What to do with unwelcome information?
The first summer I spent in Geneva with my grandmother as a young boy, I was elated to be abroad. The color of the milk carton, the letters on the car numberplates, the mountains in the distance, people speaking French on the streets—everything was so different from Rotterdam where I lived.
Now, here in Barcelona, when I think of myself sitting on the lawn in front of my grandmother’s apartment building, I smell the linden trees again. I feel a gentle breeze on my skin and experience the same excitement in my stomach as sixty years ago. No time has passed between then and now.
I have the same experience with other memories, sitting on the balcony of the apartment Felipe and I had in Mexico more than thirty years ago, seeing my mother wave at us while playing on the beach, visiting an open-air concert in Oman in the middle of the night. It all feels as though it happened just a fraction of a second ago.
That’s why I was excited to find a YouTube video of a neuroscientist who suggested that time is basically an illusion created by the mind to aid in our sense of temporal presence in the vast ocean of space.
I watched it twice and then the algorithms presented me with a video explaining that Einstein said that the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion, albeit a very stubborn one.
I philosophised about the idea that we are floating through space as a timeless form of consciousness, feeling special that I had somehow had an intuition as to the true nature of time.
But then a video appeared on the sidebar of my screen with the title: “Einstein didn’t think time was an illusion”.
This was an unwelcome piece of information, and my first reaction was not to watch the video. When I did decide to take a look at it, I searched for reasons to disqualify the scientist.
Still, his words made me doubt. According to him Einstein wrote about time being an illusion in a letter to console the family of a dear friend who had died, but that his two physics theories do take the flow of time for granted.
What to believe? The theory that appeals to me? Or the opposite, which disappointingly leaves everything as it was?
The next time I remember an event from the past as though I’m actually there, I can use it as a proof that time is an illusion. Or I can simply decide that it’s probably just the result of my vivid imagination.