Thought Experiments on Time and Consciousness

TimeTime, many agree, are separate instances that seem to flow together like frames of a movie because we remember what happened immediately before.  Our arm is in this position, but we remember an instant ago it was in that position.  From experience, we know our arm will next be in another position.  We recognize it is sweeping upward in a grand gesture.  The separate memories have blended into what we interpret as movement.

We can think of time as an infinite series of pigeonholes, each containing a scroll describing all of our memories in the minutest detail at a particular moment.  Our consciousness moves along the pigeonholes, taking out a scroll, reading it, replacing it, then reading the next, and so on.

But suppose our consciousness moves quickly along some sections, slowly along others.  Between pigeonholes, it sometimes pauses, sometimes for quite long, before moving on.  Would we be aware of the differences?  No. Our memories are on the scrolls and a pause would not be on it.  Time, in our consciousness, moves at a constant rate of one second per second.

Suppose our consciousness stops reading the scrolls in sequence, goes back to our childhood and starts again from there.  As before, we would not be aware of this.  But what about you who is standing in front of me?  You are not going back in time with me.  How could I go back while you remained in the present?  Sorry to say, but you only exist in my memories, a few lines of writing on the most recent scroll.  You are no more than a pattern of neuron connections in my brain.  Of course, you will assert your reality, but even your assertions will only be other patterns of neuron connections, other writings on the scroll.

Suppose our consciousness constantly skips around, back and forth at random.  We would never know, always thinking we were moving uniformly forward in time.

Now take the analogy further.  Suppose my consciousness paused at my rack of pigeonholes and stepped over to an adjoining rack of scrolls—yours perhaps— and began reading those.  Would I be aware of the change?  No.  Now I am you with all of your memories, and none of my own.  Perhaps this is happening all along.  We only think we are always ourselves.  Perhaps our consciousness constantly jumps from one person to another and we never realize it.  Perhaps consciousness is not tied to our individual physical reality.  Perhaps when we die, when our line of scrolls runs out, our consciousness simply skips over to someone else’s rack of scrolls—or begins again at our first scroll, repeating our lives over and over.

Or, perhaps our consciousness continuously skips from row to row of scrolls.  We only think we are the same person, but we are only that person for an instant.  In reality, we are everyone.

Of course, this sounds bizarre, but it’s just a thought.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in Popular culture, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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