Monday, March 26, 2007 due course of time

Time is a continuum and there is no such thing as probability.

Why do I say that ?
Suppose you step out of your home for a Sunday morning walk. You get out of the front door, pass the gate, cross the street, go past the milk booth after walking exactly 255 meters, go past the bus stop after another precise 210 meters, reach the intersection on the main street exactly 400 meters from the bus stop..and so forth. There is no probability at work here. It is not as if you are not sure if there is a bus stop on your way and it is not like there is a 55 % chance that you will see a milk booth on your way.

Now, the same is the case with time. You travel in time (albeit in only one direction : the future). There are milestones on the way (events that take place). There is no "probability" about events. They do take place. Its just that we do not know about these events for sure. In our first example of the morning walk, it would be analogous to our first walk in the neighborhood. The first time we step out of our house (the very first time, mind you !), we do not know if there is a milk booth or at precisely what distance it is from our home. But that doesn't change the fact that the milk booth is there for sure ! (All references to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle need to be held at an arm's length for now, please).

Our normal lives are the same. As of today, we can only travel in time in one direction. Hence, it is analogous to saying that when we step out of our home for a walk, we never return to our home again. So, we cannot trace our path, we cannot retrace our steps. We cannot study the terrain and familiarize ourselves with it. Once we cross the bus stop, we can never ever get back to the same bus stop; of course, there would be similar bus stops further ahead in our path. Also, if we are careful enough or retrospective enough, we would find a trend : something that tells us that there is a bus-stop every 1500 meters (or something to that effect). Given a knowledge of this pattern, we are able to "predict" when the next bus-stop is due: this is risk-management in its most rudimentary form. But all this does not, for a moment, make any difference to the actual number of bus-stops in our path. It is not "fate"; it is just geography.

The second factor about our lives is that we all travel in time at the same rate. As of today, no one knows how to travel through time "faster" than the rest of us; no one has found out how to "reach" the future before the others. As a result, there is absolutely no one who can "go to the future" and inform the rest of us about the pitfalls in the path. Also, for the same reason, no one has an unfair advantage on this front. We are all equals in our ignorance of the future (unless events are "fixed": like sports events, for instance).

The third factor, is that we cannot take a break in our travel in time. Everyone has to keep moving. Time does not stop. Or, to rephrase, we do not stop traveling through time. (I somehow feel it is better to say we are traveling "through" time rather than "in" time which gives readers a sense that I am talking about time-travel sci-fi). This boils down to saying that you absolutely have to take the Sunday morning walk: you do not have the option of staying back at your home.

What if we could travel in time ? What if we could travel in time in both directions (I am assuming, for reasons of simplicity, that there are only two directions in which we can move on the terrain of time) ? What if we could take a break in our movement through time ? What would be the consequences ?

First of all, is it possible to travel "in" time ? I think it is. I think it is just another skill that humans will master in due course of time (pun unintended). It is like flying: it took us time, but we finally learned how to do it. The same will happen with time travel, I feel.

OK, so what would be the consequences ? I don't think they will be as drastic as they are made out to be. When we have the option of retracing our steps in time, more of us will be able to re-visit their youths, their childhoods. We could do more things by trial and error: if the first time some initiative does not succeed because of some unforeseen event, we could go back in time and restart from scratch: only, this time, we would cover for this "unforeseen" event.
If we hurt someone by acting harsh or speaking rudely because of the "heat of the moment", we could go back and reverse the whole affair.
We could reverse death. Or could we ? I feel death is outside our time travel area. Once a person is dead, that person cannot travel anywhere, let alone time. Death is the closing point.

All the above seems to suggest that life would become more predictable. However, I believe, humanity craves for the unknown. There is some kind of pleasure that we get through suspense that keeps us going towards uncertainty. I think after the initial excitement over time travel wears off, people will go back to the old way of an unpredictable future because it is so alluring. It is in human nature to seek the unknown: no one likes the dull and predictable life.

What about ethics ? Is there an ethical question involved in time travel ? Will the church not stand up and say that is against the writ of God to predict the future and stop the inevitable from happening ? (remember, the church still has issues with abortion ?)

One last question before I close this long post: Suppose, we learn how to travel in time in the year 2055. Would someone travel to the year 2007 ? If they did, would they be able to travel back ? In 2007, we do not yet know how to travel in time, remember ? Would the knowledge also travel in time with the person ? If it did, we would learn time travel in 2007 from the first person to travel back from 2055. We could then repeat this exercise over and over again and eventually the Neanderthal man would learn time travel, about the wheel, about computers..everything that we know today and will know in the human future. That would be a mess...a huge mess.
This is exactly the kind of conundrum that we do not yet know how to solve.

Alpha: Beta, dude. What's the plan for the long weekend ?
Beta: The wife and I are traveling to 1492 to witness Columbus discovering America. What about you ?
Alpha: I am traveling back to the last weekend and staying there.
Beta: Damn ! who will I play golf with on Monday morning !!! ???


Viswanath said...

Let me quote you here before I make my comments.

"As of today, no one knows how to travel through time "faster" than the rest of us; no one has found out how to "reach" the future before the others."

Yes "practically" no one has achieved this. But theoretically, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, time is not absolute. Time is relative. Your perception of time and mine are never same unless we both are in the same frame of reference.

You also say

"The third factor, is that we cannot take a break in our travel in time. Everyone has to keep moving. Time does not stop. Or, to rephrase, we do not stop traveling through time."

Time probably does not stop. If I understand Einstein's theory of Relativity correctly, time only stops for a body that travels at the speed of light.

Also, as the speed of a body approaches the speed of light, time slows down in that frame of reference. This concept is called Time Dilation. Look it up on wikipedia, it's damn interesting.

Scribbler said...

Actually I don't agree with the milk booth example, 255 meters is constant accepted. But 225 meters is distance not time! Suppose let us say it takes 2 mins to go to the milk booth. Is there any guarantee that u will always reach the milk booth exatly 2 mins from home every time? For that matter is there a guarantee that you will reach the milk booth at all?! So time is probability.

If just 255 meter has no guaranteed reaching time... I don't see any guarantee to travel to future or past. If at all you travel in time, you can have knowledge of all the events that may occur in future, but there will be no guarantee that it has to occur!

Life is not a motion picture. There is no guarantee that you will be forced to do the same thing every nano second if u live this day again! So past will become new present if u go back in time but not necessary the same present u lived on that day. So if someone brings a knowledge from 2055 about time machine today or for that matter yesterday, he will go to a parallel universe (or multiverse?) where Time machine was invented yesterday.

If not parallel universe, then u have do the samething what u did on that day again, which means u will get up having no idea that u invented time machine in 2055! So again routine work till 2055!