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"What time is it, what time is it? I really must know. What time is it? I really must go." - The white rabbit in Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland

Today is 29 February - a bonus - an extra day in the year. I am not going to spend this bonus on writing web pages. It is a beautiful day for working in the vegetable garden.

"I don't have time..."

This yogi is very often amused, by subscribers who tell him, "I do not have the time to read all of your messages, so I file them in the hope of reading them later." In a sense, they are 100% correct.

When I paddled my kayak across the arctic, I experienced life without time, or direction. Being an inhabitant of planet earth, I am always, at some level, aware of the passage of the sun, during the day. This awareness of the sun gives one the perception of time and direction. However, in the extreme North, you have the sun overhead or you do not. When it is overhead, it does not seem to move very much. Unless you are carrying some device to compute time (which I did not), time disappears and it is impossible to discern relative direction by the sun's position. You must also realize that a compass is not usable... a compass points toward magnetic North, which is always south, east or west of one's actual position. I enjoyed the situation, because I could only be here and now.

Time is a concept that depends totally on our perceptions and the comparison we make between our perceptions. For example, at this moment you are reading this page. Suppose that, before reading this page, you were eating something in the kitchen. You think that there is a period between the time when you were eating in the kitchen and this moment, and you call it "time". In fact, the moment you were eating in the kitchen is a piece of information in your memory, and you compare this moment with the information in your memory and call it time. If you do not make this comparison, the concept of time disappears and the only moment that exists for you will be the present moment.

We think that a lapse of time has occurred between the moment the telephone rings and when we hear the voice of a friend, and we call this interval "time". Time is a perception that arises from making a comparison between what we experience at one particular moment and the past.

For example, an event is something in a person's memory. By comparing other pieces of information in memory since the event, with the present moment, one forms an idea of time and, according to the information in memory, one determines the length or the shortness of this time. But this sense of length or shortness is completely in one's mind, and comes from this comparison.

In the same way, when someone sees a person bend over to pick up a pen that he had dropped on the floor and put it on the table, he makes a comparison. In the moment when the observer saw the person put the pen on the table, that person's bending over, picking up the pen, walking to the table are pieces of information in the observer's mind. The perception of time arises from the comparison of the person putting the pen on the table with these pieces of information.

Time is nothing but a measure of the changing positions of objects. A pendulum swings, the hands on a clock advance. In short, time is composed of a few pieces of information hidden as a memory in the mind; rather, it arises from the comparison of images. If a person did not have a memory, that person would live only in the present moment; his mind would not be able to make these interpretations and, therefore, he would not have any perception of time. A person's past is composed of information given to memory. If a person's memory is erased, her past is also erased. The future is composed of ideas. Without these ideas, only the "present moment" of experience remains.

The physicist Julian Barbour caused a great stir in the scientific world with his book entitled The End of Time, in which he examined the ideas of timelessness and eternity. He pointed out that the idea that time was a perception was very difficult for many people to accept. I still have trouble accepting it" Barbour says. But then, common sense has never been a reliable guide to understanding the universe - physicists have been confounding our perceptions since Copernicus first suggested that the sun does not revolve around Earth. After all, we don't feel the slightest movement as the spinning Earth hurtles through the void at some 67,000 miles per hour. Our sense of the passage of time, Barbour argues, is just as wrongheaded as the credo of the Flat Earth Society.

As we can see above, this renowned physicist pointed out that any idea we have of time being absolute is false, and that research done in modern physics has confirmed this. Time is not absolute; it is a variously perceived, subjective concept depending on events.

Films played backwards make it possible for us to imagine a world in which time flows backwards. A world in which milk separates itself from the coffee and jumps out of the cup to reach the milk-pan; a world in which light rays are emitted from the walls to be collected in a trap (gravity center) instead of gushing out from a light source; a world in which a stone slopes to the palm of a man by the astonishing cooperation of innumerable drops of water which enable the stone to jump out of water. Yet, in such a world in which time has such opposite features, the processes of our mind and the way our memory compiles information, would similarly be functioning backwards. The same is true for the past and future and the world will appear to us exactly as it currently appears.

Because every event is shown to us in a definite series, we think that time always moves forward. For example, a skier always skies down a mountain, not up it. A drop of water does not rise up from a pool, but always falls down into it. In this situation, a skier's position on a mountain is in the past, while his position down the mountain is the future. However, if the information in our memories were to be displayed in reverse, as we would rewind a film, what is for us the future, that is the downhill position, would be the past and the past, that is the uphill position, would be the future.

Because our mind works by arranging things in a sequence, we do not believe that the world works as described above; we think that time always moves forward. However, this is a decision our mind makes and is therefore totally relative. If the information in our minds were arranged like a film being projected backwards, time would be for us like a film being projected backwards. In this situation, we would start to perceive that the past was the future and the future was the past and we would experience life in a way totally opposite than we do now.

In fact, we cannot know how time moves or, indeed, if it moves at all. This demonstrates that time is not an absolute reality but only a kind of perception.

The fact that time is a perception was proved by Albert Einstein, (who, by the way, studied yogic philosophy under Parmahansa Yogananda) in his "General Theory of Relativity". Along with absolute space, Einstein discarded the concept of absolute time - of a steady, unvarying inexorable universal time flow, streaming from the infinite past to the infinite future. Much of the obscurity that has surrounded the Theory of Relativity stems from man's reluctance to recognize that sense of time, like sense of colour, is a form of perception. Just as space is simply a possible order of material objects, so time is simply a possible order of events. The subjectivity of time is best explained in Einstein's own words. "The experiences of an individual" he says, "appear to us arranged in a series of events; in this series the single events which we remember appear to be ordered according to the criterion of 'earlier' and 'later'. There exists, therefore, for the individual, an I-time, or subjective time. This in itself is not measurable. I can, indeed, associate numbers with the events, in such a way that a greater number is associated with the later event than with an earlier one."

According to the "General Theory of Relativity", time is not absolute; apart from the series of events according to which we measure it, it has no independent existence. Einstein himself pointed out, "Space and time are forms of intuition, which can no more be divorced from consciousness than can our concepts of colour, shape, or size." According to the "General Theory of Relativity", time is not absolute; apart from the series of events according to which we measure it, it has no independent existence.

Our dreams are very important in understanding the relativity of time. In our sleep, we experience events that we believe go on for days but actually, we are having a dream which lasts for only a few minutes or even a few seconds. In order to make this clearer, let us think of a specially designed room with one window and that we spend a certain amount of time in it. In the room, there is a clock, by which we will be able to see the passage of time. Through the window, we can see the sun coming up and going down at regular intervals. After a few days, we are asked how long we have stayed in the room. Our answer will be calculated by information we have received based on looking at the clock from time to time and on how many times the sun rose and set. For example, we calculate that we have spent three days in the room. But, if the person who put us in the room comes and says that we were actually in the room for two days, that the sun we saw in the window was actually artificially produced, and that the clock in the room was fast, then our calculations would make no sense. This example shows that our knowledge about the rate at which time passes depends on references, which change according to the person who is perceiving it.

This is an example of how under different circumstances a person perceives the same amount of time as longer or shorter. Here is another example. For a person who is waiting for his brother to come out of an operation, one hour seems like several. But, if the same person is doing something he really enjoys, he cannot understand how the hour passed so quickly.

Einstein scientifically established the following fact in his "General Theory of Relativity": The rate at which time passes changes according to the speed of a body and its distance from the center of gravity. If the speed increases, time decreases, contracts, moves slower and seems that the point of inertia approaches.

Let us explain this with one of Einstein's thought experiments. Suppose that there are two twin brothers. One of them stays in this world, the other goes on a space journey during which he travels almost at the speed of light. When he returns from space, he will find that his twin brother is much older than he is. The reason for this is that the time passed much more slowly for the brother who went on the space trip. The same example can be thought of in relation to a father who went on a space trip in a rocket traveling at nearly 99 percent of the speed of time and his son, who remained on this earth. According to Einstein, if the father was 27 years old and his son was three, 30 earth-years later when the father returned to earth, the son would be 33 and the father would be 30 years old.

The relativity of time is not something that is relative to the speeding up or slowing down of the clock; it comes from the fact that every material system, to the particles at the subatomic level, works at different rates of speed. In an environment where time was slowed down, a person's heartbeat, rate of cell division and brain activity would happen more slowly. In this situation, a person would go about his daily business unaware that time had slowed down.

Any questions??