Suffering and the Arrow of Time

I sometimes ask myself, “Why do I do what I do when I know what I know?”

I’ve used this question to elicit a feeling of guilt for not meeting some standard I’ve set for myself or accepted from someone else.

Let’s investigate that question, check it for validity, “Is it true?” And learn something useful about “IT” in the process.

To start with, time rolls along in one direction – from past to present to future – called the arrow of time. I can imagine going into the past, yet I cannot actually do so. I must obey the arrow of time.

Investigations that follow the arrow of time tend to result in successful outcomes. Those that fail to take the arrow into account tend to result in suffering.

My investigations follow the arrow of time in this fashion:

  1. I use WHAT questions to elicit form that I identify through my senses (What happened? What is that? etc.).
  2. I use HOW questions to deduce function (How did it happen? How is it that…?).
  3. I use WHY questions to deduce purpose (Why did it happen? Why is it that…?).
  4. I use WHO questions to deduce identity (Who done it?).

To investigate why my question may be invalid, let’s look at the process of causality – like a detective investigating a crime.

Following the arrow of time:
First, the detective observes WHAT happened (the effect). Then s/he gathers evidence to make and test several hypotheses concerning HOW the crime was committed (process). Then, applying deductive reasoning to the evidence, the detective makes and tests several hypotheses concerning WHY the crime was committed (motive) in order to deduce WHO committed the crime (cause).


The ORDER of investigation, which follows the arrow of time, is every bit as important as evidence and deduction.

For example, were I to start a criminal investigation with WHO, I’d be forced to mold whatever evidence and deductions to fit the WHO that I’d already determined was guilty of the crime – leading to injustice and suffering.

In my own life, I often assign guilt (WHO) before I gather evidence of HOW or even WHAT. I’m so stuck on punishing the guilty party that I miss the WHAT and HOW bits I could use to determine what actually occurred and how I’m accountable to me. It’s backwards logic and almost always results in more suffering – for me! In other words –

My erroneous logic resists the arrow of time and results in suffering.

To investigate why I do what I do when I know what I know, I must apply the correct order of investigation:
I have the WHAT – I sense it. Maybe I see a tree, hear a sound, touch a texture, see my behavior.
I may have some of the HOW – through education or observation. I planted the tree so I can deduce how it got there. I recognize a human voice, so I can deduce how the sound was produced. I watched how I behaved.
Based on WHAT and HOW, I can deduce the WHY or motivation of WHAT I observed and HOW I/they behaved.

This takes me to WHO – the big question – ME!

Looking at the initial question, “Why do I do what I do when I know what I know?” – the question is in order with the arrow of time because it seeks WHY by observing WHAT first and HOW in the doing.

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