“[F]rom the succession of ideas and impressions we form the idea of time… [T]ime cannot make its appearance to the mind, either alone, or attended with a steady unchangeable object, but is always discovered by some perceivable succession of changeable objects.” — David Hume
As we mentioned in Spoon, the only empirical reality ever given to us directly is the reality of phenomenal consciousness. Hence, the idea of “time” can arise only as a conceptualization of an aspect of our phenomenal experience, namely of alterations we call “change”.
Each “moment of time” is a particular state (hence descriptive mathematical “quantum states”) of constitutive transcendental (inter)subjectivity and constituted phenomenal objectivity which is immediately replaced by another “moment of time” in the stream of causally interconnected successive states of consciousness. Hence, every “thing” is a process of consciousness that consists of particular states.
Is there a fundamental process in the stream of “time”? In other words, is there a process that alters as frequently as the states of consciousness change in the stream of “time”? It is light which alters as frequently as particular “moments of time” change. That explains the fundamental role of light in the theory of relativity: light is the fundamental process of reference.
Where does each “moment of time”, i.e., each particular state of consciousness, unfold from? The substance of phenomenal and underlying transcendental states of consciousness is transcendent consciousness-in-itself; therefore, each particular state of consciousness unfolds from the transcendent and thus nontemporal “superposition” of consciousness-in-itself whose “universal wavefunction” (mathematical description of infinite potential) is “collapsed” by transcendental subjects united in a particular nexus of universal transcendental intersubjectivity harmoniously constituting the world of intersubjective phenomenal experiences.
The successive change of causally interconnected states of constitutive transcendental (inter)subjectivity and constituted phenomenal objectivity is the unfolding of our individual and collective conscious existence or, otherwise, “time”. It is not our consciousness that unfolds in “time”, but “time” is the unfolding of our consciousness. “Time” and the unfolding of our consciousness is the same process.
Thus, what “time” is can be explained with incomparable consistency and conceptual parsimony only within the framework of transcendental phenomenology and ontological idealism applied instead of the pseudoscientific metaphysical mythology of materialism (physicalism) and other erroneous “matter-included” ontologies.
Surprisingly, Buddhists (especially those of Yogācāra tradition of ontological idealism) understood that already millennia ago:
“The doctrine of the instantaneity directly follows from the first thesis of the universality of impermanence. It asserts that each [phenomenon] and, accordingly, the entire complex of [phenomena], i.e., [empirical subject and empirical world], exists only one moment, being replaced in the next moment by a new [phenomenon] caused by the previous one. … Essentially, each new moment is [a new empirical subject and empirical world] connected with the previous one and [causally] conditioned by it. Thus, according to the theory of instantaneity, the flow of [phenomena] constituting [empirical subject and empirical world] is not only continuous, but also discrete at the same time. Using the modern metaphor, it is best compared to a movie film: it consists of individual shots, which, however, we do not see when we watch a movie and perceive them as a continuum, whereas the differences between the two adjacent shots are absolutely insignificant, and the shots appear to the naked eye to be practically identical, while the differences are arising and appearing gradually.” — Eugene Torchinov
Many thinkers support the concept of temporal atomism.
“The existence of an objective lapse of time means that reality consists of an infinity of layers of ‘now’ which come into existence successively. But if simultaneity is something relative, each observer has his own set of ‘nows,’ and none of these various layers can claim the prerogative of representing the objective lapse of time.” — Kurt Gödel
Clearly, our mistake was to make of “time” an abstraction (e.g., the abstract “fourth physical dimension” of mathematical descriptions in physics), whereas in fact “time” is the process of unfolding of our conscious existence.
Now, why our opinions about the duration of the “same” period of “time” often radically differ?
Because “time” is not one but two streams of successive states of consciousness unified by one synthetic meaning “time”: the subjective stream (thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, illusions, dreams, and hallucinations) and the intersubjective stream (colorforms, sounds, and sensations conceptualized as “the world”) of phenomenal and underlying transcendental states of consciousness that are governed by two different sets of laws.
The intersubjective stream is governed by the laws of transcendental intersubjectivity described mathematically as the “laws of physics”: the “laws of physics” are the laws of transcendental intersubjectivity that constitutes the world of intersubjective phenomena and meanings. In refutation of metaphysical folktales of pseudoscientific materialism (physicalism), dualism, and panpsychism with their erroneous belief in the existence of mythical “physical matter”, it must be said that the only reason why intersubjective processes of consciousness are stable and predictable is that such are the laws of transcendental intersubjectivity whose elementary processes are described mathematically as “elementary particles, waves, etc.”
The subjective stream is governed by the laws of transcendental subjectivity that cannot be described mathematically.
That explains all discrepancies in our perception of “time”, for, although we share a common intersubjective stream of successive states of consciousness, we also have our subjective streams that flow individually thus making our synthetic meaning “time” individual.
Finally and most importantly, why “time” is possible?
“Change” is possible only relatively to that which does not “change”; the stream of “time” is possible because the substance of the stream — transcendent consciousness-in-itself — is nontemporal. In other words, the stream of our conscious existence is possible only relatively to the transcendent shore — Transcendence.
“In the extension of time, athwart its endlessness, lies Being.” — Karl Jaspers
Together with Buddhism, we may assume that the stream of our individual existence is beginningless and potentially endless.
“[T]his world flows on without beginning.” — Vasubandhu
We can’t think the ultimate Beginning of “time”, for nothing happens without a cause, and for each cause there must be its own cause, and so forth into the infinity of “time”. Hence, we — individual transcendental subjects, our universal transcendental intersubjectivity and intersubjectively constituted phenomenal worlds — are, most likely, the eternal aspect of nontemporal Transcendence.
“It is one thing to be carried through an endless life, another thing to embrace the whole presence of an endless life together, which is manifestly proper to the divine Mind.” — Boethius
“Man cannot seek to know what the Godhead could know. Such knowledge would put an end to his existence in time, whose activities are the purpose of his knowledge.” — Karl Jaspers
Transcendence is the audience, freewill is the actor, phenomena are the play. “God doesn’t play dice” (Einstein), for the divine Play is individual existence.
Tat tvam asi.