There are at least three aspects of time: experiential, conceptual, and physical. Experiential time may drift ever so slowly (often for the young, who are impatient for adulthood) or flee all too fast (especially as one approaches the precipitous terminal cliff at an advanced age). Experiential time is perhaps the most insubstantial element in human consciousness. It is with us all through our waking hours, apparently drifting silently and ceaselessly in the external world as well as within the very core of our being.
Conceptual time is like an imaginary straight line that can extended to infinity in either direction, taking us to realms way beyond the bracket whose bounds cosmologists proclaim as the big bang and heat-death. It has no beginning and no end, just an imaginary stretch the mind constructs.
Then there is the steady flow of physical time in a given frame of reference, the sort that is measured by physicists and chronometers, taking advantage of periodic changes, either at the lunar and stellar levels or at the microcosmic domain of atomic transitions. Physical time, as per current cosmology, had its birth with the big bang and was nonexistent prior to this ignition of the physical world.
Theologians have argued about whether God created time. The simple answer could be, “Of course God did, for did not God create everything?” Or, “Certainly not, since there was no God prior to thinking man.” In other words, the two simple answers depend on whether a person is a theist or an atheist. The Svetasvatara Upanishad describes God as the “architect of time”: kâlakâro. For Pythagoras, time was the soul of the world.
What is relevant to recognize is that experiential time plays a role when we are bored or having fun, conceptual time comes into the fore when we are logically analyzing the nature of time, and physical time matters when we are doing serious physics or cosmology.
Shakespeare once described time as both our parent and our grave. Indeed, each one of us tastes a slice of time, and when the lights go off in conscious life, we drop out of the steady stream in which we seem to be drifting. It is conscious life that perceives the presence of the stream. When we are thrown into the invisible stream of physical time, it turns into experiential time, a portion of a stream that continues indefinitely. What we do during that interval is what really matters.
V.V. Raman appears with Brian Leftow, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, Ernan McMullin, William Lane Craig, and Robert Russell in “Did God Create Time?” the 24th episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day’s episode.