Overhearing one night in a museum how Velasquez’s brushwork was ahead of its time, i wondered: Why is it that we no longer climb upwards out of the past but now fall forwards into the future?
In Hebrew, unlike English, you face the past: the future lies at your back, like the rower on a boat or half the travelers on a train. But these languages lead us astray, for the past is as distant as the future, and the human soul (at present) as homebound as it is myopic.
Leaving a truly brief spiel by Dr. Hawking on the history of time, the prophet warned: Beware of our scientists’ weak and crippled stories! Everyone within earshot gasped, thinking it a gibe at the speaker’s infirmity, so the old gadfly added: Cosmologists base their tales on that 5% of the truth they have so far discovered — which is certainly much better than the theologian’s 1%, but even so, as likely a picture of the whole as panoramas of Martian civilization based on half an alien jaw and a nail!
Do not think of your or the universe’s life as fitting atop an inexorably straight line of time, but freely imagine it instead as any number of curved trajectories, the myriad possible and truthful views of what has been, is and might happen, none of which will ever be so certain as to exclude all others. Time is neither linear nor singular; we’ve only come to perceive it as so:
Imagine time is a flawed concept.
Would we still require morality if we could move back and forth in time?
Time would still have a direction and a pace, only you wouldn’t always have to follow it, perhaps like walking back and forth on a moving walkway.
However, we couldn’t gradually tweak each of our actions to produce exactly the right results by moving back and forth in time because we would begin forgetting “the future” as soon as we started moving backwards in time. There would be only one possible life to live, namely the one we lived in the normal, “forwards” direction of time. We could always move back in time and start over, but we would choose exactly the same action over again and perform it the same way; moreover, we wouldn’t even know we were starting over: it would always feel as if we were doing it for the first time. Nothing would change about morality. (Actually, nothing would change about our perception of ourselves and the world.)
Would we still need morality if time had no direction?
If you had to always keep moving along a timeline but didn’t have a default, constant direction to go in, then this would still be a kind of time (i.e. forced movement, change). You would have to flip some kind of switch every now and then to start going in the opposite direction. Moving in the other direction, changing things in the “future” would affect how they will “have been” in the “past”, through an inverted kind of causality. You would have an “inverted” self-consciousness that knew the future and not the past. The “past” would have to adjust itself each time you acted to be the “past” that “would have been” necessary in order to result in your new action.
What would morality look like? You could still try to make the time in front of you better than the time behind you “had been”. Weaving back and forth between your birth and death, you could improve the general happiness of your lifespan, though you would only ever know of one half (though perhaps a very big one) at a time. You could relive your life an infinite number of times (your consciousness would never disappear or die), though you would not have (and certainly not remember) “past lives”. You would know you were moving back and forth in time but you would be “trapped” in your one life, i.e. that section of time.
Regardless of the direction in which you were moving, the good would always lie in front of you and be your goal, what lay behind you would be unalterable, though a source of knowledge about what was best to do moving forward. If there were a fifth dimension of uni-directional time from which godlike beings could observe your life, they would see progress along their line of time as you shuttled back and forth through your life, each new pass being slightly happier or better than the previous one. You, however, would never know.
Would we still have morality if time did not exist?
If there were no time we would only have dimensions of space, nothing would ever change, and so you couldn’t make anything better. The world would just be — neither good nor bad. There would be no morality. Even if there were other possible worlds, someone would have to exist outside of them, but in time, to evaluate whether our timeless world was “better” or “worse” than other timed or timeless worlds.