The stars also form a pattern to our eyes in the night sky. They circle around the north star, so that when people take a time-lapse photo, you see the lines in circles around the north star. Of course, it is really the earth that is moving, spinning on its axis pointing toward our north star. Every spinning planet will have its own north star. The ancients used to tell time by the stars. If you were to track the big dipper, you could watch it move around the sky during the night, and if you watched it over many weeks, you’d see it was in a different place in the circle, each month of the year.
We are creatures of time. Our ancestors were watching all these patterns, learning them and tracking them so they might tell their children, marking them so we would know how to plant and harvest and hunt, and dance our own dance of time. They were much wiser than most of us at reading the natural signs of time, though our scientists have followed in their footsteps. And so we mark with our machines the minutes and the hours and the days and the seasons and the years. We look back and we look ahead.
Our relationship with past and future brings us the awareness of our own mortality—that for us, and for all living beings, someday, time will cease. Often, we feel pain about that. We feel broken-hearted when those we love are no longer with us, or when something threatens their lives. We can see that some animals grieve when their companions die, but they don’t seem to anticipate death like we do. Our ancestors also wondered about death, and passed on to us their questions about what happens when we die, and their speculations and beliefs about it.
Some ancestors believed that there was another dimension that opened up after time ended—they called it eternity. There were many theories about what eternity might be like, some of which included endless misery or endless joy, depending upon our actions during our time. Others spoke of a cyclical process of rebirth, that we end one lifetime and begin another, until we experience all that we need to experience. In our own era, all these beliefs survive, as well as more skeptical viewpoints that propose that as creatures of time, death is the end, that there is nothing of the individual consciousness that survives beyond time.