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The increasing nonlinearity of time
5 April 2001
What do you expect, closure? Time isn't space, you know. As much as it feels like a build-up, climbing up a hill towards your birthday, unable to sleep for excitement (or nerves); as similar as it feels to break through that barrier in time and then roll down the other side -- as much as you think you're walking a path, crossing (and burning) bridges, days like years or years like seconds; as much as you feel like that, it's not.
Time goes on, one second per second, tick tock, tick tock. Except it doesn't, today more so than yesterday.
Fire is real, but your perception of fire ain't. There's a bit of your brain that lights up and keeps you staring. Those tens of thousands of years where a burning ember was the difference between death and life have made a mark on you.
You can taste sausages in your mouth because you smell them with your nose and transpose the sensation to your tongue. Our brains make a stamp on the universe.
And such it is with time.
So time goes fast, slow, fast, slow, never at the right speed. And if, for a moment, it does go at the right speed, that's not going to last forever. So it's going too fast. You'll live your life alternately bored and frustrated, too bad. And from something you created too. Well done.
Time rolls round, or spins out. Are we towering up, moving forwards with time? Are we cycling, day after day after day? Or a fractal, zoom in: year month day second microsecond, then lost in the uncertaintly of the quantum foam?
Why do we insist on making time into a physical thing? I say again, it ain't. If it were, we're moving backwards. In a car at least I can see where I'm going; I've already seen where I've been.
Time is the direction of information flow. We produce and we consume information. Speech, television, rules carved into rock. Mostly, we don't notice producing the stuff, but we notice consuming it. By definition, really, consumption implies a change. A change in oneself.
We live at the point of consumption, not at the point of production (which is always behind it). Your consciousness sits in the timestream, gobbling data.
Once upon a time the two points used to be co-incident. No longer. With recorded information the point of consumption can be anywhere from seconds to millennia ahead. It's blurred out, muddled up. When we act, we're acting in the future. But we're responding to some time in the past.
We dart about, forwards and backwards, no longer living in the now. Histories come into existence as we consume data. Do chickens exist before we eat them?
And when we respond, we're acting from the deep past into the uncertain future. We're doubly out of date. Is it any wonder arguments are never settled and disputes always confused?
With more and more stored knowledge this situation is only going to get worse. I write now, and change the world months, maybe years ahead. If I talk to you before you've read this essay we've subverted cause and effect. Time is becoming nonlinear.
Except... except it ain't.
Socially, we concentrate on specific points. Together, we funnel our points of production and consumption together. As we approach the time singularity closer and closer we refer less to what comes after it.
When I make a decision based on what you did, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four months ago; when you continue doing what you do because you think I don't know: We get involved in knots of causation. And as we approach the singularity it's hard to discern anymore who said what, who consumed what and in what order it all happened. And in this case, all that we know is that we're approaching the end.