The Integral ‘Now’: Towards an Integration Of Einstein’s Relative Simultaneity and Eckhart Tolle’s Eternal Present

By Adam J. Pearson

Introduction – Integral Thinking

These days, I’ve been passionately interested in making my worldview as integral as possible. By this, I mean taking all of the partial truths I have learned from all of the different perspectives, models, and disciplines of knowledge that I’ve studied and connecting what could otherwise be ‘fragmentary’ or ‘compartmentalized’ understandings together into a unified web of knowledge. A unified or integral ‘view of the world’ is an attempt to look at the universe, not through a series of partial perspectives that seem totally disconnected, but through a maximally inclusive viewpoint that values the connections that link the partial truths from all models and disciplines together.

drops

There can be no exceptions to the process of integration, as I see it; nothing gets to stand apart from the unified web of understanding. The universe is deeply interconnected and interdependent in its structure and therefore, any attempt to understand it as inclusively as possible cannot be fragmentary, but must also be thoroughly interconnected. What this practically means for me is that the experiences and insights that I have gained from the world’s great wisdom traditions must have as respectable a place in my worldview as the rational insights of empirical science, the insights of postmodern philosophy, social psychology, and sociology into intersubjectivity, and my own personal subjective experiences. As Ken Wilber often said, in an integral approach “all valid truths and perspectives are welcome to the table.”

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The Problem of Einstein and Tolle

A challenge arises, however, when two valid partial truths seem to be totally irreconcilable. For instance, on first sight, the relative simultaneity (the idea that the ‘nows’ of observers in different reference frames often tend not to line up) that follows logically from Einstein’s theory of relativity in physics and Eckhart Tolle’s notion of the eternal Now appear to be in serious tension with one another. If I were to ask Eckart Tolle about this apparent contradiction, he would likely say that this problem only exists “in the mind,” and that I should simply focus on the practice of going “beyond the mind” and deeply into “the Now.” If I were to ask physicists about this apparent problem, many among them might tell me that I should simply hold relativity’s provisional understanding of time as the best scientific understanding that we have right now and not worry about phenomenological accounts of present moment experience like Tolle’s, which seem objectively unfalsifiable.

Sun rising above a layer of clouds

From an integral perspective, both of these answers are unsatisfactory. For one thing, I have had direct experiences of Tolle’s sense of a timeless ‘Now’ and know first-hand that it expresses a valid and useful truth from the individual-interior perspective (more on that later). In addition, I have also been very much convinced by the substantial empirical evidence behind relative simultaneity as it is described in special and general relativity. Because both perspectives do seem to express valid truths, an integral worldview must find a way to include them both. It is not sufficient, however, to simply paste them together and say “these views are both true, but partial.” We need to go one step further and propose how or in what sense they are both true and explain how they fit together. Or, differently stated, we need to show how two apparently contradictory viewpoints can be understood to be totally consistent. This apparent puzzle may appear intimidating, but thankfully, as I will attempt to show, it is not impossible.

In the broad strokes of this article, I will attempt to propose a way of integrating Einstein’s temporal relativity with Tolle’s phenomenological account of the “Now” that does justice to both perspectives without sacrificing their key insights. Before we can see how these viewpoints can be integrated, however, we have to get somewhat clear on what they mean, so let’s start by considering a brief overview of the issue that this article is attempting to resolve.

The Scope of Biology

The Background to Einstein’s Relativity – Isaac Newton’s ‘Absolute Time’

In his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the great physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton (1642-1726) made an important distinction between what he called “relative time” and what he termed “absolute time.” According to Newton, “absolute or true time” “flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration” whereas “relative time” “is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time …”

Absolute time, according to Newton, is not relative to any observer’s frame of reference, to how fast an observer is moving relative to another, or even to how close the observer is moving to a massive object like a planet or a black hole. Absolute time is like a backdrop against which events unfold that is totally unaffected by the movements of planets and the points of view of the human beings who study them.

isaac

Portrait of Isaac Newton.

Following from his conception of ‘absolute time,’ according to Newton, we can talk about an absolute “now” that provides the background or setting for the events that unfold within it. Newton understood this absolute “now” to be totally unaffected by any of the events or points of view of observers within it; thus, he thought that we could meaningfully speak, for instance, of two events being ‘absolutely simultaneous’ or happening at exactly the same time relative to observers in different frames of reference.

As a practical example, if I’m standing on a platform and see you zoom by in a train and you look out the window at me as you pass by, Newton believed that we could meaningfully say that we see each other ‘simultaneously’ in a way that does not depend on how fast your train is going relative to me or on the fact that I happen to be stationary relative to you. It made sense to him to say that with respect to ‘absolute time,’ there was a moment in which we both saw each other at exactly the same time.

train

RelativeSimultaneity – Einstein’s Shattering of the Newtonian Now

At first glance, this theory seemed to make some intuitive sense. However, Einstein’s theory of special and general relativity ended up turning the idea of absolute time completely on its head. Einstein would thoroughly argue with great mathematical precision that we cannot speak of an ‘absolute time’ that is not in any way relative to the reference frames of particular observers at all. According to special and general relativity, the rate at which time seems to pass is always relative (and never absolute in Newton’s sense) to (1) how fast the observer is moving in relation to the event they are observing and to (2) how close they are to an object with a strong gravitational pull.

Let’s think about what this means in practice. Suppose that before you boarded your train in the above example, you and I synchronized our watches so that they read the same exact time down to a fraction of a second. If your train in the above example was able to move very rapidly, perhaps even at a relativistic velocity, that is, a velocity close to the speed of light, and you and I looked at our watches at the exact moment that we passed each other, our watches would register different times even though we set them to be perfectly synchronized before you got on your train!

train2

Within my inertial or stationary reference frame standing on my platform and your moving reference frame sitting on the fast-moving train, time would appear to pass normally. Here’s the mind-bending part, though: if you could somehow read the time on my watch as you passed by me, it would seem to be ticking at a much faster rate than your own watch. Moreover, if I could somehow read the time on your watch as you passed me, it would seem to be ticking at a much slower rate than my watch. This phenomenon is called relative velocity time dilation; in simpler terms, it means that time, as observed from one reference frame relative to another, seems to ‘dilate’ or stretch out more and more the faster an observer moves relative to another.

 

What does this mean for Newton’s absolute Now? It means that if you and I wrote down the time on our watches at the exact moment at which we passed each other, the times would not agree even though we set our watches to be perfectly synchronized before you got on your train! In other words, your “now” and my “now” do not coincide; the ‘simultaneity’ of us passing each other is not, as Newton had thought, absolute, but relative. Shockingly for Newton, there is no such thing as a single absolute “now” that would line up for both of us! [For a detailed explanation of how this ‘relativity of simultaneity, see Professor John D. Norton’s fantastic article, with illustrated examples, on his University of Pittsburgh website.]

train2

Moreover, as Einstein would develop in greater detail in his theory of general relativity, we cannot even speak of a ‘time’ that is separate from ‘space’ at all, but rather only of a four-dimensional space-time. According to this viewpoint, ‘space’ and ‘time’ are different dimensions of one and the same thing, the space-time continuum. Einstein would go on to show that the closer an observer is relative to an object with a strong gravitational pull (like a planet), the slower their clock will seem to tick relative to the clock of someone who is further away from the planet because the gravitational field of the large object seems to bend the fabric of space-time around it. In more technical language, the deeper you are in the massive object’s “gravitational well,” the slower your clock seems to tick relative to the clock of someone further away. This phenomenon is called gravitational time dilation.

 

What gravitational time dilation means is that if you and I perfectly synchronized two atomic clocks and you went to the International Space Station, while I remained on Earth, your clock would seem to tick faster than mine and my clock would seem to tick slower than yours. Thus, here again, we’d have a case of relative simultaneity; your “now” and my “now” as registered by the times on our clocks wouldn’t line up.

 

 

 

An Example of Experimental Evidence for Relative Velocity Time Dilation and Gravitational Time Dilation

 

These are not mere theoretical ideas, either. For example, relative velocity time dilation and gravitational time dilation both need to be taken into account in our GPS or Global Positioning Systems. As astronomer Dr. Richard Pogge eloquently explains on his Ohio State University website:

 

Consider for a moment that when you are riding in a commercial airliner, the pilot and crew are navigating to your destination with the aid of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Further, many luxury cars now come with built-in navigation systems that include GPS receivers with digital maps, and you can purchase hand-held GPS navigation units that will give you your position on the Earth (latitude, longitude, and altitude) to an accuracy of 5 to 10 meters that weigh only a few ounces and cost around $100. (…)

 

The current GPS configuration consists of a network of 24 satellites in high orbits around the Earth. Each satellite in the GPS constellation orbits at an altitude of about 20,000 km from the ground, and has an orbital speed of about 14,000 km/hour (the orbital period is roughly 12 hours – contrary to popular belief, GPS satellites are not in geosynchronous or geostationary orbits). The satellite orbits are distributed so that at least 4 satellites are always visible from any point on the Earth at any given instant (with up to 12 visible at one time).

 

 

 

Each satellite carries with it an atomic clock that “ticks” with an accuracy of 1 nanosecond (1 billionth of a second). A GPS receiver in an airplane determines its current position and heading by comparing the time signals it receives from a number of the GPS satellites (usually 6 to 12) and trilaterating on the known positions of each satellite[1]. The precision achieved is remarkable: even a simple hand-held GPS receiver can determine your position on the surface of the Earth to within 5 to 10 meters in only a few seconds (with differential techiques that compare two nearby receivers, precisions of order centimeters or millimeters in relative position are often obtained in under an hour or so). A GPS receiver in a car can give accurate readings of position, speed, and heading in real-time!

 

To achieve this level of precision, the clock ticks from the GPS satellites must be known to an accuracy of 20-30 nanoseconds. However, because the satellites are constantly moving relative to observers on the Earth, effects predicted by the Special and General theories of Relativity must be taken into account to achieve the desired 20-30 nanosecond accuracy.

 

Because an observer on the ground sees the satellites in motion relative to them, Special Relativity predicts that we should see their clocks ticking more slowly (see the Special Relativity lecture). Special Relativity predicts that the on-board atomic clocks on the satellites should fall behind clocks on the ground by about 7 microseconds per day because of the slower ticking rate due to the time dilation effect of their relative motion [Adam’s Note: this is due to relative velocity time dilation.]

 

 

 

Further, the satellites are in orbits high above the Earth, where the curvature of spacetime due to the Earth’s mass is less than it is at the Earth’s surface. A prediction of General Relativity is that clocks closer to a massive object will seem to tick more slowly than those located further away (see the Black Holes lecture) [Adam’s note: because of gravitational time dilation]. As such, when viewed from the surface of the Earth, the clocks on the satellites appear to be ticking faster than identical clocks on the ground. A calculation using General Relativity predicts that the clocks in each GPS satellite should get ahead of ground-based clocks by 45 microseconds per day.

 

The combination of these two relativistic effects means that the clocks on-board each satellite should tick faster than identical clocks on the ground by about 38 microseconds per day (45-7=38)! This sounds small, but the high-precision required of the GPS system requires nanosecond accuracy, and 38 microseconds is 38,000 nanoseconds.

 

If these effects were not properly taken into account, a navigational fix based on the GPS constellation would be false after only 2 minutes, and errors in global positions would continue to accumulate at a rate of about 10 kilometers each day! The whole system would be utterly worthless for navigation in a very short time. This kind of accumulated error is akin to measuring my location while standing on my front porch in Columbus, Ohio one day, and then making the same measurement a week later and having my GPS receiver tell me that my porch and I are currently about 5000 meters in the air somewhere over Detroit.

 

 

 

The engineers who designed the GPS system included these relativistic effects when they designed and deployed the system. For example, to counteract the General Relativistic effect once on orbit, they slowed down the ticking frequency of the atomic clocks before they were launched so that once they were in their proper orbit stations their clocks would appear to tick at the correct rate as compared to the reference atomic clocks at the GPS ground stations. Further, each GPS receiver has built into it a microcomputer that (among other things) performs the necessary relativistic calculations when determining the user’s location.

 

Relativity is not just some abstract mathematical theory: understanding it is absolutely essential for our global navigation system to work properly!

 

As Professor Pogge’s example shows, relative velocity time dilation and gravitational time dilation are real observable effects, not mere theoretical constructs. This means two things for our purposes here:

 

(1) relativity has dealt a brutal death blow to Newton’s theory of absolute simultaneity (and an absolute ‘now’) and

 

(2) therefore, because relativity’s understanding of relative simultaneity offers us a powerfully rich and evidence-supported viewpoint on the subject, any integral understanding of what the word ‘now’ means must include it.

 

 

 

Eckhart Tolle’s ‘Eternal Now’

 

At first glance, Eckhart Tolle’s phenomenological notion of an eternal “Now” as expressed in his profound modern spiritual classic, The Power of Now, might seem to be an attempt to resurrect the old Newtonian idea of an absolute “Now.” In the book, Tolle invites us to practice zooming our awareness into the “present experience of Being” and resting it there, rather than allowing our attention to get swept away by the waves of thought in the mind or losing ourselves in imagining the future or remembering the past. He writes that:

 

Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.

 

Interestingly, this view of separations in time as illusory was once echoed by Albert Einstein himself who, in a letter to the family of his recently-deceased lifelong friend Besso, wrote that

 

“…us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

 

According to Tolle, there is a sense in which the “Now” can be seen as eternal. By “eternal,” Tolle does not mean ‘enduring for endless time,’ but rather being experienced as “timeless” or ‘outside of time.’ He explains metaphorically that:

The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.

Our understanding of the past and present depends powerfully on our experience of what is arising here and now according to Tolle:

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now. Past and future obviously have no reality of their own. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.

rumi

While thoughts about the past and future are sometimes useful as we go about our daily business, whenever they are not needed for some practical purpose (e.g. planning for a future event or analyzing a past sequence), Tolle recommends returning our awareness to the ‘Now’ because:

Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.

Often, we find that our thinking puts us in conflict with the reality that is arising for us in our present experience; Tolle recommends ‘surrender’ as an alternative way to respond to the reality of what is in this present moment:

Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life. The only place where you can experience the flow of life is the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation. It is to relinquish inner resistance to what is.

Surrender does not mean that we need to be passive in all situations, however. Tolle clarifies this point when he states that:

If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.

If we dismiss the Power of Now as a work of New Age psychobabble, we will have missed its great essential value. Anyone who actually practices being deeply present and resting their entire awareness, vividly alert, in their present experience, will see that there is something powerful about the practice that Tolle’s book recommends.

clou3

Phenomenologically speaking, as we zoom into ‘the Now,’ we have a sense of intense aliveness; all of our sensory impressions seems more vivid; thoughts fade out into the background and a peaceful mental space seems to open up to reveal an unspeakable silence where their inner noise once clamored. A natural sense of inner peace and taking “joy in Being” spontaneously arises in this state of deep, intense presence.

Tolle is not the only prominent advocate of cultivating the mindfulness of presence or being “intensely in the Now.” Some forms of contemporary psychological therapy centrally involve this practice; it is, for instance, an element of cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and many others. In addition, centering oneself in one’s lived experience in the present is essential to many of the core meditation methods that are taught within the world’s great contemplative traditions such as Sufism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christian mysticism. Moreover, the practice, and the resulting way of living that flows out of it, is central to Zen practice as I learned it from my teacher, Myokyo.

Therefore, there seems to be some validity to Tolle’s notion of a ‘Now’ that can be intensely experienced. And if there is a partial truth here, then an integral view must take it into account even as it embraces the mind-bending insights of special and general relativity. And thus, we arrive at the crux of our ‘present’ challenge, that is, how to bring these two perspectives together coherently. Let’s explore one way of doing this.

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Building Our Integral Understanding – The Four Quadrants

A key insight of Ken Wilber’s own approach to integral thinking is his notion of the four quadrants. The four quadrants, which can be further subdivided into eight “zones” for the technically curious, allow us to categorize different ways of observing phenomena, or, in other words, different kinds of perspectives we can take as we look at something.

In Integral Theory, the four quadrants do not exist separately from one another; rather, as Wilber puts the point, the four quadrant perspectives ‘tetra-arise’ together. What is beautiful about this simple, yet powerful model, is that it gives us a useful framework within which to integrate disparate perspectives into a unified whole. And that is exactly what we aim to do here with the notions of relative simultaneity expressed by relativity theory on the one hand and Tolle’s meditative understanding of the ‘eternal present’ on the other. As a result, let’s take a brief look at how the four quadrants work and then apply them to the task at hand.

 

As an an excellent Integral Health Resources article explains, “according to Integral Theory, there are at least 4 primary dimensions or perspectives through which we can experience the world: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective.

 

These 4 perspectives, represented graphically, are the upper-left, lower-left, upper-right, and lower-right quadrants:”

 

 

 

 

 

The article continues:

 

“In the subjective—or upper-left—quadrant, we find the world of our individual, interior experiences: our thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions, and immediate sensations—in other words, our “I” space.

 

In the intersubjective—or lower-left—quadrant, we find the world of our collective, interior experiences: our shared values, meanings, language, relationships, and cultural background—in other words, our “we” space.

 

In the objective—or upper-right—quadrant, we find the world of individual, exterior things: our material body (including brain) and anything that you can see or touch (or observe scientifically) in time and space—in other words, our “it” space.

 

In the interobjective—or lower-right—quadrant, we find the world of collective, exterior things: systems, networks, technology, government, and the natural environment—in other words, our “its” space.

 

 

“What’s the point of looking at the world through a 4-quadrant lens?

 

Simple answer: Anything less is narrow, partial and fragmented! Integral Theory maintains that all 4 quadrants are real—and all are important. So, for example, to the question of what is more real, the brain (with its neural pathways and structures) or the mind (with its thoughts and perceptions), Integral Theory answers: both.

 

Moreover, we add that the mind and brain are situated in cultural and systemic contexts, which influence both inner experience and brain activity in irreducible ways.

 

What’s more important in human behavior? The psychology of the mind (upper left), or the cultural conditioning of the individual (lower left)? Integral Theory answers, again: both. What is more critical in social development? The habits, customs, and norms of a culture (lower left), or the products it produces (like gun and steel – lower right). Integral Theory answers: both.

 

All four quadrants are real, all are important, and all are essential for understanding your world.

 

While some might like to reduce reality to the mind (upper-left quadrant), and others to the brain (upper-right quadrant), and still others to the influence of cultural context (lower-left quadrant), and yet others to the effect of systems (“it’s the economy, stupid!” i.e., lower-right quadrant), Integral Theory holds that all 4 quadrants are indispensable. The more we can consciously include the 4 quadrants in our perspective, the more whole, balanced, healthy, comprehensive, and effective our actions will be.”

 

 

 

Applying the Quadrants to the Problem of “Now”

 

Now that we have a basic understanding of the quadrants, we can apply them to interpret and integrate the two perspectives on ‘the now’ that special and general relativity offers on the one hand and Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now offers on the other.

I would suggest that interpreting Eckart Tolle as referring to an absolute Newtonian Now would be a gross misinterpretation of the core of what he is saying. This misunderstanding results from a fairly clear case of quadrant confusion. By this, I mean that Tolle’s statements about the nature of the “now” do not refer to objective or interobjective perspectives on simultaneity; rather, they refer to the subjective experience of the present moment. This phenomenological account of present experience, and not a description of the objective or interobjective phenomenon of simultaneity, is Tolle’s focus.

In other words, when Tolle refers to the “Now” as “eternal,” what he means is that we experience it as timeless subjectively; our individual interior experience of ‘the Now’ is of its eternal presence. Subjectively or phenomenologically speaking:

(1) Our experience of the past is psychologically constructed based on memory and interpretations of evidence of past events.

and

(2) Our sense of the future is a psychologically constructed based on how we imagine a future “now” will be.

wave

Therefore, subjectively and phenomenologically speaking, our experience always unfolds in the “now.” And this is precisely Tolle’s point, namely, that from our point of view, life is always experienced as unfolding now. Tolle’s practical methods for centering our awareness in the now are designed to focus our attention in this present moment, as seen from the individual-interior or subjective perspective.

In contrast to Tolle’s individual-interior analysis of present-moment experience, Einstein’s theory of special and general relativity looks at the experience of the passage of clock-time within the objective (individual-exterior) and interobjective (collective-exterior) quadrants. The theory’s physical analysis of relative simultaneity is not mainly concerned with the phenomenological account of present moment experience. Rather, it aims to objectively examine the behaviour of objects (e.g. an atomic clock) from an external perspective and interobjectively analyze how systems of reference frames affect the relative experience of time passage as seen from one frame to another.

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Granted, because the dimensions of phenomena described by the four quadrant perspectives are interrelated or ‘tetra-arise,’ relativity’s accounts of the experience of time passage as measured by clocks in different reference frames do have implications for what we subjectively experience. For example, it is true that from my subjective perspective standing on the train platform as you zoom by in your relativistic bullet train, time in your train will seem to pass slower than it does for me on the platform. And it’s also true that from your subjective perspective inside the train, time for me on the platform will seem to pass faster than it does for you in the train. However, these experiential results are simply natural byproducts of the objective and interobjective phenomena that are the primary interest of physics in general and special and general relativity in particular.

Moreover, these physics-based predictions do not invalidate Tolle’s phenomenological description of present moment experience because, for instance, as I stand on the platform, I can become intensely mindful of my subjective present moment experience. I can sense the tingles in my fingers, feel the wind on my face, and see the vividness of the colours of the scene in which I find myself. From my subjective perspective, the passage of your train through the station appears to unfold within my present experience. You seem to flash through my awareness and as you zoom away, I hear the Doppler Effect expressing itself in the sound of the train horn booming through the train station. In this ‘eternal present,’ Tolle recommends that I practice being so intensely focused that I can experience all these glorious details rather than be so lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future that I miss all the textures of the moment and the natural peacefulness that arises when I abide in what Tolle calls “the state of conscious presence.”

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My Proposed Solution to Integrating the Insights of Einstein and Tolle

Therefore, here is my proposed solution to the problem of integrating Einstein’s physics with Tolle’s phenomenological view of the present moment:

(1) Einstein’s special and general relativity primarily offers us an objective (individual-exterior) and interobjective (collective-exterior) analysis of clock-time relative to different kinds of reference frames (e.g. inertial, moving, and located at various positions within massive objects’ gravitational wells). Its account of relative simultaneity logically follows from its mathematical and experimental analysis from these upper-right (objective) and lower-right (interobjective) quadrant perspectives. Pending additional future evidence and scientific breakthroughs, special and general relativity provides us with a detailed and practical account of how relative simultaneity works as seen through the individual-exterior (objective) and collective-exterior (interobjective) perspectives.

(2) Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now offers us a phenomenological (individual-interior) view of the subjective present experience of ‘the now’ focusing only on the view from within our reference frame. It offers us practical advice about how to deepen our present experience by focusing our attention on our conscious presence. It beautifully complements Einstein’s objective and interobjective accounts of clock-time passage within systems of reference frames to give us efficacious guidance for exploring our subjective present experience with as much richness of detail and experiential depth as possible.

Eckhart Tolle.

Eckhart Tolle.

Thus, because special and general relativity and Tolle’s phenomenological account offer views from the perspectives of different quadrants, they are not in fact at war with one another, but rather, complementarily interlock to provide a deeper and vaster multi-quadrant view of the phenomenon and conception of ‘the now.’ Together, they offer deep insights into the subject within three of the four quadrants. To these three quadrants’ perspectives, let us add a brief final note here in order to provide a lower-left or intersubjective (collective-interior) viewpoint on the topic of ‘the now’:

(3) Sociology and postmodern philosophy among other disciplines point out that the content of the phenomenological experience of the present moment that Eckhart Tolle and Albert Einstein explore is not “given” without context in experience (the naive belief in the contrary position is often referred to as “the myth of the given” in postmodern literature).

 

Instead, the content that presents itself in our present awareness is partially constituted, shaped, and framed by the social and cultural contexts in and through which it is perceived. Such theorists emphasize that even the mathematical and experimental tools that physicists use to theorize about and study clock-time passage and perspectives across systems of reference frames are deeply embedded in social, cultural, linguistic, and semiotic contexts that shape the formation of the observations they generate.

 

While I do not agree with the tendency among some of these theorists to reduce all scientific perspectives (e.g. special and general relativity) and all phenomenological perspectives (e.g. Tolle’s) to intersubjectivity (a fallacy known as quadrant absolutism), I do believe that these lower-left quadrant perspectives offer us a partially true view of the overall situation that is worth taking into account. Alongside the other three quadrant views supplied by the perspectives we have examined in this article, these theorists help us to fill in the fourth and final quadrant’s viewpoint on ‘the now’ in order to be as inclusive of as many valid partial truths as possible.

 

 

 

Conclusion – The Integral ‘Now’

 

In conclusion, special and general relativity and Eckart Tolle’s Power of Now offer complementary perspectives that allow us to deepen our integral understanding of the phenomenon of ‘the now’ or present experience. When seen through the lenses of the four quadrants, I believe that these two perspectives can be meaningfully integrated into a wider viewpoint that includes more of reality than either point of view taken by itself. I am very grateful to both Albert Einstein and Eckhart Tolle for expanding my understanding of this fascinating topic and to Ken Wilber for giving me a useful interpretive framework–the four quadrants–with which to bring these perspectives together into a coherent view of the issue. I will close this article with a brief exercise that I believe would elicit a characteristic smile from the joyful face of Eckhart Tolle:

As you read this article on your computer, phone, or tablet, take a moment to zoom into the Now as you presently experience it. Feel the tingles in your fingers and the solid feeling of your feet on the ground. Notice the sounds around you and the small visual details that fill the scene before you. As you read these words, feel your chest rise and fall with the incoming and outgoing breath. Allow the thoughts in your mind to naturally quiet down as you become intensely aware of the Now, as your conscious presence deepens, and a sense of wonder gradually awakens to fill the area of your heart. Allow whatever feelings are arising to be without judgment or condemnation. This is your life, not off in memories of the past or lost in worries about the future, but here and now. This is your life and here… you are Home. 

***

Related Reading:

“Transcend and Include: The Integral Attitude Towards Competing Perspectives.”

“The Gateway Into Oneness: Resting in the Sense I Am”

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