We are Wrinkles in Time

You, me, your boss, a houseplant, a BMW – all of these objects are made of the exact same stuff: atoms. The only difference between them is the particular structural arrangement of that stuff – molecules, proteins, etc., which in certain configurations can yield unique emergent behaviors. As physicist Max Tegmark remarks:

People are simply food, rearranged.

~Max Tegmark, Consciousness is a mathematical pattern

But the separation of these objects is an illusion, depending on the scale at which we observe them – keep zooming in, and at the molecular and atomic scales, the boundaries between objects become fuzzy and poorly defined. So if we can’t accurately draw the boundary between two objects, can we really say where your boss ends, and the houseplant begins? It may be a wise career move not to answer that one… Put another way, as the psychonauts (and more recently, scientists) have proclaimed for decades, everything is connected.

If everything is connected, that would mean the objects we observe in our day-to-day lives could be more accurately described as wrinkles in a continuous sheet of matter, rather than fully defined, separate things – but then, what’s the force that’s wrinkling the sheet?

A Thought Experiment: Waves, Water, and Wetness

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

One way to think about this could be to consider the motion of the sea. When we observe the waves of the ocean, we see its crest and trough, but the water itself doesn’t actually create the wave – the wave is an expression of energy moving through the medium of water over time, which causes it to display emergent properties (sound, movement, force, wetness), thanks to its particular structure and arrangement of matter. Now consider, if one were to freeze an ocean wave in time, would it possess any of these fundamental properties we think of as defining an ocean wave?

The answer is no – it would create no sound, have no movement or force, and if you define wetness as the ongoing sensation of water on your skin, when separated from Time, you would perceive none. So while it may look like a wave, it’s not actually a wave!

Likewise, I think people can be considered to be waves of… something, moving through the medium of the matter that makes up our physical bodies, as well as everything else around us.

“The mushroom said to me once, apropos of absolutely nothing, it said: What you call man, we call time.”

~Terence McKenna

But what is that something? My guess is that it’s Time. We are wrinkles in the sheet of physical matter that makes up the Universe, caused by Time moving through it, rippling and warping it, resulting in the emergent behaviors of consciousness, and the creation of subjective meaning.

Just like our ocean wave, if one were to freeze a person in a moment – i.e. to separate them from Time, they wouldn’t possess any of the emergent properties that distinguish a thinking, living person from an inert, human-shaped clump of matter – outside of the passage of Time, they’re not breathing, moving, speaking, perceiving, or thinking. By freezing this person in Time, they become nothing more than a highly realistic-looking mannequin!

We really are just wrinkles in Time

Thus, my take is that we are not human beings, we are human doings, conscious and meaning-creating eddies and whorls, whipped up and expressed via the matter of the Universe as waves of Time, lapping at the shores of existence.