More along the lines of Dreams of Genesis and Dating Creation.
You meet a man in front of a very old looking house. He says the house has been in his family for ten generations and is over 400 years old. It sure looks old. The cobblestone steps are worn from thousands of footfalls, the wall around the property is covered with vines, the stucco is peeling in places, the wood creaks, there is a smell of mildew inside the house. You might notice that the floor boards are much wider than they are cut today. The walls may be solid construction, filled with earth between layers of brick. To all your senses the house may appear to be four centuries old.
However, appearances can be deceiving. You should be very skeptical of your thoughts and perceptions. What you think you see, what you think you want, it all may be false.
Every day you dream you create a whole world in minutes. That world might appear to be very old. An old house you see may have an occupant that tells you the illustrious history of the estate, but that house that looks four centuries old didn't exist five minutes ago.
It would be very difficult to tell the difference between a house that is 400 years old and a house that was created minutes ago to be 400 years old. It may be impossible. Even inventing a time machine would not be able to answer the problem, because the very act of going back in time changes history, so you can never then observe the unaltered original timeline. There would be no "original" timeline separate from the altered timeline, just one timeline in which you went back in time. That's why I would place a limitation on the power of time machines. It may be that you can never travel back to a time before the time machine was first turned on, otherwise you would change history by bringing the time machine to a time before it existed. A time machine could never do anything that would negate its own existence, and so it could never go back in time before it itself existed.
This goes back to the problem of dating anything that was never observed. The house, you can say people observed it. The owner may claim to be tenth generation family living on an old plot of land given to his ancestors. There may well be documentation corroborating the story. Very well. For practical reasons it would be wise to accept the story. It can't be proven, not apodictically, not to the same rigor as self awareness. I know I exist; it's self evident. But other minds, the external world, all that, it's a matter of faith. And so it's a matter of faith that this house has been in this man's family for four centuries.
I guess you could say this relates to a problem that has
irked me since I first heard it. What if this moment you were the first
being to have a conscious thought? All your memories are fake, created
this very moment. Your entire life never happened, you only think you
have. Can you prove or disprove this?
The world, on the other hand, has not been observed. There are no records left by past observers we take on faith as other minds. There is no difference between a world that is a billion years old, a world that is a million years old created to look like it's a billion years old, and a world that was created yesterday to appear a billion years old. How do you create something a billion years old? How do you create a world as old as it appears in your dreams every night? How would you create the Matrix to appear older than it really is?
What about radioactive decay? That can't be faked, can it? Let's suppose that geology can be faked, so we can't use stratigraphy. Geologic layers can be rearranged. It's not that uncommon to read science fiction with alien races powerful enough to create planets from scratch. But isotopic ratios can't be faked, can they? Why not? We're talking about a sufficiently powerful being, aliens, God, Descartes' evil demon, whoever. Why not manipulate the isotopic ratios in every substance to appear younger or older than they really are?
Some people would argue God would never deceive us like that, but is it deception? Is the intention to deceive? Are you deceiving yourself in your dreams? To deceive is to make one believe something that is not true, but what if you're not supposed to believe the world is real? What if you're supposed to know it's fake and the real deception is the deception we perpetrate on ourselves when we believe in the world? Think of it like a movie. You know it's fake, but it's rousing good fun. The deception is when you convince yourself the movie is real and you get scared walking home at night that the killer on the screen might be after you.
Why does the house in the dream appear to be 400 years old? Maybe because it's fun. It's not deception if it's a game. Why does the world appear to be billions of years old? Maybe because an older world is more fun.
And that's where mysticism comes in. That's where waking up comes in. Then you know the world isn't real. Does that make life any easier? No, it makes life harder because you contemplate going along with all the people still living in the dream, following the motions; you can never go back, never accept the world as real again, and if you're not having any fun to begin with then you wonder why you keep beating your head against the wall playing a game you despise. Life doesn't get any easier when you wake up, but it does get funnier. And one of the things you laugh at most is yourself.