Life is uncertain; death is certain.
Death carries off a man busy picking flowers with a besotted mind, like a great flood does a sleeping village.
There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die.
But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.
Here will I live in the rainy season, here in the autumn and in the summer: thus muses the fool. He realizes not the danger (of death).
Dhammapada v. 286
How many times did you check your email this morning? Or waste even a minute on worrying about what someone else is doing that you don’t approve of? How about watching a bad movie, or wasting hours on the Internet reading about reality show characters meant to infantilize you? Once you answer, ask yourself, is this how you want to remember your life? While we all want to ignore the fact that our time on this great spinning marble is limited, the epiphany of our own mortality can bring great gifts.
Quantum Entanglement, The Eradication of Time
In physics, there is no such thing as ‘now,’ but instead time is described as a ‘flow.’ In the 1920s, physicists believed that time was an irreversible arrow, but we’ve evolved to understand differently:
“…to the bafflement of generations of physicists, the arrow of time does not seem to follow from the underlying laws of physics, which work the same going forward in time as in reverse. By those laws, it seemed that if someone knew the paths of all the particles in the universe and flipped them around, energy would accumulate rather than disperse: Tepid coffee would spontaneously heat up, buildings would rise from their rubble and sunlight would slink back into the sun.”
Quantum entanglement suggests instead that energy disperses, and objects (matter collapsed from a wave of energy) equilibrate. Tiny particles we can’t even see are constantly interacting with one another to change reality. Quantum entanglement means that the coffee cup, the coffee itself, and the table it sits on are constantly interacting.
An experimentally-tested theorem by the physicist John Bell says there is no “true” state of the particle; the probabilities are the only reality that can be ascribed to it.
Quantum uncertainty then gives rise to entanglement, the presumed source of the arrow of time.
“When two particles interact, they can no longer even be described by their own, independently-evolving probabilities, called “pure states.” Instead, they become entangled components of a more complicated probability distribution that describes both particles together. It might dictate, for example, that the particles spin in opposite directions. The system as a whole is in a pure state, but the state of each individual particle is “mixed” with that of its acquaintance. The two could travel light-years apart, and the spin of each would remain correlated with that of the other, a feature Albert Einstein famously described as “spooky action at a distance.”
This means that a particle can exist in more than one place in more than one ‘time’ as we know it. That’s why Einstein may have called it spooky.
When, almost 100 years ago physicists Werner Heisenberg, Max Born und Erwin Schrödinger began the field which is now called quantum mechanics, or quantum theory, objects of the quantum world were understood NOT to move along a single well-defined path – of time or space. Rather, they were observed simultaneously to take different paths and end up at different places at once. Physicists speak of quantum superposition of different paths, but never quantify the NOW. This makes it no less important. If time doesn’t truly exist, why then is it so precious?
A ‘deathless’ spiritual adept, Babaji, was born in 203 AD. He was initiated at an early age into the mysteries of Kundalini Yoga. He retired to a Himalayan cave, absorbed in intense yoga practice, finally to emerge “laughing at the limitations of death.” Most of us would hardly laugh if we were suddenly given a sober verdict by our family doctor, or we were to receive a call in the middle of the night telling us someone we know and love is sick and dying. Mahavatar Babaji; however, is said to have risen from death at will. Did this man actually know how to cheat time, or was his death metaphoric, with a mind ever-present in the eternal creation of reality? Or both?
Time and the Brain
‘Now’ isn’t even well-defined as far as our neurology is concerned since an input can come in at different times, almost like layers of a conscious cake are being formed.
As Marvin Minsky notes, “Consciousness is a word that you use to not discuss the 40 or 50 different processes that are going on at various times…” When asked, ‘is there a discrete self,’ Minsky replied, “Let’s hope not, it wouldn’t have any interesting properties. Nothing simple is interesting, is it?”
Neuroscientists believe that memory storage depends on the connection between synapses and the strength of associations; memories aren’t so much encoded as discrete bits of information, but rather as relations between two or more things (e.g. touching a hot element causes pain). This is also the concept of dependent arising in Buddhism. More than 300 neural structures have been identified, but not one of them is proven to determine consciousness, or how we fit into time and space.
As some have suggested, “Some physicists have thought about expressing the laws [of time and space] in a timeless manner. For example, Carlo Rovelli talks of expressing mechanical laws as a bunch of correlations, without any explicit time variable. According to his model, the usual notion of time that we experience is connected with the statistical state of the system in question (his “thermal time hypothesis”).”
Movement and Relationship
Therefore, (as the Dalai Lama likes to say) if there is only movement and relationship in the Universe, then all we have is what we focus on. All we have is right now. Everything else is ‘speeding by’ whether it be from a nano-particle sense of ‘time’ or a neuroconscious understanding of it. No matter if you are discussing time, or the lack thereof, our conscious experience is that we have so many hours, days, minutes, and seconds, as the flow of the energy of the Universe acts out its infinite play.
So, whether we believe in the theories of doom and Armageddon awaiting our planet, or instead, want to believe that our great awakening will eliminate the need for suffering and death, but either metaphorically or literally, we will die somehow – either as the species we are to become with a consciousness being of a different, higher density, or by simply passing on as trillions of souls incarnate in human form have done for countless ages.
When death comes knocking, or in the least, the understanding arises that we will indeed die, we are given a great gift.
From the Invocation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as translated by Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup from the Tibetan Book of the Dead:
When through illusion, I and others are wandering in samsara, Along the bright light path of undistracted listening, reflecting and meditating, May the gurus of the inspired line lead us, May the bands of mothers be our protectors, May we be liberated from the fearful narrow passage of the Bardo, May we be placed in the state of perfect enlightenment.
When through violent anger one is wandering in samsara, Along the bright light path of the wisdom of reflection, May the Bhagavan, Vajra-Sattva lead us, May the Mother Mamaki be our protector, May we be liberated from the fearful narrow passage of the Bardo, May we be placed in the state of perfect enlightenment.
So enjoy this ‘now’ (that happens over and over again). Be mindful of how you spend ‘it’. Be in nature, or smile at someone. Laugh more, and work less. The seconds pass quickly while our consciousness is still limited to this reality. There is no escape from old age, sickness and death, but there is the infinite freedom of living this moment fully.
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