The shortness of life and lack of eternal life, the ending of consciousness, the ending of relationship with my dearest loved ones, the inability to get all my questions answered and all the justice served in eternity —– these are all greatly painful realities that I’ve had to accept as an a-theist.
But something dawned on me the other day. If we have the right perspective, our time can be eternal too — almost.
According to Einstein, time is relative. It was perhaps his greatest contribution to the science community. Just like the other 3 dimensions, time is affected by gravity as its own fourth dimension. We think of time so linearly, so this concept is impossible to explain in a linearly developed language like English, but in learning bits and pieces of the language of quantum physics, time starts to take on a new shape.
But there’s good news — you don’t have to speak quantum physics to take on this new perspective. You just have to take it’s word for the following axioms:
- The universe is infinitely large.
- The universe is infinitely small.
- The universe is infinitely fast, relatively.
- The universe is infinitely slow, relatively.
Have you seen Interstellar? There are a lot of things I didn’t like about the movie; things inconsistent with science and major plot holes. But, there was this scene. A scene I can’t get out of my head, repeating itself like a love song baby (aaah okay enough). In short, the astronauts are on a planet in which every hour that passes equates to seven years passing on earth. Click here to watch it, it’s just short of 4 minutes.
This scene illustrates how drastically relative time can be. It’s not just numbers or theories, it’s a visual that, like I said, has stuck with me. And an epic one at that. (Thank you Hollywood).
What if heaven existed? Let’s pretend it does, just for a moment, and let’s call our time in heaven “X.” Because of the immense size of X, relative to us right now, there is no better way for us to currently explain “X” than eternity, infinite. But, now let’s suppose we are all in heaven. Now that we are in “X” our brains have to somehow make sense of this new reality of ours, so we have decided to divide it into centuries, decades, years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. But it’s still just a number. Regardless of how big.
What if, instead, we were living on an electron (think Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who) and the atomic nucleus cluster was our sun. That would mean each “rotation around the sun,” each “year” per se, would be about 150 attoseconds according to Johan Mauritsson, an assistant professor in atomic physics at the Faculty of Engineering, Lund University. (This is simplistic though, because like I said above, quantum physics isn’t this simplistic. But let’s just still go with this.) One attosecond is to a second what our second is to 31.71 billion years. My point: That “year” is really, really, really, really, really fast — relatively.
So, let’s do the other side of it. Galactic-ly, (the amount of “time” it takes for our Solar system to rotate around the Milky Way, approx. 230 million years on earth) one “year” ago the earth was seeing dinosaurs coming into existence. Then we could continue, the speed at which our galaxy is moving within its Local Cluster of other galaxies, and then how fast that cluster is moving within the Virgo Supercluster. These numbers are astronomical – literally.
The lifespan of the sun vs. the lifespan of a fly. The lifespan of the universe vs. the lifespan of a subatomic particle. These numbers are so large and so small that comprehension feels impossible. So, what of the lifespan of a human? It’s just a number. Relative to every other number. Math. Ones and Zeros. Our day can be thought of as an eternity, because according to the lifespan of something, it pretty much is. This brings an entirely new perspective to every action in my life. Every. Moment. Matters. Scientifically. and Mathematically. So why not practically, too?
This means that my fight with my husband yesterday was an eternity. And so was our swinging with our girls at the beach. And this cup of tea. And this bite of gouda goat cheese. And the episodes of youtube videos I guiltily let my toddler watch. And freezing cold rain soaking through our clothes and making us miserable at a farmers market. Everything takes on a new value through the lens of math. Let’s carry that lens with us because, regardless of how you look at it, we only have X amount of time on earth. Let’s make our “X” full-to-exploding with authentic, worthwhile experiences and thus create our own eternity.