Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Yoga of Time Travel: How the Mind Can Defeat Time

Book Review: The Yoga of Time Travel: How the Mind Can Defeat Time
by Fred Alan Wolf (Quest Books 2004)

This is a neat and rather remarkable book with interesting implications. It proceeds from different overviews about time as seen from various spiritual traditions but mostly from the view of quantum physics and relativity. These reviews of how time is viewed lead up to Wolf’s theoretical basis for both time travel and ‘mind yoga’ which could have quite a few practical implications. I think the theoretical framework he lays out can be useful both in understanding consciousness and in manipulating it to our benefit. I can’t help but think he may be on to something here. Perhaps it’s the future me reminding me.

First considered is whether some memories may be memories of the future. Certainly our memories of the past are selective and memories of the same event differ among different people depending on what made an impression upon them. Some of us forget things in our pasts that are too traumatic. So basically the past can be rather subjective and perhaps more malleable than we realize. Therapists who use ‘past-life recall’ on suggestible patients to deal with past traumas have also employed similar techniques to remember the future with some interesting results. The ‘mind yoga’ Wolf talks about later in the book might best be preceded by an acknowledgement from several scientific and psychological standpoints that time travel is quite possible at least in theory.

Einstein’s relativity theory states that time is different for a moving object compared to one that is still. Experiments with muons in the late 40’s confirmed this. Of course, since the lifespan of a muon (created above the earth by the influence of particles from the cosmos) is only from 1 to 6 microseconds (millions of a second) the actual amount of time travel is very small but nonetheless detectible. Wolf notes that ideas of time and space have been significantly altered by relativity (the science of the very large) and quantum mechanics (the science of the very small).

In the context of Indian philosophy time is considered to be an aspect of Samsara, the ‘wheel’ of conditioned cyclic existence. The concept of Samsara supports the idea of circular time as we are continually reborn, recycling through various forms of conditioned existence. Wolf notes that: “Many ancient hymns tell us that time …. is the child of consciousness.” The ancient Vedas say that it is possible to escape the space-time illusion by the method of kala-vancana, or ‘time-cheating.’ This could also be called time travel and it apparently has to do with the relationship between memory and mental projections.

Attaining a state of Timeless Awareness is a feature of enlightened beings in the Buddhist tradition. The Vedas and Upanishads postulate an infinite unchanging reality that lies beyond and yet within the illusion of ceaseless change. These are the two realities – ultimate and relative. In the Bhagavad Gita the warrior Arjuna consults his charioteer Krishna on the battlefield about to begin and he receives instructions and mystical revelations on the nature of reality. Krishna equates the timeless, spaceless, infinite, changeless reality with the human soul and notes that it can be realized through the practice of yoga, specifically the three yogas – karma yoga (the yoga of action and work), bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion to the divine), and jnana yoga (the yoga of mind, or intellect). Like Buddha, Krishna teaches detachment as the means to arrive at truth and realization, specifically, not to be attached to the outcomes of one’s choices. Later in the book Wolf describes a mind yoga based on alternating periods of attachment and detachment, of ‘in focus’ and ‘out of focus.’ He describes our experience of these cycles as influencing the way we experience time. In the Gita Krishna gives Arjuna all this instruction and revelation of his Universal Form in a mere instant – quite as if it was an aberration of time where a few seconds were long expanded. Krishna reveals himself as Time itself, the creator and destroyer of all conditioned things. He reveals that in order to transcend illusion one must cease to covet oneself as a single entity, or one must give up attachment and fixation on the ego-self. In the revelation of his Universal Form, as Wolf points out, Krishna reveals himself as all possibilities, which may accord with parallel universe theories. Wolf sees it as Krishna giving us the ability to focus and defocus possibility, as a means to eventually discover the futility of continuing to be enchanted by the illusion that we can control our destiny.

Wolf notes that the ego is tied closely to space and time and that it is built up by sensory experience that is often a result of timing/synchronization of neuron firing as well as spatial patterns of neuron firing. He goes through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra system where he suggests that there is inner (pure awareness) mind and outer illusory (ego) mind. The Ego mind is composed of mind, intelligence, and ego in cahoots. If one learns to subdue the ego-mind then the inner mind can be revealed. Wolf also goes through more details about how the illusory mind manifests according to Patanjali. He notes that Patanjali actually mentions time travel as a yogic power possible to attain.

Wolf explains the differences in perception of time as ‘objective time’ and ‘subjective time’. He also recounts a very interesting story from the Vishnu Purana where the sage Narada asks Vishnu why people get deluded into living in profane time when they could live in sacred time. Vishnu first sends Narada for a cup of water. He get visits a neighbor woman who is beautiful, forgets his celibacy vows, woos her, had children with her, and finally a flood kills the children and the woman. Meanwhile Vishnu is still waiting for his cup of water. The mind seems to be tethered to time and subsequently able to detect various vibrations and rhythms and become enchanted by them. Our modern lives favor linear objective time but we still experience the variability of rhythmically repeating inner circular time. Linear time is more measurable. Subjective time is affected by one’s level of mindfulness or awareness. The “Dreamtime” of Australian tribes refers to a time before humans and human linear time, a time of archetypes and universal forms. It is the creation time of the universe where all times can overlap. It is where the ancestors and the creators can be met and engaged. It is mythic time where tribal history and tribal law can be accessed. Here is suggestion of the cohabitation of past, present, and future so that there is a similarity to the parallel universes theories of modern physics. The remembering of songs, stories, legends, dances, and sacred places keeps the connection to this dreamtime.

Wolf gives an overview of Einstein’s ‘time dilation effect’ and the ‘principle of least action’ concept in physics which says that things tend to become as efficient as possible. We learn that: “paradoxically, in spacetime, a curved line takes less time {to traverse} than a straight line.” I guess this has something to do with space being curved and the universe appearing spherical. Relativity taught us that time and space are inseparable and so we speak of ‘spacetime’. These ideas heralded a new era of ‘mystical physics’. The paradoxical relationship can be difficult to grasp as space seems “out there” and time seems “in here”.  Wolf touches on the differences in time of moving, relative to stationary, the subsequent notion of “proper time” and the idea of the “geodesic” as the shortest time trajectory in curved space. These are all elementary physics ideas nowadays.

Time and space, even spacetime, may be seen as metaphorical and as concepts limited by language. The paradoxes of infinity and eternity suggest this. Wolf also notes that mystical traditions suggest that space and time are also inseparable from ego, our habitual sense of self. When space and time are not perceived the sense of self is not perceived. An example is the state of deep sleep, or dreamless sleep. During dreaming we do experience space, time, and a sense of self, but upon waking these are all revealed as illusory. But is our consensual waking reality also a type of dreaming, as sages suggest?

Another way to phrase it is that our space, time, and ego-based reality is really a mental construct.

A short section on Masters of Time and Space recounts yogic reality masters and their deeds such as the famed Sri Ramana Maharshi. Like Patanjali and Buddha they practice meditation, suspending ‘bodily awareness’ which is perhaps a precursor to dissolving the ego grasp.

The perception of time is also psychological. The so-called “color phi-effect” shows that flickers of light in different spots can appear to us as a single moving image. This apparent motion is actually the basis of film. This illusion actually requires either a precognition or a time traveling on our part. It suggests that we can actually project an experience back in time – by mere split seconds – but back in time nonetheless. Libet’s theory of “subjective antedating” or subjective referral in time is discussed. This is a theory about how consciousness itself functions – perhaps from the substratum of unconsciousness (of our current evolutionary abilities). These ideas are paradoxical – but only if we are committed to a linear idea of time. The so-called illusion of linear time is the same thing as the notion that time goes forward, or in one direction only. The concept of linear time was reified by both the Newtonian clockwork universe and its laws of thermodynamics but also by one of its children – the Industrial Revolution.

The next chapters are about the Physics of ‘Ordinary’ Time Travel as conceived in modern physics, their paradoxes, and the technological requirements. After this come the section about the Physics of Extraordinary Time Travel which incorporates mystical wisdom and ‘mind yoga’ into the mix.

Wolf discusses the relation of gravity to spacetime in Einstein’s equations, how gravity distorts spacetime. Since it is mass that creates a gravitational field one could also say that mass distorts spacetime. The universe is composed of ‘crinkled” spacetime. He demonstrates the conclusion that mass is gravitational force is the distortion of space. There is no cause-effect relationship and the three concepts are inseparable and interchangeable. By this logic mass can also be seen as the distortion of time since time is not inseparable from space. The distortion of time is apparently more difficult to illustrate than the distortion of space so he goes through the models used by current physics theories. One well-known distortion or ‘fold’ of spacetime is the black hole. Theoretically an object traveling through a black hole at a speed faster than the speed of light (not yet demonstrable) would experience the black hole as a worm hole –perhaps to another dimension or parallel universe, or possibly to another wormhole in this universe. These speculations led to science fiction concepts of traversable wormholes. This idea is to use wormholes to cross vast amounts of space through a tube in subspace. After this the idea was altered to include wormhole time machines. This has to do with synching the mouths of various wormholes in certain ways.

Time travel introduces some rather obvious paradoxes that have yet to be fully dealt with. Although it has been assumed that the laws of physics forbid time travel, they may actually require it. There is the – Creativity Paradox – this is a chicken and egg thing where one creates a time machine and sends instructions for its creation to the past – and its true origin gets lost in some sort of circular reasoning. Next is the – Grandfather Paradox – referring to a scenario where one kills one’s grandfather so that one will not be born in the future. Wolf notes that such a scenario does not defy the laws of physics or science since those laws are at least theoretically ‘time reversal invariant’, meaning the direction of the flow of time is irrelevant to them. However, it does defy the cause and effect laws of logic. He says that it is logic rather than science that says history cannot be altered. The foundations of classical physics also rest on other assumed logical principles such as the ‘autonomy principle’ which states that experiments are autonomous – that what we do in one part of the universe will not affect the rest of it. Most magical, mystical, and shamanic beliefs would not concur with this, opting instead that interconnectivity is present in each part of the universe with every other part. This even seems intuitively true to many of us. Together, the Creativity Paradox, the Grandfather Paradox, and the Autonomy Principle make up what is known as the ‘Chronology Tenet” which says basically the time does not move backwards. This is not provable even in classical physics but is more of a common-sense notion. This view suggests that time travel to the future is possible but time travel to the past is not. Time travel to the past creates more paradoxes since it is in violation of our laws of causality rather than in violation of the laws of physics. Relativity theory predicts the existence of ‘closed timelike lines’ which are trajectories in space that move forward in space then backward arriving at the same place at the same time they leave that place. This idea also predicts time travel to the past. When these ‘closed timelike lines’ are opened they can (theoretically) “thread their way into parallel worlds.”

It turns out that the idea of parallel universes can solve many problems in physics and is in some form accepted by most quantum physicists. The Australian Dreamtime idea would be a parallel universe notion. Wolf gives an analogy of Hoop Time and Line Time where the hoop rolls along the line so hoop time is always accessible from the line time.

The laws of causality typically predict a single outcome to an experiment but quantum mechanics suggests that the observed outcome is only one among an infinite number of possible outcomes. Every possibility is weighted by a probability factor so that the most probable outcome tends to be the one that is observed. Wolf thinks that the root of the inherent stability of atoms (of matter) is that multiple appearances of these objects in multiple universes reinforce one another. Wolf resolves the Grandfather Paradox and the Creativity Paradox by making a time machine that opens the closed timelike lines and the different histories exist side-by-side in parallel universes. He provides detailed examples with graphics of how this may be so and shows that with the parallel universes idea, no laws of physics are violated.

Next he shows how ‘ordinary’ time travel could be possible under current theoretical quantum physics. He mentions a device theorized by physicists Arahnov and Vaidman that would shift time within a very dense hollow sphere. This is based on the ideas of David Deutsch about quantum computing. Quantum computers are based on ‘qubits’ rather than the ‘bits’ of classical computers in their binary code. This allows for more possibilities as qubits are number possibilities rather than numbers. Qubits and quantum computers and indeed quantum physic is based on possibilities and probabilities – usually predicted outcomes to experiments. A structural idea in this madness is that of a ‘possibility wave.’ These possibility waves can move both ways in time and an infinite variety and amount of them occur at every event. When two or more of them superimpose (or resonate) they can strengthen or weaken the probabilities of events from occurring. This idea is also stated as – The Quantum Physical Observer Effect – a certain outcome occurs because it was observed. This seems somehow related to the Uncertainty Principle. Wolf goes through the famed double slit experiment and its derivatives to explain the ‘wave-particle duality.’ Quantum physics math says that possibility waves can be squared to create probabilities (this has something to do with superimposition as well). In fact quantum physics is deeply related to probability as is time and mind, as he points out later. Once again he shows that both the wave-particle duality paradox and the Observer Effect can be resolved (or re-stated) in terms of the Parallel Universes Theory. Bohr described observation as possibly “the collapse of a wave to a single point.” In that statement one might see better the pairing of possibility and probability with non-focus and focus. Deutsche showed the principles of a quantum computer are consistent with building a time machine.

In considering ‘extraordinary’ time travel Wolf notes that even in Aharonov and Vaidman’s sphere of many radii (the hollow sphere mentioned above), the principle of time travel is based on the shifting of the possibility wave of the time traveler. He says that time and possibility are intimately related and suggests that it is awareness that most influences changes from possibility to probability. In defining terms he notes that a probability can become less certain or more certain. Knowledge is defined as “the outcome of acts of awareness.” We experience knowledge as memory. Knowledge can be gained or lost. Awareness can change knowledge (since knowledge is experienced as memory then awareness could also change memories). In quantum physics knowledge is changed by choice. The knowledge gained by choosing A includes the knowledge lost by not choosing B. – so these choices occur in complementary pairs. This idea is known as the Complementarity Principle. Apparently physicists do argue about whether a possibility-wave is real but they agree that it has an effect that really can be observed. Though they may be imaginal, when they are squared they create real probability-curves. According to quantum physics unobserved objects or events have an infinite variety of outcomes and manifestations. Questions about adding possibility-waves, adding probability-curves, and whether one adds then squares or squares then adds, yield answers related to conscious awareness:

“We add probability-curves when we become conscious of “out there,” so it should logically follow that we would add possibility-waves when we remain conscious of “in here” rather than “out there.   ….. When we deal with the world as we imagine it to be , we add and then square. But when we deal with the world outside of our minds, we square then add.”

In other words, quantum physics suggest that mind and matter are connected via these possibility-waves come probability curves. Wolf suggests that the function of the mind is to square possibility-waves to derive probability-curves. Possibility-waves, real or imaginal, are postulated to be able to go backward in time. Quantum math suggests the existence of the effects of another possibility-wave called a ‘complex-conjugate wave’ that must be multiplied by a possibility-wave to compute the probability of an event. Thus the math suggests that this wave would have to travel in a reverse spatial direction and reverse time direction. The complex-conjugate wave modulates the possibility wave which simply means that the waves are multiplied together much like radio waves picked up and modulated by receivers. Physicist Cramer calls the original wave an “offer wave” and the conjugate an “echo wave” and the multiplication a “transaction.” The idea is similar to transmitter and receiver. The transmitter wave goes toward the future and the receiver wave goes toward the past. When the laws of reality are satisfied – the possibility-waves are changed into probability-curves. So in the analogy-scenario of sender and receiver Wolf suggest that according to the Parallel Universes theory that the future “listens” for messages from the past. Under this notion past and present would have to exist simultaneously. It would be the same with the future – it must also exist simultaneously with the present. Of course, as spiritual traditions note it is only in the present that we can experience past or future. This suggests that memories are not stored like files but become somehow recallable by setting up conditions of clashing possibility-waves moving in opposite time (and space) directions. Perhaps some psychic experiences are messages from the future that are somehow received.

Learning and skill acquisition often involve making conscious behaviors habitual and appear unconscious. After we learn the task we can do it automatically.

 “When we no longer have to pay attention to the probability-curve involved in any skill, we label that skill a habit.”

Habits can be changed by working with them in our immediate awareness – which is the practice of Wolf’s ‘mind yoga’ and of yoga in general. Much like the quantum computer time traveler in the sphere of many radii the mind yogi shifts possibility-waves in order to make new probability-curves. Wolf postulates that possibility-waves exist beyond space and time in a ‘level of reality; he calls ‘sub-spacetime.’ Some call this the imaginal realm, quantum physicists may call it an ‘infinitely dimensional space’, and mystics and mages have many names for it. Some call in the Mind of God. I think this accords with what Ervin Laszlo calls the Akashic Field. Physicists Amit Goswami and Roger Penrose may refer to it as Potentia or Idealistic Reality after Plato. In any case, quantum physicists use it to show how the mind constructs reality as we see it by changing possibility and probability. Practices like yoga and meditation may allow us to consciously and mindfully affect our habitual behaviors.

“You can think of a point of view in any given moment as a focal point – a site where a possibility-wave from the past or the future meets and mixes with a possibility-wave from the present moment, thus squaring and producing a probability-curve.”

Wolf defines times of conscious focus as more objective perception of “out there” and times of fuzzy out-of-focus as subjective (directed “in here”) or directed “out there” but more openly without expected outcomes.

“Focused and unfocused sites occur in a sequential pattern. Our conscious experience consists of a sequence of these focal points, sites of more specific focus separated by sites of unfocused possibilities.”

The above quote, Wolf speculates, explains how we perceive time. He suggests that our sense of time and our sense of consciousness are possibly the same thing. This depiction of focus points and blurs in a linear sequence leads Wolf to develop his idea of the ‘quantum law of normal time order’. The blurs in the sequence represent the unconscious realm of possibility-waves where there are no fixed positions. Another way to say it is that the object does not exist at all until it becomes focused, or the outcome of the experiment is not known until it is observed. Wolf says that in the scenario any focal point would be preceded by a larger blur (of infinite possibility) and followed by a smaller blur that has more certainty than the previous blur. In other words, possibilities are reduced and certainty is increased (in general) after a focal point – perhaps giving us the illusion of time. These sequences of three (a focal point preceded and followed by unfocused possibility blurs) he calls ‘triplets” and notes that his law is the law of ‘normal’ time order. If the blurs are the same size it may represent a balanced situation such as the acquisition of a habit (where a more or less similar amount of certainty precede and follow and event). If the blur that follows is larger than the preceding blur then it would indicate some sort of unlearning or loss of knowledge. Squaring makes focused sites while unsquaring would make unfocused sites. His mind yoga consists of controlling these triplets. As he states it our normal way of controlling these triplets involves comparing one triplet to another and the way we have ‘chosen’ to do this involves a sequence from less focus to more focus that gives us what we perceive as normal time and a consistent rule of order we call causality. “Causality gives us sense of control over life.”  He suggests that what we remember as the past represents events over which we have had some control and the remembering itself is a form of control. Temporal order and causality are associated with this control.

Wolf notes that many yogic and meditation techniques rely on a balancing act of focusing and de-focusing (letting go). He calls this the “basic binary activity of conscious life.” Wolf also makes the suggestion that consciousness may reverse the law of entropy – and that thermodynamics and science in general have thus far omitted the actions of mind in energy calculations.

Wolf’s mind yoga theoretically has the potential to let go of (unwelcomed) memories and focus in on possibilities. He suggests that this focus and defocusing that we do actually creates time. In this scenario – in terms of subjective time - when we let go of old habits we travel backward in time and we travel forward in time during habitual behaviors.

The key to time travel according to Wolf is the surrendering of the ego. He suggests that the Mind of God is somehow trapped in ego fixation and is released when the ego is ungrasped. He sees the ego as a boundary between “out there” and “in here” that was built up through the survival mechanisms of our evolutionary path. Some of these boundaries/protection schemes from the past are no longer needed yet persist. When the relation between body and mind is altered we may break through and get glimpses of eternity or infinity, the timeless and spaceless nature of the universe predicted by string theory. He also notes that the blurring is associated with release of the ego while the focus is a function of the ego. I think this is an important observation and makes note of the subtle power of the ego in maintaining control. The ego is rather a necessary function in day to day life and to let go totally may bring madness unless one has somehow integrated things in the spiritual sense. Holding onto fixed ideas is a form of control and reifies the function of ego. Letting go of fixed ideas is a form of releasing the ego. The ego anchors us in time and space and is not something bad but strong ego-fixation can be very problematic.

As in Heisenbergs’s Uncertainty Principle when we focus on one thing we defocus on all else. He suggests energy and timing as complementary in that same sense as when you know the details of one you lose the details of the other. He says that unfocusing the mind gives us access to parallel universes and possible alternative pasts. This is different than changing the interpretation of a past (as in cognitive therapy). Of course, no one knows what the consequences of truly altering the past would be.  His main point is that despite fixed and agreed on memories the past is theoretically alterable.

Applications may include guided meditation style time travel sessions as some shamans perform. Forgiveness and reconciliation may be achieved by re-membering the past in a slightly more favorable way for that process to work.

“We can all learn to reverse time, certainly for short intervals, by letting go of past fixations that tend to make us automatically predict the future. These “cause/effect” relations project the normal flow of time we tend to objectify and hold as the only way that time can go.”

Finally there is a good overview/review chapter that is helpful for summarizing key points. Highly speculative is this book but also a landmark way of integrating physics and spirituality that may some day yield some very awesome practical implications. When will this happen? Maybe yesterday.

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