Time and Travel and Time Travel

time.jpgOver the weekend I had a conversation with B rd over at edlundart about time and since then I’ve coincidentally read several short stories dealing with time travel by Michael Swanwick.

So, of course, I’ve been thinking about time rather haphazardly. B rd told me a story about a sculpture professor whom he talked to about time. The example used was a trip from Baltimore to NYC which takes about 4 hours. Yet, if you are listening to some good music and having a blast, it might only seem like it took 2 hours. The question was basically, why is objective time considered more important than subjective time? Plenty of science fiction deals with this problem in terms of temporal relativity. Lightspeed or faster than lightspeed travel causes this to kick in. A month can pass subjectively for a person traveling at light speed, but objective time back on earth, hundreds of years will have done the same. This is still slightly different because subjective time is really just a measure of objective time while traveling at light speed. To the person traveling, the trip could seem years long if they are incredibly bored. Objective time gets more value I think because it isn’t variable from person to person and can be used as a form of communication.

Now, Swanwick has several short stories dealing with time travel. One in particular wrestles with thoughts on whether time is deterministic and fated or malleable and uncertain. Others deal with the possibilities of paradox. I think that time is deterministic, sort of like a syringe. The present is where the plunger ends, the past is the amount of fluid that has been drawn in and the future is the vacuumed space behind the plunger. This is my deterministic model because we know by the gradations that there will be a point where 15ccs become 20ccs and so on. I suppose the future in this sense is merely an extrapolation of measurements from the past.

As for paradox, I think this has two possibilities. One which Swanwick addresses, is explained better by his example. If you murder the infant Charlemagne with a machine gun, a month later it will be said he was stabbed to death, and hundreds of years after that people will have the history that we now know. So, time fixes itself. This, too is dependent on the past, on history, on recounting what was once to be.

So from all this I have gathered that talking about the future, or time travel, always ends up being about the past.

Another possibility is that paradox cannot happen. By that I mean, a heretofore unknown law will prevent its occurence. Perhaps this will only kick in in large case scenarios like murdering your own grandfather and smaller things like [to use another Swanwick example] sending yourself stock options so you become rich will fizzle on its own.

There is also a theory that I read about years ago that posits that each instant of time is its own universe and continues to exist independent of all other instants somewhere in multidimensional space. We perceive time as a measurement only because these instants blur together like the frames of a film strip.

I wonder if time is an illusion altogether. Perhaps only this instant exists, memories and hopes are merely flourishes added as decoration to this instant of existence. If this is true, everything seems much smaller to me. I also have some difficulty equating time and space as things that are near to each other. Perhaps I am being purposefully dense, but time strikes me as nothing more than a measurement. We speaking of counting time, but time cannot be spoken of without some sort of measurement. Space is visible on the other hand. I suppose it is sort of like explaining three dimensions to a drawing on a piece of paper. Or, [and I’ll stop here] maybe that is wrong because Time and Space are both perceptual and maybe even three-​dimensional Space only appears to exist because it functions similarly to filmstrip time.