The attitude of the Gnostics toward time, and more generally, toward the world, is characterized from the first by a movement of revolt against time and the world as conceived by Hellenism and Christianity…
—Henri-Charles Puech, Gnosis and Time
Most of us think of time as a linear process, a movement from the past to the future, but has this always been so? Is time truly an arrow, or is it also a return, a circle rather than a slide toward some apocalyptic abyss? Or, what if time could reverse course, or slip off into a non-time, a time of no time, a rhizomatic cleavage in time that would lock it and its inhabitants in a zone of stasis, a place where time stood still? Have we even begun to think about time?
The earliest recorded Western philosophy of time was expounded by the ancient Egyptian thinker Ptahhotep (c. 2650–2600 BC), who said, “Do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit.” The Vedas, the earliest texts on Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy, dating back to the late 2nd millennium BC, describe ancient Hindu cosmology, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320,000 years. Ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmenides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time.
Plato, in the Timaeus, identified time with the period of motion of the heavenly bodies, and space as that in which things come to be. Aristotle, in Book IV of his Physics, defined time as the number of changes with respect to before and after, and the place of an object as the innermost motionless boundary of that which surrounds it.
In Book 11 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”