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On the Nature of Time

by Earl Carlson 3 months ago in vr
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If I May Bloviate

Though I have no credentials in either physics or philosophy, since childhood I have been curious about the nature of time. Over the years I have come to suspect that time is multi-dimensional and that alternative realities may exist side-by-side (if I may appropriate spatial terminology) in time. I prefer to call this phenomenon diverging realities rather than parallel universes because:

* They are actually different versions of the same universe, all of which may be traced directly back to a single event at the creation of the cosmos; and

* They would not run parallel to each other, but would diverge, as branches on a tree, creating space (or rather, time) for the branching off of ever more realities.

Of course, we experience time in a single dimension, so we are not aware of neighboring alternative realities. The only evidence of their existence lies at the sub-atomic level, in which, at any given moment, an electron occupies, not a specific location, but a cloud of probable locations, including all possible points in its orbit. I’m sure there are many of you, who understand this far better than I, so I won’t go into the double-slit experiment on quantum particles or Schrödinger’s cat. But I propose that each point in that orbit represents, not a probability, but a distinct reality with a distinct consequential future, and each reality contains clouds of probability/reality, which will, in turn, branch off into other different realities.

Realities adjacent to the left or right, metaphorically speaking, would be nearly indistinguishable from our present reality, just as the reality that existed a second ago and the one that will exist one second into the future are not appreciably different. But the further one travels (I am not suggesting that such travel is possible) through the additional dimensions of time, the more different realities become. If we go far enough, we may find that Al Gore has won the 2000 presidential race; further still, the Axis Powers may have won World War Two; yet further, the U. S. may still be a collection of British colonies. At the end of our journey, we may discover realities in which intelligent life has never evolved on Planet Earth.

I might postulate here, that anything that can possibly exist cannot possibly not exist, somewhere in multi-dimensional time. Since the possibility of your being a rock star or president violates no laws of physics, then there will be realities in which it is so. And, since it is possible for you to pick up an axe and swing it with lethal intentions, there will also be realities in which you are an ax-murderer.

Before I proceed, let me say again, I have no credentials in either physics or philosophy, so no one has ever critiqued my ruminations on the nature of time. I have no desire to educate; I hope merely to provoke a dialogue.

I have been given to understand that philosophers as far back as Thomas Aquinas have proposed that time does not flow smoothly, that there are quantum particles of time and space.

To illustrate the essence of the argument: Before an arrow can reach the target, it first must travel halfway to the target; then it must travel half of the remaining distance, and again half of the remaining distance. Even to infinity, no matter how narrow the remaining distance, the arrow must still travel halfway before it can hit the target. In other words, it would never reach the target, because first it still would have to travel halfway.

Obviously, arrows (when shot by better archers than I) do, indeed, hit their targets. Therefore, there must be a discreet, indivisible, particle of space. Then, once the remaining distance has been reduced to the linear dimension of that quantum particle of space, there will be no such thing as half-way; the arrow must travel the entire remaining indivisible distance.

The same argument may be made for the quantum particle of time: Before we reach that point in time, at which the arrow will strike the target, we must first reach halfway to that point in time, etc.

Now then, suppose the flow of time should suddenly stop. It would, of course, stop at a particular point, at a particular quantum particle of time. Naturally, an observer living in a universe in which time has ceased to flow would not be able to examine that universe. An examination would take time, and time will have ceased to flow.

But we, from the comfort of our ergonomic chairs, have the capacity to examine his universe for him. We would find space, all three dimensions of space; there would be matter, and there would be energy. (It has just now occurred to me that there would be no fundamental forces. Gravity would cease to act on falling objects; iron would not be drawn to the magnet. But I’ll think about that later.) We would find that an entire universe, minus time and fundamental forces, is contained within that quantum particle of time.

Then, if we allowed just one quantum particle of time to elapse, we would find another universe, only slightly different from the one we had just examined. Indeed, each and every quantum particle of time must contain an entire universe, complete with moon and stars and distant galaxies and, in many of them, other copies of us and everyone we know.

For the purpose of this discussion, let us assume that time, like space, has three dimensions. Yes, I know that Einstein has assigned to time the role of the fourth dimension of space, but couldn’t we just as well say that space is the fourth dimension of time?

Well, no matter. Spatial location must always be stated as a combination of three dimensions: forward and back, left and right, and up and down. There are no corresponding terms for temporal directions, so I will simply apply those spatial terms to our discussion of time. At any given moment, the present will contain countless realities arrayed in time to our left and right, and above and below, and all combinations thereof, and extending far beyond the limits of our understanding. And each of these realities will be a universe unto itself, lacking only the flow of time and the fundamental forces.

This I find troubling. It is not the existence of all these other realities that bothers me; I’ve long since accepted that notion. What troubles me is implied in the lack of symmetry. If all those realities arrayed in two dimensions may be present concurrently, why must we exclude the third dimension, forward and back (future and past)? Is it not possible, does it not better satisfy our fundamental need for order, if all dimensions of time, just as are all dimensions of space, are present concurrently? Should we not consider the possibility that all the time that ever has been, and all that ever will be, exist now? Might we not imagine that time does not flow past us, as experience seems to tell us, but that we move through an endless, but stationary, sea of time?

And, since all those realities are complete unto themselves lacking, while still retaining the appearance of, the flow of time and the fundamental forces, might we not entertain the possibility that time does not flow and neither do we move through time. Might we not imagine that each and every copy of each of us and of all our friends and of every sentient being whoever has lived or whoever will live is eternally imprisoned within a single quantum particle of time? Is it not conceivable that I have been sitting at my desk, gazing at the screen of my monitor, and depressing a single key of my keyboard since the beginning of time, and that I will continue to do so for all of eternity? And all the while, in a nearby reality, another copy of me depresses a different key on my keyboard as it has always done and will continue to do, forever.

Of course, memory provides the illusion of the passage of time; we remember the past, while the future remains a mystery. And this poses the question: Why, if we are imprisoned within a single quantum particle of time while a sea of time lies motionless around us, are we not able to remember the future as we remember the past?

To answer that question, I’ll return to the branches of my metaphorical tree, and introduce a metaphorical ant, whom, to avoid that whole gender neutrality thing as well as to honor a favorite aunt of mine, I shall call Aunt Esther. Suppose Aunt Esther should happen to ascend that tree in her eternal search for communal sustenance. As she climbs, she continually encounters choices: whether to take this branch or that knobby one over there.

But no matter which branch she may choose, and no matter how many choices she has already made, she has followed only one path up the metaphorical tree to reach her present location; she has only one, easily remembered, past. While, above her, lie innumerable choices yet to be made; she has, not one single future to remember, but a veritable cloud of probabilities – an unimaginable number of futures. Even assuming that Aunt Esther has the capacity to remember all of her future paths, just as a double exposure on a photographic film may be difficult to read, and a great many exposures on the same film would render it featureless, those several futures would cancel each other out. Remembering all our futures, then, would be exactly the same as remembering none.

But, as I said, I have no credentials; I’m probably just full of crap.


About the author

Earl Carlson

My stories/essays have appeared in the Eunoia Review: the Blue Lake Review: Firewords Quarterly, the Beorh Quarterly, and The Mensa Bulletin, Buried Letter Press: and Novella T, among others.

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