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My invitation to devise a little experiment with time is a good example of how ideas grow in the mind.  As I explained, the experiment has been done before ; and it was probably serendipitous.  Like most experiments, in itself it is of little moment ; but, like a small mustard seed, it has potential for growth provided it is planted in a fertile mind ; a mind that is regularly turned over and with lots of compost in it.

First, imagine the experiment to be done.  Imagine sitting  (with sandwiches and the Thermos) on a hillside that overlooks a winding country lane some way below ; the lane is hedged on both sides and there are trees here and there ; also you see fields, some arable, some meadow.  And, casting your gaze from left to right along the lane, you notice first a cottage, then a large oak a few hundred yards further on, and then further on a cow showing an intense interest in the lush grass in the verge – grass that it cannot reach.

With this glorious panorama in your mind, you then notice a man coming into view ; he is walking along the lane, entering from your left.  You wonder what he is doing there.  Clearly he is going somewhere.  He has a purpose.  Is he going to the cottage?  Is he intent on climbing the oak?  Does he have an appointment with the cow?  Or is he making his way along the entire length of the lane and out of your field of vision?  You don’t know, so you watch and wait.

You notice that, because of the hedges and bends in the lane, the man cannot see the cottage or the oak or the cow all at once.  He must encounter them one at a time.

He passes the cottage and looks at it.  You realise that, while he is able to see the cottage, it is in his present time ; but that, once he is out of sight of it,  then it is in his past time.  He can know the cottage only from his memory.  But – for you, the cottage is still in your present time.

When he reaches the oak, it enters into his present time from out of his future time.  But, again, for you, the oak had always been in your present time ; and it remains so even when it has entered his past time.

At this stage, of course, the cow is in his future time and he has no idea that it even exists, except as a possibility.  But you have all along known it to be there.

So, you see, this Time thing seem to be all about points of view.  And it seems to be bound up with Space.  A number of people in the nineteenth century pondered this experiment, and between them came up with some very interesting ideas.  But the question of space/time is far from settled, even today.

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It is not fashionable nowadays to speak of the Zeitgeist, that something that affects first the collective unconscious and then the collective conscious.  But, nevertheless, it does happen that periods occur when a particular idea seems to be infectious ; when the idea emerges from several people who seem to have no contact with each other.  The problem for Zeitgeist theorists is that it is tricky to establish whether or not the various people with the idea have indeed had contact.

The years from the lateish nineteenth century to about the mid-twentieth were interesting from many points of view.  Were Einstein’s opinions on Time entirely due to his own cogitations?  Or was he influenced (directly or indirectly) by such writers as Henry James and JM Barrie? or by such physicists as AN Whitehead?  Or the eighteenth century writer, Jean d’Alembert.  It is probably idle to speculate, though maybe somebody has already done the research.

There seems little doubt that Tolkien was influenced by other writers in his inspiration for his rivetting tales.  For the relation between Self and Space and Time is the key to his understanding of Middle Earth and those even older realms discovered (or revealed) in his various adventures.  And this understanding seems to have come, not exclusively, but principally from JW Dunne.  But, with Tolkien, we must be careful in our attributions, for he was a formidable scholar and he might well have derived his ideas first from the Old English literature.

At any rate, all these authors and others gave many people pause for thought on the natures of, and relations between, Self, Space and Time.  There was one nineteenth century author (not terribly well-known) who set up a nice little experiment to demonstrate our common ability to see through time – both backwards and forwards.  And what was most important about his experiment was its method rather than the results ; for this seems to have triggered the ideas of the later (and perhaps more sophisticated) thinkers on the subject.

The experiment requires a choice of location but no equipment ; and it can be done as a thought-experiment quite easily because it is so simple.  No precognitive dreams are needed, no mystics, no darkened rooms with incense.

And no deep meditations are needed, either ;  that comes later.

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