Tuesday, 19 December 2017 17:28

Do past, present and future exist?

Written by 


Ozodi Thomas Osuji

In our world we see past, present and future. One is born and lives to be, say, age forty, so one has a past. One hope to live, at least, another fifty years; the anticipated fifty years is one's possible future.

We see houses that were built a few years ago, exist today and will probably exist for another hundred years before they collapse and like all man-made things return to the sand from which they were made. Even the great pyramids will, in the future, return to sand.

The world is an ephemeral and transitory place; nothing in it is permanent; things are always changing; things are always becoming, being and disappearing from existence.

We see animals; they are born and live for however long each animal species lives and die so we assign a past, present and future to them. The same goes for trees.

The oldest trees, the sequoia of Northern California, live for five thousand years; some of those creatures have lived through all written human history, beginning in Sumeria and Egypt five thousand years ago! Yes, a tree has been around during all that human beings have done in written history! Be that as it may, those trees will die, rot and sink into the ground to form our fossil fuel.

The physical world, such as mountains and land masses, has a past when it began and a present and a future when it will disappear from existence.

For example, the Himalaya Mountains began at a certain point in the past (when tectonic movements squished the Australian land mass and Asian land mass and forced some of the land to be pushed up), exist now and in the future will erode and become flat land.

Simply stated, in our awareness there is a past, present and future.   Mystics, on the other hand, talk about what they call the eternal present of God or the eternal now of God. They say that in God everything exists in the now and that God knows only the now, the present. So, what exactly do they mean?

Since I am not a mystic, I do not know what mystics mean. However, I would like to know what they mean. I suppose that it would be nice if I could find a mystic and have him explain to me what they mean by the eternal now of God. Unfortunately, I do not see a mystic in my world; I have no mystic to ask for an explanation. In the absence of an explanation based on the mystics experience of the eternal now of God, I will do what I have always done: try to understand phenomena by myself.

In this brief essay, I will try to understand what mystics mean when they say that there is only the now of God.

I know about the present, the now. How do I know that there was a past, a yesterday?  Seriously, how do I know that there was a past and that there will be a future, a tomorrow?

My experience tells me that I had a past; I extrapolate that there is always a past, present and future?

Let us confound that seeming self-evident reality. I go to sleep. I dream. During that period I am lying on my bed. In the dream I see a world that looks like my day world. In it I do what I do in my day world. In my dream are yesterdays, present and future.  But that past, present and anticipated future in my dream all happened while I was lying on my bed and dreaming.

In effect, the past in my dream is an illusion, it did not exist. While I am in the present, sleeping, my mind was able to invent a past and show me things that are billions of years old; in my dreams I see stars and our world and those are billions of years old but my mind invented them and made them seem billions of years old.

How do I know that my day world is not also a dream; how do I know that the physical universe exists?

George Berkeley, one of the best idealistic (solipsistic) philosophers of the West, asked this question: a tree falls and its falling makes sound. If there is no human being to hear the sound or see it fall did a tree fall?

Astrophysicists tell us that the universe has existed for 13.8 billion years. They cite evidence for their claim; they show us galaxies and stars that seem that old.

On earth paleontologists show us animal fossils that lived millions of years ago so the earth seems to have existed, as cosmologists tell us, for 4.5 billion years.

These folks seem to have solved the riddle of being, haven't they?  Here is a little question for you: who is observing the existence of the universe? If there are no observers does the universe exist; does the earth exist without us saying that it exists?

What do quantum physicists like Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr say about the existence of the things we see and the seers? They say that things do not seem to exist until observed.

Hugh Everett of Princeton University said that things appear to be in "superposition" (which David Deutch of Oxford universe, using the concept of multiple universes, interprets to mean that things are in different universes until we want to see them and they appear in our present universe) and it is only when observed that they appear to be seen by the observer.

Light exists in superposition but if the observer wants it to be particles it is seen as particles; if he wants to see it as wave it appears as wave. So, which one is light, wave or particles?

Light are probably both wave-particles and or none of them. It is probably the case that wave-particles appear to exist when the observer, us, want it to exist. That is to say that the universe does not exist until we want it to exist for us.

This is probably too much for you to accept. I mean the quantum mechanics contention that the universe does not appear to exist until we want it to exist for us. Okay, let me ask you: does the universe exist without observation? Answer that question without being reductionistic.

Let us return to my dream analogy. Since in my dream I see a past that has things in it that are billions of years old, as old as the physical universe is supposed to be, 13.8 billion years old, how do I know that the things I see in the day world and that I also see in my dream world  are real?

Since all those billions of years old things that I see while I am sleeping are not, in fact, there, could it be that my day life is also like a dream in which I see things that seem billions of years old but when I wake up from the day dream they did not exist?

Could it be that the entire universe that is fourteen billion years old does not exist and to the extent that it seems to exist, exist in the now when I am dreaming and seeing it and believing that it has a fourteen billion years past and will exist for a future of trillion years before it dies and ends?

Could it be that nothing is really existent; could it be that nothing exists except as in a dream? I do not know the answer to my question but would like to know.

Mystics tell us that they woke up from the dream that is called our day world and experienced Holy Instant (Samadhi, Nirvana, Satori, the mystical union of God and his sons as one self), a world of non-duality, a world where all is one self with one mind; a world that does not have separation, no space, time and matter, a world where all things are in each other and there is no space between them; a world where there is no seer and seen; no subject and object; a world where there is no you and I but a world where there is oneself that is simultaneously infinite selves.

Apparently that unified world is always in the now, the present; it is said to be our real home and contains our real selves.

Apparently, while we are in that unified world, as it were, we went to sleep (Maya) and in a nanosecond dream our physical universe, all fourteen billion years of it(in no time, really, but since we are used to the idea of time let us say that we dreamed it in less than a second).

For a good read on mystical experiences see Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism; Richard Maurice Burke, Cosmic consciousness and William James, Varieties of Religious experience.

After you have familiarized yourself with mysticism and quantum physics I would like you to help me understand what is meant by "in God everything exists in the present" and that there is no past, present and future in God.

Thank you for taking the time to stretch your mind by answering a question that is currently exercising and perplexing my mind.

Post Script:

If you did not study any kind of physics and are not familiar with quantum mechanics you can buy a text book on the subject and read it. Make sure that you understand what the following folks discovered: Henri Becquerel, Pierre and Marie Curie, Marx Plank, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford, Neils Bohr, Louis Broglie, Paul Dirac, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, Emil Schrodinger, James Chadwick, Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn, Thomas Oppenheimer, James Wheeler, Eugene Wigner, Stephen Weinberg, Murray Gell-Mann; John Bell, Alan Aspect, Alan Goth, Alexander Freedman, George Lemaitre, Edwin Hubble's, George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the other great quantum physicists. To understand new physics you have to have a grasp of classical physics and be able to explain folks like Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Johan Kepler, Huygens, Dalton, Boyle, James Clark Maxwell, Laplace, Ludwig Boltzmann, and the other pre-twentieth  century physicists' and chemists.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji

December 19, 2017


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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176