You Can’t Change The Past…Says Who?

Everything you experience is in the past.  In fact, the nature of reality dictates that everything you will ever experience, everything you can experience will have already happened by the time you experience it.

Confused?  Allow me to explain.

Light travels fast, as you may already know.  Really fast.  Mind bogglingly fast.  299,792,458 metres per second to be precise.  Or in more relative terms, roughly 300,000 kilometers per second.  That’s pretty much the ultimate speed limit of the universe.  According to Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, nothing can travel faster than light, but if you could, which you can’t, but if you could, you’d be able to plant yourself at any point along the space-time continuum.  That is to say that you could travel to any place or time that you choose, with certain caveats, the most relevant being that you can’t.

Still confused?  I’ll continue then.

When you look to the stars at night, those twinkling little dots of light in the sky, what you are seeing is the light emanated by distant suns.  Some with planets around them, others without.  That light that you see is confined by the same speed limit as the light our own sun emits.  That means that a distant star, one perhaps several thousand light-years away, isn’t exactly as it appears in the sky.

When the light leaves its parent star, it’s travelling at 300,000 kilometers per second, but there are many millions, or even billions of miles between stars. For example, the nearest star to our solar system (besides our sun) is called Proxima Centauri and it is approximately 4.24 light-years from Earth.  That means that it takes light, the light emitted from the star, approximately 4.2 years to reach Earth, and subsequently…your eye.  That is precisely where the term light-year comes from, it is the standard by which galactic distance is measured, and all because light travels at a constant speed.

So, in case you slept through high school science class, that means that all you can ever see of the stars in the night sky, is their past.  Their distant past in most cases.  In some cases we’re talking about billions of years distant.

You may be thinking that this is all well and good for stars that are thousands, millions or even billions of light-years away, but how does this mean that everything I experience is in the past?

Aha!  This is where it gets interesting.

Like I said above, light speed is constant.  It’s dependable, like a trusted neighbour, or your mom.  It will always travel at 300,000 kilometers per second.  Well, that’s not exactly accurate, but outside of some very specific circumstances it is constant.  That means that the light emitted from the light bulb in your bedroom also travels at that speed.  Now, unless you’re mega-rich and have a mansion the size of a galaxy, that light probably only has a few feet to travel, so in any perceptible way it happens instantaneously.  But our perceptions aren’t really trustworthy.

Even over a distance of a few feet it still takes time for the light to travel from the bulb to the wall, where the wall’s surface, depending on its colour, absorbs all but a very narrow band of the spectrum, and the light is then reflected away from the wall and into your eye.  This is where it impacts the special cone shaped cells that line your retina, and you see it.  This all happens in a very short fraction of a second, depending on the size of the room, but rest assured, it happens constantly, everywhere…in every room with a light bulb that is turned on.

So you see, that elapsed time between the light streaming out of the light bulb, hitting the wall and being reflected into your eye takes time.  It means that the state of the wall, or whatever object you’re looking at, could conceivably be different than it was when the light hit it, than it appeared when that light hit your retina.

Not convinced?  OK, well, there’s more.

The speed limit of light is not the only factor that contributes to the fact that everything you experience is in the past.  After all, that’s only one of our five senses (as though we have only five).  In fact, it’s our senses that really prove this concept to be true.

Let’s stick with light for the time being.  After that light jumps through all the hoops I laid out above, it does indeed strike the back of your eye.  It’s collected by those little cone shaped cells on your retina (there are also rod shaped cells, which do the same thing, in a slightly different way, but this isn’t important to this discussion).  Those little cones do a little magic (not really) as they convert the different wavelengths of light and the varying brightness of that light into a complex series of electrical impulses that travel up the optic nerve, through the back of the eye and into the visual cortex of the brain.  There, those electrical impulses are sorted and correlated with a whole library of memories and the entire jumbled mess is converted into an image.  Not like a jpeg or something.  Well, actually, it’s a little like a digital image, but that’s another story.

Next, your visual cortex serves up a conceptual model of that image to your conscious mind, which you experience as visual information that has been encoded with spatial information and made relevant to your world view through a comparison to memories, dreams and previously learned information.  It’s a complicated process, though somewhat elegant if you think about it, and it happens constantly.  Even when your eyes are closed and you’re asleep.

I know, I know…I still haven’t explained how this means everything you experience is in the past.

OK, here it is.  That process, like the speed of light itself, happens almost instantly…almost.  It does take a certain amount of time for those little electrical impulses to travel up the optic nerve, or the auditory nerve, or the olfactory nerve, or…well you get my point.  It also takes a small amount of time for the synapses in your visual cortex, or your olfactory bulb, to collate and cross reference the information against your previous experience, and then finally it takes a further fraction of a second for that information to be served up to your consciousness as a perceptual sense.  The point is…it all takes time.  Not much time, but as with the consequence of the speed of light, the information being received by your eye is technically out-of-date by the time it reaches your consciousness.

The world at large is constantly changing, from nano-second to nano-second and our perception of this world is, in fact, nothing more than a conceptual model served up to our consciousness by the hardware of our nervous system.  Just as you can never technically consider yourself truly in the moment, this fact also proves that your senses are really only giving you a general approximation of your external reality.  You aren’t ever actually experiencing the real thing…and what you experience is always filtered and coloured by your previous experience and knowledge.

When you consider the elegant but convoluted means by which your optic system feeds you information, consider also the many ways that this system can break down.  Most of those ways will result in blindness, or partial blindness, but some will just skew the information your brain is being fed.  Which will in turn skew your perception of reality.

All in all, this has been a somewhat wordy way to illustrate that your senses can’t be trusted.  This applies to the paranormal world in a very specific way, and I know you got the point.  Try to remember it.

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