1∆ The Past.

1.                 The temporal past.



Is 'the past' really 'out there' to be visited. Science seems to say 'yes' (though only back to when you built your first time machine) - But I don't think mankind has actually shown time, or  the past to exist in anyway at all, so travelling back in time cannot be possible. 
Though we may be able to warp space, and the 'rates' at which things change, with interesting and useful results.

This section is critical to this book/website because one of our most basic reasons for starting to believe in 'time' comes from our assumption that 'The Past' exists in some way. But here's a crucial question...

Why on earth would you ever even suspect that 'the past' exists in any way at all?

This may seem like a silly question at first, becasue it seems 'obvious' that the past happened or exisits, we all remember the past, and out memories tie in with outher evidence and the memories of others.

The problem is, when you look at your memories you are just looking at something that is very simply  'here, now'. The fact that memories are held in some mysterious way within our heads, doesnt change the fact that they are still just things that are here now, and if they change they just change.... here, now.

The deeper significance of this detail is that if you, I , or any scientist has based their inital idea that Time exists - based on the fact that their 'own personal physical memories exist', then this is a serious and fundamentally flawed assumption.

It's important to grasp this point clearly, because we have seen that an apparently obvious 'fact' (the past exists) may actually be a fundamental error in reasoning. And it is useful to see how the error, or untruth, that memories prove the existence of 'the temporal past', is hidden by the very detail that it seems so simply obviously true.

What do memories actually prove - if not that 'the past' exists?

There's an important distinction to make here, make no mistake, memories do prove that things move, change, and happen.

But memories do not prove that 'the past' exists. In other words, memories do not prove that as things move, change and happen, a record of events is created or stored in any 'temporal past', anywhere.

If we havent made this subtle distinction, and havent realised that our memories are not actually a good enough reason to assume that anything other than 'now' exists, then we may well rush on to assume that 'time' exists, and then make up the idea of the 'future', and the 'flow of time' and the direction of this flow... But all these ideas have at their foundation a fundamentally wrong assumption.

The essence of timelessness rests entirely on this observation that while we think there is obvious evidence to say 'the past', 'in some way' (no matter how small) exists - in fact this can be shown to be entirely untrue. I believe there is no evidence to believe the past (and thus time and the future) exist in any way at all. Other than a deduction, or notion in our minds. Yes, things happen, and have happened - but if no temporal record of happenings is ever created any how any where - then logic suggests that 'things are just happening' - and not happening 'over time' and so the universe is timeless!

See Understanding memories 'X marks the spot'

Feelings about the past

We may feel very certain that ‘temporal’ or time based past ‘happened’, and therefore we think the past must ‘exist’ in some way. But the problem is that without exception every bit of evidence that we think ‘proves the existence of the temporal past’, is always just circumstantial evidence, existing here, ‘now’;


The problem with the ‘temporal past’ and circumstantial evidence

If we try to create a very general and broad working outline of time we might say that time at least consists of the past, the present and the future, and some sort of flow between these ‘distinctions’[1].

Therefore if we can create serious doubt about the real existence of any one of these three temporal components we can at least justify further investigation of the remaining two, and this statement ‘that all evidence suggesting a temporal past is here now’ is suggesting that before we even start to examine the apparently mysterious nature of Time we should re-check and confirm that we have actually satisfactorily proved the existence of the ‘temporal past’.

Our first view of the world, movement and change.

When we analyse the world around us carefully most people can make some basic observations and agree that certain things are reasonably obvious,

Our first most basic observation might be that the world does not appear to be one single large static object, but that it appears to consists of numerous separate things or ‘objects’.

Our second observation might be that many of these separate objects themselves are not static but can ‘move’ relative to the world and other objects.

Our third most basic observation might be that these objects can also ‘change’.

So we can start with a reasonable working agreement that in the world around us it seems that ‘objects’ exist, and these objects can move, and can change.

We can refine this view slightly by realising that any movement and change however only seems to happen when and where there is a reason for it to be happening and we can talk about this reason in terms of ‘energy’.

Whatever ‘energy’ is we can observe and agree that if energy is available in some form[2] and allowed to flow through say a car engine in the right way the car can move itself, and if energy is allowed to flow through a block of ice in the right way the ice will change, similarly without energy being freely available the car won’t move and the ice won’t change or ‘melt’.

Closer inspection of movement and change, the deduction of ‘Time’.

So we initially observe objects, and we observe that objects can move and objects can change wherever there is ‘energy’ available to flow[3].

However more careful examination of the world around us seems to suggest that there is also something much more subtle and perhaps not directly visible at work and in existence.

If we look at an exposed cliff face consisting of sedimentary rock then although the cliff itself may not be moving significantly we are able to very clearly see many different and varied types of material, sediment, that has been laid down in into very distinct layers.

Similarly if we cut down a tree and examine its interior we can very clearly see growth rings, if we closely examine other plants and animals around us we can clearly deduce that while they are not changing very much right now they must have gone through a lot of change to be how they are now.[4]

This is also true if we look at man-made structures, we can easily deduce that they couldn’t just suddenly take their present form, but must have been previously ‘built’ to be as they are now.

So from these observations we use logic and make a critical jump or assumption which is, that…

 ‘There must have been movement and change ‘outside of’, or ‘before’, that which we directly observe now. And this movement and change must have happened previously, i.e. In what we call the temporal past’.

(We can refer to this as the ‘assumption of Time’ from here on.)

The problem here is that this reasoning brings us back to the opening suggestion that whenever we look for evidence of the past it is always actually found here and now.

So we seem to be looking at the same evidence and presenting two conflicting views, one that this evidence is proof of ‘a past existing’, and the other, that the same evidence ‘is not proof of a past’, so which is correct?

If we consider for example two people examining the evidence in the world around them, one initially claiming that Time exists and the other claiming that it does not, then we can see how far they would agree about the world around them and then examine closely the point where they start to disagree.

We can see that both parties would at first agree that there is significant evidence around them which at least proves…

A - That objects exist, and

B – That objects can move and change.

Beyond this the one person will insist that there is also evidence in the basically static matter around us (sedimentary rock layers, tree growth rings etc) that;

·         ‘proves there has been change in the past’, and therefore that,

·         These formations could not ‘suddenly’ or instantly take shape, so, movement and change must happen gradually, or in other words things must ‘take Time’ to happen.

Therefore this person believes they have shown that Time must exist.

The other person, not believing in Time, may hold the following views;

·         All that we ever actually personally and directly observe is objects, moving and changing now.

·         And, that this movement and changing of matter in the present moment alone is entirely sufficient to explain everything we see around us including all ‘apparent evidence of the temporal past’.

So what this person is saying is that things do move and change, and in doing so they are changing the patterns and formations of the matter in the world, so the sedimentary rock layers only prove that movement happens, and not that there is also a temporal past.

Working definition of the temporal past.

Before we move on here it is useful to put a working definition of ‘temporal past’ in place. By temporal past I am referring to the notion of a collection or store of previous events that we believe in some way ‘exists’. Some people also may believe that this ‘temporal past’ may be travelled to or through or be ‘visit-able’ either in theory or in practice, either by ‘gross’ objects e.g. Time machines, or living beings or by individual particles of matter[5].

I should also add here that it is the premise of this book that the temporal past does not exist in any form and thus all attempts at any kind of ‘Time machine’ theoretical or practical, on any scale and in any direction past or future are unfounded.

Examining crash scene evidence.

At a crash scene we may be led by the evidence to believe the 'temporal past' also really exists somewhere... Because we can work out things about it, from what we see 'now'.

The circumstantial evidence of ‘the past’.

One part of the persistent illusion of Time is that as things move and change anywhere in the world or the universe they must, and do, always leave tracks and trails of circumstantial evidence detailing their every movement and interaction.

Our problem comes when we look at this circumstantial evidence and while we correctly work out what it all says about how the world, the laws of nature and so on work, but then we ‘casually’[6] add on the idea that all this evidence also suggests the existence and workings of a thing called Time.

To begin our examination into how any rational person could possibly believe that all the evidence around us is not proof that Time exists let's consider a very probably real world situation.

Imagine a forensically trained police officer arriving at the scene of a recently abandoned car crash. There are no other people around, no signs of anyone being injured but there is a car that has a stout tree trunk embedded in it leaving a V shaped dent a good half metre deep pushing the front bumper into the engine. The car is clearly un-driveable, the engine is leaking oil, water and steam and obviously too damaged to be restarted without major repairs first.

The officer notices that the tree is severely scraped where it touches the car and numerous clumps of Earth around the impact sight are somewhat dislodged. Also, some 15 metres behind the car there is a very clear set of skid marks curving slightly across the road and ending up perfectly aligned with, and perfectly matching, the material and tread patterns of the car’s tires.

 Just the facts ma-mm.

Now assuming there is nothing devious or staged about the crash scene then it clearly seems to present some very solid and unambiguous evidence;

·         It is very clear evidence that the car crashed into the tree.

·         It is very clear evidence that the car ‘was’ being driven at some Time in the past at a very particular spot on the other side of the road (15 metres away from the actual location of the crash).

·         And there is evidence that the car was having the brakes applied hard at that location (to create the skid marks).

·         So it is also evident that the car was previously driveable.

·         and evident that the engine was working well enough to move the car fast enough to cause the damage it sustained in the crash, and that the car ‘was’ travelling at speed at that place and Time, ‘in the past’.

·         And even evident that the car must have been ‘made in the past’. And that the tree must have grown from a seed in the past. And of course that the driver must have been born, grown up, and learnt to drive – perhaps not very well – but nonetheless, also in the past.


So considering this book is solely about proving Einstein's suggestion that the distinction between the past, present and future is a persistent illusion, how can I claim in the face of all this evidence pointing directly to the existence of the first of these distinctions ‘the past’ i.e. the state of the car ‘in the past’, its physical location in the past, its driveability in the past and so on, that there is no past, and no distinction between it and the present?

The way this can be done is to realise, as initially suggested, that all of our deductions about the past arise entirely from examining and considering the present physical location and condition of everything around us.

 So with our crash scene we see rather oddly that it seems;

 The more the forensic officer believes that he or she can work out ‘what happened in the past’ by examining the existing, and essentially static evidence at the scene now, the more they are actually agreeing and proving to themselves that they do not ‘need’ access to the ‘temporal past’ to be convinced that it does exist!

This might appear slightly paradoxical at first, ‘that the more the forensic officer can work out what happened in the past from the present evidence the more they show the temporal past to be unneeded’, but as I hoped I have shown in the examination of the illusions around vision, seemingly complicated situations like this can be a sign that we are in fact on the right trail.

This is particularly true if there is another explanation of the situation that can account for all the facts in a simpler way. In this case if we assume for a moment that there is no temporal past, then the more the officer works out from just looking at ‘the present’, the more he confirms that only the present need exist.

The complexities tend to arise when we are trying to untangle subtle misunderstandings while also clinging on to one or two ‘sacred’ assumptions, and while at first they can seem to be incorrect or just semantic oddities it can in fact be within these details that certain illusions and misunderstandings hide.

So if you trust that it may be worth us considering this statement more carefully, consider the idea that…

Yes, from surrounding evidence we can correctly deduce that an event ‘happened’.

But, and this is a critical point, that although we can in a sense say that events ‘have happened’[7], there is absolutely no tangible reason to believe that there is any ‘trace’, or record’ left ‘behind’ any event, other than all of the ‘simple[8]’and actual, physical effects all events have on their surroundings.

By ‘tangible here’, I literally mean that there is no physical evidence that you could ever pick up and hold, that directly proves the existence of the temporal past, you could pick up and hold a fossil, or a roman coin, or yesterday’s newspaper, and infer from these things that in some way outside of the present moment a thing called ‘the past’ also exists, but the tangible thing you are holding in your hand only actually directly proves that things happen, and that the present exists.

We also note the observation here that while basically everything in the universe is changing, some things are changing slowly (often so slowly that they seem to us to be inert) while other things are changing rapidly. In the case of say a newspaper or a book we humans deliberately change the formation of ink on paper very rapidly to print the text, then we put it to one side and try not to let it be changed.

Not jumping to false conclusions about ‘the past’.

Hopefully I have now opened up the idea that although we might at first glance think the opposite, the evidence around us suggests there may be no need for a ‘temporal’ past.

We have to take the next steps carefully, because as I explained previously once we get the idea that perhaps something is an illusion one of the problems that can arise next is that we then may prematurely jump to false conclusions about what each assumption means and what the final truth behind the illusion may therefore be.

Then if our hastily thought out subsequent assumptions seem wrong we may quickly drop them and revert to our old view, and no progress is made.

Some of the false conclusions we may jump to here include the idea that if there is no record of the ‘past’ then there was no past, and there is no Time, so nothing ‘could have happened in the past’, so the present couldn’t be as it is, nothing can be happening, nothing will happen, and therefore there can be no future and so on.

 This kind of unrestrained extrapolation rapidly leads to dead ends and a paralysis of the argument, so we have to take it one step at a Time and first just work with the idea that,

Whatever Time may or may not be, it looks as if it may be possible that there is no ‘need’ for any temporal record of the past to exist or be stored in anyway, or ‘anywhere’.

What this is saying is that odd as it may sound ‘we do not need access to the past to work out what happened in the past’. And this is one of the most fundamental keystones in this book. To the extent that if this can be proved to be untrue, then this entire work is overturned.

See >> 2∆ The Present.

         Or   >> ∆ Photographs don't prove the 'past' exists.

[1] It transpires that even this most general description might be questioned by some and this is a good indication that we are on the right path if we are starting to question what time is.


[2] Energy can seem to take many forms, thermal, electrical, chemical, potential, kinetic etc but it is always just the same ‘stuff’, and so we only need to work with the general concept here.

[3] Einstein goes on to show that this ‘energy’ and ‘matter’ are the same thing in different form but incorporating this here will be confusing.

[4] It’s a shame to overlook the incredible ‘stealthiness’ of the way that plants and animals grow and change. Absorbing using and storing energy from sunlight or food to create new chemical bonds and intricate physical formations. A tree really is essentially ‘air’ or at least carbon gas pulled from the air and made so solid it can hurt someone if a branch falls. A person really is plates of food that have become human. But the transformation of matter from one form to another is so gradual we may miss the real ‘magic’ constantly happening within us, and before our eyes.

[5] For completeness we should note that some theories may state that they effectively prove that the ‘temporal past’ does exist but also that it cannot be visited in anyway, and that this need not be a contradiction.


[6] Casually in the same way we casually assume we can ‘just’ see things without really analysing the true mechanism behind sight.

[7] If my observations are correct it is actually more accurate to say not that ‘in a sense events have happened, but there is no temporal record of them’ but to say that ‘every event, is constantly happening’. But at this stage in the discussion the term ‘in a sense have happened’ is probably more digestible.

[8] By ‘simple’ here I just mean ‘in no way mysterious’.