about that time travel thing

I’m thinking that time travel might be both the most fun and the most stupid idea in this history of science fiction. The fun part goes without saying. The stupid part relates to the incredibly simplistic thinking that perhaps only an earthbound animal creature is capable of, for all we know. You can go back to the beginning of this sentence and read it again, but the universe is not at all like that. It does not rewind, or if it does, the enormity of such an action is seriously unthinkable. Every drop that flowed, every breath of wind that blew, every molecule that vibrated, all of that would have to be undone. Even the briefest moment (in the subjective experience of it) contains near infinite quantities of change. Nevertheless …

I’m only thinking about it because last night I watched the first episode of the new James Franco series based on the Stephen King novel (11.22.63 on Hulu) about a guy who is shown a portal to a certain time and place (1960, small-town Maine) where he can go and therein set about preventing the assassination of JFK. Leaving aside the old parallel universe conundrum, or the notion that, hey, now the guy can’t ever go back once he accomplishes his mission because every time he goes back the whole thing resets, like a default value.

Silly, but fun. What grabbed my attention was the feature that “the past does not want to be changed” and it actively resists, by setting things on fire, causing cars to crash and chandeliers to fall. It’s as if the past is spying on itself, endlessly paranoid that it’s little masterpiece might get tinkered with. It’s as if Jackson Pollock were hiding out in a museum to leap out just in time just in case someone decided to alter one of those meaningless scribbles of paint.

My thought was, hey, this is sort of like my own ‘Time Zone‘, where the past cannot be changed, but in my version, there’s no such volition, and no chance of ever defying it. What “time” does in that book is simply make you fit in. It absorbs you, changes you. There is nothing you can do about it. You are a molecule and it is the universe. I like my idea better, even though it is absolutely hopeless and makes it impossible for any story to occur in which the protagonists or their goals remain at all.

It’s a more subtle and less obvious take on the whole time travel thing, I think, and if it were made into a movie you could still have the cool cars, hairstyles and early rock and roll if you wanted, and those are clearly the best things about this particular TV show anyway.

 

(oddly, only a few minutes after I posted this I was notified that someone reviewed it on Smashwords. It hadn’t been reviewed there in more than 4 years!! The guy gave it 2 stars. Maybe if I went back in time and re-wrote it he would end up liking it better! What do you think? Should I do it? Are you ready to lose everything that’s happened in your world over the past 17 years since I wrote it?)

It’s a Continuum

“It’s a continuum” – it’s a family tradition (joke?) to try and see everything in that light – politics, emotions, sexuality, gender identity, intelligence, talent- whatever the topic, we can always sum it up with that saying.

Continuum is also a television show, a sci-fi time-travel series that got me quite hooked recently thanks to Netflix. Despite its weaknesses, the show is compelling to me for a few reasons, the main one being that it deals even-handedly with all of the complexity and ambiguity that comes from the recent technological developments and issues around big data, total surveillance, control of information, police militarization and corporate greed. Good guys and bad guys are not so easily distinguished – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, the road to hell is paved and so on. The show’s problems do tend to overwhelm it at times. For example, the women tend to cry a lot. Even though they’re as violent and kickass and fearless as the men, still they cry, in nearly every episode. Someone thought this was appropriate, but it’s tiresome. Another problem is that so much is happening, there are so many stories, that most of them go inoperative for long stretches, as if the terrorists go on vacation, or the interlopers from the guture (the “freelancers”) move in and out of utter incompetence whenever it suits the plot. Also, there is a shitload of gunfire and the bad guys miss nearly 99 percent of the time. Come to think if it, nearly everyone misses most of the time. Tiresome. There are the usual endless karate fight scenes where everyone’s arms and legs get broken but they bounce right up again. Bah.

Still, I’m a sucker for time travel even though I understand quite fully that it is the most completely absurd idea in the history of science fiction, because there is no such thing as “time” as a thing-in-itself. The world is not a recording. There is no playback, no rewind, no fast forward. Time is simply our perception of the infinitely complex occurrences of changes happening to everything constantly. There are no discrete moments, and there are no slices. There can be no such thing as “time travel”, but it’s a fun story, full of what-ifs and mind games. Like some of the best science fiction notions, it is at once a vehicle for imaginative work and a revelation of our collective incapacity to truly imagine our own actual reality. With all of our science and brainpower we have as little possibility of perceiving the universe as it really is as any other creature that ever existed, because the very tools we have are defined by their limitations – the brain and its sensory apparatus serve limited purposes and no others. The human brain enjoys thinking of itself as the greatest thing that ever happened, but I’d bet anything that a butterfly brain has the same idea.

Complexity and the Limits of Imagination

I’ve harped on these themes before, but what the heck. It’s only opinionating but I like it.

Two items intertwined in my mind to form the double helix of this thread. One is time travel, the other is an atheist’s conversion to Catholicism. What they both have in common are the twin titles of this post: Complexity, and the Limits of Imagination.

I’ve been guilty many times of indulging in the fantasy of time travel, and have written some stories in the genre, knowing full well how absurd an idea it is, but unable to resist and usually unwilling to look too closely into it. I came across the notion recently (I wish I could remember where, and link to it) about how “time” not only does not exist, but cannot possibly exist. What we have is not “time” as we know it, but an infinity of seemingly concurrent changes taking place around us constantly. All you really need to do is look outside. Let’s assume you can see a tree, and on that tree there are leaves (jjust budding out now, as it’s the beginning of springtime in your clime, let us say). Those leaves are each in their own state – at the moment – and are changing their state, growing, living, fading, dying as they do through the seasons. Now to “go back in time”, each of those leaves would have to revert to the state they were in at that supposed “time”. That’s just one tree. Seriously, that tree not only houses leaves, but bark and trunk and branches, and all of those are made up of atoms, molecules, protons, neutrons, all the way down the line. Each of the subatomic particles forming each of those atoms would need to revert the QUANTUM state they were in at that so-called “time”. Quantum being the operative word, because by definition that state CANNOT BE KNOWN at that level. Add the other trees, the weeds, plants and flowers in your neighborhood, and build up from there the entire world, solar system, galaxy, universe and so on. Of course we can’t even begin to do that. We can’t even begin to imagine the basic elements of that one tree! We might think we can imagine, but even the hardiest imaginer would have to confess, sooner or later, that infinity is hard to count up to. So, while the idea of time travel is fun, it’s also ridiculous. Every “moment” is already Humpty Dumpty, and can already not be put back together again, because it never is together in the first place.

Just because our imaginations are limited does not mean that the thing(s) we’re trying to imagine do not exist. This is perhaps the best argument in favor of the potential existence of God. “It could happen!” (shrug). Who knows? Who can say? A science fiction writer had a near-death experience followed by a conversion experience which led him to find God and start a heated debate on his blog wherein he and atheists engage in dispute. Now, lots of people have conversion experiences, sometimes accompanying crises and sometimes not, and there’s really no reason by one person’s experience should be taken as any sort of proof of anything by anybody else. One of his main arguments reminds me of Niezsche’s warning that “life is no argument, for the conditions of life could include error.” This man says: “You are also implying that the human race, all of whom believe in gods, ghosts, magic and miracles of one sort or another, except for that exquisitely tiny minority of persons who are consistent atheists, just so happened to have all made the same lapse of judgment in the matter of paramount and foundational importance in their lives, and continue to do so”. I wonder if he really wants to include ghosts and magic in the same category as God, but doesn’t a lot of it come down to the limits and restrictions of the human imagination? Base any argument on “what most people believe” and you’ll come perilously close to awarding the definition of “greatness” as being “Justin Bieber”. It’s not a “lapse of judgment” to believe in something. It may just be the way the human mind works. It’s useful. As far as I know, there has never been any independent evidence presented – that is, by a species other than humans. Does any other species of creature in the universe believe in God or is it a human invention? I would be very interested to know what parrots believe in – if faith is of any use to them – or any other creature of this planet, for that matter. I cling to the quaint notion that humans are animals of Earth, sharing most of the same DNA as many other animals, as well as the same habits (eating, sleeping, waking, breathing, dreaming, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, reproducing and raising our young … stuff like that). It could be that failing to believe in God is a limit of imagination on my part. Or, on the contrary, taking everything you cannot conceive of or understand and assigning it to some one big bucket called God could also be a fail. I’m just going to say, along with Dirty Harry, that “a man’s got to know his limitations”, and leave it at that.

The Tedious Time Traveler

It is certainly possible that I will someday finally write the story of the Tedious Time Traveler

i’m toying with a story notion about time travel becoming so cheap and common that every cretin with a tramp stamp is doing it, filling up history with white trash like it’s a freaking landfill (featuring Cedric Von Barkingham)