Time has perplexed most of us at one time or another in our lives. Why does the world keep changing day after day? Will our love and life last forever? Will I be late for the meeting? What time is it on Venus? John Ross, too, has wondered about many such questions. He is fascinated, delighted, and driven by time, or at least by the necessity of understanding what time is, and how and why it seems to rule every aspect of our lives. His wondering however, takes the intriguing fictional form of a “time syndrome” with psychological overtones. This book is the story of the journey the author’s literary counterpart undertook in seeking to resolve his personal time syndrome and uncover the nature of time itself.
Like many books aimed at multiple audiences, this one can be read on several levels. First, it can be read as the account of a philosopher’s search for the meaning of time, aided and abetted by wife and friends along the way. This surface story exemplifies many of the major ideas of the book, as these friends encounter the rock-strewn road of life. Second, it can be read as a philosophical essay about time, comprehensively developing the implications for science and everyday life if time should actually come on discretely. Third, it can be read as a sophisticated, modern argument for the existence of God, together with unusual ruminations about the nature of God and the universe we share with all that is. Finally, it can be read as a book-length poem, not only because it includes two powerful original poems, but because Ross has a way with words that very much resembles that of a poet writing prose.
The style of The Time Syndrome is unusual for a modern, serious work. Ross eschews reference lists and scholarly citations, opting instead for careful development of ideas. However, the scholarship is there too. In addition to Ross’s notable background in philosophy and theology, his extensive knowledge of the natural sciences and psychology is apparent from the way he weaves them into his tapestry of ideas. The relatively short chapters allow their messages to be ingested in a number of satisfying meals, each of which takes some digesting before the next one is served.
The Time Syndrome arises from troubling feelings provoked by several sets of opposite conceptions which confront one who would like to resolve such contraries into a consistent understanding of time. First, is time the agent of change, with cosmic time literally creating the universe? This approach opposes the traditional scientific view of time as a neutral dimension within which the universe exists – a dimension that merely records the order and spacing of changes. Is change itself the agent that creates time (actually many types of time)? Second, does the responsibility for both time and change in the universe rest with a natural What, or with a hidden Whom? Third, the way in which events all over the universe are coordinated precisely so that the phenomena of life with its unending variety of levels and aspects can occur, makes the universe seem designed. This alone presents a strong argument supporting belief in the existence of God, for only God could design a vast universe like ours. Opposing this is the simple realization that human minds are unable to fathom the changing universe or how the universe came to be the way it is, with all its problematic features and all too obvious evils.
Although at first these pairs of opposing views, like many other aspects of time, might seem mutually incommensurate, I believe that Ross’s book constitutes a strong case for them being complementary. That is, neither end of a particular dichotomy exclusively represents the whole truth. The opposing positions represent points of view that together form a fuller representation of the situation than either does alone. The question of whether time is the creator or the created, in its symmetry exemplifies this complementarity. Despite the difficulties, Ross finds a way to reconcile annoying conflicting conceptions in a concept of time which confirms his personal view of the world and its process of becoming. Many readers will find this view satisfyingly defended.
Of the major themes of the book, I was particularly excited by the idea that time must be discrete rather than continuous. Although mentioned as a possibility by other authors and taken seriously by a few, the discreteness of time has made little headway among the practitioners of science, or in the popular mind. Ross makes an original, extensive and compelling case for changing the predominant view of time as a continuous river to one in which time is more like an unending string of pearls, or a motion picture composed of successive frame changes. Along with the scientific ramifications of this view, he addresses at length its philosophical and practical implications. All are deep, even startling.
What the world “really is” I do not pretend to know. But this book has provided me with an opportunity to indulge in one of my passions, that of thinking about this perennial problem. It will push you too to think deeply about things ultimate. Ross is wise, and his wisdom will enlighten and entertain you. What better reason to read a book?
Lawrence M. Ward, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
University of British Columbia