The Eleven Pictures of Time: the Physics, Philosophy, and Politics of time beliefs

(elaborated and simplified)

An interactive workshop at the Berlin festival for time issues 24, 25 March 2020, 1500-1800 Berlin time. Facebook live stream:
will be only of the conference talk on the 21st March 1430 to 1600 Berlin time (1900 to 2030 IST).

The workshop will cover the following 12 topics related to the book. Each topic will be covered in an average of approximately 20 minutes. After each hour there will be questions for around half an hour.

The book begins and ends with the Fisherman’s story: to marry a mermaid the Fisherman wants to lose his soul, but does not know how to do so.

  1. Life after deathMany ancient cultures believed in the soul and life after death, as in the stories of Nachiketa, Socrates, Chuang Tzu (butterfly’s dream), or sufi poems like those of Rumi
  2. Sceptics Equally, however, many ancient and modern sceptics rejected the belief in life after death. An ancient sceptic, Payasi, performed a variety of experiments with dying persons to test and reject the belief in life after death.
  3. Cosmic recurrence or “cyclic” timeHowever, Payasi’s experiments refute only a simplistic belief in life after death. The correct understanding of the ancient belief in life after death is in the context of cosmic recurrence (as in Bhagvad Gita), or as in the Nietzsche’s attempted reconstruction. Ancient symbols of cyclic time include the Egyptian Ouroboros, the Buddhist Kalachakra, the Maya/Aztec calendar stones, and the Nataraja (dancing Shiva). With cosmic recurrence, not only are people reborn, everything in the cosmos repeats. Roughly, this corresponds to cyclic time. This notion of life after death with “cyclic” time meets all the objections raised by sceptics, both ancient and modern. But is it science?
  4. Cosmic recurrence in physicsCosmic recurrence or “cyclic” time is scientifically possible. In Newtonian physics, on the Poincare recurrence theorem, the cosmos must recur if it is closed. That is, every microstate of a closed cosmos must repeat to an arbitrary degree of precision, infinitely often. The theorem can be extended to general relativity (case of geodesic flow), and a similar theorem holds in quantum mechanics. I point out the flaws in the text-book resolution of the recurrence paradox of thermodynamics.
  5. The curse on cyclic timeApart from physics we need to understand also the politics of time beliefs. The church, after it married the Roman state, cursed this belief in life after death in the context of cosmic recurrence. Early Christianity derived from Egyptian mystery religion (“paganism”). As elaborated by Origen, it accepted cosmic recurrence; it also accepted equity. But the later-day post-Nicene church misrepresented cosmic recurrence as the collapse of morality. The real political reason was to promote inequity: the state-church wanted to project exclusive benefits for converting to Christianity, to be able to sell Christianity.
  6. Nietzsche and eternal recurrenceNietzsche advocated eternal recurrence as a case of science against Christianity, resulting in the collapse of church morality. Ironically, he not only overlooked (a) early Christianity, but also (b) the later-day church anathemas and bulls against equity, and (c) the centuries of persistent church support for racism and slavery, manifest in his time. Instead, he thought the church stood for equity. To substantiate eternal recurrence as science, he used defective general arguments. These arguments can be corrected to fit a model of probabilistic evolution called the Markovian model: resulting in Markovian recurrence. But Nietzsche fell into Augustine’s trap, of a binary of linear vs cyclic time, and failed to understand the church misrepresentation of cyclic time.
  7. Augustine’s trap and its victimsAugustine set up a simple binary of linear vs cyclic time to reject “cyclic” time. This binary enabled him to confound two distinct types of cyclic time: he misrepresented quasi recurrence (recurrence with deliverance) as exact recurrence (recurrence without deliverance). This enabled him to reject “cyclic” time and propose instead “linear” apocalyptic time. Because of church hegemony, this binary has persisted in Western thought down to the present day, and its victims included Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot and Mircea Eliade. However, there isn’t any one kind of “cyclic” time. One must distinguish different types of cyclic time, such as quasi cyclic time and supercyclic time. In ancient models of life after death, deliverance (moksha, nirvana) was always possible and was the ultimate goal. For life after death plus deliverance we need quasi-cyclic time as distinct from eternal recurrence.
  8. The eleven pictures of timeThe binary of linear vs cyclic time has also resulted in confounding distinct and incompatible kinds of linear time, as in conflating between linear mundane time and the superlinear time of physics, a confusion common in Western theology/philosophy of “free will”. To resolve this confusion, I destroy the Augustinian binary: using 1 and 1 to make 11 instead of 2 pictures of time. But, is quasi-cyclic time scientifically possible? Yes. This requires not so much a change in physics as a changed understanding of existing physics. This naturally extends to the question of what are the time beliefs in different religions? How far are they compatible with science? To re-examine this issue of science and religion in a politically neutral way, a new science is needed, a science free from the political pressure of Western religious prejudices.
  9. The physics of quasi-cyclic time
    1. History dependence

      The first step is to understand that current physics is history-dependent. This destroys the hypotheses of the recurrence theorems (whether Poincare’s or Markovian). That is, recurrence can no longer be exact or eternal (even granting that exact recurrence is conceptually meaningful).

    2. The tilt in the arrow of timeThe second step is to reject the metaphysics of causality, and accept tiny departures from it or history dependence plus a tilt in the arrow of time as the most general form of current physics. If a tilt in the arrow of time increases with time, the cosmos will be quasi recurrent, but not eternally or exactly recurrent; i.e., repeated rebirth with deliverance (moksha, nirvana) is physically possible.
    3. The tilt and creativity vs time machinesA tilt allows interaction with the future and past, but this cannot be done mechanistically as in fictional or hypothetical time machines. It can happen only spontaneously and creatively. Physics with a tilt in the arrow of time is non-mechanistic, we no longer have a clockwork cosmos controlled by God. With a tilt creativity is possible: there is continuous creation or a creative cosmos. No relation to the weak and crude theories of continuous creation like those of Hoyle and Narlikar. But it is easily possible to relate this also to, say, the creative cosmos in Egyptian thought/Neoplatonism, or to conditioned co-origination in Buddhist thought, or continuous creation in Islamic thought.
  10. Creationism from Philoponus to Stephen Hawking to Ben CarsonBut we have again to contend with the politics of time beliefs. Continuous creation is contested by the church which has always wanted people to believe in one-time creation whether Biblical or Big Bang or singularity theory. The politics began long ago: Philoponus (6th c.) contested Proclus on the explicit grounds that an eternal world would contradict the account of creation in the scripture. This politics is persistent, as clear from the Scopes (Monkey) trial to present-day US Presidential elections and Ben Carson (Presidential candidate, and now Secretary in Trump’s administration). But few are aware of how this politics creeps into science, as in the creationism of Stephen Hawking, via singularity theory, a creationism which mimics the fiats, arguments, and conclusions of Augustine, while masquerading as “objective” science.
  11. The politics of reason and superlinear timeBriefly, the problem is that present-day science, as in Hawking’s singularity theory, etc. sometimes uses formal mathematics, instead of normal mathematics. Formal mathematics brought by colonial education, badly needs to be decolonised, because this tool of science is infected with politics, How? The church hijacked math during the Crusades to suit its politics and theology of reason. The church (not Greeks) invented faith-based reasoning or axiomatic math, as a convenient way to accept reason while avoiding facts. Formal or axiomatic math today brings in also the church metaphysics of eternity through axioms of infinity which cannot be empirically checked. Using it for science allows this metaphysics to be smuggled into science, as in the belief that calculus requires “real” numbers, so that time must be superlinear (like the “real” line), just to be able to make sense of the differential equations of physics. This metaphysics of superlinear time is fatal to creativity, unless we confound it with linear mundane time. A tilt restores true creativity.
  12. The creative cosmosA change in our scientific understanding of the cosmos does revalue all values. The creative cosmos replaces the created cosmos, and gives a new meaning and purpose to life as concerned with the creation of order or harmony, and the constant striving to create a better world. Is man really God, though neither all-powerful nor all-knowing? As in the story of Svetaketu, or Abu Yazid? This is also how the Fisherman’s story ends.

Recommended reading

General reference:

The Eleven Pictures of Time: the physics, philosophy and politics of time beliefs, Sage 2003. See a preview of the book (Kindle: look inside at See, also, webpage:


Time: towards a consistent theory, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 1994. Fundamental theories of physics, vol. 65. See webpage:

For a later account of how a changed picture of time changes values see

The Harmony Principle” Philosophy East and West, 63(4) (2013) pp. 586–604.

For the relation of a tilt to creativity and time travel see.

Time Travel and the Reality of Spontaneity” Found. Phys., 36(7) 2006, pp. 1099–1113.

For an account of how the church hijacked mathematics, see

Euclid and Jesus: how and why the church changed mathematics and Christianity across two religious wars, Multiversity, Penang, 2012.

For an account of how church dogmas of eternity penetrated into the formal mathematics of infinity see,

Eternity and Infinity: the Western misunderstanding of Indian mathematics and its consequences for science today.” American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Asian and Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies 14(2) (2015) pp. 27–33. Posted at

For the mathematically inclined, interested in a general expository account of the mathematical reformulation of physics with a tilt in the arrow of time, using mixed-type functional differential equations, see the following:

For the ongoing efforts to decolonise mathematics and teach calculus and geometry as normal math without “real” numbers see:

  • Teaching Mathematics with a Different Philosophy. 2: Calculus without limits”. Science and Culture, 77 (2011) 281–86.

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