When we examine every bit of objective evidence we have about the world we live in, we find that the dimension of time is continuous (at least down to the Planck scale). Therefore, in any ordinary geometry, time is represeneted as a continuous series of infinitesmal points and all such points necessarily lie either in the past or in the future of any arbitratily chosen point.
However, our actual experience of that same world is radically different. Indeed, it is as different as it possibly could be. Our experience consists only and entirely of something we call “Present”, something that is completely absent from the ordinary geometric representation of our world.
We have no direct experience of the past (only memories that we experience in the present) and no direct experience of the future (other than expectations that we experience in the present). Whatever we experience we experience as the Present. But to be experienced, the Present must have duration and this is inconsistent with the ordinary geometric model in which all time resides either in the past or in the future of an infinitesmal (zero duration) point of reference.
The Present cannot be point-like or even Planck-like (since duration is excluded by definition from Plank-sized entities); it must be a region within time from which time itself is somehow excluded.
So what is this Present which finds no home in traditional scientific theory? In the Present, any present, multiple entities co-exist and relate to one another. It is that co-existence, that matrix, mesh or logos, that constitutes “world”.
According to Anaximander (the earliest of the Ancient Greek philosophers to leave us a fragment of his work), the world as we know it comes into being, i.e. the phenomenon of Presence comes into being, only when potential entities within that world give each other “reck”. Entity A gives Entity B reck when Entity A recuses itself in some way so that Entity B may grow and develop in a way that it would not otherwise have been able to do. Likewise, Entity B gives Entity A reck when Entity B recuses itself in some way so that Entity A may grow and develop in a way that it would not otherwise have been able to do.
The Present consists of that duration in which A and B are both developing in ways they would not otherwise have been able to do, absent the recusal of the other. Of course, in any non-trivial world there are innumerable A’s and B’s mutually granting reck. Their presents overlap so we are confronting an all encompasssining, ever changing Present with ill-defined edges.
The Present is the here and now. While the Present may include a representation of past (memory) and future (proposition), it is itself atemporal. Experience, then, consists of islands of eternity, floating (but overlapping), presumably on a temporal sea. Think lily pads floating (and overlapping) on the surface of a swamp.
So how “big” is the present? How long does it last? Of course, from the perspective of the Present, these questions have no meaning since there is no category of time within a quantum of presence. But it is certainly possible to “measure” presents against one another and create a background grid of classical time in the process.
The normal cognitive apparatus of a human being is attuned to “presents” that have durations somewhere between one-tenth and one-third of a second. We are unable to register events (presents) with shorter durations than one-tenth of a second; events with durations longer that one-third of a second appear to us as sequences, i.e. we become aware of time.
But there is no theoretical reason to believe that the duration of presents is in any way limited by the specifications of human cognitive apparatus. The duration of a virtual particle pair, for example, might constitute the lower bound of a present. But what of the upper bound? Could it be that the world is a single, over-arching Present containing a multiplicity of “smaller”, overlapping presents? Or is there some other upper bound we need to consider?
Consider the two alternatives:
(1) There are presents that do not overlap with any of the overlapping presents that constitute our world; therefore there is no upper bound.
But those non-overlapping presents do not “exist” since we can only ascribe existence to entities that have at least the theoretical potential to influence events within our world. Therefore, this alternative may be discarded as meaningless.
(2) There is an infinite series of mutually overlapping presents; therefore there is no upper bound.
But there is quasi-empirical evidence that this is not the case. The universe appears to have had a beginning (call it Big Bang or Creation as you will); the so-called time-line does not stretch to an infinite past.
If there is no infinite overlap into the past, then there is no theoretical reason to suggest that there would be an asymmetrical infinite overlap into the future. What can have a terminus, presumably will have a terminus (in the infinite time context of classical cosmology).
Even theories of an infinitely expanding universe foresee a time when matter and energy are so diffuse that the relationships between entities required for the emergence of present time would no longer be possible. Finally, even if it is held that overlapping of presents proceeds to infinity in one or both directions, that does not preclude the notion of an uber-present, a presence of all presences, functioning as a limit. Think of an Escher space where patterns reproduce themselves infinitely but within an ultimately closed boundary.
While the second alternative cannot perhaps be entirely dismissed, it seems a tough position to defend.
A much more attractive theory holds that the universe is a single Present that exists without time and outside of time. That universe in turn encompasses innumerable sub-presents (or events). Every event within the universe constitutes its own Present and every entity within the universe is because it gives reck and is given reck (i.e. exists in a present) by another entity.
Time then emerges as a secondary phenomenon. It is abstracted from the overlapping sub-presents and provides a way to relate presents to one another when or to the extent that they do not overlap. Using time, we are able to situate a present in the past or in the future of other presents (the Theory of Relativity allows us to build a four dimensional map) and we are even able to develop a model consisting of chains of overlapping presents (“causality”).
But what can we say of the single Present in which all events subsist? We can say that it is a boundless region of perfect reck. The uber-present gives reck to all entities and events. The uber-present recuses itself so that events can unfold freely and so that actual entities can come to be. Entities within the uber-present grant reck to a limited number of entities for limited durations (presents). As a result, they are limited; they are “mortal”. But the uber-present grants reck to all entities and events without any limitation; it is its nature. Therefore it is eternal and all other entities are likewise eternal because they bask in the uber-present’s reck.
Do we have an English word for that which is the ground of all being, the author of all freedom and all responsibility, whose action in the world is one of universal reck and whose essence is perfect love (the prerequisite of universal reck), whose being is both immanent in the world and transcendent with respect to the world?
We do. To quote Thomas Aquinas, “…And this all men call God.”
Postscript: This essay does not purport of prove the existence of God nor does it take any position on the logical possibility of such a proof. It does intend to suggest that there is an ontological model that provides an extremely close fit to the data of ordinary experience and that includes an entity with all the characteristics traditionally attributed to God. Whether this model provides the only fit or the “best fit”, we leave to the reader to decide.
But yes, Virginia, “God” does make sense.