Once Upon A Man’s Travels Through Time

As a cognitive exercise, and a visualisation of dimensional realities, I’ll ask that the reader take the necessary time and afford the necessary attention in order to fully appreciate the picture that I’m about to paint for you through my words.

According to the venerable and eminent Professor of Physics, and possibly the greatest scientific mind the world has ever seen, Albert Einstein, time travel is a theoretical impossibility in our universe.

That statement is subjective though, as Einstein meant it to be.  Think for a minute about the totality of that idea.  He said that it’s impossible to travel through time, whether backward or forward, but isn’t that exactly what you’re doing right now…and even now.

To travel through time, whether backward or forward (forward as in -at a faster pace than normal), one must be able to breach the continuum of space/time, and to do that, one must be able to travel faster than 299,792,458 miles per second (the speed of light).  And even then, it is only a supposition that time travel would be possible if one could breach light speed, which one cannot.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let’s lay a few things on the table, to be sure we’ve catalogued a full inventory of this discussion.

What, first of all, are we talking about?  Time Travel…It possesses two distinct concepts, time and travel.  Which may be injuriously obvious, but at the same time, this basic look at the term is often taken for granted by those who seek to either solve the problem(s) or add to them.  Taken alone, each concept presents it own problems for definition; what is time?  And what is travel as it might be associated to time?

Time, the word, is a component of the measuring system used to compare and sequence events.  It’s sort of an abstract filing system, a way for us to observe and quantify our reality.  So, as if it wasn’t already a silly idea, I’ll have you think for a moment about travelling through a filing cabinet.

As related to this discussion however, time has been termed as one of the fundamental quantities of the universe.  Which may be as useless a definition as could be possible for one trying to understand the concept, though of course, this is not a new problem; what is time, exactly?  Is it an invisible force contained in wrist watches?  Is it part of some weird science of LCD displays?  Is it the magic contained in the giant gears of England’s own Big Ben?

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity” –Albert Einstein

To bring the idea into perspective, I’ll say that time is a feeble construct of the human mind, intended to offer us a primitive glimpse into a fourth dimension of reality.  While that may not help a great deal in the effort to simply define the word, it does take us nicely toward the real problem of time travel.

Consider for a moment, my good friend ‘2-d Jack’, Jack is afflicted with the unfortunate problem of existing only in two dimensions of reality (as opposed to our three dimensions of reality).  His life consists only of flat surfaces, he knows nothing of ‘up’ or ‘down’, he knows only backward and forward (and side-to-side).

Graphic representation of a Mobius Strip

Jack lives his life, his entire existence on a mobius strip; he happily and haplessly goes about his life, wandering back and forth along the surface of the strip, never coming to the end, never perceiving anything beyond what he can see immediately in front of him and/or behind him.[1]

Consider Jack’s mobius strip existence, with the help of the diagram; to Jack, his world is complete, it is infinite, it is adequate and it is representative of his reality.  But, since we look down from above, in the relative comfort of our 3-dimensional existence, we can plainly see that Jack is missing out.  It isn’t terribly difficult, from our perspective, to see the glaring difference between our reality and Jack’s reality, though from Jack’s perspective, it would be a stupendous undertaking to perceive a third dimension, as a two dimensional being.

Is this what we’re faced with when we consider what time is?  Do you think that Jack may have some abstract definition for ‘up’, an idea that is only barely perceptible to him, and which at times resembles both ‘up’ and ‘down’ and which is both subjective to his attitude in the environment he occupies, and entirely unquantifiable to him.  Sound familiar yet?

If you visualise Jack’s mobius existence, and with your imagination place a large rock obstacle along the strip in Jack’s path, and then a second rock further down the path, and then even further still, beyond the horizontal arch of the strip, you place a banana tree.  While Jack may appreciate the aesthetic additions to his world; he, unfortunately, would only be capable of perceiving each item one at a time.

As he comes upon the first rock, the experience would be a unique thing for him, exploratory and experiential.  Once past that rock and coming up on the next, Jack would not be able to look back along his path to observe both rocks simultaneously, and while his experience with the first rock is still cognitively present for him, it no longer exists in his current reality.  So, standing next to his second rocky discovery, Jack might wonder what lies ahead for him, and while one from our perspective might say he could simply look ahead and see that there lies a banana tree on the path, from Jack’s perspective, that simply isn’t possible.  He could surmise that since he encountered a rock on the path previously, and since there is one in his present reality, there could well be another rock ahead, though he would have no way of predicting that there was a banana tree instead.

For Jack, the potential of his existence is limited by the fact that he can only perceive two dimensions of reality.  It makes him no less valuable to that existence, and it makes his trek along the path no less poignant, unless you happen to be watching his trek from the position of a third dimension.  It might be an intolerably simple thing for you to bellow down from Jack’s heavens that the whole thing is a looping pathway, and that there will always be two rocks and a banana tree on the path both in front and behind him (though imagine how much of a surprise such a voice would be, coming from somewhere you didn’t even know existed, like ‘up’).

But even with our well intentioned interference, Jack would remain incapable of understanding the information and ideas we would try to relay.  For Jack, the only thing that matters is the exact point on the strip which he occupies at any given time (yes, I see the irony in using time to quantify Jack’s two dimensional existence), all else is, and may as well be, non-existent until he encounters it first hand.

This may be helpful in visualising the difference between dimensions, but while it may offer some insight into a cognitive reality for the fourth dimension (time), it does nothing to improve our perception of it.

A graphic representation of a time continuum affected by a worm hole

A graphic representation of a time continuum affected by a worm hole

To continue Jack’s two dimensional analogy, we should ask whether or not Jack could ever occupy two locations on his mobius strip at the same time?[2] Of his own doing, it would be ridiculous to think that Jack would posses the ability to manipulate the spatial structure of his reality, so as to occupy two locations at once.  There is only one Jack, and his reality is infinitely linear…or it is?

Consider the mobius strip diagram again; to Jack it appears linear, because Jack’s two dimensional perceptions require it to be.  He exists at a particular location on the strip, and though he is able to travel along it, he cannot remain in one location while travelling to another.  Though from our perspective, the entire strip could be collapsed causing multiple locations along the strip to not only come into contact with one another, but to remain so.  So what if Jack were occupying a particular space on the strip, when some force heretofore unknown to him, collapsed the strip for him, bringing another space into contact with the one he currently occupied?  He would effectively be occupying two spaces on the strip simultaneously (and likely would have completely blown his mind).

It isn’t terribly difficult to transpose this idea to our own reality, thinking of time along the same logic as Jack’s mobius strip; and in turn thinking of time travel in the same way.  However, this wouldn’t really be time travel would it?

So, what is time again?  Aside from the academic definition of the word, the concept is the perceptual representation of a fourth dimension, of which we are only barely able to detect and understand; awareness of which is the direct result of big brain evolution.

There has been a great deal of study devoted to the question of whether or not other animals in our environment are able to perceive time.[3] And in a large number of studies, it has been concluded that, while most animals can perceive time to a certain degree (via various memory mechanisms), none are able to do so with our own penchant for creativity and flexibility.  And as I’m sure some were wondering (as the above discussion is interesting, but isn’t specifically related to any paranormal subject in my usual cannon) how this might relate to a subject relevant to this paranormal genre, this entire word play has been brought forward to benefit our understanding of certain “psychic” processes involved in fortune telling.

I have not been an avid supporter of the “psychic” trades, even though I hold a full appreciation for what may be possible by psychic means.  In so far as I’ve struggled with the idea that a person can see into my future, a future filled with possibilities untold, all of which is predicated on an infinite number of choices, influenced by an infinite number of convergences with other people’s futures and choices.

It all seemed (and seems) much too complex to consider as anything more than a parlour trick, but here’s the ‘what if’ of this particular story.  Through the exploration of how we, and our animal neighbours perceive time, I have been stricken with the idea that the telling of fortunes is not a causal phenomenon, nor is it related to time at all.

Tossing aside all the obvious and not so obvious charlatans in this field, let’s consider my good friend Jack’s psychic cousin Jill.   If Jill, being of our reality, rather than Jack’s, can perceive a continuum of time (a mobius strip for the fourth dimension) to a greater degree than say, myself, and through that increased perception simply has the ability to see a little further along the path than I, is this not equivalent to some definition of time travel?

If we can accept that animals perceive time in a less evolved manner than we superior humans, can we suppose that our ability to provide a greater breadth of cognitive sequence to our memories, is equal to a greater ability to perceive the fourth dimension?  Furthermore, if we predicate our understanding of time on the ideas put forth about Jack’s two dimensional reality, can we see, not only the possibility of observing, occupying or travelling to alternate points of time, just as Jack did with spatial positioning on the collapse of his mobius strip, but also that some persons [Jill], who’s evolutionary development is (possibly) greater than others, can observe that temporal continuum and even possibly manipulate it to a greater degree than others both now and in the past?

Speaking personally about the issues of prophecy and clairvoyance, I had long been offended by the idea that seeing into my future was akin to manipulating my free will like a marionette string from the future, and during this convoluted thought process, I’ve come to reconcile the above ideas with a number of stickier subjects in the realm of the unknown: ethereal survival, ghosts, aportation, apparition, and several more concepts.  I don’t believe we will be capable of gaining any real understanding over these subject’s until we develop a furtherance of our understanding, and by proxy our perception of time.

[1] A continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating (twisting) one end 180° and attaching it to the other end.

[2] In this case, ‘time’ is not representative of a linear placing of events, but rather a spatial placing of locations in Jack’s reality.

[3] One such study is summated here, with an interesting result indicating that Rats perceive time via episodic-memory in an altogether different way than humans. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/320/5872/113

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