is also true that inside and outside of our own bodies we only ever basically[13] see the same amount of matter[14], constantly changing shape or formation.

There is a distinction here that we see some areas of matter hold ‘formations’ very well and some holding formations very poorly, so while a lake might seem to hold no real evidence at all about who or what sailed or swam in it because the water in the lake constantly collapses under its own weight, a muddy path, a roll of film, or a living brain, may hold a highly stable record remaining intact unless they are actively disturbed or disintegrating for any reason.

The difference here is that liquid water naturally disturbs and covers up its own tracks, while mud changes only when forced to by the event, and ‘brains’ work while they are actively nourished. The way we as humans get mislead, and add to our false notion that there ‘is an ever accumulating version or record of the past’ is because we selectively count, consider or investigate some areas and aspects of matter, and thoughtlessly discount and ignore other areas and aspects almost without any conscious discretion at all.

>> ∆ Bridging the past and future.

Back to >> ∆ Timeless v.Time distinctions (Rhetoric and Semantics).

[1] This aspect that when moving we are simultaneously getting near to one location and further away from another at precisely the same rate relates directly to the idea that the future arrives simultaneously as the past recedes and at the same pace, is key and will be addressed in more detail further on.

[2] Only confirmed as it arrives, and seen to tally or not with predictions.

[3] Nb I am not discussing the concept of four dimensions here, it has its own chapter, and showing how 4d mathematics can be re-interpreted at this point would over complicate the issue.

[4] This is a hard point to make clear without delving into the kind of long and complex self referential sentences this topic seems to demand and that I am trying hard to avoid writing, and without seeming to both state the obvious, while seeming to miss the obvious myself.

[5] As demonstrated in countless books and in the different opinions and speculations given by NN different scientists the television show ‘What time is it’ Dr Brian Cox, CHECK

[6] In other words – if time does not exist, then assumptions about its nature are probably wrong, so the fact replacement explanations don’t fit perfectly is proof they are possibly correct.


[7] The questions not fully addressed here are ‘is a foot print a thing’; if so is a crease in a piece of paper a thing etc. Can foot prints only be created and not destroyed, or if they are destroyed does that ‘not count’ for some special reason.

[8] Subtle to the degree that if the reader is determined not to see it then they may not.

[9] The error being that if all the towns folk agree the emperor has a new cloak, this may or not be true, but them agreeing is in itself not proof that their thoughts are correct, if it was then whatever they all agreed on would ‘become true’.

[10] The chemical reactions inherent in our biology make this happen, if you hear a bang, it creates an impression or change in part of your brain as automatically as it would make a change on a piece of magnetic tape in a running tape recorder.

[11] Just as the tape recorder is designed to change the tape as it passes the record head but not to change the tape elsewhere.

[12] Further on we will see that the maximum speed that an ‘effect’ or ‘consequence’ can have is the speed of light and so this speed in relation to distances becomes fundamentally important.

[13] For simplicity we have to deal in basic terms here, if the argument falls apart even using basic ideas then we save effort by not examining too deeply what turns out to be a dead end. If an analysis in basic terms works then it may be worth investigating more subtle and detailed facts.

[14] I say ‘the same amount of matter’ for simplicity here. Matter may have appeared from nowhere in the big bang, and may have to disappear in a big crunch, but these possibilities may suggest matter can appear and disappear but do not prove ‘there is also a constantly updated perfect record of all events stored in a fourth dimension’.