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TIME CHEST:

Particle-Wave Duality: from Time Confinement to Space Transcendence

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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2.2.6 The Discrete Nature of Time


Apart from all what we have mentioned above, the most important and distinctive of Ibn al-Arabi’s ideas about time is that he considers it to be quantized. Thus he declared in the Futuhat and other books that “the smallest time is the single time that does not accept division” [II.384.31].

There has been a great deal of debate in the history of philosophy and science as to whether time (and space) is discrete or continuous, though most philosophers and scientists deal with time as an infinitely divisible quantity. However, the Asharite theologians’ distinctive physical theory of Monadology (from Monad - jawhar, or “indivisible atom” ) is entirely built on the discreteness of space and time, and Ibn al-Arabi himself acknowledges his debt to them for this understanding. For example, al-Baqillani (d. 1013), one of the famous Asharite theologians, suggested an atomic nature of time, according to which in each quanta of time the entire world annihilates and is re-created in a slightly different form. This perspective is at least verbally and conceptually very much in accord with Ibn al-Arabi’s fundamental principle of the ongoing re-creation of all things (as discussed in details in Chapter V of Volume I), but the Asharite theologians did not make any reference to the key experiential basis of this spiritual insight which is so central to Ibn al-Arabi’s discussion of the “ever-renewed creation” . What is also new and distinctive here about Ibn al-Arabi’s understanding of this conception of time is that he argues that the actual “quanta” of time equals our normal earthly day itself!

It is not easy to bridge the gap between this metaphysical hypothesis and our everyday familiar experience of indefinitely divisible time: of the year into months, the month into weeks, the week into days, the day into hours, hour into minutes, minutes into seconds, and so on apparently infinitely. Ibn al-Arabi, however, explains plainly why time has to be discrete according to his understanding, as it has been explained with more details in Chapter IV of Volume I, and again in Chapter IV of Volume II. Here we can only give a general preview:

For Ibn al-Arabi, time itself does not have a separate entity, but is reduced to motion or, more precisely, to the ongoing creative acts of God, or cosmic “events” (each discrete divine “Task” ) of each “Day” . And according to the Quranic description of God, each Day He is upon some (one single) task (Quran 55:29). And since, as Ibn al-Arabi explains, Allah specified in this verse that He is every Day in “one” task, and not many as we perceive through our imagination, which witnesses a multitude of events everyday because of the intertwining between these Divine Days and our normal days. This means that this “Day” has to be indivisible, because only one divine action or event should be happening in it. As we have seen, Ibn al-Arabi uses the same Quranic term and therefore calls this fundamental quantum of time “the Day of Task” or divine event, or, using an expression taken from the physical theory of Asharite theology, “the singular (unique) time” [I.292.16, II.82.6]. Therefore the single “Day of task” in reality equals our normal day; or more precisely, a full revolution of the celestial sphere as viewed from the earth. Ibn al-Arabi helps to clarify this counter-intuitive understanding of the foundational divine “Event” by introducing some related new concepts that are also based on certain Quranic verses.

The first related concept is that the World is surely re-created every singular day over and over again [II.208.26, II.385.4]. So we (our souls), as part of this world, live or ordinarily experience only our very limited portion from this singular day; a single instantaneous “moment” of time that equals the global “24 hours” taking place within the entire world at that particular instant, but as divided up (in actual perception) by the total number of perceiving entities and their perceptions in the World. During this divine creative “glance” , we perceive a still picture of our limited perception of the World, after which we intrinsically cease to exist. Then in the second “Day” (actually in the second “Week’!), we live another moment to perceive a different still picture, due to the ever-new creation created by Allah in this singular day. Thus, through a succession of these instantaneously re-created new “pictures” of the whole, we observe what appears to be motion, just as with the illusion of cinematic projection. We said “in the second Week” because Ibn al-Arabi showed that we are indeed only living in “Saturday” , since the other “Days” (of Creation) of the Divine Week, from Sunday to Friday of the Days of tasks, are for space not for time, because at every moment in our life the World is re-created in six Days (for space), and it is then displayed on Saturday, but we do not witness the process of creating the World: we only witness it as created. So our life as a time is a collection of Saturdays, and each moment that we live is indeed a Week; six Days for creating the World in space, and Saturday for displaying it in time.

The other related concept is that the moments that we feel flowing as day-times and night-times are actually a collection (of discrete time-space quanta), and not a straightforward combination of the actual flow of the single divine “Days” . The normal days that we encounter are “intertwined” , another key Quranic expression, with the actually existing cosmic “Days of tasks” in a special way that has been demonstrated in Chapter IV (in both Volumes I and II). As a result of this intertwining, we see the appearance of a multitude number of events in our normal days.

In addition to that, Ibn al-Arabi also reminds us that at every moment there is a full day around the globe: evening somewhere, morning somewhere else, and noon in other places. Therefore, at every moment for us, which is a full day when viewed globally, Allah creates a single event in the World; and then He re-creates the World in ever-new events at each succeeding moment. The day that we perceive and experience is therefore a collection of successive “snapshots” of the actual “Days of events” which are the actual existing basis for our experience of the flow of time.

As we said above, the idea of discrete time (and space) is not new in the history of philosophy and physics, though it had been completely discarded after the advent of classical Newtonian mechanics. However, many philosophers (such as Kant, Russell and Leibniz) have opposed Newton’s hypothesis that space and time have a separate linear and continuous entity as we showed in section I.8. With the advent of Quantum Mechanics, Field Theory, the Theory of Quantum Gravity and the Superstrings, the idea of a quantized time (and space) was revived again, and much work has recently been done in this respect, without any considerable success.

The human mind naturally thinks of quantities as either discrete or continuous; there is no other way. A closer examination of Ibn al-Arabi’s view of time, however, shows that it is indeed neither discrete nor continuous. We must remember that he considers time as imaginary after all, as well as most other quantities such as space and even mass (see section VII.9). As we indicated previously, such seemingly strange conclusions result directly from Ibn al-Arabi’s fundamental theory of the Oneness of Being: i.e., that the apparent “parts” of existence are merely manifestations of a single real existence that is One and Unique, neither multiple nor divisible. The notion of either discreteness or continuity is indispensable when we imagine multitudes, but with absolute Unity there would be no meaning to such conceptions. Therefore, Ibn al-Arabi’s concept of time is that it would be discrete if we approach it on the (ultimately imaginary) plane of apparent multiplicity, but in reality there is no such reality as “time” at all. The same perspective can be applied to space.



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  • ... e) is discrete or continuous, though most philosophers and scientists deal with time as an infinitely divisible quantity. However, the Asharite theologians’ distinctive physical theory of Monadology (from Monad - jawhar , or “indivisible atom” ) is entirely built on the discreteness ...


  • ... Foundational Divine =>:

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  • ... Ultimately Imaginary =>:

  • ... imagine multitudes, but with absolute Unity there would be no meaning to such conceptions. Therefore, Ibn al-Arabi’s concept of time is that it would be discrete if we approach it on the ( ULTIMATELY IMAGINARY ) plane of apparent multiplicity, but in reality there is no such reality as “ ...


  • ... Indivisible Atom =>:

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  • ... much work has recently been done in this respect, without any considerable success. The human mind naturally thinks of quantities as either discrete or continuous; there is no other way. A CLOSER EXAMINATION of Ibn al-Arabi’s view of time, however, shows that it is indeed neither discre ...


  • ... Quranic Verses =>:

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  • ... Separate Entity =>:

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  • ... Quantized Time =>:

  • ... ve a separate linear and continuous entity as we showed in section I.8. With the advent of Quantum Mechanics, Field Theory, the Theory of Quantum Gravity and the Superstrings, the idea of a QUANTIZED TIME (and space) was revived again, and much work has recently been done in this respect, ...


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I have no doubt that this is the most significant discovery in the history of mathematics, physics and philosophy, ever!

By revealing the mystery of the connection between discreteness and contintuity, this novel understanding of the complex (time-time) geometry, will cause a paradigm shift in our knowledge of the fundamental nature of the cosmos and its corporeal and incorporeal structures.

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Mohamed Haj Yousef


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The science of Time is a noble science, that reveals the secret of Eternity. Only the Elites of Sages may ever come to know this secret. It is called the First Age, or the Age of ages, from which time is emerging.
Ibn al-Arabi [The Meccan Revelations: Volume I, page 156. - Trns. Mohamed Haj Yousef]
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