Where Has the Time Gone?

  1. What, then, is time? There can be no quick and easy answer, for it is no simple matter even to understand what it is, let alone find words to explain it.
  2. I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled.
  3. All the same I can confidently say that I know that if nothing passed, there would be no past time; if nothing were going to happen, there would be no future time; and if nothing were, there would be no present time.
  4. Thus it is not strictly correct to say that there are three times, past, present, and future. It might be correct to say that there are three times, a present of past things, a present of present things, and a present of future things. Some such different times do exist in the mind, but no where else that I can see. The present of past things is the memory; the present of present things is direct perception; and the present of future things is expectation.
  5. It seems to me, then, that time is merely an extension, though of what it is an extension I do not know. I begin to wonder whether it is an extension of the mind itself.
  6. It is in my own mind, then, that I measure time. I must not allow my mind to insist that time is something objective… I say that I measure time in my mind. For everything which happens leaves an impression on it, and this impression remains after the thing itself has ceased to be. It is the impression that I measure, since it is still present, not the thing itself, which makes the impression as it passes and then moves into the past. When I measure time it is the impression that I measure.
  7. It can only be that the mind … performs three functions, those of expectation, attention, and memory. The future, which it expects, passes through the present, to which it attends, into the past, which it remembers. No one would deny that the future does not yet exist or that the past no longer exists. Yet in the mind there is both expectation of the future and remembrance of the past.

— From Book XI of the Confessions by St. Augustune

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