by Dr. David Sanders
It’s about time. (For the first time, in a long time, I am teaching the course on the Kabbalah of Time. When I revisit a course, I want to update it).
The last time I taught Time, Stephen Hawking was alive and his Brief History of Time was the classic in the field. Now, five years later, a new book, The Origin of Time presents an updated understanding worked out between Hawking and his collaborator Thomas Hertog.
In my effort to understand Time, I turn to Brian Greene, the astrophysicist who has an uncanny way of taking complex ideas and explaining them simply and was intrigued by the title of a video “Brian Greene Explains Time in 5 Levels of Difficulty.” The description of this 30 minute instructional video reveals its conceit: “Greene is challenged to explain the nature of time to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert.”
The first “student” is Kayla and Greene asks her how old she is. She replies I am 9 years old. “So if you are nine years old, what does that mean about the earth? How many times has the earth gone around the sun?” Kayla answers; “Nine times.” Green’s questions are pedagogic. He wants to explain to Kayla, and all who watch, that there is a relationship between motion through space (the earth orbiting the sun) and the passage of time. The thread that runs through all five discussions is Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity (the space time continuum) and how motion through space has the effect of slowing down time.
What caught my attention was what Green asks Kayla to demonstrate next. He asks her to get out of her chair and walk about the room and then to come back and to sit still. He wants Kayla (and us) to experience what he calls “the freedom to move in space” distinguishing it from our inability to hold time still, to “not go to the next second.” Time “moves forward” and sweep us along whether we move or sit still. He does not point out to Kayla another distinction between space and time. In her walking around she moves forward (out of her seat) and then back to her seat. Does this not demonstrate that we can move back and forth in space but we can only move forward in time?
In Kabbalah and other spiritual paths the inquiry about Time is focused on how we access the present moment. Greene, his students and colleagues are interested in the past and the future. Watching Greene’s interaction with Kayla got me wondering about “traveling” back in time. In space, our freedom of movement allows us to retrace our steps and arrive back in the same location we started. Can we retrace our steps back in time?
We do it all the time. We tap into memory. Memory not only has us go back in time, it brings the past into our present. I can look out from my mind’s eye sitting and cheering in Madison Square Garden and be back there, “retracing my steps”. Something stirred in me to see whether Willis Reed, the center for the New York Knicks in the 1960’s, was still alive only to learn that he died last month. I never met Willis Reed but he was a part of my life. I see him now through my youthful eyes. Being aware of our ability for memory time travel is but one aspect of going back to the past. The other which provides spiritual meaning is our ability to revisit our past actions. One might think that that repentance is impossible. But we can change the past by altering our relationship with it. It’s a matter of time.