The Mystery of Time – Groundhog Letter to Madame Melina



From Groundhog Days – Intercourse on Time

By Melina Costello & David Arthur Walters

September 20, 2003

Dear Madame Melina,

As you know so well, Ouspensky contemplated the mystery of ‘time,’ said he knew nothing, and said that to understand time, one has to know it:

“In reality, of course, no one knows anything. The mystery of existence before birth and existence after death, if there is such existence, is the mystery of time. And ‘time’ guards its secrets better than many people think. In order to approach these mysteries it is necessary first to understand time itself.”

Thinking about time bores most people while good science fiction about time travel does not. Yet the origin of the best science fiction on the subject is abstract speculation about the nature of time. Furthermore, some of the best thinkers throughout time have had an undying interest in speculating about time.

There are many answers to the question, What is time? One being that there is no such thing as time; to which we respond, “All right, then, but what is it that is not? What do you mean by time?”

We have many conceptions of time, but they are not time itself. Psychologically speaking, time seems to be an intuitive faculty, prior to experience, that allows us to order experience in a linear series with three phases: what has happened, or the past, which is all that we really know to some extent; what is happening at the moment, or the present, which we do not know until it passes; and what is to come in the future, which we do not know until we reflect on it after it happens. That is, all that we know has already past, and because of the apparent order of its events, we expect that order to be repeated in the future. It is as if we live in one phase of time, the past, and who can say for sure if there are three phases? Maybe everything has already happened and we are just remembering it over and over as it eternally recurs. Thus do absurd speculations denying time begin; our speculations cannot escape the common sense of time.

Prehistoric and primitive people did not have the sophisticated objective or mechanical conception of time that we do. They might find our everyday tenses incomprehensible; but they had their seasonal and astronomical clocks, regularities which they used to mark or time significant and crucial events. Of course human birth and death are crucial moments; a third is the marriage of birth and death in sexual union, where two die to make a new life – the three Fates attend birth, marriage, and death. Death, a name for whatever is before birth and after death, is no doubt the greatest mystery of all; we wake up every day, therefore we expect to live forever; at first death other than by accident or murder seems to be due to some unnatural or supernatural cause.

Death is very strange to a self-conscious creature used to living. Anthropologists tell us that the awareness that we will die and our response to death is at the very foundation of being human beings. It is said that elephants know they will die and therefore they go off to a secret place to do so; that is somewhat at variance with the recent film of bewildered male elephants trying to get their dead female companion on her feet by using every means at their disposal including lifting her and repeatedly mounting her. But she did not budge. She was dead. Her time was past. Or was it? On that we can speculate while her friends are totally stumped.

Time is somehow bound up with our lives, is essential to our lives; our devices for measuring time may help to maintain and perpetuate life; at the same time, we fell that clocks measure the loss of the individual life as it approaches the great unknown. Some say there is nothing to the unknown as far as the individual is concerned; dust returns to dust and clocks tick for the living; and if none are left living, the great clock wound up still runs on and on until the universe winds down, if it does. Others want more time, in a future life.

Ouspensky said, “The mystery of existence before birth and after death, if there is such existence, is the mystery of time.” He pointed out that we normally associate the three phases of time, Before, Now, and After, with Before Birth, Life, and After Death.

“It is precisely here that the fundamental mistake lies…. Outside this life, outside the usual perception, the interrelation of the three phases of time can change; in any case, we have no guarantee that it will remain the same. And yet, in ordinary thought, including religious, theosophical, and ‘occult’ thought, this question is never raised. ‘Time’ is regarded as something which is not subject to discussion, as something which belongs to us once and for all and cannot be taken away from us, and which is always the same. Whatever may happen to us, ‘time’ will always belong to us, and not only ‘time’, but even ‘eternity.’ We use this word without understanding its true meaning. We take ‘eternity’ to be an infinite extension of time, while really ‘eternity’ means another dimension of time.”

Your Faithful Groundhog


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