Eternity & Consciousness

Thanks to everyone for their comments so far. Keep them coming. There's some interesting and challenging stuff there, which I will reply to as soon as I've had time to think deeply enough about it.

Meanwhile, Adair in his comment to the last post highlighted the difficulty of conceptualising existence outside of time. This is something I have thought about before, and I'd like to present my thoughts on the matter for general dissection.

The first point I should make is that our ability to imagine or conceptualise something to any degree of success is independent of its actually being true. For instance, in physics, String Theory requires space to have 9 dimensions (I think the latest development, M theory, requires 10 space dimensions). Now, I find it incredibly difficult to imagine there being more than three dimensions of space. However, it is obvious that if String Theory is proven to be true, this will be independent of, and in spite of, my ability to visualise it.

Now it is important to draw the distinction between something that is hard to visualise and something that is just nonsense. I also find it extremely difficult to visualise a four-sided triangle, but more detailed analysis of that concept will reveal its self-contradictory nature. The point I'm making is that there are many things that are hard to conceptualise in theology, but we must work hard to elucidate which of these things can be consistently held, if not visualised, and which are self-contradictory. Most importantly, when we discover an idea that is self-contradictory, we must discard it, no matter what theological edifices are resting on its foundations.

Now, although I find it hard to understand, I find nothing inherently inconsistent with the idea of something existing outside of time. What I do have a problem with is conscious beings existing outside of time. That is to say, for the purposes of this argument I will admit to the possibility of a person existing outside of time in either Heaven or Hell (although whether these places are outside of space is another matter). What I take issue with is the idea that they can know anything about it one way or the other. I aim to show in this post that this is inconsistent.

You see, consciousness is a process. Whatever the ancients thought about the soul or mind being separate from the body, the more we study consciousness, the more inseparably linked it appears to be with a physical brain, and thus a physical process.

Consciousness involves at least three things: perception, memory of the perception, and the connection of the memory of the perception with ourselves in some conceptual way. Perception need not necessarily be of an external stimulus, it could also be of a mental state or process. Memory is the key here - without memory (whether long- or short-term) it is impossible to be aware of anything. Without memory, everything is static, stationary, time-instances; there is no ability to connect any arbitrary instant of time with any other - this can only be done with memory to string them together and make sense of them. And finally, it is only once we have the memory of the perception that we are in any way able to relate it to ourselves, in other words, exhibit consciousness. (Note that although here the three stages, perception, memory and relation, are each separated by a time gap, this gap is so small that we are unaware of the stages themselves. In fact, since these three stages define awareness, we can never actually be aware of them taking place)

So after having established memory as being essential to consciousness, we can now go on to see how time is essential to memory. Memory is storing information. The act of storing information is the arrangement of something into a meaningful state. But this is a process. It happens. It is an event. Events happen in time. It is meaningless to talk of an event outside of time: this is the definition of an event. At time t0 something is arranged in less meaningful state s0. At time t1 something is arranged in more meaningful state s1.

In sum, consciousness requires memory, memory is storing information, storing information is an event in time; therefore consciousness requires time. Therefore, to speak of consciousness outside of time is meaningless.

This applies not only to humans, but to any supposedly conscious being, including God. Without time, consciousness does not exist, because consciousness happens, and things only happen in time. Therefore, God is either not conscious, or needs time as much as you or I do. Also, any idea of eternity which involves us consciously experiencing it must take the form of an infinite length of time.

Man, it's 4:03. I'm going to bed.


  1. God aside,a s infinite and the Creator and all, He...

    by GARETH on 29 AUGUST 2006 at 7:40PM
    God aside,a s infinite and the Creator and all, He is conscious, and eternal, that is, relates to time in a different way to us mortal beings.

    The question I have is, who decided eternity was outside of time? what if it is actually an abundance of time instead?

    a friend of mine once posed the thought that there will be no movement in heaven, as that requires both space and time to happen, so ,a s there is no time in heaven, we would be there, but like statues!

    nonsense when you read scriptural pictures of heaven, but the problem is a faulty idea of eternity. it is not being outside of time, to my mind: it is an abundance of time that will never end.
  2. Hi Barry I'm still around in coventry, if you want...

    by STU SHERWIN on 12 MAY 2006 at 4:32PM
    Hi Barry I'm still around in coventry, if you wanted to meet up and have a chat I'd be up for that. Why not send me an email? It would be cool to catch up.
  3. The question of God existing outside of time and b...

    by STU SHERWIN on 12 MAY 2006 at 4:28PM
    The question of God existing outside of time and being conscious is debatable. It's quite possibly the case that what I've said in my post doesn't apply to an infinite deity. My original point though was about conscious beings (i.e. us) existing outside of time, which I think still applies.

    Anyone got any thoughts about this?

    Thanks for all your comments by the way, more posts will be coming soon. I'm quite busy at the moment, so I don't have as much time to think about these things as I did before.
  4. Tom,<br><br>I hope you are still around. It would ...

    by BLACKNAD on 14 MARCH 2006 at 1:22AM

    I hope you are still around. It would be very interesting to get your view on what I've posted. In fact I would love to start a dialogue with you - I'm sure I could learn much.


  5. Hi Stu,<br><br>Regarding God and time. Part of you...

    by BLACKNAD on 14 MARCH 2006 at 1:18AM
    Hi Stu,

    Regarding God and time. Part of your examination of memory and consciousness is based upon an assumption that God is outside of time and therefore is not in any form of time.

    I took the following from It touches on the issue.

    "Both the Bible and science would indicate that God must exist in more than three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. The Bible says the universe cannot contain God (1), indicating He must exist and operate in dimensions of space and time other than those to which we are confined. The Bible also says God created time and was acting before time began (2), confirming that God exists in at least two dimensions of time. A single dimension of time (a line) has a beginning point and can only travel in one direction. Two dimensions of time (a plane) has no beginning or ending so that a being existing in such a plane would be free to move to any point along any line of time within that plane.

    Both of these descriptions of God are confirmed by what we know from science. According to particle physics and relativity, at least nine dimensions of space existed at the creation of the universe. God must be able to operate in all of those nine dimensions in order to have created the universe. A verse from the book of Hebrews indicates God created the universe out of some of the dimensions of space and time which are not visible to us (3). Stephen Hawking, George Ellis, and Roger Penrose extended the equations for general relativity to include space and time (4). Not only space, but also time has a beginning - at the moment of creation. Therefore, if God created the universe, He was acting before the creation of time, indicating He exists in at least two dimensions of time. If God existed in only one dimension of time, then He would have had to have been created at one point. The Bible says God was not created, but has existed from eternity past to eternity future."

    It makes a few assumptions itself, but is very interesting.

    Also, it seems to me that asking the question 'is God conscious?' is trying to tag Him with words that apply to us but may go no further. What we understand consciousness to be may just not touch upon the state of existence that God experiences. It may just be far too small and limiting.


  6. Stu, <br><br>There is a hole in this argument.<br>...

    by ANONYMOUS on 12 FEBRUARY 2006 at 11:18PM

    There is a hole in this argument.

    "consciousness requires memory, memory is storing information, storing information is an event in time; therefore consciousness requires time. Therefore, to speak of consciousness outside of time is meaningless."

    You're making the assumption that you understand all kinds of memory, and that there is not a kind of memory or storing of information that could for example, be timeless and atemporal (no moments of time), for example a kind of memory that you would have to be outside of time to be able to see or perceive that drew some of its data from foreknowledge (no problem if you are timeless).

  7. Highly cool blog Stu. Massively interesting! Rig...

    by MATT JERMYN on 05 JULY 2005 at 1:44AM
    Highly cool blog Stu. Massively interesting! Right..

    I'll start with the idea of 'discarding ideas that are self-contradictory'. The example you give is a good one - a 4 sided triangle is a logically contradictory idea, as the concept is that of a 4 sided 3 sided shape - which is obvious nonsense. The concept of a 2D shape is one within a frame of reference we understand.

    The distinction is made between that which is 'hard to visualise' and that which is nonsense, which is cool. It does however raise a question - where we lack a frame of reference to judge concepts by, how can we determine which of those catagories a concept falls into?

    An example of this is the idea of conciousness as defined above. Certainly the 'process' described cannot exist outside time. Of the three stages, the first two mentioned (perception and storage, the third being the conection of the percieved and stored 'item a' with the self) cannot exist as we know them outside of time. I'm not sure about the third - may a bigger brain than mine solve that one!

    However, does the fact we can only concieve of this process working within time prevent an 'outside of time equivalent' from existing? The definition of conciousness given seems to define conciousness in terms of the necessary features of conciousness in our environment. 'Conciousness exists, therefore this process must be happening', rather than 'this process is occuring therefore we are concious'. Given this, where does our understanding of this process (thanks, by the way, for putting it down - I'd never attempted thought of it this way before) come from? I'm pretty sure it must come, at least partially, from our environment - the fact we're 'within time'. If I'm right about that, the argument from the definition of conciousness to the 'non-sense' of conciousness outside time is circular.

    I always tend towards the agnostic when thinking about being 'outside time' - we can't understand it, as it's outside of our universe. In this case - could conciousness, as we understand it, exist outside of time - no, but does that rule out the idea of conciousness without time - I don't think so. How interaction between outside and inside of time could happen is another question - Jon's covered that more than I have!

    Cheers Stu - enjoyed that. Have a feeling that you're going to get Lots of long comments if you keep making entries like this - maybe you should institue a word limit!?

  8. Interesting ideas!<br><br>First up, a good definit...

    by JON on 30 JUNE 2005 at 12:35PM
    Interesting ideas!

    First up, a good definition of how you want to look at these problems, thanks.

    The idea that existance depends on change is exceptionally old - Heraclitus for the Greeks and many Eastern philosophers all have said the same thing: nothing that we percieve to exist can be observed to be static or without change: "you can never step into the same river again." Modern atomic science tells us this in greater detail: gases are constantly in motion, liquids and even solids too, at a molecular level, everything is moving and changing.

    This raises the question to me: is this an existential statement, or is it more about the confinement of our senses. Our ability to observe depends on a change in the observed thing - fundamentally at a quantum level, or simply that to touch or taste something we must physically contact it. To smell it it must be giving off something, to hear it it must be moving the air in some way and when we see something, we detect reflected or emitted radiation - each depends on a change in the object. Could we even detect an unchanging (a-temporal) "thing" if it existed?

    That means that if God is "eternal" in the sense of "outside of time" (a-temporal), either (a) it is possible to interact with something that does not change (now interact implies change so this must be false) or (b)anyone who says they have interacted with God is a liar or deluded.

    I cannot accept that there can be not interaction with God and visa versa, ther is too much evidence of it, so it must be that the initial assumption is incorrect. God is in at least some part not atemporal

    Now for Jesus to be both man and God, he had to change, grow, interact with people, food, animals, wood, any kind of object you can think of. For God to interact with the world, He has to be able to change it, to move it, but also to react and change and move Himself. Theology tells us that too - God did not plan the Fall, His plan was that He would interact with people in a perfect environment without sin. He reacted to the Fall by putting in place a new plan, one of salvation and a differenct kind of interaction, sacrifice. (I'm not saying it caught God unawares, merely that his desire was never for humankind to sin. He foreknew in NT terms, but it must be recognised that even His interactions, the way we know Him, has changed within written history, several times.)

    All this says to me is that our concept of time and eternity is wrong. God is not a being that hs no part on the dimension of time. He is, however, not bound by a flow of time, I believe. One day, we too will be removed from that binding, which perhaps is a result of the fall - causality was only strictly necessary after that event (on that day "you will surely die"). We too will be free to move in a time dimension as God is, an perhaps others will be opened to us too.

    In the way that we as material and temporal beings exhibit conciousness, it would seem that Stu is correct. Without order and flow of time, memories cannot be laid down and accessed. But similarly, without a piece of material, we cannot concieve of memories being recorded - whether in our heads, on our hard drives, or even scratched into a cave wall. If "God is a Spirit" and that means acorporeal (without body or material manifestation) then we could ask the same question - how does He store memories? (Wish you could footnote these - I don't think that verse means God has no material manifestation, merely that a body does not mark Him out - when there is none He is no less or more God.)

    We must admit that with God, some things are above us, and cannot be understood. How God interacts with time (and I am convinced He does) is a mystery. Where his memories are stored, if where is the right word, is also a mystery. That God "takes time" is not self evident, and must be taken with the view that His interaction with time may be no more restrained than ours is with spatial dimensions.


    P.s. Sorry for the essay, but this is fun. It makes me think in a way teaching excel never could!
  9. Life inside the Hamster Cage

    by PAUL on 17 JUNE 2013 at 12:10PM
    I think the main flaw in the process of your thought on this post is summed up by your initial analogy "I also find it extremely difficult to visualise a four-sided triangle, but more detailed analysis of that concept will reveal its self-contradictory nature. " In this process you have a defined outcome (a shape called a triangle with four sides, a triangle being a thing with three sides. Ergo, we are trying to find a shape that simultaneously has 3 sides and 4 sides on a 2d plane) and are trying to find something that matches that criteria. It seems like you are approaching time from within it's constraints and applying it's limitations to the judeo-christian God who not only exists outside of it, but if you hold to the belief, created and is therefore master of it. Its analagous to you placing a hamster in a cage, and the hamster, moments later, reasoning that you must be limited to existing inside the cage. Because he (let's call him hammy for now) cannot experience you inside the cage he reasons that you do not exist. Briefly lets review what the bible asserts about the Judeo-Christian God. Psalms 139:16 "your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Isaiah 46:10 "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." Peter 3:8 says, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." If we take your basic assumptions about consciousness as base, there is therefore no reason that a master of time could not observe the whole of time spread out like a story. Incidentally as the author of time, we can assume he not only is experiencing the story, but wrote it. Therefore he is also experiencing the memory of the whole of the story simultaneously as it unfolds. It's a difficult, perhaps impossible task to understand what a lack of limitations looks like, when you are afflicted with limitations you are trying to unimagine. But C.S lewis puts it neatly like this "If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn." These are visualisations of a concept we cannot fully grasp, and as such, whilst helpful also provide potential logical fallacies. But applying rigorous logic will only confirm, that Hammy cannot possibly reason what happens outside of the cage, whilst he remains inside it.

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