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Part I: Time and Eternity: Creation
and the Theory of Relativity
The Relativity of Time in Experience
in the Theory of Relativity between its physical and psychological
aspects is a very subtle one and at times difficult to maintain.
Yet the distinction is vital. In a paper entitled "Some
Points in the Philosophy of Physics: Time, Evolution, and Creation,"
E. A. Milne sets out to demonstrate that reality is so structured
as to make it possible for two events in the universe to be given
two quite different temporal orientations by two different observers.
He points out that two events separated by a certain length of
time may be experienced by one observer in quite rapid succession
and by another observer with a considerable interval between
them. But he is not thinking in psychological terms. This is
a strictly physical possibility because of the nature of the
universe. To use his own words, (9)
You can say "was"
or "is" at your choice. There is no difference in the
two propositions until an observer is mentioned. In any one observer's
worldwide present, for whom Creation "was" so many
years ago, we can always specify events the observers at which
reckon creation as arbitrarily close to "is". . . .
To summarize, the passage of time
is a definite part of the experience of each individual, and
from it may be constructed both time measures and space measures.
. . . Different individuals assign different epochs and
different distances to the same event, and the relation between
the epochs they assign is perfectly definite for any two observers
(in uniform relative motion) who stand in the same relation to
the rest of the Universe.
There is, therefore,
a certain form of psychological relativity which is, however,
quite objective and contingent upon position and speed. This
is quite distinct from that kind of relativity of time which
we associate with various forms of psychological excitement or
anxiety. Certain drugs can radically upset the individual's time
9. Milne, E. A., "Some Points in the
Philosophy of Physics: Time, Evolution and Creation", Smithsonian
Institution Annual Report for 1933, Smithsonian Institute,
Washington, D. C., 1935, Publication #3265, p.236.
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hypnosis will do the
same. Philosophically, it seems probable that some forms of animal
life "experience" a much slower sense of the passage
of time. There is some reason to believe that the time sense
of children, of men, and of women may be somewhat different.
In pain and in dreams there are disturbances of the time sense
which may be very marked. And some less developed cultures appear,
for reasons which are worth examining, to have developed a time
sense that is very confusing to the more sophisticated Westerner.
All these are commonly thought
of as bearing upon the Theory of Relativity. And while there
is a sense in which they do, there is an even more fundamental
sense in which they do not. In all these cases the assumption
is made that there is an absolute flow of time which the individual
by reason of some special circumstance experiences in accelerated
or slowed up form. The important presupposition is that time
does flow absolutely and independently. This common assumption
is what has to be laid aside before the real meaning of the Theory
of Relativity can be grasped. And the final conclusions of this
paper will not be really understood until this is achieved.
It is, however, worthwhile examining
some of these psychological aspects, because they will make it
a little easier to grasp the meaning of what we are trying to
bring out from Scripture on the difference between time and eternity.
It is well known,
of course, that drugs bring a temporary disorientation in the
time sense. This has been found to be particularly true for alcoholics,
and according to Lester Gliedman, accounts in part for the alcoholic's
This takes the form of a kind of fragmentation of time so that
experience becomes discontinuous and past experience bears no
relationship to the present whatever. It is a curious fact that
many primitive people share this view. For example, a native
who has done some damage to a public building may be punished
with a fine. But having no money at the time of conviction, the
colonial administrator may deem it necessary to have a deduction
made from the man's wages at the end of the month. This quite
often outrages the moral sense of the native community, it being
held unjust to punish a man today for something he did two weeks
ago: he is not the same man and should not be held responsible.
There is here, in both instances, a tendency to live consciously
in the immediate present, and the effect of this not unnaturally
is to render the individual indifferent to the possible demands
of the future as well as lessons to be learned from the past.
10. Gliedman, Lester H., "Temporal Orientation
and Alcoholism," in Alcoholism, Alcoholism Research
Foundation, vol.3, no.3, April, 1956, p.11
people, this accounts
for some of their apparent improvidence.
We tend to think of time as something
which binds experience in such a way as to make events which
are separated by days or weeks part of a whole experience. Thus
the experiences of the past are considered to have a bearing
on the present in a very direct way. This is what we really mean
by a "sense of responsibility," i.e., the present influences
the future because it is part of the future. There is no discontinuity.
We have no difficulty in thinking of several days as an unbroken
unit of time, such as a week. But people like the Hopi do not
habitually view experience in this way. They will readily speak
of ten men, because one can have ten men at one time.
(11) But they would
not speak of ten days because you can have only one day at one
time. However, within this one day, everything is "now,"
even though by our standards it may be later in the afternoon,
for example. So that when a native says, "I'll do it now,"
he doesn't mean what we mean by "now." He means sometime
during the day -- if his unit of time is a day. If his unit of
time is a week, "doing it now" may very well mean doing
it sometime during the coming week by our standards. If his unit
of time is a day and he doesn't intend to do it today (i.e.,
"now"), he probably won't even think about it. Hence
his apparent improvidence.
In some so-called primitive societies,
this habit of living "in the present" is extended to
mean that action planned for the future is in effect being done
now. This can be highly disconcerting to the Westerner who finds
it difficult to put too much trust in what his fellowmen say
they are going to do in the future. A good illustration of the
confusion which such ways of thinking can create is given by
Melvin Kyle, who tells the following story: (12)
A desert traveller went with
a missionary friend to visit one of the 10,000 mud villages in
the valley of the Nile. The night was not a restful one in a
native home. The next morning the traveller wished to return
as soon as possible to the boat on the Nile. The missionary,
however, knowing the demands of courtesy, insisted that they
must not go until after breakfast, but expressed the hope that
breakfast might be expedited. "Oh," said the host,
"breakfast is just ready." One hour and a half after
that time by the traveller's watch, a match was struck to kindle
the fire to cook the breakfast. And sometime later still, a cow
was driven into the court of the house to be milked to provide
the milk to cook the rice to make the breakfast. Was the host
11. Hoijer, Harry, "The Relation of Language
to Culture" in A. L. Kroeber, Anthropology Today, University
of Chicago Press, 1953, p.562. See also Benjamin Lee Whorf,
"Collected Papers on Metalinguistics," published by
Dept. of State, Foreign Service Institute, Washington, D.C.,
1952; and also Language, Thought and Reality, edited by
John B. Carroll, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wiley,
New York, 1956.
12. Kyle, Melvin G., quoting Edward Mack on the "Chronology
of the Old Testament," in an article appearing in Bibliotheca
Sacra, vol. I, 1831, p.644.
untruthful? Not at all; he did not reckon
by time, but by events. He had no way of determining the passage
of time. When he said, "Breakfast is just ready," he
meant it was the next thing in the household economy, that they
would do nothing else until that thing was done, and that everything
done was to that end. That is to say he reckoned only by events.
This is interestingly
reflected in our word presently, which in Shakespeare's
time quite logically meant "in the present," i.e.,
"right now," but has come to mean "sometime in
the future" ‹ indeed in the distant future! A similar
concept is to be found in the Hebrew of the Old Testament which
did not have a distinct verbal form for the future tense. The
present tense is used, as a rule: but the past tense is used
for the future when God is declaring what is to come. It is as
though the certainty of it rendered it already done. It is spoken
of by Hebraists as the "prophetic perfect." In one
way this is not so strange, because we sometimes find ourselves
doing the same thing: we may say, for example, "I am going
to see the dentist tomorrow," using a present tense for
a future action.
But this is really only a manner
of speaking, whereas among primitive people and apparently among
alcoholics it is a characteristic habit of thought. Life is lived
in the present with very little consciousness, most of the time,
of either the past or the future. It would be invidious to imply
any real parallelism, yet one supposes this must be somewhat
the manner in which animals "experience" time.
An interesting case of the unconscious
slowing-up of normal physiological processes in the presence
of an excess atmosphere of carbon dioxide was witnessed when
Major David G. Simons made his remarkable balloon ascent to the
altitude of 102,000 feet. At one point, his physical condition
was noted to be deteriorating because he was found to be speaking
over the intercom system at only one fourth his usual speed.
Major Simons was apparently quite unaware of this change in tempo,
and one may therefore assume that his experience of the passage
of time was being remarkably modified by the presence of the
carbon dioxide acting in conjunction with considerable psychological
Under hypnosis ‹ as under the
influence of drugs such as hashish or opium ‹ the time sense
may be shortened or extended almost unbelievably. L. F. Cooper
of the University of Georgetown suggested to a hypnotized patient
that a metronome beating once per second was actually beating
at a lower rate and showed that it was possible for the patient
to accept the new time scale and fit it into
13. Simons, Maj. David G., "A Journey
No Man Has Taken", Life Magazine, 2 Sept.,
her dreams. Thus the
passage of a few minutes was extended to hours. In one dream
lasting three seconds, the patient imagined that eighty minutes
had passed, during which interval she was able to pick and count
862 bolls of cotton. (14) It is generally agreed that a person who is awake
could not possibly count 862 of anything, even in imagination,
within an interval of only three seconds, in spite of the extraordinary
feats of some mathematicians who can make extended calculations
in their own minds in a remarkably short time.
There is plenty of evidence that
most dreams last only a few seconds, yet much often transpires
during this interval ‹ far more than can possibly be recounted
afterwards in the same length of time. Almost everyone has had
the experience of lying awake in the dark and finding that time
passes terribly slowly. Recent experiments have demonstrated
that the sense of time is modified in the dark. Signals given
to an observer were estimated to have been more widely spaced
in time than they actually were. (15)
When we consider the time experienced
by animals, we are, of course, unable to do much more than philosophize.
But it must surely be true that a creature that lives only for
a day experiences a full lifetime of childhood, youth, middle
age, and senility. Just what form its consciousness takes is
impossible for us to know. But if its momentary experience is
always one of the immediate present, then its lifetime may be
experientially longer than ours. Interesting papers have been
written which suggest that cold-blooded animals may in fact,
experience the passage of time as slow or fast, depending upon
environmental temperatures. For example, carrying this situation
to the extreme, when the temperature is low enough for such creatures,
a state of suspended animation sets in and all experience of
the passage of time must come completely to a halt. This concept
is explored in an intriguing way by C. B. Goodhart of Cambridge,
in an article entitled "Biological Time." (16)
LeComte du Nouy has explored the
possibility that the passage of time as experienced by children
and men and women may be rather different. (17) He suggests, in fact, that time is much longer for
children and much shorter for men. A child's "wait"
is a long one. A man's wait is somewhat reduced. And then he
14. Cooper, L. F., "Trance Slows Down
Time", reported in Science News Letter, May 15, 1948,
15. Kafka, John S., "A Method for Studying the Organization
of Time Experience," in American Journal of Psychiatry,
vol.114, no. 6, Dec., 1957, p. 546-53.
16. Goodhart, C. B., Discovery, Dec., 1957, pp.519-21
17. du Nouy, Lecomte, Human Destiny, Longmans Green, New
York, 1947 p.208.
provocative idea that
a woman's "wait" is scarcely conscious at all. This
is manifestly an exaggeration, but his point is that whereas
a man is governed by clocks and other logical fragmentations
of the day, a woman's life is governed much more by cycles ‹
a month, nine months, and so forth. For her, the interval tends
to be overshadowed by the next event, so that in preparing for
it she may often attend to the completion rather than to the
time of preparation, and say "I'm coming" as though
she meant at once, while the man, with his different time sense,
becomes fretful over the interval.
There is a slight extension of
these thoughts which has interesting possibilities, though it
may be a misleading one. To a creature that lives only for a
day, the events of geological ages would be almost equal to an
"infinity" of time. To man, whose life span is so much
greater, these events took long enough to complete, yet he is
capable of mentally measuring the time in a kind of a way, immense
though it is. If there were some creature with a life span of
twenty thousand years and this creature were capable of consciously
viewing geological ages, the process would perhaps not seem so
long. If we carry this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion,
we would have to assume that for God, who lives in eternity,
the whole process could be reduced to a matter of minutes, perhaps
even seconds, perhaps even instantaneous.
What has been said here with respect
to the passage of time since the Creation can be applied in the
same way to the size of the universe. In this connection,
although the quotation does not directly contribute to our thesis,
it is interesting to note the following observation by the Victorian
essayist Ambrose Bierce, written long before Einstein's time:
Magnitude being purely relative,
nothing is large and nothing small. If everything in the universe
were increased in bulk one thousand diameters, nothing would
be any larger than they had been. To an understanding familiar
with the relativity of magnitude and distance, the spaces and
masses of the astronomer would be no more impressive than those
of the microscopist. For anything we know to the contrary, the
visible universe may be a small part of an atom, with its component
ions, floating in the life-fluid (luminiferous ether) of some
animal. Possibly the wee creatures peopling the corpuscles of
our own blood are overcome with the proper emotion when contemplating
the unthinkable distance from one of these to another.
to pain, it appears that the time sense may be disoriented almost
completely. In this case, it is not a shortening of time, but
a lengthening of it. It was found during World War II that
18. Bierce, Ambrose: quoted by E. L. Hawke,
in a written communication for the discussion of a Paper by F.
T. Farmer, "The Atmosphere: Its Design and Significance
in Creation", Transactions of the Victoria Institute,
vol. 71, 1939, p.54-55.
when a prisoner was captured
and tortured for information, the sufferer could survive the
ordeal somewhat more successfully if in some way the sense of
time was not lost. It was, in fact, held by some of those who
had reason to know that if a man could survive the first few
minutes of torture, he could not be made to talk by any further
application of it. The problem for the sufferer was to know within
himself how long he had been suffering, and so in the underground
movement in World War II, those who ran great risks of being
captured and so treated were encouraged to begin counting, if
it was at all possible, as soon as torture was applied. It appears
that maintaining the time sense had a profound effect upon the
capacity of the individual to survive the ordeal. In the absence
of the time sense, it often seemed at the end of the first few
seconds as though the suffering had been endured interminably,
and all hope of holding out was abandoned almost at once. Punishment
may be endless if the sense of time is lost, because the sufferer
has no hope that the end is near.
For three hours the Lord suffered
on our behalf on the Cross (Luke 23:44). In this interval He
assumed total responsibility for every wicked thing, every murderous
thought, every selfish desire: that has ever been committed since
man was created and that ever will be committed to the end of
time. And this He did for those who should accept or who had
by anticipation accepted this sacrifice on their behalf. In this
interval, One for whom an evil thought or a wicked act was utterly
remote, was tortured with the ultimate responsibility for man's
wickedness. But our clocks deceived us. For He who was God-made-man
lived continually outside of time, as many Bible passages show.
Those "three hours" were, for Him, a continuing present
that amounted to an eternity.
And this brings
us to one final thought in this section. The sense of time is
undoubtedly impressed most keenly upon the consciousness of the
man for whom things have most meaning, for time is the
fourth dimension of things. It may well be that in primitive
cultures which possess less of the material wealth, but compensate
for this by having a greater social consciousness (a kind of
a wealth of the spirit), are for this very reason less aware
of the passage of time. One might suppose that in some sense
spiritual growth is paralleled by a sort of "timelessness"
‹ indeed, for those who are saved when they are young there
is a measure of eternal youth. But this leads us into the spiritual
aspects of the Theory of Relativity, which are the subject of
a later section.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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