Philosophy for the Modern Age
- Hello all:
This is a rather lengthy one. A chapter from a light-hearted
philosophy book I'm playing around with. Attempting to be humorously
profound, or profoundly humorous, or something like that. Enjoy, or
It's Time! Really! A discussion of time and reality.
Is this reality really real?
What is Time? Do the passing moments really exist? Or is time just
a concept that man invented? What about reality, Is this life really
"real?" Philosophers of all types have debated these questions for
thousands of years.
Here's my first thought on the above questions. What difference
does it make? Why should we even care? Our lives will not be changed
in any way by gaining this information. Let's say you do find the
"Hmmm, I have found proof that reality is "real!" Time and reality
really do exist! Okay, time to walk the dog, take out the trash,
Why are these questions so important to humanity? I guess "For the
sake of knowledge," is one reason why. Cool, now we can write it down
and lock it away for the ages. Humans always want to know "why,"
myself included. Why do we want to know "Why?" What causes us to ask
questions, and seek answers that will not change our day to day lives
in any way? Why should we care if this reality is "real?"
What if you discover it is not real? What if you discover that
reality is just a dream, a hallucination? What are you going to do,
wake up? What if you can't wake up? The dog is still going to need a
Let's say you find out that reality IS "real." It's not a dream or
hallucination. Now what? The dog is still whining for a walk. Are you
going to ignore what you would normally do, just because reality is
I guess that my point is... we should focus on the here and now a
little more often. Many people tend to look at what they don't have
rather than what they DO have. They work and slave for some hoped for
lifestyle in the future which rarely turns out as they planned it.
This is not to say that you shouldn't work towards your goals, but
remember that the rest of your life is still waiting for you as well.
What was John Lennon's line from that song, "Life is what happens
while you are busy making other plans." Or a different saying, "Stop
and smell the flowers along the way." Another one, "It's not the
destination that makes life, it's the journey." All of these sayings
are so true.
Should we give up all hopes of a specific future, stop working
towards our goals and just live here and now? Some of us should and
some of us shouldn't. Most of us would starve. Current society is not
structured for that lifestyle. It seems to me that a mixture of both
is best for my own life. Today's world does not allow most people to
live here and now. Paying bills, working long hours, kids, meals,
households, cars, parties, going out on the town, etc., etc., etc.
There is only so much time in one day. How much more can we possibly
throw in there? Faster transportation, faster computers, faster food,
faster shopping, faster cleaning, faster schooling, faster bills,
faster money. Wait a minute! Where'd my life go? It was filled up
with faster everything. We tend to forget that the reason we want
faster everything is so we can have more time. Instead, we fill our
extra free time with more "faster everything." We end up doing more
in a day, but still no free time. How can that be? Duh!
So, in my life I'm purposely trying to slow down. I still use
faster everything, just not so much of it all in the same day.
Sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes I have no choice, "Stuff
happens!" as they say. I run around trying to deal with faster
everything all day until I can't anymore. Other times it actually
works, I slow down and I have a few moments of "nothing to do." All
of a sudden the entire world slows down, almost stops. I'm here,
right now. I can hear birds outside. The wind blows. I can feel my
own heartbeat. The cat curls up next to me so I sit and pet him. For
several minutes that is all I do. Hmmm, so that's where my life went.
Imagine that, there IS a world beyond my own plans. Cool! Hey,...
this cat purrs when you pet him! That's neat. After a few moments,
the phone rings, someone comes to the door, the cat wants to be fed,
several tasks await me, seems like everything usually happens at
once. OOPS, there goes that other world again. Back to the grind.
Very few of us can afford to "just sit" for very long. It's that
all-important buck that everybody wants from you that keep you so
busy. It is also your own need for the buck, pay the bills, buy the
food, maintain a house or apartment, maintain a vehicle, etc. Let's
not forget going-out money, new clothes, movies, pizza, knick-knacks,
presents, pets, etc. Why do we work so hard for the almighty buck?
So that someday, we may be able to "just sit" for a while and not
starve while we are doing it. For some people, "just sit" actually
means leisure activities; travel, golf, hobbies, whatever. It's the
same idea, whether you "just sit" in the living room or on the golf
course or halfway up a mountain. That's why we want the buck so much,
that's why we are so busy all the time, so that we can have
everything we need to "just sit."
How does this relate to our topics of time and reality? Think of it
this way, reality is what you make it. Time moves fast or slow,
depending on how you use it. None of us know how much time we have
left in life. None of us have any for-sure answers about life. None
of us know the "why" in life. So, are time and reality really real?
Who cares? We don't have time for that! :-)
Think of it this way, if you want to realize some of your life
while you are working on "just sit", then take some time to do it
now. There really is another world that takes place while we all run
around it. I know, I've seen it!
Sorry about the digression, lets get back to the main idea.
Okay, so what is time? Is time just the passing of sections of
itself? Where did the concept of time come from? Did it originate
from the natural cycles that exist in the visible universe? Most
likely, it did. The ancient races of the world left many relics
behind that relate to the natural cycles. That's where sundials first
came from. What about today's clocks, with hours, minutes and
seconds? What about time zones? So many of us take time for granted
as a natural part of life. We tend to forget that it is really
something that we invented. Time, as we know it, did not exist until
we invented it. Now it runs our entire lives.
Try this, take all the clocks in your house and hide them
somewhere. Wait a while. What time is it? You can guess all you want
to and it will never really matter. "Its afternoon." Well, what time
in the afternoon is it? "It's late afternoon." You can see my point.
What we think of as time "6:30 PM" only exists if we have a clock to
look at. Otherwise we only have the natural cycles of the universe to
fall back on. "It's daytime." or "It's springtime." Does time
actually exist? That depends on how you look at it. Take a few
minutes and think about it. :-)
There's the old saying about how the past and future don't really
exist. As soon as the future gets here, it becomes the past. The only
thing that really exists is the present. You can plan for the future,
you can think about the past, but the present is the only one that
really exists. Even our calendars are just an attempt at dividing up
the natural cycles into smaller pieces. That way, we think we have
some control over things, and we do, to an extent. However, we should
always remember that calendars and clocks are just our imagination,
true time only exists in our minds and in the natural cycles of this
Did you know that the natural life span of all moving creatures on
the planet is approximately 800 million heartbeats? This is why some
creatures like insects and some smaller rodents only live for a few
days or months. It is also the reason why larger or slower creatures
live for 100 years. Both types still have approximately 800 million
heartbeats, but their hearts beat at different rates. The perception
of time passing is different for different creatures as well. A fly
has ten times the reaction speed of a human. If a fly were watching a
24 frame per second movie, it would seem slowed down visually. The
movie would happen in stop-frame style, flickering slowly like an old
silent film. Flies, and many insects, have a "speeded-up" sense of
time. This is why they can fly through a splash of water, dodging
every drop and come through it completely dry. They can fly through
the spokes of a spinning wheel without getting hit. To them, these
small fast moving events are actually large, slow-moving objects. It
would be like us marveling at the fact that we can move through a
revolving door. A revolving door moves slowly for us, it spins
rapidly, almost a blur for an elephant, it is almost standing still
for a fly. Time and perception go more by the speed of your heart
than it does the passing days of the earth.
Some cold-blooded creatures, like turtles, have varying states of
perception. When a turtle is warmed in the sun, its perception of the
passing moments heightens. It can see and is aware of faster moving
creatures, like rodents and insects. When the turtle cools off, in
the evening or in cold water, it's perception of time slows down. Its
visual awareness actually slows down as well. Faster moving creatures
start to blur and even vanish completely, the turtle is no longer
aware that these creatures are moving around it. Its vision is slowed
down along with its bodily responses. Creatures move by the turtle
faster than its senses can pick them up. You know those movies where
the superhero moves so fast that the criminals can't see him? This is
an ordinary night for turtles. Time and perception of reality are
different for different creatures. For some creatures it even varies
for different parts of the day. So, is time real? Well...
Okay, let's look at reality. What is reality? What is "real?" How
can you tell if things are real or not. Let's look at some commonly
Are the stars real? Well, kind of, but not in the way you might
think. You look up into the night sky and see stars twinkling. You
might think it's nice that the stars are there. Well, they WERE there
anyway. What do I mean by that? They're there, you can look right at
them. They COULD still be there, but they might not be. This is a
natural part of our reality. Huh?
Stars are light years away. That means that the starlight hitting
your eyes right now came off from the stars years ago. That's right,
that last star you just saw might have actually been shedding that
light hundreds or thousands of years ago. The light is just now
reaching your eyes. For all you know, that same star may not even be
there anymore. It may have blown up yesterday and we wouldn't know it
for hundreds of years. We're still seeing the light that came from it
The nearest star is 4.3 light years away (I think.) If the entire
universe, except our solar system, were sucked up all at once, we
wouldn't even know it for 4.3 years. Then we would experience the
last thing to take effect, first. Our record of what had happened
would blast past us and display itself to us in reverse. The area
that was sucked up 4.3 years ago would be displayed first. Then the
stuff that happened a hundred years ago, then the stuff that happened
a thousand years ago, etc. The whole catastrophe would happen in
reverse, to our eyes. Think about that.
Here's another strange concept, it works the same way from "over
there." Imagine if some alien were using a high-powered optical
device to look at the earth. If the aliens were on a planet that
circles a star one thousand light years away, they would be seeing
what took place on the earth one thousand years ago. A thousand years
ago! This is just one example of how the reality we see is not the
Okay, here's another idea. Does it work this way in a much smaller
scale right here on Earth? Do events around us actually happen a few
moments before we realize it? It still takes the light so many
nanoseconds to reach your eyes. It takes a few more moments for the
signal to travel up the optic nerve from your eyes. It takes a few
moments for your brain to decipher the signal that is coming in.
Let's see a few nanoseconds plus a few moments plus a few more
moments. Seems like events that take place right here in our lives
actually happen a few moments before we realize they do. Just one
example of how reality isn't always what it seems to be. Did I
already say that? :-)
Then there's the old "colors" issue. No, I'm not talking about
anything racial. It goes like this, your orange could be my green.
What does that mean? When you look at a sunset, how do you know that
I see the same colors as you? Just because we both know them as
orange, red and yellow. Hey, that's what I've always been told that
they were. When I see orange, I know it's orange because everyone
else has always pointed at it and said "That's orange." Well, how do
THEY know it's orange? That's what they've always been told. For all
we know, my orange could be your green. If you saw the same sunset
through someone else's eyes, it may be all greens and purples. None
of us will ever know for sure. If you think we all see the same
colors, you need to talk to a color-blind person about it. Just one
more example of... well, you know. Things aren't always what they
Now think of how sensory oriented our reality is. You know
something exists and is real because you can see it. What about blind
people? Someone who was born blind does not see a sunset the same way
we do. A deaf person does not hear the wind blow the same way. A
paralyzed person does not feel the surface of anything the same way.
We use our senses to determine our reality, yet our senses can leave
us or be fooled easily. Have you ever touched something so cold that
it burnt your skin? Have you ever seen something so hot that it
melted? Have you ever been hit with a light so bright that you
couldn't see? Have you ever been injured so badly that it didn't hurt
(at first?) Have you ever heard a sound so loud that you couldn't
hear anything? Have you ever dreamed that you woke up? Have you ever
had that feeling that this had happened before, but you know it
hasn't? Have you ever received one of those cards that you're already
approved for? :-) Again, things are not what they seem.
What about our American way of life, this is real, right? Ask an
aboriginal tribe in Australia what their normal day is like. Ask an
Eskimo above the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter, what time it
is. Do you think he'll care? Ask the Anasazi tribes about God. Oh,
that's right, you can't. The entire race vanished mysteriously. Ask
anyone about how the pyramids were built. Never mind, no one really
knows. Ask anyone what really happens when you die. Hey, there's only
one irreversible way to prove it. Might as well wait.
Our beliefs are real, right, which ones? We all have different
beliefs from the same idea. We all have different concepts and
Bibles, and places of faith, and ways of worship, all from the same
creation. What about the tribe that was building and worshipping
wooden models of airplanes because they saw them flying overhead?
What about crying statues? What about the practice of voodoo and dark
magic? What about holding cows as sacred, don't tell McDonalds. What
about snake handling? What about performing sacrifices? What about
monks meditating at 15,000 feet up in the mountains? Hordes of people
waiting for the aliens to come and get them? Some people don't know
what a church is. Some people believe there are many gods. Some
people believe there is no god. Time and reality have different
definitions for different people.
Let's recap a little bit. What is reality? Is reality "real?"
Well, we definitely know what time it is, unless someone hides all
The stars are kind of real, if they are still there. I'll let you
know in 4.3 years.
Well, outer space is real, right? Except that it appears to happen
in reverse of the original. Huh?
Okay, things that happen right here in our lives are real. Did I
just say that a couple of nanoseconds ago?
What we see in front of us is real, right? Except that the colors
may be all screwed up and we just don't realize it. Just smile and
What we can see and hear and feel is real, right? Ask a blind
person what color those flowers are. Ask a paralyzed person what
their new clothes feel like. Ask a deaf person what the wind sounds
like. These are not cruel questions. They will use other senses to
describe it to you. It will only partially be what you expected,
because their concept of reality is different. Actually, everyone's
concept of reality is different. Mine sure is!
Surely God and the American way of life are real, right? Sure they
are! But it's different for each one of us. And it's only real in
this country. Each of us has our own reality that we exist in. They
can and do overlap in small ways. And we do share many beliefs,
events and actions as we live. However, each of us carries our own
reality inside of us. Each of us is a "self-contained" reality going
So, is reality real? Whose reality? Your reality, or my reality?
Mine is definitely real!
(I think.) :)