Article in Science / Biology & Nature
An exploration of how the misrepresentation and commodification of time as an abstract progression of discrete intervals limits our human creativity, sustainability and quality of life. This is followed by a consideration of how a more natural perception of time as implicit in continuous energy...
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The (True) Nature of Time

By Alan Rayner



An exploration of how the misrepresentation and commodification of time as an abstract progression of discrete intervals limits our human creativity, sustainability and quality of life. This is followed by a consideration of how a more natural perception of time as implicit in continuous energy flow makes better sense of our actual life experience.

The Misrepresentation of Time by Abstract Philosophy

For millennia, human beings have been living under the spell of a conception of time that is far removed from the natural world we actually inhabit. This conception treats time as a simple linear progression of discrete intervals, sometimes described as an ‘arrow’, which occurs independently from natural form and so can be used as a fixed reference frame or yardstick within and against which to measure rates of movement. In human terms, it is often used as a basis for judging, comparing and rewarding performance and productivity. Increasingly it has been used as a means of economic governance, underpinning inflationary processes such as ‘usury’ (charging debtors interest on loans) and giving rise to the well-worn phrase, ‘Time is Money’.

How can this presence be both fixed in place and pass by us, like a wayside tree that passes behind us as we run past it? Who or what is really moving? This conundrum has been around for millennia, caught up in what is known as Zeno’s Paradox and in Parmenides contention that movement itself is an illusion because it contradicts the definitive logic of ‘to be or not to be’. At its heart is the abstraction of time and movement from each other as independent, mutually exclusive occurrences, instead of recognizing their inseparability from one another. In other words time as an abstract concept is induced from the definitive supposition, enshrined in Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle, which holds that two different occurrences must be completely separable from each other if they are not to be one and the same thing. It follows from this supposition that IF change in spatial location occurs, THEN time must exist as an independent, measurable, constant occurrence with which change can be compared, allowing its rate or speed to be calculated in such familiar terms as ‘miles per hour’. So deeply embedded in our thinking is this tautology or‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, whereby ‘what follows has already been predefined by initial supposition’, that it is very difficult to ‘think our way out of it’. To try to do so, makes our brains hurt. But we do need to think our way out of it because the supposition it arises from is FALSE, and can easily be shown to be so if given just a little imaginative consideration.

The associated supposition that Time, Energy, Matter and Space are completely different, separable and quantifiable occurrences underpinned Newton’s Mechanics and Laws of Motion and continues to constrain human life and thought to this day in innumerable ways that are psychologically, socially and environmentally harmful. Even Einstein, who recognized the inseparability of Space from Time (and of Matter from Energy) as distinct but mutually inclusive presences, remained unable to recognize the inseparability of Space/Time from Energy/Matter. Instead, he – and his modern-day followers – envisage ‘space-time’ as a deformable ‘fabric’ whose degree of local curvature both dictates and is dictated by the movement of energy-matter as a rolling object dimpling its surface. Underpinning this notion of space-time as a ‘fabric’, and energy-matter as ‘particulate’ is an even deeper supposition, tantamount to a human superstition, that only what is tangible is real: that ‘material’ and ‘immaterial’ are mutually exclusive opposites, ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. And it is in that superstition that so much needless human struggle and strife originates.

No sooner is ‘Time’ envisaged to be some kind of tangible presence separate from motion, then it becomes subject to the mentality of ‘market forces’ that seek to package and evaluate it. Thence, we can ‘buy time’, ‘sell time’, ‘save time’, ‘waste time’, compare the value of ‘your time’ with ‘my time’ etc, all completely regardless of what is actually happening within the duration that we are talking about, or the spatial scale at which it is happening, or what is needed to enable it to happen. Colossal social disparity can arise between those whose time is valued more highly than others – both by themselves and by those others who consent to such evaluation. Bankers, lawyers, property-owners, industrialists, merchants, pop idols and football stars can demand hugely larger rates of remuneration for their ‘time’ than the ‘ordinary people’ upon whom their existence actually depends. Moreover, defence and policing of the realm of those whose time is valued most highly can entail vast expenditure of what could otherwise be used to ameliorate the lives and circumstances of those whose time is less highly valued. Competition to be amongst those whose time is most highly valued, leading to monopolies of power, is seen to be the prime route to ‘success’ at others ‘expense’, whether by fair means of foul. Companionship and mutual aid are banished from consideration. A profound culture of discontent is established and perpetuated.

The True Nature of Time, Implicit within Continuous Energy Flow

This abstract misrepresentation of time, and all the psychological, social and environmental harm that it engenders, is, however, completely avoidable if we are prepared to give any honest consideration to what is needed for life to flourish in the natural world we actually inhabit. We need only to look to our human origin within Nature to recognize that we could not have come into being – indeed nothing could ever come into being – if tangible and intangible presence are mutually exclusive.

We cannot speak of Nature from outside Nature. When we feign to do so, as when speaking of space and time in abstract terms, we are substituting a purely imaginary reality constructed within our minds, for the reality we actually inhabit and sense. This is an act of gross negligence, which costs our lives and loves dear, even as it seems to yield to us the power to control and explain nature in our own abstract terms, like a bunch of crowing cockerels calling the sunrise to order.

No sooner do we acknowledge our bodily human presence as a dynamic inclusion and expression, not a statuesque remote observer of Nature, then we come to recognize time as intrinsically within us, not some external yardstick or frame beside or around us. And it really doesn’t take much thought or imagination for this recognition to dawn on us…all that is really needed is the willingness to ask ourselves very basic questions regarding our lives, and to address them in equally basic terms, without prejudice. For example, we might ask ‘what needs most basically to be present for my body to be distinguishable from my surroundings and neighbours?’ As I have described elsewhere, such enquiry leads very quickly to the realization that all natural bodily forms are flow-forms arising from the mutual inclusion of the receptive stillness of space and locally informative flux of energy. This is because space devoid of matter is formless and matter devoid of space is dimensionless – hence non-existent. Material and immaterial presence are mutually inclusive in natural bodies, and for this to be so whatever gives rise to material presence must be in continuous flux – it cannot be still without losing its capacity to include space and hence lose its dimensionality.

Time therefore neither independently passes by nor frames us as we live our lives in continuous flux within and as energetic embodiments of infinite, intangible space everywhere. Nature comprises endless intangible space and continuous intrinsic local flux as mutually inclusive presences. Energy fluxes continuously into and out from natural flow-form. Death is a release of energy from local bodily form – a renewal, not termination, of living possibility. The Darkness of infinite receptive space includes and is included in Light, inviting light into dynamic bodily form. Why would anybody actually desire to be otherwise, when to be otherwise would be non-existent? No body can exist instantaneously, in zero time. Present time is current time, not a definitive cut between Past and Future.


It is crucial to recognise the illusion sustained by misrepresenting time as an abstract progression of discrete intervals, not a natural inclusion of continuous energy flow, which is the true currency of Nature. This is all part and parcel of the fakery of abstract logic, which treats space and matter/energy as mutually exclusive, when they can only ever be mutually inclusive. A mistake by which humankind has enslaved itself for millennia, excising what it truly means to be living, loving, dying, birthing human beings from the way we mismanage our lives at huge psychological, social and environmental cost. A mistake that leads life to be envisaged as an unforgiving Darwinian Game that treats its players as performing objects, not needful creatures, and in which both 'winners' and 'losers' suffer the loss of Love from the heart of their lives. Truly monstrous. Truly devastating. High time we woke up to its false pretences and stopped beating ourselves up. Only then can we bring true Quality back into living in a passionate, compassionate and sustainable way, which befits how we naturally are in the world as it naturally is.


Is where we find

Deep Peace, Love & Understanding

In the midst of Life

Even in the midst of Strife

This cavity at Heart

Amidst what’s burning Bright

This Silent Night

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About the Author 

Alan Rayner
Dr Alan Rayner is a naturalist who uses art, poetry, fluid mathematics and careful science to enquire and communicate about the evolutionary

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