I’m not sure if it is in the original volume of The Teachings of Don Juan or in a later book of the same series, but at some point Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda that we never get to the present, “we are always one jump behind.” This is a shorthand way of saying that our sensory organs are constantly taking in input from our environment, sending this information to the brain through our nervous system, then the brain gives us a picture of our environment, and the amount of time it takes to do this is finite. I gave this a great deal of thought and wondered what if the reason that we can never get to the present is because the present doesn’t exist?
The first metaphor I came up with is that of a moving picture. Everyone knows on an intellectual level that there are gaps between the frames that are imperceptible to the viewer. What if the universe is actually a series of still pictures with minute gaps between them that are synchronized without brains in such a way that we can’t perceive them? Then I came up with a somewhat better metaphor. Let’s say that you had a searchlight and every night you would turn it on and people would stop by and look at your light. Then one day you call Cal Tech or MIT or some other such place and ask them to send over their best engineer. Then you have him or her make a switch that will turn your light on and off a hundred times a second. (This is a number I randomly came up with. Later on I will explain how to determine the true “flicker rate” of the universe.) So that night people gather around to look at your searchlight, and what do they see? A continuous beam of light. The only people who know that they are really looking at a pulsating beam of light are you and the engineer.
Since two beams of light look identical to any observer, the question is what difference does it make? Our entire technological civilization is based on our ability to compute certain quantities. Length, area, volume, velocity, and acceleration. (I may be incorrect but no matter how abstruse the mathematics, it still comes down to finding one of these quantities.) We think of all of these quantities as continuous variables. If, in fact, I am correct and we live in a pulsating universe that is constantly re-creating itself, then all of these variables are discontinuous, phenomenological constructs that do not exist in reality.
Let me give a couple of examples:
A) You call a carpenter and ask him to make a shelf for you. He takes out his measuring device (laser pointer, yardstick, etc.) and measures three feet. He finds a board and measures off three feet. He puts up the shelf and it fits perfectly. There is only one problem; at the point in time where the shelf would be exactly three feet long, the universe doesn’t exist. So rather than being an exact measure, we have to think of the quantity of three feet as a limit. So the board is infinitely close to three feet in length, but not exactly three feet long.
B) I am driving down the highway in Virginia and my speedometer says I am going 80 miles per hour and the officer who pulls me over tells me his radar gun clocked me at 80 miles per hour. I patiently explain to him that I could not have been going 80 miles per hour because at the point where I would have been going exactly 80 miles per hour, the universe doesn’t exist. In fact, I was going at a speed infinitely close to 80 mph but not exactly 80 mph. (Of course if I had really said that, I’d probably still be locked up in Virginia, rather than writing this from my home in Vermont.)
Now the question is, “what difference does it make?” For all practical purposes, none whatsoever. But there are two places that I know of where it does make a difference.
I have read that physicists know that electrons change orbits but have never been able to detect an electron traveling between orbits. This is because they don’t travel between orbits. Let’s say there is an atom with 20 electrons in three orbits of eight, eight and four electrons. What happens is that the atom flickers out of existence. When it flickers back in, it knows that it has 20 electrons but doesn’t care which orbit any particular electron happens to occupy. The amount of time it takes an electron to change orbits is equal to the amount of time it takes the atom to flicker out of and then back into existence.
The second place where it matters is the speed of light. The measured speed of light is 186 thousand miles per second squared. If I am correct this is a phenomenological construct, just like any other velocity, and should be thought of as a limit rather than an absolute value. This means that in reality the “speed of light” does not exist. It is just another limit. And as we pass through the limit of 80 mph to get to the limit of 85 mph, we can pass through this limit to some higher velocity, thus, star travel becomes a technological problem rather than a violation of the laws of physics.
Before concluding, I would like to say something about space travel. If you were to ask someone the distance from New York to Chicago, they would probably say about 950 miles. Whether you walk, ride a bicycle, drive, or fly, the distance would be the same. However, there is a way to go from New York to Chicago and only travel 200 miles. You can get in a rocket, fly straight up 100 miles, stop, wait for the Earth to rotate underneath you, and when Chicago is right below, fly straight down 100 miles. Now it is quite possible that it might take months or even years before Chicago is right below you. In the meantime, more distant places like Moscow or South Africa might only take days to get to. I have the strong feeling that if we ever attain the technology for star travel, what we will find is that stars that appear to be relatively close might be very difficult to get to while stars and even galaxies that seem impossibly far away may prove fairly easy to reach.
My final thoughts are these: if I am correct, it would be one of the great ironies of our age that all the “objective” concepts we use to manipulate and modify our environment are phenomenological constructs which exist only in our brains while those “subjective” constructs which we dismiss as existing only in our brains, such as truth, justice, and beauty prove to exist in reality, independently of our perceptions of them.