What is Now?
When “mind over matter” becomes reality and consciousness reigns in play with time.
When “mind over matter” becomes reality and consciousness reigns in play with time.
“Elizabeth! Very well. Time will explain.”
That is a quote from Jane Austen’s last novel Persuasion, and the phrase was a reference to the future by Anne Elliot— a young English woman of 27 years— who felt that she could determine nothing at present.
Austen wrote Persuasion in 1816 while she was very ill and ignoring the warning signs of her illness. Most biographers list her cause of death as Addison’s disease, but Austen herself made light of her condition, describing it as “bile” and rheumatism. As her illness progressed, she experienced difficulty while walking and lacked energy; she died on 18 July 1817 at the age of 41.
While writing her last novel, Jane’s body was fighting against time; every day bringing her that much closer to her end. Her chronological age (41 years old) was very different from her biological age, indicating that she was ageing very fast. Back then, at the age of 40 you were an old woman.
Anne Elliot , the 27-year-old and still unmarried protagonist in Persuasion was also fighting like Jane against the time passing by. But while Jane was fighting against death, Anne was fighting against a social class system that considered women who did not find a husband while young, as someone strange and horrific—both in terms of her social reputation and her financial stability.
While Austen is certainly real and living in our 4D space-time reality, Anne lived inside Austen’s brain—an organ full of multi-dimensional geometrical structures operating in as many as eleven dimensions. Yet, they were both racing against time passing by, and they both believed that: “Time will explain”.
Two hundred years have passed since Jane and Anne have existed, but we are still waiting for time to explain.
In a way, we are all time travelling right now. We are travelling through the year 2021, and will go on to 2022 in a few months—it’s just that the speed at which we time travel and the direction is already fixed.
Back then, even if these two women were considered too “old” according to the societal standards, they were both very right when admitting that nothing could be determined at present (“now”), and only time (therefore future) will explain.
As a matter of fact, the world has indeed changed very much since Jane and Anne have lived, and it was only through their present (past for us), that a new future (present for us) has arrived.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that's why it is called the Present!”
How did Eleanor Roosevelt think up that phrase, and why is it so catchy and relatable?
In a way, we all find the present important because it allows us to do what we want, and to find immediate satisfaction. In comparison, the future or the past don’t give us as much pleasure. For example, a happy memory of finishing your work yesterday—the past, and a happy thought of finishing your work tomorrow—the future, isn’t the same as the joy experienced when you actually finish your work right now.
But, while the present is important to us, there's nothing special about it in the scientific sense: it’s the same as every other moment. Albert Einstein, the famous mathematician and scientist, put it this way: “There is something essential about the ‘now’ which is outside the realm of science”.
Einstein believed that “now” was a human concept, even though it was not meaningful in the mathematical description of the universe. In fact, he said that the “now” worried him seriously.
He explained that the experience of the “now” means something special for people; something essentially different from the past and future; but that this important difference does not and cannot occur within physics. And since this experience couldn’t be grasped by science, it seemed to him a matter of painful but inevitable resignation.
Okay, so try to imagine reality as a movie. If the past is a frozen frame in this movie we call reality, and the future is another frozen frame in this movie, then “now” is probably what gives motion to the movie.
For example, if you were watching Avengers: Endgame, you were probably very invested and excited at the scene in the end where all the superheroes come together—but when you look at it from the perspective of a file manager, that moment has the exact same value as any other part of the movie: it's just another set of bytes in the file.
Is “now” a state of liquidity? Is it a state of action, or motion, and therefore reality? Perhaps “now” is what makes time pass by—a sort of illusion of continuity in a world of stillness and solidity, and driven by consciousness in the same way VLC media player may drive the bytes of a movie.
But “now” is not time. So what is it?
This time, try to imagine yourself on a boat in the middle of the sea. There are billions of dipoles of water embracing and enclosing your boat—as well as the air and the sky around you—like a hug.
Your boat isn’t moving. It’s still; motionless. Suddenly, a gentle wind blows from the sea onto the land. Your boat moves closer to the land, and stops. At this point, all the billions of dipoles of water embracing your boat (plus the air and the sky) will form a new structure, different from the previous one.
But, in order for the boat to move from the initial scenario to the final one, there first had to appear a gap in solidity, or a state of liquidity—that is, the time “now” when your boat actually moved.
To put it simply, this in-between state of “now” which we call “present” is just a gigantic machine for time passing by. Consciousness itself drives this illusion of continuity which we call reality.
As a consequence, in this animation or illusion driven by consciousness, the “now” is not a time to track on your watch, but a state where past and future coexist, creating life. It gets even better because when you sum all the “now”s of temporal liquidity of all “in-between” states, you get reality as the result!
Accordingly, reality itself is not time. It is the product of all time, past and future creating “now”. But what is consciousness?
Consciousness at its simplest is awareness of internal or external existence. That is, a person’s awareness or perception of something.
Despite centuries of analysis, definitions, explanations and debates by philosophers and scientists, consciousness remains puzzling and controversial, being “at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives”.
Consciousness is connected with the “in-between” state, the gigantic machine for time passing by. Without it, the boat would stay still in the first scenario. Therefore, consciousness is the observer and also the product of time–animated stardust. Consciousness creates reality, and reality is consciousness.
For Jane and Anne two hundred years ago, consciousness was not exactly the same as that of a modern woman.
Back then, Jane and Anne knew that not only did they have to breathe, eat, drink, sleep and take care of themselves—the basic necessities of life—but they also would have to take care of others, those they fall in love with. They accepted that in order to survive, both socially and economically, they needed to find a husband while in their early 20s.
Today, the modern woman—let's call her Jessica—knows that she has to breathe, eat, drink, sleep, take care of herself, fall in love, and take care of others; and she accepts that in order to survive, both socially and economically, she needs to find a good job and hopefully get married in her 30s or 40s. Jessica in fact has a chronological age of 40 but a biological age of 30.
But what has changed in the last 200 years? A lot of things have changed, and all these changes have affected our epigenetic footprint.
Epigenetic footprint? Yes, you may have heard of those little marks that tell your genes to switch on or off. It is when a specific something in your “environment” determines whether genes are turned on or off, from a generation to the next.
A research team led by Washington State University scientists removed a fish, the Poecilia Mexicana, or Atlantic molly, from its natural habitat. This is a special habitat that is considered toxic to most organisms: a spring naturally high in hydrogen sulphide.
Surprisingly, they found that the grandchildren of the sulphide-adapted fish had more epigenetic marks in common with their wild, toxic-water-living grandparents than other Atlantic molly that had always lived in freshwater.
This study helped not only to address questions of how evolutionary adaptations occur, but also how an environmental toxicant, or any other mark in your environment, can actually shift the epigenetics and re-program living organisms for subsequent generations.
Epigenetics is the study of mechanisms “on top of” the classical mechanisms that affect gene expression. “Epi” comes from Greek, meaning “upon” or “over”.
It looks at how genes are activated or suppressed, not by changing the underlying DNA sequence, but by dynamic processes connected to our everyday choices and experiences. Some of these mechanisms include DNA methylation and histone modification, two processes that can be triggered by immediate environmental as well as experiential stimuli — reinforcing the idea that we are at least in part products of our own environment.
Mutations—the ones that drive natural selection—usually occur randomly over time. It's possible that they get accelerated by environmental factors, but typically, these mutations occur very slowly. That means, if your great great great grandmother lived similar experiences to Jane’s and Anne’s, no mutation would have been possible to explain why modern women have become stronger while looking and feeling younger in their 40s.
You would have to wait for quite a few more (hundreds of) generations for such a mutation to occur.
However, since women back in the 1800s had to deal with a lot of oppression, they found a way to be stronger, independent and therefore physiologically better—possibly through epigenetics —when in their 40s.
In fact, as epigenetics suggests, certain characteristics—such as the ones Jane and Anne had developed as a defence mechanism against particular stimuli like suffering and adversity back then—could have been passed on to future generations, in order to allow women in the future to have a better life by being stronger.
Jane never had children so she couldn’t affect the epigenetic clock of her offspring. But she had something else more powerful than epigenetics and genes: she had a voice.
A voice that, through her books, has inspired many more women for generations...eventually giving us Jessica, a strong and independent woman in her 40s, convinced that she can have her first child in her late 40s—something that was probably a dream for many women like Anne back in the 1800s.
As William Blake once said,
“What is now proved was once only imagined”.
The French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 - 1829), who pre-dated Charles Darwin, was the first to propose that surrounding conditions can modify characteristics acquired during a person’s lifetime, and that those characteristics can be passed on to the offspring.
For example, a giraffe constantly stretching its neck to reach the leaves at the top of a tree would result in an increased tendency toward long-necked offspring in future generations.
In other words, epigenetics affects the software of our reality (longer neck for a giraffe or "reading many books makes you smarter"), while genetics affects our hardware (born a giraffe and not an elephant or, born a woman and not a cat).
Epigenetics is in fact, the interface where the “mind over matter” becomes reality and consciousness reigns.
If an experience, an emotion, a dream, a book and a thought can change our future through epigenetics, that would imply that feelings and words have the power not only to affect Jessica’s epigenetic status but also to affect the movement of a boat on a calm sea.
And that is something that scientists all over the world haven’t yet learned how to factor in while analysing experiments. But given enough time, energy and persistence, even this dream will eventually become reality.
As you can see, the same person or the same set of genes can turn out very differently in different “now”s. While you make the present, the present also makes you. If the present was different you couldn't have become whom you are—and neither would you be able to make the world what it is.
So you could say it's a gift in more ways than one