World enough and time

August 2, 2006 | 26 comments
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Over at some-other-blog, Kristine asks the interesting question, “what is the purpose of time?” Kristine writes:

It seems to me that our pre-mortal and post-mortal existence are unlikely to be marked by the constant pressure of time that we feel in this life. As mortals, we experience this pressure both as the daily lack of enough time to do all the things we should or want to do, and as we contemplate the span of our lives, knowing that we will not live long enough to finish the !()#$##! Ph.D., become a world-class cellist, go to medical school, and learn to play timpani and French horn passably well.

She uses this as a springboard to focus on why time is relevant in this life. But it’s an equally good springboard to ask — well, if we’re not going to be getting Ph.D.s and paying rent, what are we going to be doing in the next life? In other words, what will we do in heaven? (Note: Steve Evans and Aaron Brown should focus on the alternate question of how best to dress when the forecast is 10,000 degrees.)

Now, any answer to this question is going to be highly speculative, of course. But assuming that we don’t get reincarnated into a new probation — stop all that silly speculation, Geoff J.! — we’re going to at some point end up in a place where time is no longer an issue. And what then? Here goes:

We spend much of this life just fueling our bodies — food and sleep and exercise — and that will be cut out. We spend much of the rest of our energy accumulating money, credentials, and relationships with others. Only one of those will survive. We won’t worry about money or credentials. And so the bulk of our time is likely to be spent developing and strengthening and learning from our relationships with other people. Friends. Family. People all around us. And most importantly, we’ll be able to do this outside of the constraints of time and space that so greatly limit our ability to form relationships with other people in this life.

Many of our existing relationships — with friends, lovers, neighbors, spouses, ward members, even family members — are based mostly on accidents of time and space. I become good friends with someone because she is in my ward, or because she is my next door neighbor, or because we go to school together. If she misses any of these windows — if she lives in a different place, goes to school elsewhere or a few years earlier or later — then I’ll never get to know her.

Once these barriers are removed, we’re likely to discover new friends. Perhaps someone born in 1915 in Germany has a personality ideal for being my best friend, and we discover this in the next life, and we develop a close personal friendship. It is all but certain that we’ll have far greater access to make personal friendships and connections with people who have similar interests, likes and dislikes, personalities. We’ll make friends based on personal compatilibility and interest, not ones limited by the necessities of time and space. We’ll have an entire universe to draw from, not the limited environment of ward or school or workplace.

The funny thing is, that environment is likely to result in a less diverse group of friends. And that observation provides, perhaps, another answer for Kristine’s question. In the mad chaos of this life, we don’t have time to wait for perfectly aligned personalities. We’re forced to become friends with people unlike ourselves; people who might not like each other much. It’s a little like the Breakfast Club, and it forces us into more diverse conversations and dialogues.

Perhaps that’s another reason for the existence of time in this life.

26 Responses to World enough and time

  1. Ben on August 2, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    “Many of our existing relationships… are based mostly on accidents of time and space”

    Except on the internet, where birds of a feather easily flock together.

    Nice thoughts.

  2. Geoff J on August 2, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    stop all that silly speculation, Geoff J.!

    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

  3. Mark Pickering on August 2, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    It is not possible for us to imagine experience without time, just as it is impossible to imagine experience without space. If the post-moral existence were to be without time, it would be something entirely different from what we know now. Consciousness, among other things, would not be possible.

    I think there will be time in the post-mortal existence. I think God is bound by time as well. I don’t have any positive proof from the standard works that this is the case, but I don’t have any proof that it is not the case.

  4. DKL on August 2, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Honestly, the notion of a pre-mortality and a post-mortality just don’t make any sense to me at all. Time is what it is. I’m just glad I type fast.

  5. Proud Daughter of Eve on August 2, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    I hope we’ll also be doing things like learning to play the cello, piano, violin, French horn, what have you. There’s still so much to learn! Betty J. Eadie in her book “Embraced by the Light” said that all she had to do was open a book in the celestial library and then she knew what she needed. Personally, I hope it’s not all that easy! You learn more about a person by doing something with them than just sitting around talking; I hope that as we get to know other people and develop relationships with them we get to work with them too.

  6. Eric Russell on August 2, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    I don’t know about all this relationship stuff, but I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be a massive Xbox tournament.

  7. B. Dylan on August 2, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    “…the bulk of our time is likely to be spent developing and strengthening and learning from our relationships with other people.”

    If time truly is “no longer” (D&C 84:100) then there won’t be any bulk of TIME to be SPENT doing anything. It seems that once this occurs we are locked in, if you will. No more future, no more past, no more probation. Phrases like “until the night cometh, wherein no man can work” (3 N. 27:33) and “everlastingly too late” (Helaman 13:38) seem to imply that as much as we’d like to think there will be TIME to progress in the post-mortal existence, that simply isn’t the case.

  8. Seth R. on August 2, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Currently, we only personally experience 4 dimensions: 3D space, and time of course.

    But apperently there are a lot more. It gets into string theory and other stuff I don’t get.

    Perhaps the “veil” is what actually restricts our view of reality to four dimensions. But God obviously operates in all of them, and perhaps, so shall we after death.

    It is hard for us to conceive of anything outside of our framework of linear time. But the evidence suggests that our view of the universe is highly artificial and there is no reason to believe that time is not just as easily traversed, encompassed and manipulated by exalted beings, as we alter and redirect the flow of a stream of water from a hose.

  9. Mark Butler on August 2, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    I think the idea that there will be no more temporal succession, that one can exist in any coherent sense as a personal, loving being in a state without any sense of time or space, is essentially inconceivable, and one of the major problems with the God of the Greek Philosophers that was partially reflected in the Apostasy. The Greek Christians understood that it wasn’t a good match, and they were the first to result to a God of mystery, one completely beyond comprehension.

    Power or potential, for example, is that property of something to be or to influence something else to be other than what it is. However if God is perfectly absolute and unchanging, then he cannot have any potential or power to do anything. Statues do not do things. They are im-potent. No power. Cannot be anything other than what they are, nor can they be affected in any degree by the world around them. In other words, even if (paradoxically) a statue could show love, a statue could not feel love, could not be dynamic, or respond to our petitions.

    How could we be attracted to a statue unless the statue exerted some force upon us? Force is a capacity to exercise power. How can a statue care whether we draw near unto it or whether we wander in strange roads? After all either way, it is unaffected. It can have no change of feeling, it cannot rejoice in our successes, nor sorrow in our failures.

    The idea of absolute divine atemporality is the practical equivalent of no divinity at all. We would have as much reason to worship an atemporal god as the law of gravity or the facts of mathematics. 2 + 2 = 4, I bow down before thee in humble adoration? I think not.

  10. AmyB on August 2, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    I read a fascinating book called “A Sideways Look at Time” by Jay Griffiths. She chroncles how various cultures view and have viewed time. Keeping a standardized time all around the world is a fairly recent invention in human history. Seasons come and go, the earth continues to revolve around the sun, bodies age- those are part of our temporal experience. But people’s interpretations and experience of time varies widely. Learning about that has changed my perspective on time.

    I think the idea of “not enough time” is a very recent invention. I think there’s something to be said for the wisdom of being in the moment and valuing the here and now.

    I agree with Seth R. that there are more dimensions and possibilities than we can comprehend in our current state of evolution. Our understanding of the universe has changed and grown and will continue to do so. I am entirely open to the possibility of eternity being something outside time, or at least nonlinear. Just like 2+2 only equals 4 when one is playing by a certain set of rules, so might we be limited to understanding one set of rules when there are many more. I cannot currently comprehend what that experience would be like, but I don’t deny that it is possible.

  11. Mark Butler on August 2, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Generally speaking I understand the scripture “time will be no longer” as the world and the times and seasons as we know them will be no longer:

    For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
    ..
    And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.

    There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
    (Isaiah 65:17-20)

    Notice also that the joint reading of D&C 84:100 and D&C 88:110 implies that “time” shall be “no longer” for the space of one thousand years:

    The Lord hath redeemed his people;
    And Satan is bound and time is no longer.
    The Lord hath gathered all things in one.
    The Lord hath brought down Zion from above.
    The Lord hath brought up Zion from beneath.
    (D&C 84:100)

    And so on, until the seventh angel shall sound his trump; and he shall stand forth upon the land and upon the sea, and swear in the name of him who sitteth upon the throne, that there shall be time no longer; and Satan shall be bound, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and shall not be loosed for the space of a thousand years
    (D&C 88:110).

    So whatever “time” is being referred to here, it does not appear to be temporal succession, but rather something perhaps more akin to death and decay. The Millennial era is supposed to be a time when the Lord’s spirit is poured upon all flesh, and the spirit quickeneth all (good) things, such as our healing processes.

    Presumably the spirit does not accelerate the thermodynamic death. So perhaps the good will be quickened while the natural tendencies remain the same, thus time (in the bad sense – decay) will effectively be no longer, with an exception towards the end of the Millennium when the world falls into serious sin once again.

    Another idea is the “lust, sin, death” correlation in James 1:17. Perhaps from a scriptural perspective “time” is equivalent to inevitable death, thus the end of sin implies the end of “time”, because without sin there would be no death, at least no spiritual death.

  12. plecostomus on August 2, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    Because I can\’t comprehend an alternative to sequential events in time, I\’ve sort of settled on the idea that things will still work that way, but it won\’t matter in quite the same way because there won\’t be entropy and there won\’t be an end to consider, either for the individual or for the world. That there will still be a past and a future, but there won\’t be any reason to actually measure time.

    It\’s at least possible for me to think of a higher being who can \”see\” all of time at once, even if I can\’t imagine how that might work. But as for actually transcending time or being somehow outside it, I don\’t even know how to approach those ideas. I\’m pretty sure it\’s nothing like time travel stories–those always strike me as pretty silly, even when they are fun to read.

    These things would be fun to think about if could actually think about them. Similar to the ideas of time and space going on forever or not going on forever–either alternative seems like nonsense to my finite mind.

  13. Mark Butler on August 2, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    By the way, a really good question is how does the spirit quicken good things without quickening bad things? Some bad things (diseases for example) the Lord seems quite capable of quickening if it suits his purposes.

    Another paradox is how will we be “quickened” in resurrection, if that leads to a state where “time” is no longer? In other words which clock is being modified? Our clock or the world’s clock? If our clock was quickened we might imagine something like those sci-fi episodes where one person experiences time far faster than others. But that would be time no longer for them, not for us. For us, we would have more “time” than ever, a veritable fountain of eternal youth.

    On the other hand if the world’s clock was quickened, we would be relatively slow, sort of like an old person who isn’t quite capable of keeping up with the buzz going on around him. This seems less likely than the former scenario.

    As Jesus said:

    That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

    The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
    (John 3:6-8)

    That sounds like quickening, not senesence to me.

    [My apologies for the double post. I will shut up for while now]

  14. Jim F. on August 2, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    Seth R. and Amy B: There are more dimensions and possibilities than we can comprehend in our current state of evolution

    Based on what evidence, empirical or logical or spiritual, can you make this claim about what we do not know? Isn’t this a bit like saying “I know the invisible person has red hair”? How do we make truth claims about what we cannot comprehend?

  15. MDS on August 3, 2006 at 12:51 am

    Gosh, Jim, are you like an epistemologist or something?

  16. AmyB on August 3, 2006 at 7:28 am

    Jim F.

    I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that past history up to this point shows that we keep making new discoveries about the universe, the nature of reality, etc. We continue to evolve in our knowledge, understanding, and way of being. So I’m assuming that will continue to happen rather than come to a standstill. Rooted in my own understanding of eternal progression, I think there is always something beyond what we know now.

    I didn’t make any specific truth claims, only that I don’t limit the possibilities to what I can currently understand.

  17. Seth R. on August 3, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Jim,

    I don’t see that anything in my comment or the discussion that was invited by the original post requires that I prove anything I said. String theory is a pretty iffy field. But it seemed OK to me since I thought we were all pretty-much B.S.-ing here anyway. Right?

  18. Clark on August 4, 2006 at 1:11 am

    Time forces us to see our finitude. That is it forces us (eventually – when young we can ignore it to our peril) to make decisions and revaluations. We decide what to sacrifice and what to enjoy. We quickly realize that with only a few decades of practical time to do that we can’t do it all and have to plan accordingly. I suspect that this, moreso than anything else, is what is key to our experience of mortality.

    To Jim, you said, “how do we make truth claims about what we cannot comprehend?” I can’t help myself. We turn to mathematics. (LOL) Seriously though I don’t think any physicist would say they comprehend quantum mechanics. (At least not when they are being honest) But we regularly make claims even if they defy our ability to comprehend. I think just how unfathomable the universe is was much more prominent decades ago. We’ve become used to it and in a way numb to just how unlike our regular world the underlying reality it. As Feynman said, don’t try to understand it. It’s an abyss no one escapes from.

  19. Jack on August 4, 2006 at 1:28 am

    Clark,

    re your first paragraph–‘sound’s like your talking about mortality rather than time. Yes time becomes crucial when we’re faced with certain death, but if there were no death or decay then time would march to a different tune.

  20. Jack on August 4, 2006 at 1:48 am

    Jim,

    re comment #14–

    Eye hath not seen; ear hath not heard; nor has yet entered into the heart of man…etc.

    According to Paul it seems that there are more “possibilities.” Now whether or not those possibilities include more “dimensions” I cannot say.

  21. manaen on August 4, 2006 at 2:16 am

    I mentioned this a time ago, but it’s re-relevant here because time gets muddied:

    If Christ suffered for each of our sins, pains, illnesses, and sorrows individually when He worked out the atonement, do I lessen the pain He (would have) felt then when I refrain now from a sin I would have committed? If so, His statement that if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments assumes a personal meaning: “I will suffer the penalty of your sins for you because I love you, but if you love me, you won’t create the penalty for me to suffer for you.” Likewise, do we lessen His atoning pains when we lessen someone else’s despair or sorrow for which He (would have) suffered? “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me / Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” indeed!

    In a time-less eternal perspective in which all things — past, present, and future — are co-existent, our sins and refrainings from sin would have a co-incident effect on His price to atone for us.

  22. Mark Butler on August 4, 2006 at 11:03 am

    Manean,

    I think you might be interested in the following thread, especially the last 50 comments or so:

    Ostler’s “Compassion Theory of Atonement�
    New Cool Thang, April 12, 2006
    http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2006/04/ostlers-atonement-theory/232/

    The issue under discussion is the termporal and causal aspects of the atonement. My position is that the Lord does not suffer when we repent, but that he suffers according to the immediate natural consequences of sin and infirmity, in his effort to sustain us spiritually so that we do not suffer (spiritual) death. The judicial-legal justice / mercy regime is a system that is legitimated because of his suffering, but not the cause thereof, the purpose of course to turn us away from our sins, so that we may be worthy of an eternal inheritance. God is not a debtor to a law higher than he is. His obligations are to his children, taken upon himself of his own accord, and not imposed by an outside agency.

  23. manaen on August 4, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    22
    Thx, Mark.
    Nearly 300 comments — and I thought I’d get some work done today!

  24. Susan M on August 5, 2006 at 10:16 am

    I’ve always figured we’d be catching up with friends we already had from the pre-existence more than we would be making new ones.

  25. Mark Butler on August 5, 2006 at 10:22 am

    As soon as I had a spare moment, I thought I would go to the library in heaven, and check out my journal and a couple of other pre-mortal history books.

  26. DKL on August 5, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Jim, Re #14: That’s exactly the question that I was going to ask. You’re a brilliant fellow, you know that?