What is the passing of time like? It can feel like events are sweeping over us or we are ploughing through these events. At times we feel like we are a steady island looking at the changing world.
In the section on “Qualities” above we saw that each event in our Experience is connected to different places and times in that Experience. Our present evokes our past and it is the past, especially the immediate past, that is that constant island in Experience.
We are all of the events that have happened to us until the present moment and as new events occur they dig into this past being and expose the connections that they meet and link them as part of current Experience. We are not in a constant present with events unfolding but instead we have a constant past at any moment that is expanded by present events.
If time exists as a direction for arranging events then even random or unpredictable events are already written on our timeline. If we say “hi there Jane” the word “hi” is fixed in time and the word “Jane” is also fixed in time a second later so what moves from the “hi” to the “Jane”? Only our observation point needs to move. In fact only the observation point can move because, being a point, it is not fixed in time.
How are events arranged in our Experience
How can an arrangement be known?
Consider the image below:
Imagine you had cut out the outline of the “d” above and had thrown the cut-out through the air to be carried away in the wind. Anyone picking up the cut-out would have no idea whether they had a “d”, “b”, “p” or “q” in their hands. The “sidedness” of a two dimensional pattern requires three dimensions because we, the observer, have to be separate from the pattern, receiving simultaneous input from right and left, to declare that one part, such as the bulge in this “d”, is on the left or on the right. That the content of our observation has an immediate left and right, a “sidedness” or “handedness”, suggests that our observation consists, at least in part, of a three dimensional geometry. “Dimension” sounds very grand but a dimension is simply an independent direction for arranging things, the three spatial dimensions are up-down, forward-back and left-right. Time is also a dimension with events arranged from the past to the future.
In the world outside our bodies and brains we could easily devise a machine to tell the difference between a “b” and a “d” as examined from a particular place. The “particular place” for the machine is most important because from another place the “b” will look like a “d”. But what happens when the data about the b or d is brought into the model that is Experience?
Whether or not we see a “b” or a “d” depends on our viewing direction. Walk behind a “b” and it becomes a “d”. The direction of view within the three dimensions in our Experience is set by the location of the viewing point.
We always view as if from the point. Our immediate grasp of the “sidedness” of objects requires that our Experience has at least three dimensions and also a viewing point and this confirms the description based on what vision is like. Vision is like viewing from a point.
It is clear that there is a viewing point but nothing flows into the point and nothing is seen flowing into the point. So how can it be a viewing point? How can a separation in space be bridged without any movement, without any flow? A neat example of how to bridge space without movement is to mark two points on a sheet of paper with dots and to bring them into contact by folding the paper. Anything that happens on one dot now happens no distance at all from the other dot. What was separated in two dimensions can be brought into contact by adding another dimension, a “dimension” being an independent direction for arranging things. Like the dots on the folded paper are separated in two dimensions but adjacent in three, the content of a visual image could both be distributed in three dimensional space and also at a point if another dimension, a fourth dimension, exists. Fortunately the world is indeed four dimensional so this “folding” of the visual image onto a four dimensional point is not forbidden by nature (See Appendix A). The reason for this digression on sheets of paper and dots is to show that there are possible physical explanations for the viewing point, not that the explanation given above is the explanation. One day there will be a physical explanation of how we have a viewing point.
A separate viewing point allows a p and d to be different from a b or q but does not allow a p to be different from a d or a b to be different from a q.
The difference between a b and a q depends on the existence of a preferred axis for orienting the letters in visual experience. We often align the up and down of visual Experience using our sense of gravity but it is not obligatory, alignment can occur using any suitable axis such as the axis from our chin to our crown when we lie down.
The special geometry of our Experience, our viewing objects aligned with axes as if viewed from a point, fixes the orientation of objects in our Experience. Separation is needed to produce left and right, however, actually knowing left and right needs time and the existence of time in Experience is discussed in later chapters.
Once we have constructed an object as, say, a “p” it remains identified as “p” even if it is stuck to a board and rotated. Of course, the “p” will become a “d” with rotation but once identified it becomes a rotated “p”. The difference between a “d” and a rotated “p” is of huge interest because they are objectively the same. There is an immediate connection between the form of the “p” and its attributes such as context and previous Experience containing the form, such as the Experience containing its rotation. In the same way as our viewing point has many simultaneous objects present this is also true of each point in the view. The entire “p” object is also connected simultaneously to its attributes, at the viewing point as well as in the “p”. See the section on Qualia above for more on the connectedness of things.
We have come a long way in describing our Experience. Our visual Experience is something in our heads constructed by our brains based on data acquired from our two separate retinas which respond to light focussed into images. The images contain data about the world around us. Our Experience itself is a single image with an immediate sideness and is stuff arranged around a point. This might require four directions for arranging things (dimensions).
Although we label the separation of events from the viewing point as a separation in space it might truly be a separation in time. We should keep an open mind on the possibility that time and space can be substituted for each other or mixed or even replaced by a way of arranging things or a direction for arranging things that we have not yet described.
How do we have arrangements of events now. How can the arrangement of the letters in a word on this page be an arrangement now? At any instant there is no way to compare whether the “h” in “hello” is to the left or the right of the word. Arrangements need time.
We have already seen that Experience contains events extended in time as well as space. "hello" begins now and ends then, it is scanned from left to right, beginning and ending and scanning are things extended in time. That we have evident arrangements in Experience is a feature of Experience being extended in time yet viewed or heard at the observation point now. The arrangement occurs as a succession of angles at our observation point.
Modes of experience correspond to groups of nets that are commonly used together.
The principle modes of Experience are observation, inner speech, dreaming, imagining, sensuality and sensation plus action.
Inner speech is the stream of unvoiced words that occur in the Experience of most people. It has submodes such as relationship planning and anxiety planning.
The relationship (planning) mode is second nature for many people. It can entail the mental rehearsal of social interaction with other people, especially friends and family. This involves a considerable amount of inner speech. Relationship mode can greatly lessen sensations from the world in general while it is happening. Next time you are soundlessly talking to yourself you will notice that you do not easily stop to pay attention to anything. The suppression of sensation by inner speech and imagination is a result of them sharing the same space but using different sets of connections.
Anxiety planning submode is called “worrying”. Worrying creates an addictive cycle in which the worry creates bodily discomfort that then provokes anxious inner speech to lessen the sensation of discomfort. Too much worry is an illness, either created by bodily discomfort or creating a sense of bodily discomfort, especially in the gut.
Dream mode usually happens during sleep but can occur at other times. When we dream our Experience is largely detached from actual sensation. Most people only remember the contents of sleep dreaming that occur just before waking. During a dream the content of Experience is based on internal rather than external events. Dreaming has the submodes of day dreaming, lucid dreaming, hallucinating and sleep dreaming. Dreaming uses all of the nets of “mental” qualities, the qualities that are not directly derived from sensation and action.
Dream mode usually just rolls on unless something in the dream provokes attention. Lucid dreaming involves gentle attention to control the flow. Although there is a spectrum from free running inner speech through day dreams to dreams, inner speech and dreams use fairly separate nets of events and deserve to be recognised as different modes. My dreams seldom use inner speech.
Action mode can be highly absorbing, especially in sport and dance. It is less so when it is expressed as physical labour. Action mode overlaps the sensation mode. The best way to stay in sensation mode is through action. There is no truly pure action or sensation mode because sensation without action is very limited. Many people live much of the time in sensation/action mode. Sensation/action mode uses the nets of qualities that are populated by the senses.
Sensuality mode has submodes of relaxation and emotion. Emotion can be overwhelming, possessing Experience. The brain can signal for the release of drugs such as adrenaline or prolactin to bring purely mental qualities into an equal prominence with sensory qualities and so heavily bias decisions and actions. Calm relaxation allows untroubled mental qualities to dominate (See “Experience and Mind” below for a description of “mental qualities”).
Modes occur as whole packages of events in our Experience. We can switch between modes. The mode switch uses our “attention”. Attention differs from observation mode. Attention isolates a particular event within Experience whereas observation mode contains the whole of Experience.
Observation is our Experience in general. It is listening, looking etc. without any deliberate re-processing of what is seen or felt. The observation mode uses attention to switch between modes and submodes. The switching involves attending to, say, sensation then relaxing this attention.
When we attend to events we submit them to the parts of the brain outside of Experience that analyse them. The analysis largely consists of extracting relations between the events isolated by attention and other events in our memory and may also involve narrowing the focus of attention. We can see from this how attention can trigger a change of mode, for instance attending to a verbal thought in our Experience draws out the relations of this thought so triggering a succession of verbal thoughts.
Observation mode is specifically the state that is not dominated by any particular mode. Observation mode allows us to balance the other modes.
Observation often leads to the sensation mode because it tends to shut down the other modes. Once in sensation mode a return to observation mode can be accomplished by ceasing to attend to sensations. Pure observation mode entails relaxing and not attending to anything.
The selection of modes within Experience is known as “will power”. An act of will is the ability to switch between modes or stay in a particular mode. It is the switching on and off of attention and wielding it within Experience. Attention is a push button style of switch, press once to change mode, press again after several seconds to stop an established mode. Observation mode is the first step to resisting poorly focussed attention.
As an example of mode switching try relaxing with your eyes shut. You may find yourself attending to a fragment of inner speech, this might turn on relationship planning mode. Your attention lapses and the relationship planning mode will just continue. To switch off relationship planning mode you need to attend to it, to listen carefully to the words of inner speech. This briefly interrupts the inner speech and returns you to observation mode. If you immediately attend again to the next unconsciously generated tranche of inner speech you will switch back to relationship planning mode. This shows why a general planning mode, in which inner speech is mixed with imaginings and all of this is checked and re-processed, is difficult to sustain because it involves repeatedly attending to inner speech and imaginings, each new attention being a possible branch point to another mode.
Mindfulness is a technique of disrupting modes by attending to any minor mode so that Observation Mode predominates.
Sensation/action mode is a source of truth, other modes such as dreaming and inner speech are at best entertainment because we create their contents. We do also create the qualities of sensation/action mode but the general form and sequence of the content comes from sensations evoked by real external events.
Next: much more about time in Experience: Time.