∆ Star light and Raindrops.

Do we really see evidence of 'the past' where looking at starlight?

When looking in the direction of a distant star, many people consider this as 'looking back millions of years ago in time'.

but a Photon hitting your eye, is no more 'in, or of, the past' than a tennis ball hitting the same area.

Anyone looking in the direction of a distant object typically feels they are seeing something 'a long way away' , but this is not precisely correct. While the assumption is understandable, we know from basic high school physics it is of course not quite the case.

because, all we ever actually 'see' is an 'image', or pattern of photons, physically here, now, 'in' our eyes.
We can never 'see' anything any distance away from ourselves at all!

Bringing this fact to conscious awareness also opens up some other subtle distinctions in the way we can miss the obvious, in favor of what we prefer, or are accustomed to seeing as the truth.

E,g, In reading the the above, you may have had some conflicting thoughts, but still reached a particular conclusion.
At first thought, it seems obvious that of course we can see stars that are a long way away, and of course that is why they look so small. And, of course we are seeing them as they were 'in the past'.

Then you may have accepted, of course we are actually seeing the image in our eyes... but that's the same thing. Or this is pedantic, or irrelevant, or 'semantics', becasue the effect is precisely the same as if we are seeing something along way away. Also you may have noticed  "the image is upside down" but we never realize that because our brain always has to compensate for this (and there was that experiment with the upside down glasses etc etc). 

The problem is that in recalling how the image is upside down, (and it is just as if we can see over a distance), we may forget the original point, which is that the image is just something 'here', 'now'. And as such all it proves is that stuff can be 'here, now' in formation, moving changing etc. So to be precise, the image is not just  'how a star a long way away used to look in the past' - but 'how this particular bit of the universe (e.g. the photons in your eye), look 'now'.

Claiming the 'image' of a star is 'of the past' is like claiming the circled section of ripple above is 'of the past'

Because, although we treat light, and water very differently, they are both just 'stuff' here now, and it is not inconceivable that one could 'focus' an existing area of ripples to make them resemble the 'source' ripple they are a result of. The point being that in this case we would more clearly realize that of course this is just stuff here (water) being focused into a shape - as opposed to thinking 'i am seeing the cause of the ripple' -'in the past' . 

The point being here that if we want to see through the (possibly incorrect) assumption 'time' exists, we have to be absolutely clear about what we observe in the world around us and what we can actually conclude from these observations.
  If we look at the world as IF time exists - without any proof, then we will consider what we see in terms of 'time existing' - and make it look as if it is proof/ (eg we see the image in our eye - which is in fact just here now, and only proves stuff can be here now - as 'the past' and as such 'proof of the past).
  But if we consider things may perhaps just always be here now, in whatever formations, for whatever reasons we reach different conclusions - which don't rely on unseen, intangible, unexplained premises - e.g. that an invisible past and future , and time exist.

In other words, "IF" 'the past' exists, THEN the image we see can be said to be 'of the past', BUT 'the image we see' does not prove there IS 'a past'.
 And the essence of this book is that any expert or lay person hoping to understand whether time exists or not,  as a fundamental foundation of their understanding,
should beat least be as absolutely as clear as they possibly can be, as to whether 'the past' is something that 'exists' in any form at all - or whether it does not in fact, actually exist at all, whatsoever.
In my opinion, any expert willing to gloss over this detail, e.g label it as irrelivant, or (possibly) 'just semantics', and then leave it as vague or unimportant,(without actually proving this), may stand little chance of forming a valid, stable, or defensible opinion of 'time' existing or not.

'Traveling consequences’ and their fates, like raindrops in a lake.

While it is true that 'in a sense' we are seeing how things were, Just like seeing the vapor trail from an aeroplane that has left our sight,  this is not the same as actually looking back in time. So the observation should not be lazily taken as any kind of confirmation that time exists in some way. (This is not to say some other confirmation does not exist, just that we shouldn't read more into this particular observation than is there by mixing invalid 'views of time')

In fact what hits our eyes is no more 'proof of the temporal past' - than a ripple from a raindrop reaching the edge of a puddle 'now'...

Although at first the ‘gravitational’ consequences of an event mentioned previously may seem too trivial to matter consider the journey of a large ‘moon’ orbiting a planet that is in fact not solid rock but just a huge ball of gas (such as Jupiter). The reason such a massive solid object such as a moon stays in its circular orbit is because of the accumulative effect of the gravitational pull between every speck of matter that make up the moon itself and every single atom or molecule that makes up the gas that appears as a planet in its own right !

To get a feel for what it means for the entire universe to be running timelessly consider first a single drop of rain hitting the surface of a large and very still pond. The drop of water creates a circular ripple that spreads out at a steady speed in all directions from the point of impact. The energy and motion that make up this ripple (which is just the energy and motion of the falling rain drop being dissipated in the lake) can never be ‘lost’, where could they go to be lost?

But the identity of the event or ring of consequences do get more and more diffused, in fact as infinitely diffused as the laws of physics will decide, and less and less identifiable as being one particular ‘thing’ as they spread out into their surroundings, and as each part of the ‘event’ meets with different kinds of objects or conditions in its path.

If you look at an actual pond where it is raining you can watch the thousands of circular ripples constantly created on the surface of a pond, and see the actual formation, dispersion, interaction and complete ‘loss of identity’ of all the ‘events’ of the raindrops hitting the pond and follow all the consequences that these events ‘become’.

You can also see very clearly how every rain drop does indeed create a record of its impact and does indeed have a ‘history’ but that each history is a real and moving thing that spreads out, dissipates and loses itself in its surroundings because there is no reason why the matter that is used to hold and carry the ‘ripple’ from one rain drop should only ever do this one job exclusively, instead all of the matter is also constantly being called on or used to be part of other ‘events’ or ‘histories’.

The life history of a raindrop.

If in this picture you look at any single circular ripple, then although picture is effectively static, you can tell very accurately a lot about each individual raindrop that makes up the scene whether –in time based terms- they are still falling, impacting, or fell a while ago.

If you can see a raindrop just a few cm above the water then it is fairly likely that it will impact the water and a ripple will be formed. If the outermost ring of an existing ripple is very small then a raindrop has just landed, if the distance from the outermost to innermost rings for one ripple is relatively large compared to other examples, then the raindrop that made them was fairly large, and if a whole set of ripples, or consequences it quite large, i.e. a long way away from a now completely flat and featureless centre point then a raindrop must have fallen a while ago.

If the actual photograph had enough detail, then, because we can find out just how fast raindrops fall, we could look at any ‘motion blur’ on a raindrop and work out just how long the exposure was as the picture was taken. And by ‘how long’ here I literally mean ‘how long’ was the stream of photons that entered the camera to make the image. Similarly, knowing how fast normal ripples spread in normal water on Earth, seeing just a large ring of ripples with a flat central area, we can calculate how physically far away, in kilometres, any images of the raindrop that made that particular set of ripples, would be from the pond as the picture was taken... i.e. how ‘long’, in kilometres, not in time, ‘before’ the picture was taken, did that particular raindrop fall. 

How the raindrop affects its surroundings.

If, for simplicity we imagine that the ripples created by a landing raindrop are the only consequences of the event (i.e. we ignore the sounds and images etc formed); then from the point of view of an insect such as the ‘water boatman’ that skates around on the surface of a pond, it would be completely unaware of any impacting raindrop unless a ripple actually physically reached its location. More accurately, nothing would have happened to the insect, unless the ripple had reached it.

When we see a car or a train or a person moving along we tend to say that whatever is in front of them, i.e. in the direction or location that they are heading towards, is ‘ahead’ or ‘before’ them, and because they are essentially just moving in one direction this is fairly clear. But when a raindrop lands at a particular spot, the consequences of its impact, i.e. the ripples, spread out in all directions on the surface of the pond, this means that every location around, or outside, of the point of impact is ‘be-fore’, ‘ahead of’ or ‘in front of’ the ripples.

So if a single raindrop hits a pond, then every insect ‘outside’ of the expanding circle of ripples or consequences formed, will be ‘ahead’ of ‘the event of knowing that a raindrop had fallen’; and, as the consequences continue to travel every insect feeling the ripples bounce them around will be feeling the event, and every insect ‘within’ the calm area inside the  expanding circle of ripples will be ‘behind’ or ‘after’ the event. So different insects on the same pond will ‘simultaneously’ be ‘before’, ’during’ and ‘after’ ‘knowing about’, or being affected in anyway by, the same one event.

What I am trying to show here is that while we can use the ‘idea of time’ to organise our thoughts, one of the things this mental tool automatically does, is make us think about the events in the universe in a very linear and one dimensional, or sequential way.

This is often a sensible and generally useful thing to do. But in reality everything is all going on at once, and it is all going on in all directions, (and at different rates), all at once.

This means that questions like ‘when did an event happen’ can be seen to be invalid. ‘Events’ don’t happen ‘at a moment in Time’. Time, is a limited mental tool that we can use to simplify our view of the world. ‘Events’ are three dimensional things that exist, change shape, and move; and so ‘events’ affect many things in many places all at once. Just as every part of a ripple on a pond exists, moves, changes, and affects different things in different ways at different places, all at once.

The question ‘when did the ripple happen’ makes as much sense as the question ‘when is a horse’. A ripple, like a horse, or any other ‘event’, is a collection of matter, existing all at once, and affecting all of its surroundings in different places and ways simultaneously. No complicated thing or event is ever just doing one thing;  the left and right sides of a ripple are doing different things in different places, as are the inside and outside ‘edges’ of a ripple. The left and right sides of a horse, will be simultaneously doing different things, as will the inside and the outside of the horse.

All of this may seem as obvious as it seems insignificant, but I'm highlighting it to show how the ‘mental tool of time’ can help us in one way, but also restrict our ‘three dimensional’ view of the world.

Ultimately, if you follow this line of thinking you may see that what makes a ‘distinct object or event’ is a completely made up human idea. Is a rainstorm a single ‘event’ or ‘thing’, or are the raindrops that make it separate events or things?

If a raindrop, i.e. ‘a collection of water molecules acting together in a clearly related way’, is a ‘distinct object’ then what happens as it hits a pond? The ripples we see are also ‘a collection of water molecules acting together in a clearly related way’ but they are a different and ever growing collection of molecules. A horse is clearly a horse, but is the air it breaths in, and the oxygen molecules it extracts and literally physically mixes with its own blood, then part of the horse? If so then just at what point in the horses body, blood, lungs, throat, or mouth does the air stop being separate or ‘outside’ and ‘the horse’ begin? Similarly of course it’s impossible to say where the horse ‘ends’. Do we define it by drawing a three dimensional outline around its body down to each and every hair? And even then, just where do we decide what part of its out breath, sweat, body heat, and any other emissions are no longer the horse?   

This line of discussion runs the risk of becoming unscientific and metaphysical (whatever that means) if followed carelessly, so I should explain the reason it is addressed here is to show that ultimately the distinctions between separate objects, and events can be seen to all vanish and merge into one if we look at them logically[1]. And this relates to the discussion on time and timelessness, because in the time based view we assume that there is a clear separation and ‘order to events’.

But if you look at ‘everything’ that makes up the universe all at once, you can see that there are no real distinct objects or events. Everything is ‘in the same boat’, and everything is all happening at once.

If you consider a raindrop, that creates a ripple in a pond, where a horse happens to be drinking some of the water, then you can see it’s not clear where each ‘thing’ begins and ends. If you consider the molecules that make up the pond, the raindrop, and the ripple it creates and the horse itself, however you define each ‘thing’ they all merge together. Because surely the raindrop becomes part of the pond, but also never disappears. And the energy of the rain drop becomes the ripple, but it too never vanishes, and the many of the molecules of the pond that the horse drinks must become part of the horse itself in a perfectly integrated way.

Events are not separate either, events on one side of a pond, or a galaxy, will be happening while other things are happening on the other side of the pond or galaxy. And whatever these things are, and whatever the nature of the consequences they create, they are never separated by ‘time’. Though they are in a sense separated by distance, and separated by the fact that effects and interactions between to physically separate locations have to travel the distance between them to affect each other.

We may arrive at the idea that objects and events may be separated by time, and therefore that time exists, because observations of the universe tell us that ‘nothing can affect any other thing instantaneously’... and the word ‘instantaneously’ suggests ‘instants’, of time, exist.

But this observation that ‘nothing can affect any other thing instantaneously’ can be re-explained by saying everything in the universe, objects or consequences, ‘must travel at a finite speed’. And saying things travel at a finite speed is not the same as saying, ‘Time exists, and things need Time to move’. It just means, things travel at a finite speed... ‘now’.

In this way we can see that nothing happens in a time sense ‘before’ or ‘after’ anything else. Every ‘thing’ is all just happening now, and all things are constantly, physically ‘in-front of’, ‘ahead of’, ‘inside, or outside of’, ‘behind’, or ‘be-fore’ other things. And while these words can be seen to have both time based, and physical or ‘location-al’ meanings what I am saying is that unless someone can prove that time, and for example ‘the past’ really exist, and are not just misunderstandings of the observation that things exist and move, then ‘everything is happening now’ and words like before and after only truly have a physical, positional meaning[2].

Does the analogy really hold?

In this way multiple raindrops hitting the surface of a pond can be seen to be an excellent analogy to visualise and understand all of the events that are constantly happening and interacting in the ever present and ever changing ‘history’ of the universe.

This may not seem to be true at first, you may think ‘sure raindrops and the ripples they cause may be a good analogy for some of the consequences of events, but not a good analogy for the real ‘temporal past’, because the story doesn’t fit everything we believe the past to be.

But is this because the analogy falls short or because our assumptions are false? I believe our assumptions can be shown to be invalid because while we hold the idea that there is some perfect and complete record of all past events, this is just an idea, formed by us looking at our own memories, and thinking that an ideal or perfect human ‘memory store’ would be one that did hold a record of all events perfectly. But this is just an idea or extrapolation of what our memories are really like.

But nonetheless we may have the idea that ‘a perfect record could be held somewhere’ and then we consider that perhaps this could be true, and then we may expect all viable theories must be able to account for what we hope or assume to be real.

In reality however I think that wherever you look, you will see that every actual example of ‘history’ equates to the analogy of a ripple on a pond.

A person or animal lives and dies, a goal is scored at a football match, a plane crashes, a nuclear bomb explodes, hundreds, thousands even millions of people see, and are affected by the events in many different ways.

But no matter how small or big an event and how big or small it’s distinct ‘consequences’ physically become in the world around us every single ‘record’ of the event, every football player’s, or crash witnesses mind, every video recording, every news report, and every physical bit of evidence or debris, will in fact naturally disintegrate, dissipate and disperse as the physical matter used to make the physical record of the event in all its forms, is ‘called upon’ or forced to also be part of the record of every other event in the area.

‘People’ may look at the world around them and conclude in their own minds that logically there should be some other ‘fourth dimensional’ perfect and permanent record of all events, but even this ‘idea’ is just an event, a coming together of some set of matter, a set of matter ‘holding the idea that there is some record of the past’ but which itself is constantly changing which means the idea itself is being dissipated into nothing.

Looking at the pond again it is a small step to see how the expanding ‘flat’ and circular ripples of consequences moving on the surface of a lake are similar to any slice at any angle through the three dimensional ‘shell’ of sound or consequences that must emanate from all events to a greater or lesser degree, such as the sound speeding away in all directions from a burst party balloon. And a ripple no longer being formed can only dissipate into the background as every single subatomic particle involved in the process is called upon by countless other events to be a part of all of them.

Finally putting all these ideas together on a much grander scale the forming, expanding, interacting and dispersing into complete anonymity of the simple ripples of water on the surface of a pond can give us a feel for the simultaneous creation, radiation and interaction between the trillions of three dimensional shells of ‘consequences’ created by all events in the universe at once.

From ‘atomic’ events billions of times smaller than a raindrop hitting a pond, to the colossal expanding shells of light (billions upon billions of times larger than any raindrop), given out in all directions by every star in the cosmos throughout its life from the point where a ball of interstellar dust and gas gets so dense and hot that it is forced to ignite in nuclear fusion, to the point where all its fuel has been converted into light, every bit of matter in every process is constantly playing different, and ever-changing, multiple roles, in what is effectively one single constant ‘universal moment’ or ‘event’.

"Before" the star explosion.

Note "before" may sensibly (imo) be seen as "just" in front of some changing thing. i.e any exploding star like our own sun IS on its path to exploding 'Now', we just luckily happen to be 'in' a very gentle phase of the explosion.

It is interesting to compare this analogy or ripples on a pond to what happens when a star explodes, or goes ‘super-nova’ as it is called. Imagine if a kid left college and got a job in an observatory one day.

Just one week later, while he or she is observing the sky they see the unmistakeable flash of light and ‘radio’ emissions given out by an exploding star. Wow say their colleagues, you are lucky, that’s a very rare event. Yes says the kid, and I only joined the observatory a week ‘before’ I saw the supernova.

Perhaps you are already starting to guess where I'm going with this; to used time based terms here for simplicity, we can say that light travels at 300,000 km per second. If we multiply this speed by the number of seconds in a week, we get a distance of around 180, thousand, million km.

What this means is that as the graduate started work at the observatory the light from the supernova explosion would have literally physically been 180, thousand, million km away from Earth while his or her work mates were showing them where the canteen and toilets were on their first day.

So while in the time view we might say the student joined the observatory a ‘week before’ the supernova explosion was witnessed in the timeless view we say that the graduate joined the observatory 180, thousand, million km ‘in front of’ or ‘physically be-fore’ the wave of light coming from the exploding star.

Any science student would also agree with this fact, that the light from the supernova must have been that far away as the graduate started, but they would also insist that the light then ‘took a week’ to reach Earth. Timelessly there is no such thing as ‘taking a week’. The Earth travels through space at its own speed and the light from the star travels through space at the speed of light, and they cross where they cross, but all of this is always just going on now.

If you think the future ‘eventually arrives’ as opposed to just the light ‘arriving’ and being seen by the new employee, or if you think that the event happens, and is then a thing of the past – as opposed to the light from the supernova ‘carrying on past the observer’ – then you need to be able to prove the existence of the future, or at least the past[3] for that view to be credible.

We can note here that any nearby star that we observe and that seems to not be exploding now, but that we calculate ‘will go supernova in the future’ is in fact ‘going supernova now’; By this I mean that if the star ‘is going to explode’ then it is ‘going to’ explode now. I.e. it is on the way to being an explosion as we speak; it is just in a rather dull and unspectacular opening phase of the explosion.

Stars never die, they are just matter coalescing or dispersing.

A star disperses light in all directions, whatever the core of that star is doing,
we in fact see a sample of that 'light', just, here, now, physically 'in' our eye.


1                                              2                                  3         

 93 A star is an expanding ball of light. If the core is dead the remaining shell of light can still 'look' like a point of light to our eyes.

1- If gravity causes enough interstellar dust to fall together a star is being formed, and nuclear reactions are causing it to ignite. So the ‘dust’ is a ball of hydrogen, fusing to form helium, surrounded by a rapidly expanding shell of released energy i.e. light.

2- (shown not to scale =) wherever they physically meet and interact, the expanding shell of light will ‘look’ like a ‘star’ to a human eye. I.e. it will seem to be a ‘point of light’, even though the light covers all of the eye, the person, and even the planet they are standing on.

3- If all of a star’s fuel is consumed then, although we might say the star is ‘dead’, this is not true –what is true is that most of its mass has transformed into being the expanding shell of light. This shell of light  will still ‘look’ like a ‘star’ to our eyes ‘here; But whatever is happening, wherever we intercept starlight, and however it ‘looks’ to us, this, and everything else  is all just happening ‘now’.

 continued at >>Do Stars prove the past and future exist?

See also

>>The only way is forwards.


[1] See section on ‘event/objects’.

[2] As mentioned, it is accepted that the language of time works and makes sense as an extremely useful tool for running our lives. E.g. saying ‘I will see Joe then Bill’ is clear and useful, but when we are being ruthlessly clear about whether ‘time’ actually really exists as a real thing, in a way that the books referenced in the attached bibliography suggest for example, then we have to be this clear at this point in the discussion. (to avoid a sequel to this book being required if nothing else).

[3] I.e. some proof that the past exists other than the structure of the stuff around and within us which only actually proves that matter exists and can move ‘now’.