Space, Time and Eternity DR. HARIDAS CHAUDHURI SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL No. 9 15th August, 1950 ON THE OCCASION OF THE 78th BIRTHDAY OF SRI AUROBINDO SRI AUROBINDO PATHAMANDIR CALCUTTA
TIME AS THE SUPREME CREATIVE PRINCIPLE
While Spinoza holds that all material objects are modes of space or extension, Bergson contends that all the objects of our experience are deposits of the movement of time. For Spinoza, space is something basic, it is some sort of stuff, a view from which, as we shall see later on, Alexander takes his clue, though space conceived as a stuff is undoubtedly in his opinion an attribute of one infinite substance. For Bergson it is time which is funda- mental, and all phenomena are precipitated within the flux of time. Time is not only objectively and independently real, it is the one ultimately real creative principle. And this time, the essence of which is duration and free creation, is to be conceived as absolutely free from spatiality. Bergson agrees with Gentile that reciprocal exclusion of the elements of the manifold is of the essence of space. Space which is thus envisaged as a principle of reci- procal exclusion is a shadow of the intellect; it is said to be correlative to our thought which is weighted with geometry. Bergson disagrees with Gentile with regard to the nature of multiplicity. While, according to Gentile,, all objective multiplicity is necessarily mutually exclusive and spatial, according to Bergson, there may be non-spatial multiplicity. Time is, in Bergson's view, an interfused and interpenetrating multiplicity involved in one creative urge; it is an indivisible creative act or movement. It is our intellectual habit of employing spatial metaphors that prevents an undistorted vision of the nature of time. That same habit is responsible for our conception of physical space-time or of equable and homogeneous mathematical time. The intellect, by virtue of its cinematographic mechanism, finds it practically necessary or useful to take static snapshot views of the continuous mobility of time. These immobile snapshots are then placed in juxtaposition in space...
THE EPOCHAL THEORY OF TIME
Like Russell, Whitehead also subscribes to the relational theory of space and time. According to Whitehead, the fundamental fact is the passing of nature, its development, its creative advance. "Actual entities", "actual occasions", or "events", which are involved in the creative advance of Nature, are also extensive one in relation to another. Time and space ori- ginate as abstractions from these two basic facts, namely, the passage of events and the extension of events over each other. Space, however, differen- tiates itself from time, in Whitehead's opinion, at a somewhat developed stage of the abstractive process. Space and time are not, of course, abstrac- tions in the sense that they do not express real facts for us. When White- head calls them abstractions, he means to assert that there are no spatial facts or temporal facts or even spatio-temporal facts apart from physical nature. Space and time are, in his opinion, merely ways of expressing cettain truths about the relations between events. Moreover, what we mean by space or time under one set of circumstances is not what we mean by space or time under another set of circumstances. The fundamental and more general scheme of relations of which space and time are speciali- sations is what Whitehead calls "the extensive continuum". This extensive continuum is not a fact prior to the world; it is the first determination of order that is, of real potentiality arising out of the genral character of the world...
SPACE AND TIME AS RELATIVE, BUT NOT RELATIONAL
Professor Alexander, who is in dead earnest with the reality of space and time, repudiates the relational theory as expounded by Russell and White- head. Space and time are v/ithout doubt relative to each other, but still, in his opinion, they can hardly be treated as relational schemes abstracted from a concrete stuff of sense-data or actual occasions of experience. Nor is space-time a form of matter, as Einstein suggests. Alexander is emphatic in his assertion that space-time is the fundamental stuff of all things; it is, in his picturesque pharaseology, "the matrix of all existence and the nurse of all becoming." Space-Time is the fundamental stuff, not of course in the traditional sense of substance, but in so far as it is the world in its simplest form of expression; it is the primordial form of existence within which all empirical things are differentiated as finite complexes of motion. An empirical thing, say an orange or even a patch of colour, not only occu- pies a definite portion of space-time, but is itself extended and enduring. Space-time may be said to penetrate into its very essence and being. So, the question is forced into our mind. What would be the relation between the spatio-temporal essence of a thing and the portion of space-time which it externally occupies? A very embarrassing question this! Alexander holds that the relation between space-time and empirical existents is not, to be sure, an external one. Taking his clue from Spinoza, he maintains that all material objects are modes of space or extension, or, to be more accurate and in keeping with modern ways of thinking, they are spatio-tem- poral configurations differentiated by some empirical emergent quality...
In McTaggart's philosophy we find that a serious attempt is made to demonstrate the synthetic character of space and time as both subjective and objective. He calls them phenomena bene fundata in as much as they are not mere phenomena in Kant's sense of the term, but are such phenomena as correspond to some indisputable features of ultimate reality. Space is cha- racterised by co-existence of a plurality of reciprocally exclusive parts and by infinite divisibility of these parts. Now, the features of co-existence, reciprocal exclusion, and infinite divisibility are ultimately real, because according to McTaggart reality consists of an impersonal unity of a plurality self-subsistent spiritual substances or selves, which are mutually exclusive in respect of their existence. The nature of each of these self-subsistent selves is infinitely divisible, the terms in the process of such division being perceptions of other selves and their perceptions. What is erroneous or illusory about space is its appearance as an attribute of matter or as locus of the existence of matter. McTaggart advances an array of close-knit arguments to demonstrate the unreality of matter...
SPACE-TIME AS SELF-EXTENSION OF THE SPIRIT
It should be abundantly clear from the foregoing discussion that according to the Integral Idealism of Sri Aurobindo the fundamental reality of space-time is spiritual self-extension of ultimate reality. Reality is, in its original status and intrinsic nature, the spaceless and timeless Spirit. Space and time are the same Reality self-extended to contain the deployment of what is within it. Now, the self-extension of the infinite and eternal Spirit must be infinite and eternal too. So it may be said that the fundamental truth of space is the infinity of the Infinite, whereas the fundamental truth of time is the eternity of the Eternal. This doctrine of the spiritual essence of space-time would not in the least be affected by the diversity of interpre- tation that might be placed upon the spacific relationship between space and time. The spiritual theory of space and time may primarily be under- stood to mean that Space is Brahman as self-extended status, and Time is Brahman as self-extended movement. This implies that Space is a static extension *n which all things stand or move together in a fixed order, and Time is a mobile extension which is measured by movement and flux of events. But such a construction would be based upon our prima facie inaccurate impressions about space and time. The truth perhaps is that Space is Brahman as self-extended for the holding together of forms and objects, and Time is Brahman as self-extended for the deployment of the movement of self-power carrying forms and objects. Such a view would make Space and Time not two different kinds of self-extension, but two inseparable aspects of one and the same self-extension of the cosmic Eternal.
Bradley has drawn the attention of the philosophic world to the existence of different spaces and different times. In addition to one all-embracing physical space, there are different dream-spaces, imaginary spaces, and the conceptual space that functions as the habitat of our different concepts. Similarly, in addition to one all-embracing physical time there are dream times and the imaginary times that belong to our different stories. The commonsense method of understanding this multiplicity of different spaces and different times is to affirm the reality of physical space and physical time alone, and to relegate the rest of it to the realm of pure illusion. Prof. Alexander, a neo-realist that he is, cannot but accord reality to mental spaces and mental times, but he takes considerable pains to show that the latter have spatio-temporal connection with, and consequently fall within, the one all-emcompassing physical Space-Time. Mr. Bradley maintains that mental spaces do no doubt possess a type of reality of their own, but still they cannot be said to have any spatial connection with the physical space which is as much a product of ideal construction as they themselves are. In his judgment, the different kinds of space, physical and mental, can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-spatial unity. Simi- larly, mental times such as belong to dreams and stories cannot be said to have any temporal connection with the physical time which is as much an ideal construction as the former. So, the different kinds of time, physical and mental, can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-temporal unity.
Integral Idealism holds that different spaces and different times which are relative to different states of consciousness do surely enjoy each a spacific type of reality of its own. But, according to Integral Idealism, the fundamental truth and essential basis of the wide diversity of spaces and times is neither one physical space-time as Alexander holds, nor one mys- terious all-engulfing Whole that swallows them up beyond recognition as Bradley suggests, but the self-extension of the creative Spirit. All times and spaces are, as Sri Auiobindo puts it, "renderings of a fundamental spiritual reality of Time-Space." ...
As Sri Aurobindo testifies 'out mind can move in its own space in such a way as to effectuate a movement also in space of Matter or act upon something distant in space of Matter!- But behind this mental extension, there is a stil! higher kind of extenson, a pure spiritual space, which contains within itself the secret essence of phy- sical space. A man can step back into this higher kind of extension by a mighty effort of concentration. From pure spiritual space which is revealed to the inward eye of the soul time seems to drop away, as there is no perception of any change or movement there. It is this timeless spiritual extension which manifests itself in the shape of the subjective mind-field at the level of the pure mind, and in the shape of the objective field of senseperception at the level of the sense-mind. Similarly, by drawing back from the physical time by inward spiritual movement, it is possible to have an increasing insight into the essence of the temporal. Just as the ultimate truth about the nature of space is the infinity of the Infinite, so also the ultimate truth about the nature of time is the eternity of the Eternal.
We, human beings, involved as we are in the movement of time, are tied down to the passing moment in respect of immediate experience. Moving along with the movement of time, we can lay hold only of very tiny temporal fragments that go to constitute our ever-shifting specious present. The past and the future alike are to us but ideal constructions. But though we cannot directly perceive the past and the future, we construct the time- process in our imagination as a beginningless and endless series, as an eternal movement, flow or stream. Now, critical reflection can never reconcile itself to such a beginningless and endless movement of time. The infinite time-process, which is for us an ideal construction, must also be capable of being directly experienced in order that it may be said to be concretely real.
Royce suggests that just as a definite length of time, however small, the specious present that contains a rearward and forward-looking end, is immediately given to the finite span of human consciousness, similarly the whole time-process with its three periods of past, present and future, must be immediately present in a flash of intuition to the "Eternal Now" or the infinite span of consciousness of the Absolute.
Royce maintains that it is utter folly to denounce the infinite time-process as a "bad infinite". Even when considered as a conceptual construction, the time-series, properly understood, is quite self-coherent and satisfactory to the intellect. Modern mathematics has amply demonstrated that the concept of the serial infinite is quite intelligible as a self-imaging or self-representative system (as a "kette"). It is present at a stroke to our thought by means of its defining concept. But in order that the time-process may gain concrete reality, it must also have a place, in Royce's opinion, in some all-inclusive immediate expe- rience. It must be present indeed as a "totum simul" to the infinite span of consciousness of the Divine. "The eternal insight", as Royce puts it, "observes the whole of time and all that happens therein, and is eternal only by virtue of the fact that it does know the whole of time".
But the infinite order of time is not only concretely real as an object of immediate consciousness of God, it is not simply a totum simul., it is also, as Pringle Pattison points out, a singificant whole embraced in the Divine Consciousness which at the same time transcends it. It is significant as a teleological scheme, the successive moments of time being different stages in the progressive realisation of the Divine Will or Purpose. It is to this fact of being sustained by the Divine Will that the infinite process of time owes its unity and continuity. If, however, we are to follow the indications of spiritual experience, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there is also an aspect of conscious- ness, a poise of being of the Spirit, to which the category of time is simply inapplicable. The Spirit in its supracosmic transcendence is characterised by timeless eternity. In respect of its immediate status or self-absorbed essentiality, the Absolute is without any development of consciousness in movement or happening. But since supra-cosmic transcendence, cosmic universality, and intnv-cosmic individuality are, in the view of Integral Idealism, only different poises of being of the same Supreme Spirit, so timelessness, totum simul, and time-movement, are but different statuses or positions taken by consciousness with regard to the same Eternal Reality. While Bradley's conception of eternity as the transmuted essence of time is true of the Spirit in its self-absorption, Royce's view of eternity as a totum simul or as the whole-consciousness of an infinite succession is true of the Spirit in its cosmic universality or dynamic creativity, and the ordinary view of eternity as an endless march of time is true of the Spirit in its individual entanglement in the creative flux.
It must not be supposed that the different presentations of the Eternal as described above are incapable of existing together, so that they are only successive phases either in our apprehension of reality or in the gradual self-alienation of reality itself. It must not, for example, be supposed that when the timeless experience of the Absolute is attained, the embracing consciousness of time as a totum simul or the simultaneous integrality of Time as well as the advancing consciousness of the time-movement must forthwith melt away like vanishing mist. It must not also be supposed that God cannot at the same time have an aspect of timeless experience and an aspect of inclusive consciousness of the entire time-process. Timelessness, eternal now, and endless succession are in fact the same Eternity in its different forms relative to the different poises of being of the Spirit. They form a simultaneous multiplicity of self-presentations of the same Reality; they correspond to different powers of self-awareness of the Supreme, the power of status and non-manifestation, the power of self-effectuating action, and the power of sportive self-entanglement in the flux of becoming. God in His unmanifest essentiality is eneffably non- temporal; God in His self-manifestting creativity is inclusive of the temporal; and God in His self-alienated embodiment moves long with the movement of the temporal.