A Teacher’s Dream


A Teacher’s Dream On the Nature of Time


After enduring an intense and startling dream about a difficult personal experience,  upon rising it was apparent to me that during the dream, I had acknowledged an important aspect of my own way of being, which has occasionally created challenges for others, due to my inclination toward emotional involvement, when interacting with them. While still in the dream, I seemed to understand and appreciate the predicament my emotional intensity could sometimes create, depending on the circumstances, even though I was still unable to avoid expressing it in real terms as I understood it.

In this instance, I had been engaged in an emotional conversation with a friend, and while it wasn’t a particularly unpleasant interaction, I left the room abruptly and proceeded down a hallway to a short set of stairs, where I promptly sat down in the stairway and began to weep for a moment or two.



The very next moment, I found myself walking outside in a large park of some kind, and pulled open a large green metal gate, just enough to allow myself to squeeze by and descend a long walkway leading to an open area, where a family activity was underway, and as I engaged the members of the family in the middle of this scene, I somehow found myself having to explain my reason for being there.

I shortly left that area and walked up to an adjacent building, and entered a hallway leading up to a large room with a group of young students, waiting to have a class.  The subject of the class was to be the nature of time, and it became apparent after a few moments that I was about to assume the role of teacher in that room.  As the classroom settled down, I started to speak.



 What follows is a surprisingly lengthy accounting of the ideas I expressed in that setting:


“The nature of time is not like a river,” I began, “as most people think of it.  It is more like a continuum.”


“The concept of time itself is still somewhat mysterious, especially when you consider that the current wisdom on the subject suggests it is not a linear phenomenon moving inexorably from the past to the future, creating a relentless flow of events taking place, but rather as a streaming sequence of moments that follow each other at all times. It appears now that we may be the ones traveling through time, which exists as a constant, and within which we always participate in our own way.”



“When we speak of ‘where we are’ at any given moment, it may be more correct to speak of ‘when we are,’ when that moment takes place.  The moment in which any event takes place has always been there before we ‘arrived,’ and remains there long after we have ‘departed’; it is we who are ‘traveling’ through the time continuum, experiencing each moment as we ‘arrive’ in it, and remembering each moment after we move on to the next.  Time doesn’t flow; moments in time remain where they have always been since time began, and where they will remain for whatever amount of time our universe continues to exist.”



“The beginning of the existence of space occurred at the ‘Big Bang,’ and with it, the existence of time as we experience it also began.  As we now know, for example, the light ‘arriving’ on Earth from space of distant stars, depending on how many ‘light years’ distant they are from us, is doing so long after that light actually left the location of those stars, and so the light from a star that is 100 thousand light years away, is only now arriving when we look up at the area of the sky where it can be seen, but what we see is light that left that location 100 thousand years ago.”



“The idea that time flows is based on the assumptions we make as physical creatures, who exist on a planet which rotates predictably about every 24 hours in its orbit around the sun, part of the time facing the sun, and part of the time facing away from the sun, which is also tilted part of the time more toward the sun in one hemisphere, which then eventually ‘wobbles’ back the other way, so that the opposite hemisphere then is tilted more toward the sun.  The entire planet travels in an orbit around the sun, predictably about every 365 days, and presents us with the experience of the ‘passage of time,’ with seasonal changes taking place as a result of the tilting of the angle of the Earth toward the sun, and the apparent ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ of the sun as we spin on an axis.”



“Time itself is unchanging, unmoving, existing at all moments as we experience them, and those ‘moments’ that seem to unfold as we ‘arrive,’ have been there waiting for us all along, and the moments which we describe as being in the ‘past,’ are still there, as we remember them, but to which we cannot physically return, since we are the ones ‘traveling,’ through the continuum of time.”


“It’s not obvious from our experience of the time continuum that this is the case, and as physical creatures, our perceptions of time and space and of the sequential events that we experience as our daily existence, rely on our sensory systems of sight and sound, scent and taste, and the all-important sense of touch, to determine what is happening in each moment.  Since we are limited in each of these areas regarding the range of what we can experience, as sophisticated and complex as the process of sensory experience truly can be for each of us, our perceptions of our experience can only provide us with a partial picture at best.”



Some Afterthoughts Upon Reflection

When I awoke from the dream, I immediately got up and wrote down everything I could remember.  I was astonished to see how much I was able to recall of what transpired in the dream.  It was an extraordinary dream sequence that I actually found somewhat disturbing, at least in the sense that I seemed to be quite familiar with the environment and the individuals within it, but have never actually experienced any such circumstance in my waking state.  I don’t have a clear sense of how I could have arrived at an explanation of the nature of time in this dream, even though it seemed to make sense to me while in the dream state.



Through the development of our advanced technologies, we have been able to extend our knowledge about the nature of our physical existence, and expand our understanding beyond the speculations and superstitions of the past. Even with every advancement made over the tens of thousands of years in which humans have been capable of deliberate investigation and subsequent discovery, there still remains much that we have yet to fully understand, and mysteries abound throughout the Universe, some of which we are likely not yet aware.  Exploration continues at an amazing pace in many areas of science and technology, but our understanding and appreciation of the fullness of our experience of life seems often not to be keeping pace.


Physical Reality

Physical reality, within which our moment-to-moment experience of life as a human being takes place, has revealed many fascinating and terrible aspects of existing in a physical universe, and we know for certain now, that there are a number of layers to our experience of space and time, which clearly do exist, but which we cannot affirm or prove using any traditional scientific methodology.




No one has ever actually seen an electron, traveled at the speed of light, or penetrated the farthest reaches of space, but their existence is not in question.  Other dimensions outside of the three we experience physically and the one dimension of time as we know it must exist, in order for the ones we experience to be explained.  Since they are somehow beyond the capabilities of our science to detect or demonstrate currently, we must “infer” their existence, based on what we do know.

The entire universe, in which all of everything takes place, appears to be made up mostly of undetectable “dark matter,” and is being influenced by some kind of undetectable force we call “dark energy,” which is responsible for the expansion of the universe currently. 

There are even limits to our knowledge regarding the well-understood force of gravity, which show up when we encounter what we call “black holes,” like the one at the center of our own galaxy.  No one really knows the full extent to which such extreme gravitational forces might affect our physical reality, but we do know that we don’t want to get too close to a black hole.



All of these ideas and explorations show us an undisputed aspect of our existence—there are a great many parts of our experience as a human being which are clearly understood and known, and still others which are beyond our understanding and which remain, as yet, unknown.  There are many aspects of our existence which we can demonstrate and explain through science, and others which may never yield to any scientific investigation we might devise. Even so, the existence of such aspects can be “inferred,” as a consequence of what we know to be true subjectively, and which point toward a level of experience that exists outside of our temporal existence. 


Experience and Existence

The words “experience” and “existence” are themselves an approximation based on our limited physical capacities for perception and observation of physical phenomena.  Any person with a nominally functional sensory apparatus, and central nervous system attached to a functional human brain, who has accumulated a sufficient amount of knowledge of the world, can determine that they exist physically and appreciate the range of experience possible through the use of those assets.


             Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

Every “experience” in the temporal world is made known to us and is understood through our perceptual and cognitive talents as humans, but our objective knowledge and appreciation of what takes place temporally is only part of the story.  Our objective physical “existence” is perceived and processed by our physical systems, but our moment-to-moment “experience” is profoundly and wholly subjective in nature, in spite of being reliant on our brains and senses to sustain our access to our subjective awareness. 


The Nature of Light

Light photons enter our eyes and strike the retina, which is connected to our visual cortex in the brain, which processes the electrical signals it receives in various other regions, which then “inform” us as to what it is we are seeing.  Our memories of having seen similar objects is retained in the neural networks, which have been established from previous encounters, and strengthened by repetition and sustained learning.

The eye is the portal through which light is perceived, but our subjective awareness of what we are seeing does not take place in the eye.  Our cognitive functioning allows us to process all the signals coming in through our sensory apparatus, to remember what we’ve learned, and to respond according to our respective talents. 


Subjective Awareness

Our inner subjective awareness of our temporal experience informs us about the nature of our existence, and although it relies on objective physical systems for perception and data processing, the awareness itself is subjective, and it has no physical existence in the same sense as objects do.  Thoughts are not experienced in the same way as objects, even though they are facilitated through similar objective processes. 

We can dissect a brain, determine its physical attributes, and map out the neural pathways through which the electrical signals travel, but we cannot dissect our thoughts with a scalpel, or surgically extract our awareness.  We can injure our brains and surgically remove parts of it to impair or disable our access to awareness, but the awareness itself has no objective substance.


              Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

What’s Next?

In the weeks to come, I will be re-examining some of my previous work on the nature of subjective experience, in light of more recent investigations and progress in the related fields of thought surrounding the nature of our existence, and hopefully shed some additional light on the continuing struggle to determine how it is that we experience our lives in the way that we do.

7 thoughts on “A Teacher’s Dream

    1. Thank you, Wendi! It was an unusual circumstance to be sure, especially being able to reconstruct what happened after I woke up. I’m glad you found it of interest and appreciate your visit too!

  1. I wonder whether I have simply stopped thinking about the matter. I wonder whether in fact we don’t know more than we do know. I wonder whether we need to rely on our own intuitions more as you do here, since science as yet can find no explanation for so much. Or at least for so much of what one may classify as existential questions. Perhaps I have simply copped out. Or perhaps I find such questions so disturbing to my peace of mind that I have decided to bury them.

    Currently I am content merely to go with the flow of existence. There are questions to which I would dearly like answers but I am not sure I am going to get them in my life time.

    In any event, I much look forward to your further thoughts on the matter.

    My best regards as always

    1. Anthony,

      I very much appreciate that you took such care in reviewing this post and that you shared such a thoughtful comment.

      Speaking only for myself, I continue to pursue my intuitions and to ponder what we seem not to know, first, as a matter of intense curiosity which my own encounters with the ineffable have inspired, but also, curiously and specifically BECAUSE science can find no explanation for much of what is quite clear to me subjectively. A number of the questions explored by some of the great minds of human history have provided those of us who explore today with a variety of potential or alternate answers, and if we persist in pondering their importance and relative value it is possible we might encounter an answer which leads to some degree of resolution. We understand a great deal more today than our ancient ancestors and have dispelled the notions suggested by many of the superstitions and medieval dogmas by developing and exploring the scientific methods and rational philosophies along the way. None of it was built in a day, and we are constantly building on the work and efforts of our forbearers, as every generation must do. We may not arrive at a solution to satisfy our own interests, but our efforts may one day inspire those who follow us in some way. It may not provide us with much solace now, but even if we place just one small brick in the building of the solution, it gets us that much closer.

      It seems to me, from reviewing your recent entries on your own blog, that you have come to a place in your life where you are finally allowing yourself to be concerned about those things which matter most to you, and you clearly have decided to be less concerned with that which is no longer of the same degree of interest. You have expanded your views on what might be possible; you have engaged in activities which bring you some degree of solace that may have eluded you previously, and seem now to be open to exploring avenues previously unavailable or to which your previous engagements prevented you from attending. I am intrigued greatly by your expanded views and find your thoughts to be richly deserving of the attention of your readers.

      I intend and hope to continue to express further thoughts on the matters that engage me, and, as always, appreciate your attention to my writing efforts.

      Kindest regards….John H.

      1. “One brick at a time”.

        Yes, exactly John. I don’t think the state of knowledge is going to increase dramatically in our lifetime on such an esoteric and difficult subject. I do of course concur entirely with the absolute importance of science in general – we would still be cavemen and savages without scientific enquiry. I guess what I was trying to say is that at our age it is perhaps best to approach the subject of consciousness through meditation and looking quietly inwards than by expecting any answers from science in the short term.

        For me, and I strongly expect that for you also, the encounters with the ineffable are what matter at our late stage in life. It will be down to others to find answers (if any exist). All we can do is to continue to enjoy our connections to the divine and look for it to provide increasing knowledge, satisfaction and pleasure.

        In other words direct experience for me counts far more these days than reading theories, let alone theology, god forbid.

        You very probably feel the same.


      2. Pierre Abelard, the 12th Century French philosopher and theologian, struggled greatly with the ineffable during his lifetime, and with far less knowledge generally about the nature of existence and subjective experience than we have currently. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes him as “…the teacher of his generation, he was also famous as a poet and a musician.” In spite of the stringent circumstances of his epoch, he understood the importance of investigating and pondering these important ideas, and he wrote:

        “It is by doubting that we come to investigate, and by investigating that we recognize the truth.”

        “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”

        “The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.”

        According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, around 1113 A.D., “Abelard became scholar-in-residence at Notre Dame, a position he held until he began a romantic entanglement with a woman named “Héloïse,” which led to his castration, at which point he entered the Benedictine monastery of Saint Denis and Héloïse entered the convent of Argenteuil.”

        Talk about suffering for your beliefs!

        The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also includes this quote about his life:

        “His method of philosophical analysis was seen as a direct challenge to more traditional approaches, and a synod, convened in Soissons to examine Abelard’s writings, condemned them and required Abelard to make a public avowal of faith, an experience he found humiliating; shortly afterwards he was allowed to settle in a wild and uninhabited section of land, to devote himself to contemplation.

        Abelard’s students were active as kings, philosophers, poets, politicians, theologians, and monks; they include three popes and several heads of state. Explicit references to Abelard’s thinking in the later Middle Ages are few, likely because of the cloud cast by the verdict of the Council of Soissons, but it is clear that he had a seminal influence on twelfth-century philosophy and perhaps on later fourteenth-century speculation as well. Abelard’s works were concerned with logic, philosophy of language, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind.”

        Thankfully, in our day, we have no such challenges to our ruminations as those faced by Abelard, but in exploring his works, there is food for thought, and I am inspired by his determination and courage to persist in the face of unimaginable resistance and such daunting obstacles.

        Direct experience is, indeed, far more compelling as a source of knowledge or satisfaction than reading theories or theology, but I do occasionally glean some insights from research and study of philosopher/poets like Abelard.

        “If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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