Time is an interesting thing. It more or less exists in our understanding of it, yet it still seems mostly like a human construction that gives order to our surroundings, so we can better understand what is going on. Sparked by ideas drawn from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, I started thinking about the possibility that the universe, from beginning to end, happens simultaneously all at once, and that linear time is simply one way to view it.
In the novel, aliens–Tralfamadorians–that may or may not be all in the main character’s head regularly abduct him. These aliens teach the World War II veteran that the entire universe already happened from beginning to end, and that the course of a human life does not have to be viewed linearly. The main character “time travels” throughout the book to various times in his life. The aliens know how the universe will end, and cannot change it, because it has already happened, they simply inhabit a place or “time” that still exists.
I think of the issue like this: imagine your life to be a large, detailed, intricate, complex painting. Perhaps it spans a whole wall in a museum, with layers of colors, activities, people, places, scenes, foreground, background, etc. As soon as the painting is finished, it will exist for eternity as a whole. And sometimes we will stand from a distance and take in the entire painting. Some of the detail will be lost, but we will see the whole picture.
Other times we might focus on one little section of the painting, and marvel at that section’s beauty for some time. But perhaps the lives in which we are currently living, are designed to view the painting piece by piece, in an order which comes together as a story. We start from the first brushstroke the artist made, and follow it all the way through until the last detail was added.
Now I can see how from our perspective, it would appear the painting is being worked on as we look, which may well be the case. But saying we are viewing an already finished painting is not the same as saying we had nothing to do with how the painting would turn out. It is just that we use “time” to focus on different points and pieces of the art, while perhaps in reality, all those decisions have already been made. It was still us that made those decisions, its just right now we are viewing them in an order which makes sense to the human body, but that is not necessarily accurate at a higher level.
And in regards to what “we” or “us” may be that made the decisions… Well you’ll just have to wait for the next post.
Fun fact: the hilarious and insightful cartoon Rick and Morty makes reference to the alien race Tralfamadorians from Vonnegut’s novel in an episode called “A Rickle in Time” where Rick accidentally breaks time and splits the universe into multiple timelines.