Friday, December 23, 2011

Psychological Arrow of Time

Time may be considered either a coffee table discussion topic or an esoteric subject of interest mainly to scientists and philosophers. Coffee table conversationalists sometimes say, “Time flies!” or they complain about their day “dragging.” Similar comments are meant to poke fun at our subjective state of mind. But we all know the passing of time is inexorably steady.

Scientists are fascinated by the first two popularly discussed arrows of time: thermodynamic and cosmological. They relate to two overwhelming descriptive physical characteristics of our universe--ongoing decay, and ongoing expansion. A third arrow of time may also be of interest to the psychologist. It is called, appropriately, the psychological arrow of time. Humans remember their past, accumulating more memories of past events as they age. We do not remember the future, but we have an innate sense that time moves linearly from our memory-rich past to our memory-absent future. We could diagram this process using an arrow moving left to right across the page.

Popular agnostic physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking agreed that our present existence is dominated by our linear, forward-moving time dimension. Hawking and others are also fascinated by another time dimension he named imaginary time. Some scientists diagram time concepts showing two perpendicular lines. Our present time dimension is represented by a line moving only left to right, past to future. It is intersected by a perpendicular line crossing at only one point, the present. That perpendicular represents imaginary time which could travel infinitely far in either direction, not just one direction as required by our time dimension, “limited” as it is by a beginning and an ending.

This idea has promise for suggesting how our dimension-enriched God could operate and interact with humanity. His time dimensions (let’s call them imaginary) could operate outside our dimensions, but also at any point within our time dimension. The incarnate Christ willingly operated within our time dimension, but after His resurrection He also operated in other time dimensions, without the limits our restrictive time dimension imposes. This could explain many post-resurrection appearances and miracles.

For the present, humanity must be content with the opportunities and limitations of our present time dimension. We must be content to observe the progression of the psychological arrow of time and its relationship with the other arrows. Our present is positioned between a retrospective past and an anticipated future. This universe has experienced a beginning, and therefore a beginning of our time dimension. Scripture also states our arrow of time points to a conclusion of time as we know it. Consider this majestic passage: “Lord, in the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will roll them up like an old coat. They will fade away like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will never grow old” (Hebrews -13 NLT).

This Hebrews passage cites the beginning and ending of our time frame. It also states God is changeless. He existed before He “laid the foundation of the earth” and was the pre-existing Cause of the created order. He is “always the same.” God “will never grow old.” If there is such a thing as imaginary time, this passage illustrates it. Many scripture translations use the phrase “everlasting to everlasting” to describe God in Psalm 90:2. The arrow of time in the dimension where God abides has no beginning or end. These ideas would provide for interesting conversation around a very large urn of coffee.