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On the Time Train...

The Time's Arrow Express seems unidirectional, but it's the extra two dimensions of our world inside that give us free will...

The Shape of Time, part one...all aboard!

By John Townley, October 2012

In order to put the all-encompassing subject of astrology on consistent structural ground, it’s important to have a view of how physical reality is put together, the basic building blocks of which are time and space.. Because the view we generally have is incomplete, astrology is always overstepping it, which makes the art/discipline seem somewhere between inscrutable and impossible. Yet, a more inclusive view of how things are put together makes astrology (and a lot of other physical mysteries of the seemingly ineffable) seem much more reasonable. This is a more simplified, philosophical take on a complex subject, avoiding common supporting but sometimes blinding Minkowski diagrams, Lorentz transformations, and the like, please forgive. So, here we go...

The critical step in approaching a broader view of time and space is to figure out what is background, what is foreground, what moves and what doesn’t, and how much of it all there really is, a primary challenge of cosmology. It is where theories of creation and universal structure, including the Big Bang and string theory –  but less so recently popular multiverse approaches – tend to fail because of dated though innately popular assumptions. These mainly center on the nature of time. The general assumption is that time is an arrow along which the three dimensions of space move, together comprising “space-time”. It assumes a now emerging from a past which no longer exists and into a future which doesn’t yet. The first absolutely and unchangeably was and the second absolutely doesn’t exist yet, but will be and is pretty much up for grabs. We ourselves have choices about where we move spatially, but temporally we are just moved along straight ahead, quite involuntarily. This makes the one “dimension” of time far more definite and restrictive than the greater options of space. Time goes back behind us forever, but it doesn’t even exist ahead of us, until we get there. If it existed infinitely ahead, then together with space the entire universe, and most particularly the future, would in effect be a fait accompli, something that already exists and in which we find ourselves at a particular point along an x-y-z spatial axis conjoined with an additional axis of time. That view is sometimes called the “block” universe approach, or eternalism. This is a fruitful course of supposition, as it lends itself to space-time relativity, but it also smacks extremely of determinism, as in it we only go forward and there is only one version of “forward” to pursue.


In the traditional "block" universe, space and time are a single fait accompli, with three spatial but only one time dimension.

Escaping Flatland

If we looked at space that way, as deftly outlined in Abbot’s seminal Flatland, we would be seeing only a line, where no point can move around, above, or below another so all is, in effect, frozen in a permanent row, the very limited world of “Lineland”. Add another dimension of space, and you’re in two-dimensional, planar “Flatland”, where you can slip around a bit more, but are still missing most of the spatial universe. Add one more, and then you’ve got the whole shebang, ranging off in all directions to infinity, above, below, side to side, front and back. That’s the spatial world we know we live in -- but in fact we don’t actually see, inhabit, or use very much of it. We confine ourselves mostly to Flatland, along the local surface of the Earth, unless we go up or down a few thousand feet in an airplane or a submarine. And the little flat spatial travel we busy ourselves with daily –  hardly a few feet or perhaps miles of left and right, back and forth – is nothing at all compared to the millions of miles we track through interstellar space just standing still on earth. So, in effect and proportion, we’re really living mostly in Lineland, adding enough left and right and up and down to be comfortable, but basically speeding along one powerful line/vector, carried along by the trajectory of the planet and solar system..

A moving metaphor for space, and time

This is rather like being on a moving train and walking from car to car, having cocktails, meals, perhaps sleeping, all within a few feet of local motion, while our major trajectory, speeding by the passing landscape, is a many hundreds-mile-long line stretching across the country. Freely moving about the train, among other passengers doing the same, we have plenty of room to do what we choose, and we don’t consider ourselves limited by predestination, yet whatever we do on the train, we’re going to end up at the destination we bought our ticket for, regardless (short of jumping out the window). Of course, if another train were blocking the track ahead, we’d never get there, but fortunately the whole train itself can slip a little bit left or right onto a sidetrack or up or down onto an over/underpass, rejoining the main track afterwards with only minor course alteration, and solve that problem. In total spatial reality, the train has the theoretical option to take a hard right or left turn (onto an intersecting track), or to stop and back up, but once underway and barring special circumstances, it generally doesn’t (and we’d be alarmed if it did). It’s moving along an established (if sometimes wavy) line, for which it is designed, with just enough flexibility to freely avoid likely blockages along the way. It has, spatially, a deterministic line-path with just enough “free will” sideways wiggle room to get where it’s going without predictable obstruction. And if we had the windowshades drawn, unable to see the passing landscape, we’d be entirely unaware of what's outside of it, including even a passing train going in the opposite direction on an adjacent track, except for the occasional suggestive swaying of the car underneath our feet.

Both 3-D space and 3-D time are like a train, where busy lateral mini-worlds only slightly swell a single, long dimension.

So it may be with time, if there is not one, but three, dimensions of it, matching those of space, and if the whole package is a complete, already-there “block” product, along all axes of both.  Here is an infinite multiverse of spatial and temporal options, all within a single universe.

It seemed to me, way back in the '80s, that a fait accompli model of the universe felt better, particularly if there are not one but a balancing three dimensions of time. In it, what moves is not space or time, but our local focus, navigating a real envelope of “incarnation” in which we continue to live until we step or are pushed out one of its edges/walls. We don't notice much of the other two temporal dimensions, except for a little wiggle room, as we do most of our functioning along a vector path of the one slightly variable “time line” we locally share with other people and objects around us, just as we do in space, in that train analogy. But those small up-down and side-to-side dimensions allow us to conveniently slip over and under things that block our way, like side tracks on our railway journey. And, they may explain a lot of other space-time anomalies, because as in Flatland where a 3-D creature can overstep a 2-D being to the latter’s total bafflement, similar, seemingly-anomalistic feats may be done with time.

And our little temporal wiggle room may account for (perhaps define) a lot of our “free will”, as we sidestep things a little in time, without exactly knowing that's what we're doing (although all creatures may have an evolutionarily developed talent for it, the “sixth sense”). And perhaps we unconsciously recognize that in our language structure, as exemplified in poetic descriptions like the "breadth", "depth", "expanse", and "sea" of time.
Indeed, what we take for granted as positive (or negative) thinking/expectation, from the placebo/nocebo effect to The Secret, may be our innate ability to slightly, laterally time-shift to our advantage (or disadvantage). Take the old-chestnut Sylva Mind Control "project a parking space" phenomenon that seems to work so reliably (though it may not scale well to larger efforts). You imagine a parking space at your destination just where you’d like it, and you effectively point yourself to the slightly temporally offset, and spatially slightly dissimilar, world that has that space available.. Then, because you relax back into the general vector flow of everything else afterward, your world pretty much rejoins the general current and you’re back on your familiar track, except that you got a parking space. And, the further ahead you envision it, the better the results, as it's more easy to wedge open your little crack in the universe. Try it from a block away and it almost never works, as that would be more of a hard turn rather than an oblique sidetrack slippage. Interestingly, the same principle applies to planning a trip for a better astrological solar return, one of the few places in astrology where you can significantly manipulate your relationship to the planets. Plan ahead and buy your tickets early, as last-minute attempts tend not to work out as intended, if at all.


1-D time paints a life as a narrow line, 3-D time makes it an envelope more like a river, with depth, choice, and variability.

Push that principle too far, however, and you could be off into a part of your personal envelope that has unsought perils as well, where you don’t slip so easily back into the original trajectory...I often wonder whether I'm trading a cheap parking space for an unintended early doom in a slightly-altered time frame....it could even be that the momentary side-track I’m choosing has an oncoming time train on it!

In a larger sense than just the personal, the temporal 3-D fait accompli "block" concept could explain more than just minor sidesteps.  It could also provide the hiding places for much of that mysterious dark matter and energy that no one can locate or explain. It’s not mysterious, it’s just not all in our more or less line-of-sight space-time vector.

, this makes your birth chart a physical gateway into a life envelope of already-outlined possibilities, inside which you navigate about, your journey highly influenced but not totally controlled by the direction and momentum of your entry, until at last you find yourself cornered for one reason or another, run out of space/time, and fall out of it again. In general, it gives time shape, so that it’s not a narrow, inflexible line anymore, and is subject to proportions, fractals, and so on. And just as all space isn’t filled, so perhaps time may also be empty in significant regions. Perhaps because of their strong gravitational presence, the planets' shapely rhythms may be, compared to our own small-scale fluctuations, a definingly stable baseline from which to examine the possibilities of our own life peregrinations.

    The "time train" extends forever, but you've got enough wiggle room locally to enjoy the company, and the scenery...

Coming in part two:  the larger physical and astrological implications of the block universe and 3D time, including expanded descriptions/explanations of cycles, progressions, relocations, eclipses, along with synchronistic anomalies, and more... 

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