The Changing Nature of Time

Reframing time as experience opens up new pathways toward understanding the crisis. We ride upon the crest of the wave of the past, always finding ourselves at the boundary of what is. Today, humanity struggles under the weight of our own creations. Our technological and cultural ascendency is outpacing the evolution of our legal and economic institutions, slowing progress and stifling creativity. This misalignment creates a tension that hinders our individual and collective capacity to become more. We organized society with laws and theories designed for moments of linear change when information streams were slow in progress and frequency. Now exponential growth is increasingly commonplace, and each of us is exposed to more information and more frequent change within the same daily rhythm cycles. Our perceiving this rapid acceleration of information is changing the nature of time for individual and collective humanity alike. 

The changing nature of time is both easy and difficult to perceive. Easy because our technological creations have been freeing us from work for decades and many benefit from collective technological advancement. We can do more individually and collectively than previously possible. 

Difficult because the legal frameworks governing our relationships with others and the distribution of advantage are rooted in a time experience of intentional and open discrimination of many for the benefit of the few. Until relatively recently, the human experience of time was considerably slower. Life was repetitive, consistent, and relatively cyclical for the vast majority whose focus and energy remained confined to labor for basic sustenance. Exponential technological progress was still occurring, but the length of moments between major leaps was large enough to leave the trend unnoticed. 

The speed of change has been increasing all our lives, yet we continue to teach and practice methods of thinking and being that frame the world as it was instead of how it is. Systems that reinforce self-limitation hinder the individual from embracing the changing nature of time. The core human experience we all share is being an observer within an informational universe. All things within the universe are information. Each takes on a variety of forms and degrees that influence how we as individuals perceive it. We are a specific degree of conscious awareness, processing this information the best we can, given our limitations within the moment. Today we inhabit a universe where the speed of information is instant and our ability to leverage it is equally as quick. We are connected globally through our various devices and have built a foundation of collective consciousness that now seeks to release itself upon the world. This rapid explosion of progress in nearly all directions is as much an evolution of our creations as it is of ourselves. 

Anatomically modern humans have been around for over two hundred thousand years.17 Throughout our history, our ideas of reality have altered dramatically. Because of our creations and circumstances beyond our control, change changes the way we perceive our time experience. Where we find ourselves within the moment shapes our reality, perspective, and values. Imagine if we could communicate with a nomadic human ancestor twenty-five thousand years ago. If we asked them what they desired, what might they have answered? A dry cave to rest in? A warm fire, great hunts, and a bountiful harvest? Back then, agriculture wasn’t commonplace, and the lack of surplus and storage kept needs and wants limited. Individuals born today might access thousands of possible directions. Whereas the individual twenty-five thousand years ago was locked into a fairly consistent lifestyle prioritizing survival, now it is possible to be more. Each direction we choose develops our specialization and imagination in new directions. 

Communication technologies allow us to further explore the rapid expansion of the informational universes we inhabit. Text, email, video calls, and various social media platforms connect our population at instant speeds. It’s easy to forget that as recently as twenty years ago, the information we could access from others traveled significantly slower and was limited in content and context. Today, a three-minute video is approximately ten thousand times larger than the same information expressed through a text document. The farther we look back into our history, the more isolated and inaccessible knowledge becomes. Recent pandemics and the changing nature of work have forced us to be online more frequently. As a result, we are creating new information and spreading it throughout the universe daily. It’s estimated that we’ll produce ninety-seven zettabytes* of data in 2022, more than eighty times the number of observable stars in our universe.18 If these forecasts are accurate, they suggest an exponential growth in information creation. This rapid expansion of information is part of who we are at this moment, shaping our beliefs and behaviors incrementally over time. 

There are many positive aspects of this transformation. We’re learning faster; creativity is booming; we communicate further and deeper and build relationships with others who would otherwise be out of reach. This expansion of communication and connection coincides with the spread of empathy proliferating throughout the universe. It drives our species closer together toward our inevitable unification but lacks the map we have yet to produce. It enables technological advancements that would seem godlike to ancient humanity, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of the most powerful system we’ll ever create—artificial intelligence. We can now do things in minutes that used to take days, weeks that used to take years, and years that would have taken generations. Humanity’s rapid progress is altering the time experience of being all around us, giving individuals access to more expansive and complex moments than ever before. A self-perpetuating cycle of discovery and creation, knowledge evolving and recreating itself despite the persistent resistance of what is. 

So what happens when the time experience we occupy changes at a speed that exceeds our present abilities to adapt? The short answer is: we suffer. Mental health is a growing problem worldwide, with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among our youth increasing rapidly.19 Is it any surprise when they are persistently exposed to behavior-manipulating algorithms designed to draw focus to their insecurities? Our youth’s errors in judgment and moments of intense emotion and conflict are instantly spread far and wide and archived forever. The illusion of popularity and its relevance to our value is reinforced ad nauseam. More than any other group, youth worldwide exist within a time experience dominated by information streams intended to manipulate. The virtual town squares facilitated by present-day social media companies exist within rigid models of profiteering that view the individual as a variable to be manipulated rather than a whole being. Although our youth suffer the most injustice, they are not the only ones grappling with our circumstances. Those holding the reins of power have managed the changing nature of time so poorly that many are left without access and agency. For so long, our systems have shaped the individual to fit a mold that will never satisfy them. The result is confusion. We observe how information streams can reshape and reinforce value structures, even when these beliefs cause harm to their believers. Alongside the intentional disinformation, the changing nature of time also contributes to the spread of confusion and frustration within population groups. The exponential expansion of information isn’t to blame; the organizations transmitting the information are. It doesn’t have to be like this, but it is. So, we must recognize it for what it is within our journey toward self-actualization in the age of crisis.

Technology acts as a conduit for information expansion, empowering progress in nearly every direction. Earlier, we spoke of Kurzweil’s singularity, the merging of humans and their creations. In many ways, this is already happening. Our mobile devices are a part of us. They support various aspects of our lives and significantly extend our individual minds' capacity, allowing us to do more in less time, in many ways expanding the moments available to us within a given cycle. In this, the changing nature of time is tangible to the individual, who can maximize their creative powers through their direction of focus and energy. This expansion of consciousness will continue to increase in its power and reach, and we will only ever access it in the now. Our perception of time is not something that will change; it has been changing and will continue to. 

Throughout the text, we will explore philosophies and practices to apply the knowledge of the changing nature of time to our individual and collective lives. Central to this examination is the rejection of static ideologies of organization and being. The idea that any one thing or circumstance might be beyond transformation is false. Nothing is spared from the changing nature of time, for better or worse. The same may be said about logic that cites past failures as a reason to avoid present experimentation. All human progress begins with reimagining the possible, even if it means questioning our most closely held knowledge. Recently, scientists discovered a form of matter labeled time crystals that defy our present understanding of physics. Time crystals are a quantum system of particles that exist in a repetitive motion. Unlike standard crystals where the atoms are arranged periodically in space, the atoms in a time crystal are arranged periodically in both space and time. Previously it was understood that any change within nature always resulted in the spreading out of energy, typically transferred from one system to another. Where time crystals differ is their ability to change form without using energy.20 Imagine a snowflake that can switch from one unique configuration to another and then back again. Time crystals can cycle between configurations without losing or using energy; they exist beyond entropy. Although the discovery is still a long way from practical application, it could be the catalyst for a rapid acceleration of the power and use cases of quantum computing. A technology that once widespread will radically reshape the human time experience.

Consider also what we know to be true about the measurement of passing moments we label as time. The most advanced clocks we can presently construct are made up of large numbers of atoms lined up in one-dimensional optical lattices.21 We have built an atomic clock measuring the radiation emissions of strontium isotopes that is so precise in its measurement that out of every ten quintillion** ticks, only 3.5 would be out of sync. We now also understand that the maximum accuracy of a clock is directly related to how much disorder, or entropy, it creates every time it ticks. This happens because the more precise the instrument is at the atomic level, the more heat it generates by jostling the surrounding particles. Thus, the very act of measuring creates disorder within the universe.22 

While the disruptions we cause are minimal, our ability to cause them deserves our attention. We must become more aware of how our observation of a phenomenon can alter the direction of our universe, similar to the famous double slit experiment that illuminates particle duality, where electrons exist as both matter and wave and change states when the individual attempts to measure them. Science continues to compile data that hints at our universe’s hyper-malleability in various directions. It is an interconnectedness imagined in past philosophies of meaning, a vision of being that now takes on new form and credence given our ability to replicate results in real time. The passing of moments has long been considered a separate phenomenon from the observing individual, yet we continue to discover information suggesting this is inaccurate. The changing nature of time extends beyond the speed of change as we experience it and into our relationship with the moment. We are scratching the surface of how thoughts, actions, observations, and creations ripple throughout the universe, highlighting that the changing nature of time is a trend growing in parallel with the changing nature of humanity.

Time is changing in parallel with information, expanding exponentially whether we choose to recognize it or not. Self-actualization in the age of crisis is a transcendent experience for individuals and the collective alike in that it reshapes our perception of the time experience. We reject the limitations of past understandings and their grasp on our imagination of the possible. We embrace the time experience as an immediate present, knowing that humanity crafts both future and past within the present. Armed with this knowledge, we seek to organize ourselves around it. The combination of individual and system into the larger self unlocks new aspects of our humanity and personal time experience. As we’ll explore, the systems we are surrounded by reinforce a time experience that resists the transformation of the individual and collective. We address this through our journey of systemic actualization. The changing nature of time calls on us to exert our most radical power as human beings, our ability to choose to be more than our circumstances allow.

* One zettabyte equals 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.
** One Quintillion: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
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