Had a weird dream the other day. It's weird, so bear with me. In this dream there were other people going about their lives as normal, but I could sense something disturbing. They weren't conscious - they acted normal, but no one was home so to speak. Despite their ability to converse normally, I could tell that they were looking at me as though they were looking into their past. Others seemed to not have arrived in the present, as if this moment was their future, despite all of us very much interacting in the same moment. In the dream I just knew these things the way you just take things for granted in a dream. I just knew that what I experienced as the present was the past for others, and despite their very normal and lively interactions with me I felt as though I was watching a movie of that person years after it had first run. It was as if their consciousness - the part of them that was aware of the self and of the present - was years off ahead of me in my own future, never for our presents to overlap. It was creepy. It made me feel very alone despite being in a crowd.
Now, I'm not one for woo nonsense, crystal powers, or the kind of person who gets excited about gluten free bottled water, but the metaphysical questions this dream aroused got me thinking; a dangerous pastime in the middle of the night, to be certain.
When I awoke I thought some about the nature of time and consciousness. As I lay there in my bed I realized that I couldn't think of a reason why every conscious being on the planet should absolutely experience the present simultaneously. What if, as many physicists believe, time is not a river flowing from the past to the future carrying us all along at the same moment with the future unwritten, but rather all times exist simultaneously and it is us that experiences it moment by moment? This has been referred to as "block time" and these theories describe time as a complete dimension. I'm not exactly well versed in the quantum mathematics underpinning theories of time within the professional scientific circles, however to my knowledge no physicist has ever questioned whether that means we all experience the present together or not. If not, this has some disturbing and strange ramifications. How do we know that what I call the present is what you call the present? Maybe in your present you are 75 years old and in mine you are 25?! I experience you as a young man and you experience me as an old man in a future that I do not even yet know - despite us both being born in the same year! I am beginning to think that theories of time may be lacking an important element, namely how consciousness interacts with it. After all, consciousness does seem inherently tied to the passage of time, much more than it is connected to the physical dimensions.
This is all very weird and metaphysical of course. But let's just imagine for a moment that most of us are somewhere else in time consciously experiencing a different "now". How would we know it? We could be off by mere moments, or we could be off by decades, yet our experience of life would go on as it always has. We wouldn't experience a conversation with someone as any less real even if they weren't conscious of the moment at the same time as us. They would at some point experience it and it would be very real to them, but maybe we wouldn't be in there when they did, even though they were talking to us and we seemed entirely present!
Because the separation between us is such that none of us can ever truly experience the experiences of someone else, how do we know that we all share the present at all? Maybe the difference is down to fractions of a nanosecond, but even this seemingly insignificant discrepancy opens the door to wider intervals between our experience of the present. What would that mean for the connections we make with others in our lives? My dream (or was it a nightmare) couldn't be so easily explained away as just the musings of my unconscious. Is this possible? If so, what would that mean for theories of consciousness, let alone theories of time? Are we all reading the same book, but on different chapters? How could an experiment be derived to prove whether our conscious awareness of the present exists simultaneously, or whether we are scattered throughout different points? It seems to me that this idea is no more falsifiable than the idea that we do in fact experience time simultaneously - that is to say neither are falsifiable at all! My brain hurts.
Someone call Steve Moffat and Russell T. Davies. I've got a script.