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Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Time Solid

I love to ponder the nature of time. The only thing I'm sure of is that we humans don't perceive it as it actually is. So what might it be like? Hmm. I have two favorite analogies: the time solid, and paint. I'm not saying these analogies are correct, or even mathematically consistent, just that they feel to me like they could very well be correct. And since it's my blog, I get to write about what I want to :-)

The first analogy, the time solid, I used to invent a mechanism for time travel in my soon-to-be-released novel, A Lever Long Enough. (The novel is coming out this January, my dear friends, and you will certainly hear more about this!). My analogy comes from Edwin Abbott's often-reprinted 1880 classic, Flatland. This is a terrific and readable book whose ideas on dimensions have stayed with me since I was a kid.

Taking a direct application from Flatland, imagine that you are a two-dimensional figure living on a plane (visualize that you are a square sketched on a piece of paper). Now imagine that your plane passes through a cube, point first. You’d see a triangle drawn on the paper that grows larger, then smaller again, then disappears. You’ve observed sequential slices of the same object over time, like a movie. As a two-dimensional being you wouldn’t be able to imagine what a three-dimensional constant object might look like, or that what you've just seen is qualitatively more of a square than you are. How could sequential views of a triangle even be a square? Similarly, if there is an arched shape that passes through your plane, you'd see two dots. If you push one dot, the other dot also moves and you can infer they are related although you confirm no physical connection between the two dots. Mr. Cube, though, easily understands this physical linkage.

Although our bodies exist in three dimensions, I imagine in my novel that time is a greater-than-three-dimensional constant solid object that we can only experience one slice at a time. My time machine is able to somehow “turn” the time solid so that one of the physical components becomes the cross-section while time is expanded into a full dimension. With this circumstance, an object can travel through seconds or years by being thrown into the time solid or pulled out of it.

The time solid is obviously an extreme oversimplification of what time might be like, and raises all sorts of metaphysical questions such as the existence of free will versus predestination. No, I won't go there today.

The time solid theory also doesn't take into account that time, in its true form, lacks "edges." What are edges? This is a sense, something I believe but it's hard to articulate. It's like explaining what the color "red" looks like. But let me try.

OK. Everything in this world has a beginning, and an end -- everything is "more than" or "less than" something else. There are no absolutes, since things don't exist in isolation, but only in relation to each other. It's hard for us to imagine, say, infinity of distance or size, because we have to start somewhere and continuously calculate "where we are now" compared to "where we were." These are edges. But time, I believe, is limitless and uncompared to other things, even itself. Time isn't linear; it only seems so to us because of our three dimensional limits. I believe that our bodies on this Earth are filters, interfaces, that allow our spiritual soul or
spirit to interact with a three dimensional world. While we are attached to these bodies, we are unable to comprehend transcendent concepts, such as time.

Time may also be more than just one extra dimension that we see in cross-section. Lisa Randall, in her book Warped Passages, postulates eleven dimensions interconnected through the ubiquitous pull of gravity. I'm not even going to start on this concept, except to say that I'm not the only one who has strange imaginings!

OK, I think that's enough for today. Are you confused yet? My dear friends, please forgive me for rambling. In a near-future entry I'll explain why time is like paint :-)

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