Temporium, the mille-feuille of subjective time

Abstract: ‘Time’ is an amalgamation of two independent concepts, dimension and passage of time. Within ‘dimension’ exist two sub-concepts, course and arrow of time; the course is the sequence of states and the arrow the idea that the sequence has a preferential direction. The passage is the very different idea that the sequence is animated, that it scrolls. In front of who or what? This idea places the mind in the ‘divine point of view’, which makes reality dualistic. Reintegrating the passage into a monistic reality is done in two ways: 1) Either the passage is declared intrinsic to time; this becomes a specific dimensional variety, avatar of Newtonian universal time, a priori contradictory with the Einsteinian block universe which integrates time relatively to space and gravity; this is the solution retained, however, by Lee Smolin, who reverses Einstein’s theory to make space relative to time; he thus manages to find a universal time to which we can attribute an intrinsic property of passage, what I call transrolling. 2) Either the reductionist discourse is abandoned and the property of time-dimension is returned to the systems; the related elements jointly form their temporal framework. When the evolution of the system is entropic, an arrow appears, which is a simple orientation of the sequence of states and not a passage. This solution requires giving the systems a relative independence summarized in the concept ‘emergence’. But in what dimension does such independence appear? The non-reductionist solution requires recognizing another dimensional variety even more fundamental than space and time: the complex dimension. Here I enter the most speculative part of the book of which this article is a summary. Just as the spatial dimensional manifold has three geometric axes, the complex manifold has two axes, horizontal –the interactive level of a system– and vertical –the surimposition (superposition and entanglement) of the levels–. The horizontal axis is self-defined by the distribution of its interactive elements and their relational properties. The benchmarks of the vertical axis are the complex attractors, also self-defined by the systems when their information integrates together. Each complex level has its own time beat, based on an approximation of the sequence of the underlying level. A unit of time is a memory; it includes a beginning and an end in its constitution, a duration where the properties of the overlying level do not change. The ‘now’ is an amalgamation of past and expected future because it has already happened in the constitution. The now is probabilistic in nature. It is a deterministic configuration of the probabilities of its constitution. It is then possible to find an answer to the riddle of the passage. This is in fact a slowdown of the instantaneous/eternal sequence of physical microstates. The temporal beat of the systems brakes as they climb the complex verticality to the conscious work space. These systems remain indissolubly linked. It is the combination of layers of complexity equipped with variable entropic arrows which begins, in the form of a slowness, the impression of passage. This solution represents a true explanation, unlike passage as an intrinsic property of time. It perfectly accounts for the great diversity of our subjective times, depending on the number of layers of complexity involved in mental activity. It requires recognizing complexity as a dimension that imposes itself on all other frameworks. I show the possibility of its birth from a simple principle, the conflict between individuation and belonging.



The article contains the abstracts of each of the chapters of Temporium. This title refers to time as an empire over our lives, a Time-Imperator, whose description by physicists has nothing in common with the phenomenon experienced, sung by poets and vigorously protected by philosophers. How can two looks that are so foreign to each other coincide? The conclusion is reproduced in full.


Part 1: At the roots of our concepts

Time: dimension, passage, transrolling

A linguistic primer: from the multiple uses of the word ‘time’ I extract two fundamental and independent meanings: dimension and passage. Is one pre-eminent over the other? The block-universe is the thesis that gives dimension as more fundamental, and then we must try to make passage emerge, or condemn it as an illusion. If, on the other hand, the passage is more fundamental and imposes itself on the dimension —which is what I mean by the neologism ‘transrolling’— then we’re left with an enormous block to move!

Parmenides vs Heraclitus

Radical opposition between the fundamental realities of Parmenides and Heraclitus, permanent in the former and changing in the latter. Einstein’s block universe, which extends the vision of Parmenides must not bury the debate. Our theories are pseudo-ontological, not reality itself. Deeper anchors can reframe our finest scientific achievements. The complex dimension is proposed as a way of establishing these different frameworks.

Newton vs Leibniz

Leibniz contrasted ‘relational’ time with Newton’s ‘backdrop’ time. Newton’s arguments dominated and shaped the thinking of physicists in subsequent centuries. Einstein’s space-time is still a backdrop, while quantum mechanics returns to the Leibnizian vision of relational time and takes the lead, being the only one able to “start” the passage of time.

An epistemic method with a universal vocation

I present a personal method of reflection that is simple and indispensable for understanding what comes next, using the following tools: the individuation/belonging principle, the complex dimension, the double look (upward and downward about complexity). This epistemic method has a universal vocation, without reducing the diversity of our ways of knowing. The upward look is scientific and strives for unification in consensus. The downward look is philosophical and remains multiple, surrounding reality in itself in the middle of a cloud of personal approximations.

Cosmic time and psychological time

Aristotle’s materialistic time is complemented by Augustine’s psychological time. These are not to be opposed, as they are the upward and downward views of time, to be made to coincide. Merleau-Ponty notes that materialistic time has a hidden witness, the observer who watches the river of time flow by, from the divine point of view? In fact, we’re all swimming in the middle, experiencing the phenomenon of passage, without being able to get out of the water..

On what is identity based and how long does it last?

This general article on the concepts of individuation, information and the causal arrow challenges our preconceived ideas and prepares us for what’s to come. A strict mathematical equality does not exist in reality. What is the basis of a thing’s identity? It is continuity in the approximation of its own constitution. A unit of identity duration is an entropic cycle in the constitution.

What is an illusion?

Illusion, as a false concept, belongs to the upward look; it is indeed a concrete representation and is part of the ontology of things. Illusions are necessary to detach oneself from reality and surround one’s being through representations. Whereas illusionism is a scientific bias which consists of denigrating the existence of phenomena. It is itself a false concept, created by a downward look from the divine perspective. In this sense, illusionism is a modern iteration of mysticism.

Coming inside the world

Are we born of natural laws, or is it still a proprietary look that affirms this? How can we escape the divinization of our own spirit? The circularity of knowledge can be distended by separating the poles of our upward and downward look.


Part 2: Subjective time

Polychronous and monochronous time

The passage of time is managed differently by the Pacific islander and the Western city-dweller. For the islander, all threads of thought are interwoven in his identity. They evolve in parallel, and none erases the others. Polychronous time. The Westerner, on the other hand, concentrates his attention on one thread of thought at a time, suspending the time of the others. Monochronous time. Differences born of culture: the islander’s dominant communitarianism, the Westerner’s individualism. Cultures emerge from differences in population size and seasonal rhythms. Personal time is not so foreign to that of the sky…

The older we get, the more time speeds up

Three biological clocks and a perceptual theory to explain the accelerated passage of time experienced with age. Enough to satisfy both the materialist and the phenomenological viewpoints. But it remains to coordinate these two approaches for a complete explanation.

Time, arrow of power or mark of impotence?

It’s important to differentiate between the course of time —the causal sequence constituting the framework of reality— and the arrow of time —one point in the sequence becomes the next, introducing becoming. In an example of philosophical confusion between the two, in Jules Lagneau, time is treated as a mark of impotence, whereas it is the very condition of the definition of power, installed on becoming.

Of passage in psychology

Having shown that our subjective time is in no way threatened by physics, I begin a sketch of my final theory from psychology. It is by approximating together the instants of the world that we become unstuck from its infinite speed, its absolute instantaneity. Slowing down allows us to pass through the world. A multitude of layers of mental complexity gradually slow us down, each with its own entropic brake, its own arrow of time leading to its equilibrium. All these layers overlap, over and above those of their physical constitution, to generate our conscious experience of passage.


Part 3: Objective time


General relativity is a theory without the passage of time. Philosophers, on the other hand, take the passage of time for granted. The controversy only exists for the illusionist, this radical reductionist for whom what is absent from micromechanisms is not real. But the reductionist surreptitiously uses the ‘divine point of view’ from which he projects his ideas. It is he who deludes himself because he is well inside the world, with his experiences which must be accounted for. Relativistic space-time is an excellent astrophysical model but a clumsy one if we use it as a backdrop. It is a frame suspended in the complex dimension, not a foundation..

Quantum mechanics

Quantum theory is perhaps the only truly ontological mechanics, because it refuses to reveal its intimacy in advance. Or is it because “in advance” has no meaning for it? Quantum retrocausality has been demonstrated, but that doesn’t make it a time running backwards. Retrocausality only appears to the observer, and there is no passage in the wave functions. A measurement is needed to “start” the quantum arrow. The evolution of the quantum vision is followed through that of Hawking’s thought as told by Hertog. Hawking descends from the divine point of view to that of the worm… But he descends without seeing the scale, that of complexity, essential to understanding how a scrolling absent from the quantum got under way in the psychological.

The information paradox of black holes

The information paradox of black holes (tiny information in relativity and gigantic in quantum mechanics) is merely a change of perspective, macroscopic or microscopic, on these celestial objects. Quantum mechanics has resolved its own paradoxes of information loss by redefining the interior of black holes as intricate spaces. In all models, frames and forces are names for interactive dimensions, not a divine nature imposing itself on physical reality. Dual theories show that mathematics are languages, since several of them can describe the same interactive dimension.

Time reduced in a hologram, and reversed?

The holographic principle makes it possible to encode the temporal dimension in others, imposing a single constraint: it has a beginning, which would be the Big Bang. This “beginning” would actually be an end, as Young’s slit experiments express retrocausality in the sequence of quantum states. But I show that retrocausality is a false concept. It replaces, in the observer’s downward look, an already useless causality. Causality and retrocausality are principles that belong only to this observer, only to the orientation of her own complex processes and their self-observation. A sequence of states is ordered but this order is only represented ontologically by making it independent of a particular observer, and by bringing into play the complex dimension.

The thermodynamic arrow

The second principle and the entropic arrow emerge from probabilities and the large number of elements involved in physical systems. Entropic irreversibility is fundamental because it appears from both points of view: it is a process and a phenomenon. However, being the evolution of an isolated system, it is not transcendental. The assimilation of the entropic arrow to the passage of time was hasty and forced by the concept of the universe-block, which no longer allows for independence of passage. But the block cannot account for the diversity of time flows. This leads us to reject reductionism and to focus on the complex dimension.


With loop quantum gravity, Carlo Rovelli brings out the curved space-time of the quantum tangle. He identifies two motors of temporal passage, in thermodynamics and in quantum non-commutativity. A time specific to each relational system appears in the observer’s view, which is blurred because it cannot distinguish the microscopic states of the system. Rovelli thus constructs an excellent theory of temporal layers and their passage through the emergences of complexity, while remaining at the threshold of this new dimension.

The rebirth of time

Time Reborn is a remarkable work by Lee Smolin, who seeks to re-establish universal time within the Einsteinian framework by inverting the relativities of time and space. Smolin makes space an emergent framework from more fundamental laws, including the passing of time. But he has no formalism for his emergences and remains in a reductionist mode of thought. I reformulate his thesis within the complex dimension.

Finally, does reality “exist” or “become”?

End of the reflection loop begun with Parmenides and Heraclitus, who became companions at the end of the investigation: one cannot change without being, nor be without having changed. Time is no longer in the background, but in things. It is interwoven between that of their constitution, ‘changing’ as seen by the upward look, and that of their globality, ‘being’ as seen by the downward look. Even the photon has a constitution; it is and becomes like other things. The problem of quantum gravity disappears with the realization that quantum mechanics and general relativity belong in their own right to these separate views, and that they are not in competition.


Part 4: Thesis-meeting


Information is not a principle but a crossroads between the two looks, the downward seeing Wiener’s information and the upward Shannon’s. I define information as an incrementation of the TD principle, the relationship between individuation and belonging.

A bottomless pit

It’s not easy to get rid of the bottom of reality. Here’s our mind completing its evolution, completely off-center from the world, but suspended in the middle of a bottomless pit. Let’s hang on to the edge! But this is the right place to give back to reality the ownership of its information, to make it a communicator and no longer just a bulletin board.

The TD principle

I explain the path that leads from observation to the recognition of complexity, to thinking this complexity from the inside by crossing two points of view placed at its extremities, and seeking a principle that transcends it, the all/part mixture that exists in all individuation, the soliTary/soliDarity principle. The TD principle gives rise to willpower and the two facets of our subjective time, personal time and common time.

At the end of the deconstruction

Let’s end our deconstruction by following and correcting the line followed by Lee Smolin to justify an intrinsic passage of time, what I call transrolling. He mixes ontological principles (absence of action without reciprocal, explanatory closure, identity of indiscernibles), which must be preserved, with a teleological principle (sufficient reason), false friend to the previous ones. 

A new dimensional variety

Description of complexity as a fundamental dimensional variety, which allows time to be accommodated in complexity and not the other way around. The entropic arrow only explains the irreversibility of a level of complexity, while subjective time itself is born from the arrow of complexity. This arrow is that of diversification, of complex entities like their experienced times. The 2nd part of the article links the complex variety and its guiding TD principle to more classical notions: mathematical order, degrees of freedom, discontinuous/continuous, free/bound energy, determinism, wave/particle.

Why adopt the complex dimension?

1) Science is a Via Negativa, in the sense that it says what things are not. But it is not a negative belief, i.e. an a priori about the non-existence of a thing on which it cannot rule. 2) Material/virtual continuity is no longer a problem with the structuralist vision of reality, which has stripped it of its substance and retained only its information. 3) ‘Surimposition’ is a neologism for a principle that is obvious to us: to be molecules, cells and mind all at once, inseparably. 4) Reality really does approximate itself, in the self-determination of systems and the stability of their global properties. The success of our models comes from having chosen the same degree of approximation.


Finding the explanation for indexicality, that mental cursor that scrolls through time, forces us to get rid of the divine point of view and to reflect from within reality. Subjective times are personal, but assembled from an identical physical time for our consciousnesses, which make this approximation. Each layer of mental complexity observes the previous one, and the elevation of this complexity diversifies our conscious times, while retaining a common objective core. Contact with a fellow human being brings these times into relation, and together they build an additional layer of temporal complexity. Indexicality thus turns out to be a local increase in complexity in our relationship to the world.

Complexity slows down time

Time is an immobile eternity, which also makes it instantaneous… until the (complex) moment when it is segmented and slowed down by the appearance of an order between beginning and end, an evolution of initial and final probability configurations. This order is enclosed in a container we call memory. A memory aggregates past and future: when the sensory present is in the middle of the sequence, the end of the memory is the future. Evolution favors the emergence of such memories, enabling the owner entity to maintain its integrity. The impression of passage between beginning and end is created when the container is itself observed by something else, when it becomes a symbolic element. Beginning and end are no longer separate, but symbolically merged in the container, which is now the seat of an intrinsic scrolling process. Neurons auto-generate the passage of time through their organization into graphs of increasing complexity, with the superiors observing the underlying containers. The quasi-instantaneous scrolling of micromechanisms is gradually slowed down to the senatorial stroll of consciousness.

The impression, a reversal on its constitution

To show how the surimposition of mental layers constructs a passing time, I compare two conscious configurations, habit and destiny. Their discrepancy of scrolling comes from a difference of altitude in the complex verticality. Consciousness, as the summit of mental integration, is a desk in an elevator, rising and falling according to the recruitment of mental functions and the addition of their complex heights. When the scroll slows down in the highest integration, it’s in comparison to the faster scrolls beneath. The impression of passage is a reversal of one’s own temporal constitution.

Final explanation of subjective time

The subjective present does not appear as a point on the spatio-temporal map; it is an overlay, a duration of its own in a level of complexity surimposed on the map. A large number of these super-layers stack up to the conscious vertex, built up by biology and then neural graphs. Each layer is animated by entropic scrolling, which corresponds to the stabilization of the configuration of possible states. Each layer thus forms its own approximation, which evolves when the constitution changes, but since the approximation is a fusion, it evolves discontinuously, whereas the constituent states are discontinuous. This explains the continuous subjective experience, the surimposition of a multitude of layers of entropy-flected discontinuous states.

What to do with the transrolling?

‘Transrolling’ is the persistent idea of a present that extinguishes the past in order to ignite the future, which corresponds so well to our perception and so poorly to physical theories. Should we throw it out the window? Let me rephrase the transrolling as the manifestation of time-passage within the reality we can know. This notion ultimately draws its solidity from not seeking to venture into the unknown, from assuming the fact of being our property and nothing else.



In this book we began with philosophical questions about time, and their richness indicates that this is a phenomenon whose complexity we must not reduce, at the risk of losing what we’re looking for. We then listened to the most advanced physicists on the subject. Étienne Klein, the most philosophical of them all, stressed the importance of separating dimensional time from its passage. What passes is not dimensional time, but reality itself, in the dimension of time. This reality is our own, that of an individuated mental world. What passes is therefore a mental universe in a temporal dimension which, at this stage, we don’t know if it’s universal or not.

A scrolling artifact

Other physicists are concerned, and their opinions differ. Thomas Hertog has looked into cosmology and come up with the idea of holographic time, i.e. time encoded in other dimensions. Neither universal nor infinite, it would have a beginning: the Big Bang. But Hertog was concerned only with dimensional time, and reached an impasse when it came to its passage. Seeing the slit-lamp experiments demonstrate retrograde causality (today’s events determine the shape of the past), he hesitated, not knowing what to make of the soundness of his mathematical edifice. The conclusion, that time runs backwards, goes too far against common sense. But as we’ve seen, there’s no such thing as quantum retroflow, or even retrocausality which is an avatar of it. It’s an artefact of the downward look.

The sequence of quantum states itself has no direction. It is the measurement, and its reading by more complex entities, that starts the causal arrow, and the sequence scrolling before the reader. Realizing this requires stepping out of the cosmos and into the complex dimension to join one’s own observing mind. It doesn’t do this from a divine vantage point, but from another level of the universe’s complexity.

Rovelli and Smolin close in on goal

Carlo Rovelli achieves a didactic and eclectic synthesis of physics and philosophy. Although he created loop quantum gravity, he does not use it as a starting point for solving the enigma of time. He sees time as an emergence from the micromechanisms of reality, whatever they may be. Space-time curved by gravity emerges from the quantum tangle. As for passage, it has its drivers, such as thermodynamic entropy and quantum non-commutativity. A time of its own appears in the eyes of the observer, who cannot distinguish between the microscopic states of the system. Rovelli thus builds the best theory of temporal layers and their passage with the help of the emergences of complexity, while remaining on the threshold of this new dimension.

Finally, Lee Smolin makes a remarkable effort to extend the vision of Einstein, angry with the indeterminism of quantum theory and troubled by the philosophical implications of the block universe. By reversing the relativity of time for that of space, he rediscovered the possibility of a universal time, which would have the inherent property of scrolling. But then the opposite problem of scrolling arises: why don’t some systems have a time arrow?

Freeing reality without remaining its guardian

The authors have great difficulty getting rid of reductionism, which has a hidden vice: it conceals the complexity within the cosmos, an astrophysical entity seen as integral reality and endowed with global entropy. Whereas the very principle of entropic emergence is to extricate itself from the astrophysical framework into a more fundamental, complex verticality. Reductionists confuse cosmos and Universe, the former designating a layer of physical reality, the latter used as a synonym for integral reality with its complex dimension. You can’t make entropy emerge from complexity and then enclose it in a global entropy.

How can we liberate the discourse of reality without escaping into the divine point of view, whether that transmitted by our religions or that of our fundamental physical laws, another avatar of the Creator of which we ultimately remain the owners? I’ve proposed to loosen the bonds of reality without giving it an artificial freedom, by placing it between two viewpoints —that of constitution and that of representation— and forcing them to coincide. In this way, we can reconcile the physical and philosophical points of view, the heralds of objective and subjective time.

Offbeat stories

Let’s start with the upward look, that of the constitution. The temporal dimension ultimately finds its reality in a multitude of models interwoven with complexity, each with its own clock. As for the passage, it remains the most delicate question. Do the equations run or not? Entropic evolution is not enough in itself to explain the experience of passage. You need something to experience it.

The best answer is that the equations don’t run by themselves, but under the eye of something. This “observer” is not restricted to humans. It is intrinsic to the evolving system in the complex dimension, not the temporal one. The observer is the totality of the system in this dimension, experiencing its own constitution, integrating into its existence the beginning and the end of this organization. When the end is the entropic equilibrium of the beginning, the observer intrinsically contains the impression of a narrative in its entirety. Nevertheless, it is the comparison between the narratives of successive complex globalities that creates the impression of passage. Scrolling is the surimposition of these narratives with their shifted and stretched temporal arrows.

A passage for the layman

Consciousness is a surimposition of a large number of levels of complexity, both physical and mental, most of them entropic, with their own time based on the duration required to reach a global identity, which is more precisely a stable arrangement of their identity possibilities. Scrolling, characterized by an impression of advancement, is the time it takes for the final conscious thought to appear, compared to all the underlying delays in complexity. Advancement without ground underfoot can’t provide any sense of advancement. It is the integration of the underlying advances that forms the foundation.

The scrolling of the observer’s own time causes our observations to scroll by. The world is passing by. Here we come back to an answer that any layman could have given: the equation scrolls before our eyes at the speed we understand it! Doesn’t it give us the greatest satisfaction to see theory meet common sense? That’s what coincidence between the two looks is all about.

Step out of your life

Now let the downward look tell its own tale: The mind is a ship sailing along the course of its life, at a speed that has increased logarithmically since it set sail. When it comes within sight of a harbor, the tiny silhouettes on the quays seem to flail frantically in the distance. But as it approaches, it notices that they’re all actually motionless. It was the motor of the mind itself that moved the myriad of things on the shore. The machinery is incapable of stopping, but the mind can see that by focusing its attention it is slowing down time. Its scrolling is not uniform.

One day, the engine will reach the end of its life and stop. While time will continue to march on for other ships, it will stop for this one, in a final moment of eternity where the entire voyage is said to be condensed. Hell or Heaven, in this case, could it be our own lives, suspended in this moment that no longer passes because the engine has stalled?

The last word

The passage of time is the appearance of slowness in an instantaneous universe. It’s the last word in the upward look. The perception of the passage is a reversal of one’s own constitution, which takes time. This is the last word of the downward look.

Time is a dimension that complexity turns on its own sequence, causing a secondary time to emerge, and then another, and yet another as long as a more complex organization has yet to be found. By turning back in this way, time feels like it’s passing, very deeply when the complexity reaches that of the mind. The mind that moves forward without looking back sees only succession, and does not understand its own experience. If it does not appear under the eye of science, it turns it into an illusion. The mind that retreats without looking back merely experiences a past that is slipping away. Blind to the path taken, it sees science as a futile pretension. Its belief is that it will one day fall into an infinite void, which will take in its being.

The wise man’s mind is a dervish. Situations turn it inside out so that it can turn situations inside out.


Temporium, the complete paper book

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