The Biology, Shape, Direction and Numerary of Time and Time Worlds

In this chapter I am greatly indebted to Paul J. Nahin’s indispensable book TIME MACHINE TALES: THE SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURE AND PHILOSOPHICAL PUZZLES OF TIME TRAVEL. Professor Nahin is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and his mathematical scholarship is extraordinary. My aim here is simply to offer a layman’s summary of the way we see Time, its shape and direction, and I acknowledge that in doing this I have drawn, at least in part, from Professor Nahin’s scientific expertise and scholarship.  – SJN

body clocks

How Do Our Bodies Perceive Time?

We talk about our ‘body clock’ or our ‘biological clock’. Scientists prefer the term circadian rhythm but however you wish to refer it, the body certainly has its own mater pacemaker. In fact all vertebrates whether they be mammals, birds, reptiles or fish have some kind of internal biological clock. And they are not alone for so do plants, fungi and even bacteria. Owls hoot at night, larks in the morning. Dogs wag their tails for walkies at noon, while cats wait for witching hour. So, how do our physical bodies experience and understand time?

There is something biologists and social scientists call Homeostasis. Homeostasis (from the Greek words homeo, meaning ‘similar’ or ‘same’ and stasis, meaning ‘stable’ or ‘steady’) refers to any process that living beings use to maintain stability, or state of equilibrium, between different elements as a means for survival. And Homeostasis is a principle that can be applied to sleep and wake.

The need for sleep is something called the ‘sleep drive’ (or sometimes ‘sleep pressure’). If you’ve been awake for a long period of time, your body will tell you now is the time to starting thinking about heading for the Land of Nod. After a good night’s sleep, the Homeostasis balance is regained and the sleep drive lessens. What we have here then is a time cycle where we experience time as continually moving on.

But the sleep/wake balance isn’t the only thing going on in our bodies, for there is also the Circadian Rhythm. Circadian Rhythms are physical and mental changes that follow a twenty-four hour cycle that are primarily prompted by light and dark. One obvious result of the Circadian Rhythm specific to our human selves is that evolutionally we’ve been designed, as it were, to sleep at night and are stay awake during the day. Circadian Rhythms are dependent on the circadian biological clock and this is governed by an area in the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which is essentially a group of cells in the hypothalamus that respond to light and dark signal inputs. When there’s sunshine and our eyes perceive light, our retinas send a signal to the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus which sets off hormone production or suppression. We pull back the curtains or lift the blind and as that morning sunshine hits our eyes, cortisol is released. And it is this cortisol, which is primarily a stress hormone that increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, this is what essentially wakes us up. As long as our eyes perceive some form of light, the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus responds by keeping melatonin production low (melatonin being the hormone primarily released by the pineal gland at night). At the end of the day when night falls and it gets darker, melatonin levels go up and this then results in lowering our body temperature and a brings about a change in our appetite and a heightening of our sleep drive. Of course these rhythms can be disrupted by artificial light outside of daytime hours, which, in turn, can affect our sleep patterns. In our modern world – our so called 24/7 world – any exposure to light, especially the blue light from looking at our ever present mobile phones, can keep make melatonin productions low and so make it  more difficult to fall asleep. No checking your likes on Twitter if you want to make it the Land of Nod.

It’s worth noting as well that your circadian rhythm affects your metabolism. Sleep helps you regulate your production of leptin, which is the hormone that controls appetite, and this means is that your hunger levels are set at least in part by your circadian clock. Broken sleep patterns, for example working a night shift, can disrupt leptin production and this can result in making the body feel unnecessarily hungry and lead to putting on weight.

What all this basically means is that inbuilt inside of us all is a time machine of sorts, not of course one that allows us the opportunity to travel to last year or next year but one that nevertheless gives our bodies the experience of living through the natural passage of time. And that is happening in us right now as sure, as they say, as night follows day.

SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS), the Korean time adventure series written by Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho, is one of the few Time Tales that actually explores this aspect of the ‘body clock’. It’s a small plot point in a multi-plot narrative but nevertheless it is cleverly employed. There exists in SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS) an organisation called the Control Bureau, a kind of unofficial Government unit that polices illegal time migrants. One such time traveller is Gang Seo-hae (Park Shin-hye) who, in the story, gets caught be the Control Bureau. The head of his group then explains to Gang Seo-hae the truth behind the dangers of time travel and how he could use it against her:

“Only ten percent of those who cross over will make it here in one piece. Right? You folks think it’s because the machine breaks down on your way here, but that’s not why. Behind your eyes, there’s the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, which controls the biological clock. It enables the FOS proteins to accept the 24-hour circadian rhythm, which gives has our perception of time. A gene mutation is what determines the success of your time travel. (Holding an injection gun) This shot causes mutations to those genes, which breaks down those proteins. Let me put it in layman’s terms: if you’re injected, all your downloaded entrants break down into atoms. You’ll end up floating around in that state. Get it?”

In fact Gang Seo-hae does get injected and her body begins to flash like a faulty hologram. There is an antidote but before it is injected Gang Seo-hae begins to float through time. Whether the biological science of all this makes any sense isn’t really the point. What can be said is that SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS) is an inventive Time Tale that uses scientific knowledge in an imaginative way and is well worth a look.

eternal snake

The Shape of Time

The Greek philosopher Plato thought of Time as something of a closed loop. Plato saw Time as having a beginning, but, in his concept, Time did not have an infinite future. He imagined it rather curving back upon itself, which, when you think about it, is a reasonable way of thinking for a natural philosopher in his day as everything he observed in nature has its seasons, its tides, its days, its nights. The day starts over at the end of night, it begins again once more so why can’t Time do that too? Stephen Hawking in his famous book A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME concludes with a similar idea, with a collapsing singularity and The Big Bang. But this idea is older than both Hawking and Plato for Circular Time is there in the image of the World Snake or Worm Ouroborous eating its own tail. And the sideways figure of eight is now our sign of infinity.

However, endings and beginnings are also rooted in our everyday conception of Time and, on the whole, theologians have argued for a Beginning of Time. It’s there after all in so many creation stories. The date of Creation, according to Bishop James Ussher, a seventeenth century Biblical scholar, was 23rd October 4004BC. Martin Luther also argued for a date around 4000 BC, but geological time now puts the creation of our universe at about 13.8 billion years. Philosophers being philosophers disagree about pretty much everything, and Time is no exception. For example, Aristotle in Physics said the heavens were finite, but time itself was infinite. Emmanuel Kant on the other hand was in favour of a finite past, a belief sometimes called ‘Temporal Finitism’, but he did accept an infinite future. “If we assume,” Kant wrote in Critique of Pure Reason, “that the world has no beginning in time, then up to every given moment an eternity has elapsed, and there has passed away in that world an infinite series of successive states of things. Now the infinity of a series consists in the fact that it can never be completed through successive synthesis. It thus follows that it is impossible for an infinite world-series to have passed away, and that a beginning of the world is therefore a necessary condition of the world’s existence.” Saint Thomas Aquinas, however, tended towards an infinite past, but with God somehow and mysteriously on the outside of it.

Laurence Sterne’s THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENTLEMAN (also known as simply as TRISTAM SHANDY) hilariously plays with the whole concept of a ‘beginning’. Shandy tries to tell the story of his life beginning at the beginning, but that is a problem in itself for what constitutes a beginning to life? His birth or his conception? Either way he fails and ultimately the book ends even before it ‘began’, in the sense that it finishes at a moment in time before he’s even conceived. There is even now a paradox named after this work of comic genius known as The Tristram Shandy Paradox, which is an attempt to illustrate the absurdity of an infinite past. The paradox is expressed like this: Suppose Tristram Shandy writes his biography so slowly that for every day that he lives, it takes him a year to record that day. That would be difficult enough if he has lived a finite past, but suppose Shandy had always existed. Shandy would not only get further and further behind, he would get infinitely far behind. Oh yes, there are moments when Time is quite bewildering. A Fourth Dimensional Rubik Cube of possibilities.

now now now

When and what is ‘Now?

So, when is now? This may seem a very strange question to ask but it goes deep into both the Science of Time and the Philosophy of Time. Is eternity simply a succession of Nows? If so, where do these Nows go? Could they still exist somehow, somewhere? And if they don’t exist, then does that mean Time itself might not even exist?

Perhaps these are more metaphysical questions than scientific ones, but they are worth asking. And never have they been better explored than in Mel Brooks’ comedy SPACEBALLS. Yes, SPACEBALLS. In the movie, Lord Helmet comes to a point in the plot where he isn’t sure what to do next, but then he has the ingenious idea of watching ‘the movie’ he’s in to find out what he does do and this results in a series of exchanges that Abbot and Costello would be proud of:

DARK HELMET: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
COLONEL SANDURZ: Now! You’re looking at now. Everything that happens now, is happening now.
DARK HELMET: What happened to then?
COLONEL SANDURZ: We passed then.
COLONEL SANDURZ: Just now. We’re at ‘now’ now.
DARK HELMET: Go back then.
DARK HELMET: We missed it.
DARK HELMET: When will ‘then’ be ‘now’?
DARK HELMET: How soon?

Vaudeville Comedy meets Infinite Regression.  And it’s very funny, but it makes the point about the existence or non-existence of Now exceptional well.

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, written by Will Sharp and Simon Stephenson, is a movie in part about grief. Louis Wain is an artist now famous for his comic cat drawings, but for many years he had a fascination with electricity in all its forms and uses. In one scene Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) says to Herbert Railton (Asim Chaudhry), “Electricity. Finally I’m starting to understand it… You know the true meaning of the phrase ‘There’s no time like the present’, Herb? In fact there isn’t… I have a hypothesis that electricity is what pushes us through Time. We turn the past into the future with our own electricity. But that process is entirely reversible. Remembering the past is no different from imagining the future. Neither is different to life itself. I can remember Emily in the future, she will be there. You see what I’m saying, Herb?  You see what I’m saying?” It’s not clear that Herb does see what he’s saying, but perhaps there are those who have experienced grief who do.

one way sign

The Arrow of Time

The Arrow of Time is simply the idea that Time has a direction and that there is a difference between past and present. Or, put another way, as Ray Cummings did in THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN ATOM (1919) and also in his tale THE TIME STORY (1921), “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” This line, incidentally, was shall we say, ‘borrowed’ and used in TIMESCAPE by one of the orginisers of the Time Tourists. The quotation is also sometimes wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein.

So, then, The Arrow of Time. Human beings certainly have a consciousness that gives them a sense of time moving forwards, but there are those who say that there is no equivalent in physics itself. It could be said of course that there are different types of Arrows of Time. As Paul J. Nahin puts it in his BOOK TIME MACHINE, there is “the psychological (we remember the past, we anticipate the future), the thermodynamic (organised systems evolve towards disorganisation, that is, entropy increases as time increases), the electromagnetic (radio waves propagate away from their generators), and the cosmological (the expansion of the universe is directed towards the future).”

All that said, what if Time wasn’t forwards? Might it not be quite interesting to live your life backwards, as Benjamin Button did? It has some advantages, but, as Merlin says in T.H. White’s ONCE AND FUTURE KING, “Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live, just as it would be easy to join those five dots into a ‘W’ if you were allowed to look at them forwards, instead of backwards and inside out. But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of Time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight.” That said, it works well enough for the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS, if not poor Alice:

‘It’s very good jam,’ said the queen.
‘Well, I don’t want any today, at any rate.’
‘You couldn’t have it if you did want it,’ the queen said. ‘The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.
‘It must come sometimes to “jam today”,’ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,” said the queen. ‘It’s jam every other day: today isn’t any other day, you know.’
‘I don’t understand you,” said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing! ’
‘That’s the effect of living backward,’ the queen said kindly. ‘It always makes one a little giddy at first—’
‘Living backward! ’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing! ’
‘—but there’s one great advantage in it: that one’s memory works both ways.”
‘I’m sure mine only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen. ’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward,’ the queen remarked.
‘What sort of things do you remember best? ’ Alice ventured to ask.
‘Oh, things that happened the week after next,’ the queen replied in a careless tone. ‘For instance, now,’ she went on, sticking a large piece of plaster on her finger as she spoke, ‘there’s the king’s messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished—and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday; and of course the crime comes last of all. ’

To this you also might add this exchange about things in the wrong order from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND:

‘No, no! said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
I won’t! said Alice.
‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
‘Who cares for you? said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’

This idea of reverse time can also be found in the Philip K. Dick short story THE WORLD JONES MADE, plus THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, the unfinished novel attempted by the American author Mark Twain which he worked on intermittently from 1897 through to 1908.

second law of thermodynamics

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that any entity in a system that is free of external influences, that is it is within a closed system, will continually evolve towards maximum disorder, or thermodynamic equilibrium, as physicists prefer to put it. The future state always has greater randomness than does the beginning state (low entropy will be in the past and high entropy will be in the future). And essentially entropy is the measurement of that disorder. In TENET, the Christopher Nolan film had a lot of fun reversing this fundamental law of the universe. In interviews, Nolan said that he wasn’t reversing time as such, but rather that in reversing entropy, time itself was put in reverse. A subtle but important difference. The key phrase from the definition of The Second Law of Thermodynamics from a temporal point of view is ‘continually evolve towards’. Put another way, entropy seems to define the direction of time and for that reason entropy has now come to be called The Thermodynamic Arrow of Time. And despite the best efforts of Mr Nolan, it really is only in one direction.

Or is it?

SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS), the Korean time adventure series written by Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho, centres on Han Tae-sul, a genius computer programmer and Mark Zuckerberg figure whose coding will one day lead to the invention of a time machine called an ‘uploader’. In a kind of flashback, where Han Tae-sul and his time travelling friend Gang Seo-hae have become sort of fragmented in Time, there is a scene where the two witness the young Han Tae-sul talking with his older brother after the death of their parents. Tae-sul’s brother, Tae-san, says to the boy Tae-sul in that typical way people deal with grief when talking with younger children that one day, if they are both good, they will both be reunited with their mother and father. However, Tae-sul disagrees. And he uses the cold reasoning of science to do so: “Tae-san, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Time is irreversible. Entropy can never decrease in a system that’s thermally isolated. So natural occurrences and the past future asymmetry just… my point is it won’t happen. We’ll never see mom and dad again. It’s impossible.” There’s a certain irony in the scene as it’s the now time travelling Tae-sul who is witnessing this sad exchange where his young self has such an unusual reaction to loss and the practical problems of ever meeting again those who are dead. Yet the impossibility of time travel because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics somehow does become possible. And even the very, very clever and rich Mark Zuckerberg has never managed that.

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block universe

The Block Universe

The movie projector has been used as a modern metaphorical image for what is sometimes called the Rigid Universe or the Black Universe. The idea is that the Now – or the present – is the instant the 35mm film frame goes through the projector and this results in Time happening as the beam of light casts its image onto the screen. The point though is that the movie reel still exists in the past, it doesn’t just disappear. Not only that, Time already exists in the future. In other words, what happens next in the movie is already decided because it’s there waiting to happen in the reel. And that’s the same whether your movie is by Jean-Luc Godard or Alfred Hitchcock. And the scientific legitimacy of this way of thinking was partly established by one Hermann Minkowski.

Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909) was Albert Einstein’s mathematics teacher while Einstein was a student in Zurich. In 1908, Minkowski gave a famous address called Space and Time that he himself described a radical. A point in space at a point in time he called a ‘world-point’, and “we will imagine that everywhere and everywhen there is something perceptible.” From this “everlasting career of the substantial” we obtain as an image a ‘world-line’. Putting all this in as few as words as possible, what was is, and what will be is too. What we have is the concept of the Block Universe given mathematical expression.

The idea goes back as far as the fifth-century BC and the Greek philosopher Parmemides who said of the universe, “It is uncreated and indestructible; for it is complete, immovable, and without end. Nor was it ever, nor will it be; for now it is all at once, a continuous one.” A big Block of a Universe indeed.

The term Block Universe is thought to have originated from Francis Herbert Bradley’s 1883 book PRINCIPLES OF LOGIC in which he sees Time as a river down which we float with blocks of houses that we get off to visit as we go by, and, “all this while, the firm fixed row of the past and future stretches in a block behind us, and before us.”  Thomas Aquinas put it another way when he wrote, “We may fancy that God knows the flight of time in His eternity, in the way that a person standing on top of a watchtower and embraces in a single glance a whole caravan of passing travellers.” And these ideas were combined in the 1928 play, BERKELEY SQUARE:

“Suppose you are in a boat, sailing down a winding stream. You watch the banks as they pass you. You went by a grove of maple trees, upstream. But you can’t see them now, so you saw them in the past, didn’t you? You’re watching a field of clover now; it’s before your eyes at this moment, in the present. But you don’t know yet what’s around the bend in the stream ahead of you; there may be wonderful things, but you can’t see them until you get round in the bend, in the future, can you?  …. Now remember, you’re in a boat. But I’m up in the sky above you, in a plane. I’m looking down on it all. I can see all that once the trees used or upstream, the field of clover that you see now, and what’s waiting for you around the bend ahead! All at once! So the past, present, and future of the man in the boat are all one to the man in the plane. … Doesn’t that show you how all Time must really be one? Real Time – real Time is nothing but an idea in the mind of God!”

Water is a popular metaphor when thinking of Time. Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations wrote: “Time is like a river made up of events which happen…. as soon as a thing has been, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away, too.” But not everyone is kean on the river concept. Paul J. Nahin in his book TIME MACHINE TALES, suggests an alternative ‘water’ image: “How about this of an image of time: Time is a snowball, with the centre marking the beginning of the past, with ever new ‘presents’ accreting on the ever increasing surface as the snowball rolls down the hill of history!” In fact, Nahin is not at all keen on the whole Block Universe concept. “The major philosophical problem with the Block Universe interpretation of four-dimensional space-time is that it looks like fatalism disguised as physics. It seems to be little more than a mathematician’s proof of a denial of free-will dressed up in geometry.” Strong words. And a space-time in which all ‘world-points’ are completely determined indeed would be a fatalistic view of the universe, with no free will.

Yet it’s a way of thinking that can offer some comfort. In THROWBACK IN TIME by F.B. Long (1901-1994), a little girl asks a time traveller if humanity’s ancestors are still alive and he replies, “Every man who ever lived is still alive, child. In Time there is no real death. When a man dies he’s still alive ten minutes ago, ten years ago. He’s always alive to those who travel back through time to meet him face to face.” Frank Long’s story can also be viewed more metaphorically though the prism of memory, for there are those who believe no one truly dies until they are forgotten and their name not spoken. This of course is the philosophy underpinning the hugely popular Disney movie COCO. And as the old proverb goes, We are alive for as long as our name is spoken.

infinity juggler

The Scientific Theory of Multiverses

The German physicist Erwin Schrödinger said that in quantum theory until a particle is measured or observed it exists in all the possible states it could be in. And that bizarre idea was even put into a mathematically equation where all possibilities would be possible (what mathematicians call a ‘non-zero possibility’) until a consciousness decides or observes which one of these possible possibles will actually be. When that happens, that future possible has a probability of 1 (that is it will happen), whereas all the other possibles not observed now have a probability of 0 (that is, they cannot be and so won’t). Schrödinger famously came up with a Thought Experiment to illustrate the weirdness of this aspect of quantum physics, which became known as ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’. Suppose you put a cat into a box with a radioactive substance that has a fifty-fifty chance of killing it and then close the lid. Until the box is opened, argued Schrödinger, the cat could be said to both alive and dead. It exists and it does not exist until we can be sure either way. And when we do know, the other possibility dies with that knowledge. In quantum physics this is commonly referred to as the collapse of the wave function.

But Hugh Everett III (1930-1982) disagreed with this hypothesis. In his Princeton doctoral dissertation of 1957, Hugh Everett III argued against Schrödinger and conjectured that the wave function does not collapse at all, but rather ‘splits’ at every moment a choice or decision is made. All possibles stay possible even when it’s decided that one of those possibles is now probable. Probably. And this naturally enough leads to the potential of a multiverse universe and Everett’s idea became known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics.

whiteboard with equations on it

Lectures and Whiteboards

Lecture Rooms with whiteboards are useful in Time Tales to explain the science and the concepts around time travel and they feature all the way through the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won. The series mainly explores parallel worlds that result from time travel. The key researcher into time travel is Professor Yoon Tae-yi, who, in another dimension, is Park Jin-gyoem’s time travelling mother, but, in this scene in a lecture theatre, is still only a time travel theorist:

Professor Yoon Tae-yi: Let’s say someone who looks identical to me walks in through that door. Who can clearly explain the situation?
Student 1: I can. Is it Erwin Schrodinger’s many-worlds interpretation at work?
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: B.
Student 2: Me. The Earth’s constant repetition and duplication caused by The Big Bang. The possibility of doppelgangers.
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: B plus.
Student 3: I’ve got the answer: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP?
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: Get out.
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: As mentioned, the Big Bang Theory says there are several universes. Quantum mechanics presumes the same object can be in the same space. But quantum mechanics, the Big Bang Theory, and the multiverse theory are not the answers to my question. Unfortunately, we cannot explain it yet. That’s the answer. This is the reason we must learn Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty.
Student 4: Is there a need to study something so on certain?
Student  3:  I agree!
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: Of course there is. We need to prove it’s uncertain. On a side note, Heisenberg proposed this principle when he was 26. So you should go out right now and find new principals. That’s it for today.

And in another scene, Professor Yoon Tae-yi describes the science of time like this: “Space-time is like a pile of photos that record the changes made in a space through the passage of time. That is why speed can be found by dividing the distance by time. In order for the speed of light to be consistent where it travels, time has to slow down.”

In another lecture, the Director of Kuiper Institute of Advanced Science, Seok Oh-won, gives a talk on The Butterfy Effect and double identity:

Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? The term ‘Butterfly Effect’ became widely known because of the argument of the meteorologist named Lorenz. “Just a small change that happens on the opposite side of the Earth can change the entire weather.” That was his argument. But, why was it named the Butterfly Effect? I mean, eagles and mosquitoes can fly too. It was because of a sci-fi novel. A short story titled THE SOUND OF THUNDER was published in 1952. A butterfly from the Mesozoic period changes the future presidential election result and makes a totalitarian like Hitler become elected as leader. That’s what the story’s about. Have you ever thought of something like this? If the past changes, will the future too? Let’s say I was to get in an accident in the year 2020, and my leg becomes impaired. So I take the time machine and travel ten years back in time. And I tell the past me this: “You will get into an accident in 2020. So be careful.” And thanks to that, the past me gets to avoid the accident in 2020. Then what will happen to my leg I after I have returned from travelling back in time? What do you think? The one who avoided the accident in 2020 isn’t the present me. It’s the past me. So there will be two of me, the one who got in an accident and the one who avoided it. That is what you call a parallel universe. The term you’re familiar with, multiverse, is a similar concept. Any questions?

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THE SWIDGER Creation Myth

The central concept underpinning the Second Law of Thermodynamics that everything eventually goes to pot, is, in a way, part of the SWIDGER book series Creation Myth. “The Time is out of joint,” says Granny, quoting that famous prince of Denmark. And in a night under the stars, Echo, with some encouragement from Granny, tells William the Swidger Creation Tale:

‘Give us a story, Echo. To go with the night. Nothing like a good tale to end a dog-weary day.’

‘What sort of story?’

Granny lent back, spread herself across her blanket, rested her head on her arm and sighed, ‘Tell us our story. The Swidger Story.’

Echo cast his eyes to the stars and began.

‘One night, long ago, after a dog-weary day, perhaps on an evening such as this, the Universe was fast asleep. Dreaming. And what was that fantasy of its mind? Well, it was dreaming it had become a real Universe. Oh, such happy thoughts. But then the Universe was shaken from its sleep. Something disturbing had frightened it. The Universe slowly began to open its eyes.

‘“Oh my,” it said, suddenly seeing the deep blackness of the night, “it was only meant to be a dream.” The Universe then shuddered for that night sky was now as real as real can be. And cold. And lonely. And lost. Oh, if only it could go back to its dream, thought the Universe, it had been such a happy dream where all was good and pure and in its place. So that’s what the Universe tried to do. Remember its dream. But somehow it was always just out of reach. But, William Arthur, our Universe never gave up. It’s still hoping, one day, to dream its dream again. If Time will allow. And when it does, all will be well once more.’

As Echo said those words, he looked me straight in the eye and for a few brief seconds he became the sanest man I had ever known. ‘You see, that is what we are, young Swidger,’ he whispered, the night fire flickering on his face, ‘the hope of a dream in a world, a sad world, that awoke too soon.’

A long silence followed, until all thoughts were at rest.

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Swidgers book quotes number 2

The SWIDGERS book series also explores the idea of the multiverse in the sense that in the second and third books, THE TIME THEY SAVED TOMORROW and THE TIME OF YESTERDAY’S RETURN, there is a parallel time world. However, due to the time rules of the Swidger universe, where Time itself is a player, Time must choose, as it were, between these worlds. And without giving too much of the plot away, it is up to William and Granny to create a situation where the yesterday they knew and loved is the one that survives.

Some Quotations on Science and Magic

“Unfortunately, an uninformed public tends to confuse scholarship with magicianry, and love life seems to be that factor which requires the largest quantity of magical thinking.”

Isaac Asimov


“Witchcraft to the ignorant.. simple science to the learned.”

Leigh Brackett


“The supernatural is only the nature of which the laws are not yet understood.”

Agatha Christie


“Then she got into the lift, for the good reason that the door stood open; and was shot smoothly upwards. The very fabric of life now, she thought as she rose, is magic. In the eighteenth century, we knew how everything was done; but here I rise through the air; I listen to voices in America; I see men flying – but how it’s done I can’t even begin to wonder. So my belief in magic returns.”

ORLANDO: A BIOGRAPHY by Virginia Woolf

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