Time As We Know It

I was watching an Agents of SHIELD episode the other day that struck on an interesting topic: time.

Much of this past half-season has shown the team chasing down information about Inhumans and learning how to help them. Each of the Inhumans they’ve encountered has had a different power, a different gift that made them adaptable, unique, and hard to prepare for. This past week, they met a profit of death named Charles. Through touch, Charles is able to share visions of the near distant future, always involving the death of someone important to whomever he’s touched. Daisy, one of the show’s main characters and an Inhuman herself, accidentally shared a vision with Charles in which he predicted his own death. So of course, she sets about trying to save him by changing what she saw in Charles’ vision.

Time is relative to where you’re currently looking at it, though. To us, it seems to be moving forward, bit by bit, until the “future” of a second, minute, hour ago becomes the present and then eventually the past. We see it this way because our three dimensional minds are incapable of perceiving the 4th dimension (time) as simultaneous. So it only feels like there’s a future to us because of where we’re standing.

But scientifically speaking, our lives are filled with fixed points, things that “will” happen, even if they don’t feel that way. We feel like we’re in the process of making decisions and choices one by one. We feel like we’re forging our own paths. And we feel this way because, while all those fixed points are there in the 4th dimension, we don’t know it. We don’t know that we’ve already picked the road less traveled. We don’t know that we’ve already decided what college to go to or what job to take. To us those decisions were in a future which became a present; we didn’t perceive them as simultaneous.

One of the characters, Agent May, said during the episode:

“Every decision we make changes the future. The real challenge would be changing the past.”

And I think her words quite eloquently capture the truth of how we actually feel about and perceive time.

We perceive the future as a vast possibility because our brains are quite happy to let us delusionally believe that we have control over it, even if it’s just some fantastic manipulation of actual time or a false perception. At the same time though, we are able to perceive the past as unchangeable and fixed. So we have an ability to form regrets, to feel remorse, to feel sure of something rather than just experience the continuous and constant uncertainty of the future.

And I think that that ability to perceive a cause and effect, to see past tense points and to experience fixed emotional reactions, is also what helps us to perpetuate the fallacy of future control. It makes us feel like we have to make up for the past in the future, makes us want to change. And so we continue making decisions, perhaps even making “better” ones in our mind’s eye, all the while we’re just continuing on the same path of time that was already written…and that we just couldn’t see.

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