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THE SINGLE MONAD MODEL OF THE COSMOS:

Ibn al-Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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PREFACE


 

 

 

Ibn Arabi is one of the most prominent figures in Islamic history, especially in relation to Sufism and Islamic philosophy and theology. In this book, we want to explore his cosmology and in particular his view of time in that cosmological context, comparing his approaches to the relevant conclusions and principles of modern physics whenever possible. We shall see that Ibn Arabi had a unique and comprehensive view of time which has never been discussed by any other philosopher or scientist, before or even after Ibn Arabi. In the final two chapters, we shall discuss some of the ways his novel view of time and cosmology may be used to build a complete model of the cosmos that may deepen and extend our understanding of the world, while potentially solving some of the drawbacks and paradoxes in the current cosmological models of modern physics.

As we discuss in the opening chapter, there is no doubt that time is one of the most important issues in physics, cosmology, philosophy and theology, and hundreds of books and articles have been published in these fields. However, none of these studies have fully developed Ibn Arabi's unique view of time in its cosmological dimensions, although his conception of time is indeed central to understanding, for example, his controversial theory of the 'oneness of being'. One possible reason for this relative neglect is the difficult symbolic language he usually used. Also, he didn't discuss this subject at length in any single place in his extant works not even in chapters 59, 291 and 390 of the Futuhat whose titles relate directly to time so we must piece together his overall cosmological understanding of time from his scattered treatments in many works and different contexts within his magnum opus, the Futuhat, and other books. Therefore this book may be considered the first comprehensive attempt to set forth all the relevant dimensions of time in Ibn Arabi s wider cosmology and cosmogony.

In chapter I, after briefly discussing the different physics theories and models of the cosmos, we start by describing Ibn Arabi's cosmos in some detail. Then we also give an extensive review of the different philosophical views of time and its properties from the philosophical and scientific point of view to show the importance of the subject and relate it to Ibn Arabi's model. Then, in Chapter II, we begin to introduce Ibn Arabi's general concepts of time and 'days', which are then developed in greater detail in each of the succeeding chapters.

To start with, Ibn Arabi considers time to be a product of our human 'imagination', without any real, separately existing entity. Nevertheless, he still considers it to be one of the four main constituents of existence. We need this imagined conception of 'time' to chronologically arrange events and what for us are the practically defining motions of the celestial orbs and other physical objects, but for Ibn Arabi, real existence is attributable only to the actually existing thing that moves, not to motion nor to time (nor space) in which this motion is observed. Thus Ibn Arabi distinguishes between two kinds of time: natural and para-natural, and he explains that they both originate from the two forces of the soul: the active force and the intellective force, respectively. Then he explains that this imaginary time is cyclical, circular, relative, discrete and inhomogeneous. Ibn Arabi also gives a precise definition drawing on the specific usage of the Qur an and earlier Arab conceptions of time of the day, daytime and night, showing how these definitions are related to the relative motions of the celestial orbs (including the earth), where every orb has its own 'day', and those days are normally measured by our normal observable day that we count on the earth.

In Chapter III (and also in Chapter VI), we explain the central significance, in Ibn Arabi's notion of time and cosmology, of the divine 'Week' of creation, and we begin to develop some of its interesting consequences. To begin with, Ibn Arabi considers the cosmic, divine Week, rather than the day or any other time unit, as the main primitive time cycle. Thus he explains how the world is created in seven (cosmic, divine) 'Days', what happens on each Day, and the underlying ontological relation between the Week's Days of creation and the seven fundamental divine Names of Allah. Ibn Arabi also shows that all the Days of this cosmic Week, including the last Day (Saturday), all actually occur in Saturday, the 'Day of eternity'. This complex understanding of the ever-renewed divine creation in fact underlies his conception of the genuine unification of space and time, where the world is created 'in six Days' (from Sunday to Friday) as space, and then is displayed or manifested on Saturday in the process that we perceive as time. However, we perceive this complicated process of creation in Six Days and the subsequent appearance of the world on the seventh Day, we perceive all this only as one single moment of our normal time. In fact, based on Qur anic indications and the corresponding experiential confirmations of the mystical 'knowers' ( urafa ) (later explained in Chapter V), Ibn Arabi insists that the entire created world ceases to exist immediately and intrinsically right after its creation, and that then it is re-created again and again. For him, this process of divine re-creation happens gradually (in series), not at once: i.e., it always takes six divine 'Days' to be prepared and the last Day to manifest. However, we the creatures do not witness this re-creation in six Days, since we only witness the created world in the seventh Day (Saturday, which he calls 'the Day of eternity'). So the creation of the world in six Days actually happens every moment, perpetually and recurrently. Therefore, those first six divine Days are actually the creative origin of space and not time, which is only the seventh Day. In this novel conception, for the first time in history, the 'Week', as the basic unit of space-time, will have a specific and quite essential meaning in physics and cosmology.

Even more important in Ibn Arabi's conception of time, however, is his understanding of the 'Day' of creation as a minimum indivisible Day, a kind of 'instant of time' (al-zaman al-fard) that also includes (since it includes all of creation) the instants of that normal day itself which we live in and divide into hours, minutes, seconds and so on. In order to explain this initially paradoxical notion, Ibn Arabi introduces again based on initially mysterious Qur anic indications the different nature and roles of three very different kinds of compounded days (the 'circulated' days, the 'taken-out' days and the 'intertwined' days), which highlight the fact that the actual flow of time is not as uniform and smooth as we feel and imagine. The key concept underlying these complex developments is that Ibn Arabi emphasizes, following the Qur an, that only one creative 'event' should be happening on every Day (of the actual cosmic, divine Days of creation), and not the many different (temporal and spatial) events that we observe. To reconcile this apparent contradiction between the unitary Act (and 'instant') of Creation and the apparent phenomena of spatial and temporal multiplicity, he reconstructs the normal, observable days that we actually perceive in a special manner that is complexly grounded in the different divine 'Days' of the actual flow of time. We shall explain his complex conception of these very different types of days in detail in Chapter IV.

The principle of perpetual re-creation, one of the more famous elements of Ibn Arabi's cosmology and cosmogony, is fully explained in Chapter V, where we also take up the related question of Ibn Arabi's controversial theory of the 'oneness of being'. This theory can be easily understood once we have grasped his underlying conception of the eternally renewed creation in time. This comprehensive cosmological vision, when added to his understanding of the actual flow of time based on the three kinds of days described in Chapter IV, can be used to build a new unique model of the cosmos. This cosmological model, which we shall call 'the Single Monad Model', is explained in Chapter VI. We shall see in this chapter that according to this distinctive perspective on creation, the manifest world works exactly like a super-computer which despite its tremendous speed can do only one job at a time, where the display on the computer monitor is analogous to the manifest world: though we appear to see a complex, continually changing picture on the screen, that complex image is actually built one pixel at a time by a one single electron-beam. This particular illustration helps us to grasp the actual functioning of Ibn Arabi's central conception of the ultimate oneness of being, despite the undeniable visible multiplicity of the world.

Finally, Chapter VII is devoted to discussing some of the implications of the Single-Monad Model for various related principles of modern physics and cosmology, including the possibilities of testing such a cosmological model. We shall discuss in particular some of the known time-related paradoxes in current models of physics and cosmology, and how they may be resolved according to this novel view. It can be fairly said that Ibn Arabi's view of time and the cosmos is a fruitful concept that potentially bridges the gap between traditional theological/metaphysical views of the world and the contemporary scientific views that are based on experimental procedures and logic. In addition to explaining the 'oneness of being' and 'creation in six Days', other important results of Ibn Arabi's unique concept of time include the ways it helps to resolve the famous EPR paradox, thus potentially reconciling the two great theories of 'Quantum Mechanics' and 'Relativity' in modern physics, how it offers a new understanding of the historical Zeno's paradoxes, and how it potentially explains the reason behind quantization, how quantities are either discrete or continuous.




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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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