Certainly, Tony’s experience suggests that our “common sense” view of time may be misleading. As I suggested in my last post, what we human beings perceive as “common sense” reality is most likely a very limited and narrow vision of the world. Every animal has a certain degree of awareness of reality, and while our awareness is probably more intense than most other animals, it is highly improbable that our awareness is anywhere near complete, or even reliable. There must be wide ranges of reality that we don’t have access to, including multiple forces and phenomena that we are unaware of, or unable to understand.
This certainly applies to time. The extreme slowing down of time that Tony experienced is common during falls and other accidents, and in altered states of consciousness such as deep meditation or under the influence of psychedelics. Such “time expansion experiences” suggest that there is nothing objective or absolute about our normal perception of time. It is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness. When we slip into an altered state of consciousness, our experience of time changes drastically.
In some altered states, such as flow or hypnosis, time seems to speed up, but in the above examples, it slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. As I suggested in a previous post, this isn’t just the result of recollection (as some authors have suggested) but a real experience that takes place in the present. There are no satisfactory attempts to explain these experiences in neurological or physiological factors either. (See this paper of mine.)
The other significant aspect of Tony’s experience was his apparent vision of future events. Naturally, from our point of view, it appears that time runs like an arrow from the past through the present towards the future. The past disappears into memory, and the future is unknowable until we reach it. However, there are many findings from modern physics which cast doubt on this linear view of time.
Since Einstein’s theory of relativity, physicists have adopted a “spatial” view of time. We live in a static “block universe” in which time is spread out, in a panorama. The past, the present, and the future co-exist simultaneously and are predetermined and unchanging.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli — author of the best-selling The Order of Time — also holds the view that linear time doesn’t exist as a universal fact but is simply imposed by the human mind. At the most fundamental level of reality — at the level of quantum physics — time disappears so that we find a “physics without time.”
It appears that, in some unusual states of consciousness, we become able to view our lives in a spatial rather than a temporal way. In these moments, we’re like a passenger in an airplane looking at a landscape from above, compared to a person on the ground, walking along a path through the same landscape, only able to look ahead and behind.
This explains why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. It also makes it possible that sometimes people may glimpse events from their future.
The Israeli psychologist Benny Shanon came to a similar conclusion as a result of the altered states of consciousness he experienced under the influence of the psychedelic substance ayahuasca. As he put it, “everything that has ever happened, as well as everything that will ever happen, all have an equal temporal status. In a certain sense, they are all there and one only has to look at them … A perspective is taken by which all that will have happened at all times is co-present. In this limit situation, the temporal may, in a fashion, be reduced to the spatial.”
The author Anita Moorjani had a similar insight during a near-death experience while terminally ill with cancer. As she put it, “Time didn’t run linearly the way we experience it here. It’s as though our earthly minds convert what happens around us into a sequence; but in actuality, when we’re not expressing through our bodies, everything occurs simultaneously, whether past, present, or future.”