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Through the lens of time

According to the boffins time is a linear beast that can only flow in one direction only … forwards. They may well be right. But it will probably take millennia to prove the case either way, and since I don’t have millennia to spare I thought I’d jump right in, here in the now, and explore a whimsical line of thinking about some possibilities under the passage of the old tick tock.

Is it possible, from our now, to directly observe the past? Of course it is. Is it possible, from this now, to directly observe, and even directly touch, the future? Of course it is. Such simple things happen all the time in this modern era, and I’ll explain all of that later on after I’ve had a quick coffee break, and done an even quicker brush-up of the joys of Quantum Teleportation, which has nothing to do with teleportation, the relatively happy notion of Time Dilation, as well as the sinuously inviting thought of Wormholes, with Gravitational Lensing thrown in as a teasing afterthought (if you are interested in such things check them out on Wikipedia).

But things … including time … have to start at the beginning. So why am I even thinking about time at all? Well, the other day the power steering pump on my X-Trail splotted itself, spectacularly. That meant that while it was being repaired, I had to catch a bus. Which then meant that a young lady spotted me strap-hanging on that bus and graciously offered me her seat.

She saw a wizened old prune obviously in need of seat-succouring, whereas I still see myself as a 20-year-old hippie, in a split-windscreen kombi, with the world as my oyster. I’m strong enough to admit that her view of the passage of my time was probably a tad more accurate than mine.

All of which made me reflect on the nature of time itself … not the paradoxical variations of time that time travel boffs up-knot themselves in circles about, but more the flowable bendable nature of time that we are immersed in every day.

As I mentioned, some people say that time is linear, others, like various Indigenous peoples, say that time is circular, and the Buddhists have always had an opinion on what time is …. and we could go on forever with such postulations on the nature of time. But we don’t have time to explore all of that this second.

People also say that we cannot directly view the past or the future from the vantage point of the present, the now. They are wrong on both counts there.

Each and every night we can directly view the past, from the now. All we have to do is look up and take in the starlight. Some of the stars we are viewing don’t even exist anymore, and the last gasps of the light of their terminal declines might not reach us for millions of years yet. We are viewing those stars as they once were, not as they are or aren’t now. We are directly observing the past.

Can the future be directly observed? Of course it can, and every Cosmonaut or Astronaut who has ever been into Space can attest to that fact. If you understand what Time Dilation is then you will also understand that even though the Apollo Astronauts only travelled at a tiny fraction of the speed of light, they aged at a slower relative rate compared to an observer who remained stationary back here on earth.

Because of the low speeds involved the difference in relative ageing might only be a few milliseconds, but nonetheless it means that the Astronaut is returning to a future version of earth, and can not only observe all that but can also reach out and touch another human being who, relative to the Astronaut, has segued a couple of milliseconds into the future.

To ram that point home, it is also why the clocks on Navigation Satellites have to be adjusted occasionally to stay in sync with their earthbound cousins. Satnav clocks, because of the speeds at which they whizz about, are also subject to the effects of Time Dilation, and run at a different relative rate to that of earthbound clocks. If the Satnav clocks were not adjusted then they would feed erroneous information to your car get me there system, and you would end up somewhere entirely different to where you had intended, possibly even in the harbour.

In the future, when our rockets become zip-fast, the effects of Time Dilation will compound. Milliseconds will turn into years, decades, and centuries. Future Astronauts won’t even have to bother paying off their credit card bills before they leave.

OK … so far we’ve been talking simple scientific fact, as dry as it all is. Which now leaves room for a bit of whimsy to roar in and let fly on the timescapes of time. What is whimsy? Well, it could be something as simple as a pot of left-field thought left at the base of my limbic brain after a toke of something delightful forty years ago when I actually did have a kombi. And since I can’t think of a verifiable alternative to that version of where whimsy comes from I’ll stick with it.

Whimsy … is it possible for me to look back over my shoulder, and from my present now, directly observe the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD? You’ll soon see that I have a prime, if hopeless, motivation for wanting to do such a thing.

Of course, it is possible for me to do it. It is eminently possible. But the trouble is I’m in the wrong place to observe such a thing. I’d need to be somewhere on the other side of our galaxy with an exceptionally good telescope. Reflected earth light from 43AD has been travelling outwards from here at the rate of 299,792,458 meters per second, which translates as 9,460,528,000,000 km each and every year for the last 1,976 years.

I actually do respect the brain-punch abilities of boffins, so if anyone points out that I’ve failed to include an extra 36 zillion zeroes in my calculations then humility will reign supreme and I’ll take it all on board as a learning experience. And my old calculator, my fingers, will end up in the bin.

So, while I could in theory watch Claudius’s mob do their invasion thing, the images I want to view are 1,976 light years away from my present location, which is a mind-boggling 1.869440E+16 km away and getting further away each second. As good as it is, I don’t think the old X-Trail will get me there any time soon, and historians aren’t about to be put out of business tomorrow.

So with great sadness, and much gnashing of cultural teeth, I have to admit to myself that the lost cause redress class action I have touchingly been working on for many years on behalf of the Celtic Diaspora, both against the Roman invasion of Britain itself, and for the obvious need for some sort of reparation payment from that mob, would fail dismally in court because of my inability to supply the visual evidence of what the dastardly Legions actually got up to. I can shake my Celtic Torcs and massage the Tree of Life tattoo on my left shoulder as much as I like, but without the evidence, my case is sunk.

But is it? Can the mead of joy possibly flow from the sheep-horn once again?

This is where Quantum Teleportation drops in, and says hello Celtic Remnant type person, perhaps all is not lost after all.

Quantum Teleportation is not teleportation, bummer and alas and no beam me up Scotty and all that, but it is a method whereby data, whereby information, can transfer between two separate points of time and space at the molecular level. Huge advances in this field have been made over the last decade. At first, boffins were able to data link two points that were as much as an incredible 2 metres apart, which was huge enough, and I’m so skinny I could fit in that space easily three times over, but now they can link two points that are as much as 200 km apart, which is simply stratospheric.

And naturally enough, this Celtic Litigant is more than prepared to push the boundaries of whimsy to exponential heights, and as far beyond that as I can get them. It is but a short jump from 200 km to 1.869440E+16 km as far as I am whimsically concerned. After all, the two points don’t care where they are, we just have to work out how to link them. If it can be thought of, it can be done.

When the Beatles sang their song Across The Universe I had no idea that they were early adopters of the theories of Quantum Teleportation, no doubt neither did they through their smoke haze, but it does yet again prove how far ahead of their time they really were. That was just a thought that blew in from the timescape.

OK … so if we can data link to a point the size of a molecule that happens to be 1.869440E+16 km away from another point that is right here with us right now, and if we can somehow view what that far away other point can observe … then, ringeth the bells, I’ll win my case, and the mead can flow.

But there is always a but, and I’ve had to put the sheep-horn back on the shelf. After reading up a bit more I’ve found that Quantum Teleportation has one severe limitation, data transfer can only occur at the speed of light. It cannot happen any faster than that. So I’d still have to wait 1,976 years to view the images. Bummer, I’d be quite old by then.

Here’s where Gravitational Lensing slips into play. Gravity bends light. So … you know how rocket scientists utilise the gravity slingshot effect of massive celestial bodies, like Jupiter or Saturn, to get their rockets to end up over there, rather than over there where they were originally pointed, then why couldn’t those same scientists reverse engineer the path of earth light from 43AD as it proceeds through and gets bent around by massive objects in our galaxy, things like Black Holes and somesuch, and come up with a viewing platform a little closer to home?

My final fall-back hope is Wormholes. If we can jump from here to 1,976 light years away in the twitch of a cat’s whisker then all of the above wouldn’t need to be bothered with. I’d be there with telescope in hand and madly gathering the evidence to support the court case. Mind you, I’d probably be so sozzled with celebratory mead I could only hope that I would remember to press the record button.

As you can see … give me the merest scent of the tiniest glimmer of a razor-thin sliver of hope … and I’m more than capable of charging forward with the fire of future success blazing brightly in my heart.

Well that’s the whimsy bit done, a bit of fun. Whimsy resides on the pathways of multiple imaginings, it can never be corralled and forced to conform to the dictates of logic and reason or fact… and that is the very beauty of it.

But the other side of my brain is attuned to that other beauty, the beauty of hard science. Vision doesn’t have to exclude fact, and fact does not have to exclude vision. So …

Tell me nine times, starting afresh each succeeding time, without recursive links to previously used reasoning, why in the future the possibilities mentioned above could not be so. The frontiers of science are expanding exponentially and we discover new things every day, and our theories of things changes as our knowledge accretes.

But we are not even at the beginning, in time, even with all of our achievements to date, of as yet understanding any sort of unified theory on how anything in our Universe really, really, works, with an unassailable and guaranteed 100% certainty. But it is in our nature to find out. And if we survive long enough, as a species, then I have no doubt whatsoever that we will.

In time, what I postulate above will happen in some form or another. The Buddhists might well say that it already has.


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  1. wam

    A fabulous read, Keith. It sent my memories whirling.
    When I was a kid my young, but old to me, English teacher read a short story. It was about visitors from space landing and a huge crown of dignitaries and spectators waiting in the rain, next to the beacon. The message from the visitors was fear at being attacked and bombed.
    She closed the book and none of the boys gave avrat’s arse about it. I was kept in for causing a disruption when she told me to stop rooting in my bag and the rest of the boys laughed their heads off. So we had a chat about the story and I told her that I would like to have a space ship that could catch up with the pictures of history.
    We became good friends and I didn’t muck up in her class and I kept the boys respectful.

  2. Keitha Granville

    my son is a great believer in all of this, he tells me all the time (not pun intended) that things will be fine as it has all been done before and will so again.

    Wouldn’t it be great to be there when it is possible to fall through the wormhole?

  3. Keith Thomas Davis

    The most beautiful thing that came out of this article was a line from the comment from Wam above … “I would like to have a space ship that could catch up with the pictures of history” … while I had fun with the Roman bit, I must say that those seventeen words encapsulated my own thinking far better than I ever could!

  4. Pingback: Would you like an interesting Weekend Challenge? - » The Australian Independent Media Network

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