The Coming Significance of Time

Soon, all our disciplines will be forced to grapple with time and change much more deeply than they yet have. In part, this is because advances in genetic engineering are setting up biology to become the science of the 21st century, and recent complexity sciences point out how vastly more common non-linear and highly unpredictable patterns are than linear and predictable ones, especially in biological systems. Physics was the science of the 20th century, and whereas space, math, and physical laws (as well as mystical Awareness in many traditions) all tend to be defined as unchanging, time is essentially equivalent to change. Time is the “ecological” dimension of the universe. With this intellectual transformation will come a ground-shaking reckoning with fundamental uncertainty since, even in a completely deterministic universe as shown by Wolfram, time necessitates it. What happened to math after Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorem will soon happen to our whole scientific worldview. Not surprisingly, since at the same moment our ecological crises are pushing people to more deeply appreciate “natural” systems and reintegration with nature, associated with contemporary cultures are aesthetics of transformation, emergence, and uncertainty - functions of time. These trends will lead either change replacing stasis as our intellectual paradigm and background assumption, through Whiteheadian or other process philosophies, or at the very least they will force much deeper syntheses of stasis and change. These syntheses will be difficult to develop but very rewarding. Physics will offers it’s contribution through the currently unsettled question of whether time is a fundamental physical aspect of the universe. To me, it seems obvious that it must be, for how could something that doesn’t change give rise to change and how could change ever totally stop? Moreover, as an early product of the culture and aesthetic of time, I’m deeply sympathetic to “life” being fundamental and ubiquitous, in some sense, and suspect that this requires time to be fundamental as well.