The Illusion of Separation

Have you ever contemplated what it might be like to experience a land without time or space? Or am I the only oddball who thinks of such things? Well, there must be a few like me but we are, no doubt, rare. Nevertheless, I want to take you on a brief excursion into a land where there is no time or space. We can only go there in our imaginations, of course, so this is purely a thought experiment. Since you and I are made of worldly stuff – atoms and molecules suspended in time – our thoughts are the only vehicle that can get us there.

For a hundred years science has known that time and space are not separate things. Rather, they are the two constituents of what Einstein called the fabric of spacetime, not unlike two sides of a single coin. Time and space cannot be separated. Remove one from the universe and the other necessarily goes with it. However, we are going to pretend for a moment that we do not know that fact and examine first time to see what a land without time would be like and then we will deal with space separately. Finally, we will put the two together and have an imaginary look around.

Clearly, a world without time would look nothing like our reality. If there were no time, all of history would happen at once and all of the future would overlay the past. To say that it would be difficult to keep track of the order of things is more than a mild understatement. Causation – the principal that an event is caused by another that preceded it – is out the window. If you and I were inside this timeless realm, we could travel any distance, even across the universe, without growing an instant older. Instantaneous travel might be the most obvious characteristic of a timeless realm. From a “moving about” point of view, timelessness turns distance (space) into an unnecessary dimension.

If there were no space, then the entire universe would exist superimposed on top of itself in a single place, at a single point, a singularity. That singularity would not be tiny nor would it be huge. Size is irrelevant here, a meaningless commodity, because no space exists to separate two or more things, even the tiniest elementary particles that make up all matter. If you and I were inside that realm, we could travel from one end of it to the other without moving at all because we would already be at our destination – at all places actually – at once. Without space, time necessarily shrinks to zero. When we remove space, time becomes a superfluous entity. But wait, isn’t that the same thing we said about the imaginary timeless realm? Yes it is. This observation underscores how connected time and space really are.

We could not live as physical beings if spacetime did not exist in our realm, obviously. Without spacetime, there is no place for the subatomic particles that assemble into the trillions of cells that make up our bodies. However, in our imaginations, we can contemplate the spacetimeless realm and the one thing we could say about such a land is that the overriding characteristic is Oneness. For example, you and I could not exist separately because there would be no space or time that separates us. Nothing would separate the cells of our bodies, even if you were of the future and I, of the distant past. The same applies to all matter and sources of energy. Indeed, this is the meaning of Emerson’s statement, “I am my brother and my brother is me.” But we are talking about a place in our imaginations. Is there a place where spacetime truly does not exist?

There is a land of no spacetime. It is real. It is a realm that is more pervasive than the air we breathe. We experience it every moment of our lives. What is it? Where is it? It is the realm of light and it is everywhere. Please allow me to explain.

In our realm, light is made up of individual particles, packets of energy called photons. They travel exactly at the speed of light, never faster, never slower. A fundamental law of physics is that, for an object that moves at that speed, time stops and distance shrinks to zero. How can that be? It is that way because light lives its life in the spacetimeless realm. That light experiences no space or time is a key attribute of Einstein’s theory of relativity published over a hundred years ago. It has since been proven accurate in innumerable experiments. Switch on a beam of light and send a stream of photons to the moon and back. Clock the time it takes. By our reckoning, the round trip takes about two and a half seconds. However, from the photons’ perspective, since they are moving 286,000 miles per second, time stops and distance shrinks to zero. They have “traveled” the distance without moving an inch and they have not aged even an instant. Alternatively, we can say it this way: spacetime does not exist in the realm of light. It is difficult to grasp but the simple fact is that light, the most pervasive thing in the universe, lives its life in that spacetimeless realm we were trying to imagine a moment ago. The land of no spacetime is real but it simply is not directly accessible by objects of the spacetime realm such as you and me.

Let’s go a little further. In everyday terms, we usually think of light as the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the small center piece. That is a narrow definition of light. Physicists usually refer to the entire spectrum as light. Light is electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetism is one of only four known forces in the universe. The other three are the strong and weak forces (they perform their work inside the nucleus of atoms) and gravity. Therefore, in addition to brightening a room when you flick the wall switch, electromagnetism is responsible for practically every familiar property of the world. It is what holds atoms together. It is what gives all materials their apparent solidity including your body and mine. It not only is the energy that flows from the sun that gives life to all living things on the planet, it is the force in material objects that stops the flow. It is responsible for what goes on inside the cells of all animals and of our bodies and the cells themselves including those in your brain and the electrical impulses within and between its cells. More than just providing illumination, light gives us the ability to see, hear, feel, think, reason and communicate.

The point is that light is the omnipresent substance that gives reality to our existence. Yet, it exists in a spacetimeless realm, a land of Oneness. It becomes observable to us only when it pops out of the spacetimeless realm into our world as a photon. You and I are made of light, our constituent parts are held together by light and our awareness of everything – by way of our senses – is due to light. Therefore, in a very real sense, we are a part of that Oneness. There is no separation. Separation only appears as a primary characteristic of our reality because of the way we perceive light.

Fundamentally, we are One.

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