Time path – the flow of time

What are the Past and Future? What is Now? The time path is interesting

Our experience of time is focused around what we describe as Now.  Before Now, there is no time containing any realized structure, just interconnected potential actions each with variably possible chances that coalesce into becoming the actualized events that are finalized Now.  After Now there are no probabilities for new things to occur.  There is just the past, as a record of events that have already happened.

I hope you are still with me after the twisted language in that paragraph, I have been working on the concept of time for many years.  Human words were not designed to discuss the structure of time, itself, so we will begin exploring what words imply.
Click any image for full resolution.

The path of time

Fig 1:  The time path. Activity flows from future probabilities to realization Now and into the past

Fig 1 is our picture to help focus the discussion.  The flow of an activity is from right to left in the picture, with Now being the focus of where things happen.

3 states of reality

  • Future (or potential), the assembly of all the possible ways potential events could happen. Reality happens when the amorphous ensemble of possibilities converge into actual events.  So the future is the potential for all that could happen,not a tangible, real condition.
  • Now (or becoming), the location where all the myriad possibilities solidify into real and unchangeable events.  This coalescing of all possible actions into real events has been called the ‘glowing,’ or ‘burning’ edge of time. It is where new actions form and our awareness happens. The flow of time does not stop because there is no firm paved path to walk along.  Time flow occurs because there newly crystallized events that becomes the new Now.
  • Past (or being), the location of fixed reality. The newly forming events push the ones that have firmly happened out of Now. This action generates the sequence we call the time path and forms the “past.”

This picture means that the future is not predestined, that it is the myriad formless ways that things could happen.

What Is Happening Now?

Reality happens in the Now

Fig 2  Potentials condense into events, Now.

Fig 2 continues the conceptualizing with a possible picture of the Now boundary between Future possibilities and the unchangeable past, to illustrate this condensation into actuality.

We tend to think we are moving through time along a well paved path from the past into the future :On golden brick path 80x74

Past time Future time.

But the flow comes from the right of our image, as –during our perceived Now–the possibilities of future activity solidify into (become) actual and unchangeable events.

Now Future potential activities

Try to visualize how this might work:


Fig 3a This is what we experience  Now .

Fig 3a is Now.  Picture yourself riding in a car along a divided highway. Right Now, we are approaching an overpass with traffic in front, and an SUV entering from the right.

Fig 3b is how would we picture this from a point in advance of Now, watching the ensemble of potential occurrences meld into the becoming reality of 3a.

Potentials meld to Events

Fig 3b  Potential activity become realized events Now

The farthest in advance of the present (in our visualization) is a dark fog due to the overlapping potentials of unrealized possibilities. Exactly what we will see on the road will depend on…

  • when everyone decides to leave for their trip
  • how the drivers manipulate their accelerators and brakes
  • whether people decide to enter the freeway or take an early exit.

As potentials flow into Now, such decisions made even moments ago (in the past) affect how probabilities become resolved Now. Will any particular person be in 3a?  If so, will she be in front or behind the taxi?   3a is the actualized Now recorded by a photograph, but it is only one of the realizations that might have been.

So this is our picture. The future is not a reality because of the huge array of possibilities in what could become the real Now.

Before We Move on –

Human language tenses are not built for time travel (we said that before!); we cannot use usual time-related words for the future – would clock time even apply?

  • not before, nor after, nor first,
  • and never  “Now plus 3 minutes”

So we discuss

  • “possibilities in advance of Now”
  • “convergence of potential actions into realized ones” as probabilities solidify to 100%

We use action words, not temporal ones to describe what must be happening.  Words that have connotations similar to converge and coalesce. We try to avoid physics jargon such as collapse, as in “the collapse of a wave function into an observable state.”

We do apply “flow” to describe our future, but what is flowing is a bit unclear.  Maybe flow would indicate the changing probability assigned to any possibility?

We also minimize the use of ‘probability,’ because this word currently has a well defined meaning.

But What Could The Past Be?

Fig 4 is the full time path picture showing small subset of events, out of the smooth uncountable actions that continuously become real.

Time path with events

Fig 4  Events forming and moving into the past. The events with the most impact are darker

The fully realized events are colorized to show that events fade into the increasingly murky background – events become more difficult to identify as they recede into the distant past.

The horizontal direction (  ) is the time path: Now indicates zero elapsed time, distances to the left would be measured in minutes, years, millennia, … whatever time units are appropriate for a discussion.

Time path Slice

Fig 5  A vertical slice across the timepath establishes an instant for examination

Fig 5 shows that vertical slice ( | ) across the time path would not be a straight line, actually;  it represents the 3 dimensional instantaneous image of the universe at that slice.

We refer to such 3D ‘lines’ as slicesboundaries or membranes.

The Now as we have discussed is a natural instantaneous slice, of no duration (length along the timeline) but including all we can perceive.

You actually do this when you discuss what happened at 11:05 in the morning 2 days ago.  For that, your membrane encompass all events in the entire world and outer space, as far out as one must to “isolate” the interesting thing that happened then.


We have discussed our overview of the structure of time.  Our next post in the time series examines the details of the Fig 5 visualization to perceive the limits to our knowledge of how the world has evolved into what we see today.

Later, we will discuss how this picture might be applied to a physical construction of our reality.  (No satisfactory physics theory of time has yet been constructed although many are trying mightily.)

click for a list of our discussions about the Time-path

This is the 5th note on our picture of time, and the 1st in theTime Path Ontology chain. The first,  Ideologies Don’t Work, pointed out that the absence of time travel over the history of the human species meant that it does not exist. It also says that since we cannot get messages from the future, no ideology can work to force the world to “just do the right thing.”  The fourth, Fortunetelling Killed by time’s arrow,  points out the absence of legitimate seers in human society. This does not mean there would be no survival benefit to foretelling the future, just that there is no future to read. We also discussed Niven Law for time travel.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2015 July 25
Listed under Generala post in the thread   General > Time Path
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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