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Time On My Hands

Time is one of the most enduring staples of science fiction.  How we experience time, what time is and whether time can be toyed with has long been one of the deepest ponders of humanity.  And walking hand-in-hand with time is the nature of the Universe.  Are there multiple Universes?  Can we enter or experience those other Universes?  Does anything we do affect the number, size or nature of other Universes?  You can easily get lost in these sorts of thoughts.

How we experience time is obviously relative.  As Albert Einstein himself explained it, "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."  Time is a fluid in which we are drowning, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always sinking.

Then there's the whole issue of probability and possibility.  Something can be possible without being probably, but rarely can something be probable without being possible.  As Sherlock Holmes said, "Once you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

In modern physics, as misguided and limited as it is, there is a mainstream theory of multiple Universes that states that the so-called Big Bang may have happened multiple times, and that there is a hyper-verse that looks something like a bubble bath with millions of bubbles all crowding each other.  Whether it is possible to communicate between these bubbles is still hotly debated.

An alternative concept, though not generally taken seriously by mainstream physics (which gives it far more credibility in my book) is the multi-verse concept.  This theory posits that there are as many Universes as there are choices.  Every time you face a choice between A, B or C, you create a reality in which you experience A, but two alternate Universes are created in which you chose B or C.  Furthermore, this process is repeated for every single living being that makes choices at every point within the Universe.

In other words, there are infinite numbers of Universes and more are being created all the time.

The classic Time Paradox thought experiment says that you travel back in time.  You kill your grandfather, thus you can not possibly exist, and yet you do.  Have you changed the conditions of the current Universe, or have you created an alternate Universe?

One of the finest stories along the lines of the first concept is Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder.  A hunter travels back in time to kill a T. Rex, but panics and leaves the proscribed path, killing a butterfly in the process.  When the party returns to the present, language has changed.  People have changed.  And history has changed.  This story inspired Michael Crichton to write Jurassic Park.  Well worth a Saturday in bed.

Along the lines of the second option, Robert Heinlein penned his classic The Number of the Beast.  Inspired by E. R. Burroughs' Barsoom series, the characters travel through multiple embedded Universes encoded in the "number of the beast" (666) that include Universes created by fiction writers, not just choices.  Lots of nudity and gratuitous sex.  You'll love it!

Really, though, what is time?  Supposedly we can't see the future, yet in very mainstream and accepted physical theory, time is a double cone extending into the future and the past, and we should be able to see both time zones with equal clarity given the proper tools.  In other words, given the correct tool and knowing where to look, we should be able to see Earth at anytime in the past or future.  General Relativity and Light Theory demand it.

Equally possible is the ability to adjust our perception and thus enter any number of multiple embedded Universes.  All it takes is learning the 'trick' to turning just so in order to do it.

The first theory states that there is only one time line and that any change to it affects everything from that point into the future.  Think of this as the 'railroad' theory.  You start in Chicago and go to New York.  If you change any conditions on the rail, you can jam the train or change its destination.  The changes are irrevocable, though you can always return to the point of origin and try again by adjusting the conditions of the rail.

The second theory states that you board the train in Chicago and along the way, if conditions change, you create multiple trains that do different things depending on how those conditions affect the train's path.  It's possible to experience all possible outcomes, though maybe not at once.

So where does all this leave us?

We know for a fact that where we are at this very moment is the result of an incomprehensible number of choices, options and decisions spanning all of time, however much that is.  We also know that any and every choice, option and decision we take now will profoundly affect our lives and have a ripple effect across time and space, even if we aren't aware of all the consequences.  Think about that the next time you kill a cockroach.

What all this boils down to is, what is time?  Is it a physical phenomenon and one day we will discover chronitons, particles of time?  Or is it a dimension that we perceive, like height, width and depth?  Or is it a construct of our minds, like a clothesline on which we hang our exeriences to dry into memories and give historians gainful employment?

If you were given the chance to go back in your life and change one decision, would you do it?  Would you take the risk on what ripples that would make in your present?  Or do you see it as an opportunity to jump into an alternate reality at that particular junction that wouldn't affect anything in this particular reality?

The beauty of this particular ponder is that it allows us to ask a very simple question - what if - and then explore all sorts of different possibilities.

What's really fun is that your concept of time shows you how limited your concept of 'god' is.  If time is an unalterable arrow, then your 'god' is very limited.  On the other hand, if time is as dynamic and pliable as water, then your 'god' is unlimited.  How's that for a mind-bender?

At any rate, the next time someone asks you, "What time is it?"  Give them the response, "Sidereal or synodic?"  Watch their expression.  Maybe I'll even do a YouTube series of people's reactions.  Fun idea.

Worst case scenario, just burst into Jim Croce lyrics:
But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I've looked around enough to know
That you're the one I want to go
Through time with