Monday 17 August 2020

Real learning, and the reality of Time

It is an error, a self-deception, to harp-on about Time: to use concepts of Time as an-always-present, simultaneous, reversible, meaningless... Or that Time is No Time, All Time, Arbitrary Time...

I have read a great deal of Christian and New Age writing that uses some non-common-sense version of Time as the core explanatory concept. These are 'explaining' phenomena and spiritual ideas in terms that Time is Not (as it seems) linear and sequential and irreversible - but instead Time is actually something else... Such as every moment always present, Time is an illusion of mortal life, that the future creates the present, that the past can be changed - and so forth.

I know from my own case; that such Time talk may produce a bewildered and disorientated frisson of 'enlightenment', 'insight', spiruality'...  It temporality provides an aura of mystery and magic. But I also know that it goes nowhere. Time talk paralyses life if taken seriously - and if not taken seriously it dissipates and diverts proper effort.

People have been harping about Time in the mainstream for more than a century, and if one examines the results - they are not impressive. The very mode by which people describe their Time ideas tends towards extreme abstraction, the mathematical, bureaucratic; it is dull, life-less.

It Doesn't Work.

Okay - we may agree on what does Not work, and we can stop doing Those Things. Yet that knowledge is of little value unless we know what to do instead: as always it's a case of: If Not - Then What?

Well, we should accept that we live in Time, amd that time is linear, sequential, irreversible - albeit it may run at different speeds for different persons and in different places. And this is especially the case for Christians; because Christianity is about a Saviour born at a particular point in Time, who changes reality from that Time; and whose gift is a resurrection to Heaven that may happen to either or both of us in the future, but has not happened yet.

We need, I suggest, to avoid Time as an abstraction; and also abstraction and sytematisation in general: no schemes, no models, no lists, no bullet points...

For Christians we start with Love; and that means from actually-existing Love. Start from where we are, as particular persons - Not starting from what we 'ought' to love, but from what we do love. And we shouldn't expect, strive for, hope-for permanence in the things of this mortal life; we should not aim at progress in the transient things of our life on this earth.

Mortal life is about Learning, but this is Not the learning of 'psychology', nor the learning sustained by memories - which are transient, brain-dependent, mortal things...

Real learning could be defined as experienced-experience! Learning happens when we really live and notice our experience.

Real learning is when our real-self (which is divine) has an experience.

Our real-self is eternal, and does not depend on our body: this real-self is what lived as spirit before this mortal life, and what gets resurrected after death - if we accept the gift of Jesus Christ. Therefore, anything learned by the real-self is learned forever.

No amount of shallow experience by our false, transient, 'personality' selves amounts to the learning we need...

Backpacking across the Sahara or up Everest is completely worthless unless the real-self experiences something; as should be obvious from the shallow dullness of nearly-all the breed of travellers and explorers; and the spiritual trivialisation that has increased with the range and scope of journeying in the modern world.

The real self never experiences the desert or the mountain - only the transient personalities are affected by it. "I took my fake-self through X and Y extreme and exotic experiences". In the end - who cares? It has no more profound or lasting a significance than watching tonight's 'news' on TV.

One who actually experiences, with his real-self, the act of sitting on a chair and gazing out of the window - has learned something in his life; which very probably cannot be said of another individual who walked on the moon.


But really-experiencing experience is (for most people) difficult, intermittent, brief. There is no obvious way that we can make such things happen: certainly methods and training have proved themselves ineffectual.

Is spiritual 'progress' then even a possibility? And what would such progress mean, in terms of the real-self? - how could we know?

Well, yes progress is possible whenever the real self has experience; and significant progress actually-happens when that experience is one that we personally need.

We are all incarnated into this mortal life with different needs from our earthly lives; and when our real-self has experiences that address those needs, then we have made spiritual progress.

Often, these needed experiences are to-do-with Love; and that is why we should look for such experiences in relation to those we Love. That is our only 'method' the only 'technique'...

In other words; if we want to make spiritual progress - we would be best advised to starts from whatever person or other entities that we now-and-already Love; and Not to start from any kind of external-generic description, prescription, formula, flow-chart... 

And when we die, our real-selves will be that-much-better from those experiences.

This can be understood as our destiny. Our destiny is those experiences that we need from this temporary incarnation, and would benefit-from. And it is a task of our life to experience those experiences in particular... Not just to have the experiences in an external and behaviouristic sense, but for the real-self to experience them. 

Can we know that this has actually happened? Well here I cannot speak for others; but it seems to me that I do know the broad nature of my spiritual progress through life by the Golden Thread of enduring and special memories.

I'm not sure what each of these experiences on the thread means; but I am sure that these experiences happened when real-learning happened.

Like all memories, these are presumably dependent on the temporarily incarnate body; but they seem to have a special quality by which they were marked-out; and which reassure me that 'progress has been made', and that my life has not been in vain.  


Sean G. said...

Since time is a relative measurement of change, I assume time came to be through the act of creation. If nothing ever changed there could be no time since there's no such thing as a year, month or minute outside of it's relation to something changing, be it mechanical, planetary or atomic. Outside-of-time God makes zero sense. How can He create while outside of time? It's a contradiction. This type of thinking is an excellent way to distance ourselves from God's creative and loving nature.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sean - "This type of thinking is an excellent way to distance ourselves from God's creative and loving nature." Indeed. Christianity got put-inside already-existing Greek philosophy very quickly. I'm not sure how quickly, but only the Fourth (and first-written) Gospel seems wholly free from it.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I suppose it will come as no surprise that I completely disagree. Everything hinges on one's understanding of time, and the correct understanding might well -- like so many other things in physics -- be somewhat counterintuitive. Any concept of what matters and what doesn't hinges on the question of what (if anything) is ephemeral and what (if anything) is eternal, so the attempt to understand time is of the utmost importance.

The most important thing about time is that it elapses -- it really does. Any theory of time that says otherwise is unusable.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I agree that 'everything' hinges on a correct understanding of Time; but I believe that the normal, commonsense understanding of (say) young children and hunter gatherers is the correct one about Time - and that the theories of recent physics has nothing whatsoever to do with it!

(Physics theories, like all scientific theories, are not realities; but ['merely', although this may be very valuable for certain purposes] Saving the Appearances.)

Sean G. said...


"Everything hinges on one's understanding of time, and the correct understanding might well -- like so many other things in physics -- be somewhat counterintuitive. "

@Wm Assuming a loving God who wants our salvation, if everything hinges on our understanding of anything than it must be easily intuited by simple people who don't have the will or capacity to engage in these types of discussions—or only the exceptionally bright could be saved. So, either it's intuitive or our understanding of it is not critical—or my initial assumption is incorrect.

agraves said...

Bruce, if anything can move people into another level it is music. Music because it creates a link between body/intellect and the deeper emotional levels. I am referring to not classical or religious music but some of the modern composers like Hans Zimmer who wrote the theme for "interstellar' and Aram Khachaturian who wrote the Gayane Ballet for 2001 Space Odyssey. These pieces have the ability to move a person quickly out of the head and into their entire being. The simplicity of these compositions cuts through our modern noise/concepts and takes you some place grand. But this grand place is not necessarily a happy place, it is full of everything you have experienced, full of memories of people and places. Like the end of Lord of the Rings with Frodo leaving the shire behind, a grand finale but not a happy one, knowing that where you have been has been orchestrated by an invisible hand.

a_probst said...

@ agraves

Don't rule out some slightly earlier composers like Sibelius (Symphony #7 for example), Bruckner (Wagnerian without the ego), Janacek.