Friday, 1 February 2013

It's just a matter of time

A very odd thought came into his head. It was something he'd heard when he was young. Possibly part of some oddball scientific theory, perhaps complete nonsense. It didn't really matter. It was still an interesting thought.
            "We travel into the future at the speed of one second per second...", thought the Professor.
            "Nice thought," he mused.
            "Is it true, though?"
            He couldn't help wondering, and once he started thinking about it he couldn't stop.          
                                                from Professor Kompressor: The Time Traveller

This may be a bit confused, but I can always come back yesterday and fix it. You'll see what I mean in a while (or perhaps a while ago?).
            After thinking this through, it is about time that I write something down. No. Sorry. Having though it through, I want to write something about time. Time progressing like an unstoppable stream, second by second. Based on everyday experience this progression towards the future is inevitable. It is simply the way that Nature works. Cause and effect. In that order. Not the other way around. Why should it be like this? What would happen if it were not so?
            If one could figure out a way to reverse the flow of time, one might be able to do a whole lot of peculiar things. This has been well explored in science fiction where time travel remains as fresh a concept as in the Victorian days of H.G. Wells. A recent, and in my mind quite enjoyable, example is Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. The usual idea is that the time explorer ends up in trouble after doing something that in the extension affects his or her own existence. The classic thing to avoid, according to page 1 in The Time Traveller’s Guidebook (if it hasn't been written yet, it should be), is killing your grandfather. If you did this then you would make sure that you could not exist in the first place. But this is problematic because if you did not exist how could you carry out that heinous crime? You end up with the kind of time paradox that is often taken as proof that you can't travel into the past. Another common argument is that, if time travel is possible at some point in the future then why are we not swamped by time-tourists in odd futuristic clothing? Either our future selves have not cracked the problem, or maybe the present era is just too boring for tourism. A bit like Milton Keynes, perhaps?
            Anyway, I started thinking about this after making an interesting discovery. Not really new, although it was to me... It’s called the Tachyonic Anti-Telephone. The idea is simple. In Einstein’s theory of relativity there is an absolute speed limit, the speed of light. Nothing can go faster, no matter how hard you try. And you can’t accelerate anything up to this limit, either. The upshot of this is that the future is hardwired in and you can’t suddenly reverse to the past.
            However... physics may allow a loophole. You see, there are these hypothetical (no one has every seen one) particles called tachyons that always travel faster than light. If they exist, they have the opposite problem. You wouldn’t be able to slow them down. However, if you could catch and tame these guys then you could use them to communicate with the past. That’s the idea behind the Tachyonic Anti-Telephone.
            I don’t personally believe these faster-than-light particles exist, but I do like the idea of the Tacky-phone. So... I set out to write story involving this kind of device, aiming to end with a confused conversation between the inventor and his past self. The problem was... I got a bit tangled up in different timelines and the bits of the story did not come out in order. I guess I could do some work (Heaven forbid!) and fix this, but I’m not sure I should. After all, communication across time is supposed to lead to confusion so... is it not natural that a story like that is a bit confusing?
            Having finished writing and thought about this some more, I wonder if I missed a trick. I only considered what might happen if you tried to invent a device that would allow you to call back in time and make sure you avoided any trouble you had in fact already ended up in. I guess I wanted to highlight how it is actually quite good to have a few mishaps - as long as they don’t kill you - because it helps you learn and makes you wiser (at least in theory). What I didn’t think about was the chaos that would be inevitable if everyone had this kind of device. People would be changing their past all the time, as it were, and this would impact on everyone else they had ever interacted with. And so on... I’m not sure you could actually make anything out of that idea, but it does sound like beautiful madness!

1 comment:

  1. If you are interested, a draft version of the new PK story can be downloaded here (in pdf). It needs a bit of work, but... if it doesn't confuse you, it may amuse you.