Time is the elusive nature of the world, the thing that makes it possible for something to both be and not be. The tree bears fruit, and it is dead. The ground is covered in snow, and it is covered in shimmering grass. Both can be true, but time decides which is true at the moment. What is a moment? The elusive nature of the world.
Any higher species must attain a numbness to time. Unlike humans, who are affected by minutes and seconds, a great consciousness would measure time in years and decades. Even then, they would be so small. Time, in order to get anywhere, must be measured in centuries. But this is only human time we’re talking about. In cosmic time, a million years is something to scoff at. It takes nearly fourteen billion years from the Big Bang to get to the realm of the written word. Any being that is truly interested in understanding this unfolding picture must be able to look at it from a great distance. We are fruit flies who die within it, with under a century to our name. If the world was to be viewed from the perspective of a great consciousness, then truly something like a day would be completely meaningless. A year would be the smallest unit of measuring change. Even then, it is small. A month? Don’t humor me.
But time has realized this, and it is now racing to meet us. Where it once took a billion years for a single multicellular organism to form, it has only taken a hundred thousand for thinking apes to appear and to dramatically change the appearance of the planet. Of course, in something like a few hundred years, we will know the full extent of human activity on the climate. But that’s the thing – a few hundred. This is a universe that once only dealt out major change by the billions of years, and any real evolutionary change takes roughly a million years to occur.
The theory of evolution has only existed for the past 155 years, and the discovery of DNA was even more recent. The entire universe was lifeless for over ten billion years, and now it’s taken under 200 years for apes to both formulate the theory of evolution and uncover its genetic underpinnings. From the industrial revolution to the information age, humankind has made a world that has never before existed. We are just beginning to discover who we are, but if each stage of cosmic evolution really occurs faster than the last, then the third act of the cosmic drama may soon be closing. The first was the universe without life, the second was life without thought, and now we are living in the third and most interesting act, the era where thought has sprung forth from life. This is the third act. What, possibly, could be the forth?
Time is racing to meet us. If the massive discoveries of the past two hundred years can happen again in the next twenty, if the exponential rate at which the universe produces new forms continues to accelerate, then we very well may reach act four of history in our lifetimes. This would mean the emergence of some fundamentally different mode of existence, like life and like conscious thought.
Time is alchemy, and it transmutes creation from one thing into another. It transmutes a vacuum of dust and particles into a world of oceans and sky, to be gazed upon by apes who feel the need to reflect on it all. It’s the same universe, but looking at it from its inception to the modern day – it really isn’t the same at all. Not even close. Time transforms reality into something that, years prior, would have been considered a fantasy. This is true whether it’s ten years or ten billion. So what awaits us in the future? In another thirteen billion years? Well, if anyone asked this shortly after the Big Bang, only a blithering fool would say: “There will be living, breathing matter that can think and write and also kill itself.” But that blithering fool would be absolutely right. Everybody else, who reasonably predicted ‘dust and a whole lot of nothing’, would have been dead wrong.
Reality builds on itself, layer by layer, like the ultimate masterpiece. Where will it build next? We know the materials at its disposal, and there are more than ever: atoms and chemical bonds, blood and brain, and the more elusive realm of thought, memory, and self-awareness. Where could all of this possibly lead? The wonder of possibility absolutely permeates our universe. It has given us thinking apes, and as apes, we can use our thought to probe possibilities, and to imagine (wrongly) what is next.