Prior to 12/21/2012 a few people thought the world would cease due to the ending the Mayan calendar. It was a silly notion, really. It would be like thinking that the world will end tonight simply because your 2012 calendar runs out. All that the Mayans would have done on 12/22/2012, is the same that you will do tomorrow, run out and get a new calendar that will map out some future temporal distance.
As those who feared apocalypses have learned, time is a tricky yet pervasive thing. We all deal with time. We chase it, or try to get ahead of it, or try to stay on top of it. We run out of it, yet it keeps on coming. We have too much of it on our hands, and yet never have enough. But most bizarre of all, while we exist within it no one knows what it really is.
For a large part of history time was seen as a river that propelled us forward. This implied that it moved us past various points, but those points remained and if we had the right magic we could swim back up stream and revisit them. This also implied that its path was predetermining. That future points were laid out and the River of Time pushed us toward them.
Some refer to the Arrow of Time, suggesting that time points in one direction. It is marked by the degeneration from order to chaos. Imagine building a sand castle in the desert with no waves to threaten it. Still, wind would slowly work at it. The occasional land tremor would jostle it. Eventually it would be transformed from an ordered, recognizable system into its individual particles, indistinguishable from the desert itself.
The Arrow of Time is not vastly different from the River of Time, except the River of Time suggests that time is a thing that extends through all things. It exists in both the past and future, and we ride on it. The Arrow of Time is a single moment moving through existence. It does not exist in the past nor in the future. It simply passes through each moment.
This leads to an interesting question. What is the Arrow of Time passing through? A second can be halved, and halved, and halved. Modern computers work in nanoseconds, billionths of a second. Intuitively we understand that even these small moments in time can be further divided, but is there a limit? Is there a point at which you could no longer divide a moment in time? Is there a basic time unit?
We have learned that we can divide physical material only so far. It is not just a limitation of our tools. It is a recognition that there is some base unit beyond which we cannot divide. For a long while this was thought to be the atom. Then we examined the subatomic particles, protons, neutrons, electrons. Then we divided those, finding bosons, mesons, gluons, and others. We divided those to find quarks. The current thinking is that we will be able to divide down to the strings of M Theory, and these are considered the fundamental, undividable units from which everything is made, even time itself. These strings are merely energy fields or waves. Dividing them becomes meaningless, they still exist as their basic energy unit. Half a volt is still a current of electricity, just not as strong. Division into smaller parts is impossible or meaningless.
The strings of M Theory must then be, or carry, or generate the smallest individual units of time. If time at its smallest measure cannot be divided, then time is course. It is not fluid like a river, nor does it travel like an arrow. Between two moments all things instantly change. Time is digital. It is constructed of a single moment which is supplanted by the next moment, in the same way that the second counter of a digital watch at one moment reads, “01″ and one second later reads, “02″ with no counting or delineations in between. It is as if the universe is destroyed and then remade with a minuet difference. It is as if existence is like frames in a movie.
Whatever time is, it flows or flies or ticks forward. Apocalypses are events measured by civilizations only. Moreover, they are marked only by the civilizations that follow the ones that reach their apocalyptic ends. Existence, the universe, does not recognize these moments. Out of death new life springs. Out of change comes some new order, slowly ticking away toward new chaos.
The only question we as individuals should have, is, what will we do with the time we are given? Do we ride on the river, fearing the future while looking back? Do we ride the arrow, forgetting the past and only looking forward? Or do we enjoy the moments we have, knowing that it is all there really is?