During the time we spend in this world, we make comparisons, think about what we did yesterday and accordingly make plans for tomorrow. We think about what happened ten years ago, assuming that time has passed and we have grown older. What gives rise to this belief is simply the comparisons we make between those previous moments and the present one.
If you were watching television before reading this article, you compare the time when you were watching television with the time you are reading, and assume that time has passed between the two events. You refer to when you were watching television as “the past,” imagining there has been a passage of time between the two events. In fact, the time you were watching television is information stored in your memory. You compare “the present,” when you are reading this article, with the information in your memory, and perceive this interval as “time.” The fact is, however, that there is only the present moment in which you are living. When you make no comparison with recollections in your memory, then no concept of time remains.
The well-known physicist John Barbour makes this definition of time:
“Time is nothing but a measure of the changing positions of objects. A pendulum swings, the hands on a clock advance.” (Tim Folger, “From Here to Eternity,” Discover, Vol. 21 No.12, December 2000.)
Time, therefore, consists of a comparison between various perceptions that arise in the brain. A study of people suffering from the memory loss known as anterograde amnesia makes it easier to see that time is nothing more than a human perception. Such people lose all their short-term memory, they are unable to remember what happened before, and are therefore unaware whether there’s been any interval between two events. This is one further proof that time exists solely as a perception.
Since the events occurring in our daily lives are shown to us in a specific sequence, we subdivide time into the past, present and future. But in fact, the idea of a progression from the past to a future is mere conditioning. If we watched the information in our memories in the same way that we watch a film running backwards, then for us the past would be the future, and the future would be the past. This shows that time is not absolute, but forms in line with our perception.
The famous physicist Roger Penrose makes the following comment:
“I think there’s always something paradoxical about the way we seem to perceive time to pass and the way physics describes time. And partly it’s a question of is there a clear temporal order of things in our perceptions, or do we somehow put lots of things together and form pictures of things...” (http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/flowtime.html)
The sequencing we perform in our own minds between events that we recall gives rise to what we refer to as past, present and future. This, however, is a decision we make of our own will. François Jacob, French biologist and Nobel laureate, makes this comparison:
“Films played backward, 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 making it possible for the stone to jump out of water. Yet, in such a world in which time has such opposite features, the processes of our brain and the way our memory compiles information, would similarly be functioning backwards. (François Jacob, Le Jeu des Possibles, University of Washington Press, 1982, p. 111.)
This all goes to show that the concepts of past and future are concerned with how we perceive our memories. The truth is that we have no means of knowing how time passes or does not pass. In the same way that we can never have direct experience of the images we see, so we can never know for sure whether we are exposed to time and, if we are, how it functions, because time is merely a mode of perception.
The fact that time is a perception was confirmed with the general theory of relativity proposed by Albert Einstein. In his book The Universe and Dr. Einstein, Lincoln Barnett writes:
“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 a 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.” (Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein, New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948, pp. 39-40.)
Since time is a perception, it is also a relative concept that depends on the perceiver. The speed at which time passes varies according to the reference we use to measure it. There is no natural clock in the human body to confirm the passage of time with absolute accuracy. As Lincoln Barnett has stated, “Just as there is no such thing as colour without an eye to discern it, so an instant or an hour or a day is nothing without an event to mark it.” (Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein, New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948, p. 40.)
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the speed of time changes according to the velocity of a body and its distance from the center of gravity. As velocity rises, time contracts and is compressed, in such a way as to run slower and eventually approach the point of stopping altogether.
The passage of time is merely a sensation created for us. Since we perceive it in this way, we think that what we do takes place within a temporal process. The fact is that we always live in the present “moment.” The concept of passing time is illusory.
Mathematical physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford has won countless awards for his work on perception. He gave this reply to a question by the host on a radio program:
Physicist: We have this subjective feeling, that time goes by. But physicists would argue this is just an illusion.
Roger Penrose: Yes. I think physicists would agree that the feeling of time passing is simply an illusion, something that is not real. It has something to do with our perceptions. (http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/flowtime.html)
The way that such a seemingly objective factor operates as a perception in our minds and how all times exist within one single time are without doubt beyond our comprehension. We can only understand as much as Allah reveals to us. We can only know as much as He shows us. No doubt that it is an easy matter for Allah to create time as a perception and to give rise to past, present and future within a concept which actually does not exist. That is because Allah is beyond time. He creates time, but is not subject to it. All events we perceive as past or future already exist in the memory of Allah. They are all created in a single moment. Therefore, all events belonging to the future have in fact been created at the same moment, and exist now. But since we are subject to time, we are as yet unable to see them.
Allah sees and knows every circumstance of every entity. It is He Who creates them all. Every meter a person travels, the images he encounters and the time to which he is subject are all known to and controlled by Allah. In one verse, He informs us that:
“You do not engage in any matter or recite any of the Qur’an or do any action without Our witnessing you while you are occupied with it. Not even the smallest speck eludes your Lord, either on Earth or in heaven. Nor is there anything smaller than that, or larger, which is not in a Clear Book.” (Surah Yunus, 61)