Is Time Travel Loopy? Or Is It Just Me?

Over the last couple of days, I have been ruminating my own theory on time travel.

On Tuesday night, JD and I went to see the time-travel-actioner-cum-mind-screw-thriller, Looper. For those who haven’t heard of the film, I can’t be bothered outlining the synopsis. You can read one here or here. Or if you can watch the trailer here. Don’t let my apathy for descriptions fool you. I really enjoyed this film. Really. I just don’t think I would do it justice by trying to condense the film’s ingenuity and complexity by describing it in a few sentences. Okay, you caught me. I’m just lazy. But this isn’t a film review site, so you shouldn’t be coming here with those kinds of expectations. It’s action. It’s suspense. It’s time travel. If you like Christopher Nolan style paradoxes, a masculine version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rian Johnson (an underrated writer-director who created the amazing Brick), or arguing with your boyfriend, then I highly recommend this film.

I don’t have a problem with going to the cinema alone. It means I get to watch what I want, in my time, at my leisure. However, half the fun of watching a movie is discussing it afterwards. I have a theory that the quality of a film can be measured by the length of time that the film is discussed by two or more people after watching it. I can even map this theory with a reverse bell curve. Mathematics!

My theory can be boiled down as follows. If there is limited discussion after watching a film, then the film was probably fine. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. It was sufficiently mediocre to warrant a polite, “well that was okay” or “that wasn’t offensive” after the screening. However, deconstructing a film for hours and hours can mean one of two things. You could either be talking about what a rich, challenging, delightful, engaging, or otherwise fantastic film you had just seen. Or you could be ripping to shreds the gigantic pile of dog turd that was craptastically disguised as a movie.

Of course, for the reverse bell curve theory to apply, it depends on the kind of person that might accompany you to attend a film. For example, one of my housemates has absolutely no interest in engaging in discussions about anything literary, cinematic or cultural other than to succinctly note his appreciation or distaste for the material. He doesn’t want to hear anyone’s theories. He doesn’t want to consider the merits of an artistic vision. He doesn’t want to engage in an intellectual discussion. Debate bores him. Enrages him, even. It’s as if he perceives any kind of difference of opinion as some kind of hostile attack. It’s frustratingly tiresome. Don’t worry, he would never bother to read my blog. And if he did, he wouldn’t want to have a debate about it.

Thankfully (and usually to my housemate’s dismay), JD is a worthy conversationalist. As we are both lawyers (corporate power couple), we have the innate ability to debate anything and everything. Some of our usual, high-brow discussion topics include:

Fiscal Responsibility

“We can’t afford that!”

Foreign Policy

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t believe in Belgium.”

“What? As a country?”

“As a concept.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Human Rights

“Can you believe that they won’t let me look at my mobile phone at work?”

“Do you ever actually do any work?”

“You’re never on my side. I can’t handle this oppression!”

Social Commentary

“I don’t believe in tipping.”

“You are so cheap.”

“It’s not about being cheap. It’s an archaic social construct formulated by the bourgeoisie to keep the working class as insubordinates.”

“You are so cheap.”

Morality

“Would you like another scone?”

“Oh, I couldn’t. It just wouldn’t be right.”

JD’s conversational skills makes him a great companion to bring to the cinema. After watching Looper on Tuesday night, we briefly discussed whatever wanky subtext we read into the film before I shifted the conversation to the mechanics and practicalities of time travel. We both agreed that Looper had a really clever, internally consistent and reasonably logical concept of how time travel works, and the effects to oneself if one is to return to the past and start messing about with the joint. However, I qualified my appreciation of the film by stating that, whilst I thought it worked for the film and it is probably the most popular conception of how time travel would “work”, I ultimately didn’t agree with that concept of time travel in a real world setting.

Time travel, JD calmly noted, is not real. It is science fiction.

Perhaps. However, this has not prevented scientists from theorising about its practicality and mechanics. I haven’t done a lot of reading about time travel in my time, however it’s my understanding that there is actual debate in the scientific community as to whether time travel is possible. Steven Hawking famously theorised that time travel can’t be possible, otherwise we would have met “time tourists” from the future. Some other dude (I told you I haven’t read much) disputed that logic, theorising that time tourists could merely be in disguise. Tourists. Disguises. It’s all very scientific stuff.

Time Tourist.
Image Source

My biggest concern with the concept of time travel is that I have trouble accepting humanty’s perception of time. Don’t worry, I am not about to claim that I am able to jump between universes, communicate with aliens or freeze time with my wiccan powers. I am pretty sure I “experience” time the same way that anyone else does. However, I have often wondered whether our perception of time is correct. Think about it. Our understanding of time is that it is linear. Past, present, future. Beginning and end. The problem with this idea of time is the need for a “beginning”. How do you answer what was before the beginning?

Let’s look at the ultimate beginning. From my understanding (again, not a lot of reading done here), the scientific community generally considers that the universe began with the Big Bang. Is this the beginning of “time”? And if so, how did the Big Bang occur? What was before the Big Bang? Was it just a bunch of gases floating around in… what? Nothingness? And if so, wouldn’t that make the era of the pre-Big Bang gases the “beginning” of our time? And if so, what happened before the gases? Where did they come from? I could go on and on like a precocious three-year old. With every answer, the next question will always be: what about before that?

I think, JD interrupted, you are getting a bit excited. And muddled. Like a crazy person. We were talking about time and time travel. Not the universe. The Big Bang is irrelevant. Time is simply a measurement between two moments. What was before the first moment is irrelevant.

Perhaps I was being a little incoherent. I had eaten a lot of sugar at the cinema. I go mad for sour lollies. But I had a point. I still have a point, so please, just hear me out. The start of the universe is relevant. If we cannot determine how everything started, then how can we be sure that there was a start? And if there wasn’t a start, then how can our concept of time possibly be correct. Perhaps time is an illusion. A deceit created by the human mind to help simplify the intricate laws that govern life and the universe that are otherwise too complex for our tiny brains to process.

Sooooo, JD interjected, where exactly are you going with this?

I didn’t know. I still don’t know. Maybe I am a little crazy. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? I’m a geek for this kind of stuff. Although not so much of a geek that I have actually picked up a book on the subject. Perhaps I should start with A Brief History of Time. Or I could continue to discuss these subjects in blissful ignorance, ruminating on my own sugar-crazed theories. What does everyone else think? I’d love to hear if anyone else has any theories.

In the meantime, you should definitely check out Looper. It definitely falls on the “Good” side of my theory on Movie Quality (which, ironically, completely falls apart if my theory on time is correct). If this doesn’t convince you, the you should at least watch Looper for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis impersonation. Plus, the time travel stuff is neat. Although, I think the absolute best conception of time travel was played out in the original Superman movie. From memory, he spun around the Earth, effectively re-winding it like a gigantic galactic mix tape, so that he could save Lois from being swallowed up by the Earth during an earthquake. Or something like that. I was about five when I watched that film, so that’s what I thought was happening. Don’t ruin it for me.

Personally, if I were Superman, I would have re-wound the Earth to stop this from happening:

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140 thoughts on “Is Time Travel Loopy? Or Is It Just Me?

  1. That bell curve also applies to people who leave reviews on Trip Advisor. They either love it, or I swear they’ve never traveled outside of the United States before… (“And I couldn’t plug my hair drier in because the hotel had a different plug than at home! And then they tried to sell me an adapter!! Everyone should know about this scam and avoid this place!!!!”)

    Haven’t seen Looper. Looking forward to it, hopefully with a great conversationalist. I saw Inception with a group of people who were just lame afterwards. “I didn’t get it.” Sighhhhhhh.

  2. At first I couldn’t be bothered with Looper. My hipster-ness required it. “JGL is so mainstream! He’s everywhere now, I hate it…” etc. But this solid piece of writing has convinced me otherwise. To the cinema!

    Time is a funny thing. They say that your perception of how “fast” time progresses depends on the amount of memories you are making. And as older folks require fewer memories or cannot make as many memories, time appears to move faster for them. Youth really is wasted on the young.

    Also, there was a medical case in which a guy with a brain tumor began to experiencing time much faster than normal and in order to compensate his brain began to move and talk in slow motion. He didn’t notice anything was wrong until someone pointed out that he was driving at 15mph down the freeway. What a crazy universe we live in!

    Also, if I don’t have anyone who will talk about a movie afterwards with me, I just talk to myself out loud about it. It does raise some eyebrows in the theatre though.

    • I don’t think JGL is that mainstream. Sure, he’s in a lot of films but they are mostly indie pics (save for the Nolan epics). I also don’t think mainstream is necessarily bad. If a film is good, it’s good. In a perfect world, all the indie masterpieces would be mainstream so that the creators could enjoy the success they deserve. Anyway, go see it and tell me what you think.

      I had never heard of that medical case before. It’s a little frightening, but it also shows that our understanding of time is merely a perception. I could think about this for “hours”.

      • I’ve read of cases where people function normally but when (for whatever reason) medically investigated it is discovered that their brain is mostly missing—something like ninety percent or more of simple fluid filling the space.

  3. Just watch some Dr. Who. It’s all explained there. I’m not saying I understand it or anything. But it’s explained. And as far as that Hawking character goes, I don’t trust physicists in wheelchairs. No, I don’t have a rational reason for not trusting them; I just don’t. Anyway, anyone who watches Dr. Who knows that if you’re a time traveler, you don’t go around announcing it to everyone. Discretion is key. Unless there are daleks or weeping angels around – then all bets are off.

    I think you should start publishing all of your conversations with JD. I don’t believe in Belgium either.

    • Dr Who is one part of British culture I have not been able to embrace. It’s strange because its campy, science fiction television so it should be up my alley. Perhaps it’s just hard for me to accept anyone but Tom Baker as the doctor.

      I also miss the original K-9. Perhaps Dr Who could go back and fetch him.

    • This is very true. In reading this post all I could do is shake my head and think, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big bowl of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”

  4. Join the club. Everytime I think about the beginning of universe, there is always a question of “before that?” lurking in the corner of my mind. As much as I am fascinated with the concept of time travel I believe it is impossible. Partly because it is too good to be true 🙂
    Great post 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Vandy. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? Think of all the lessons you could teach your younger self. It could end up saving you a lot if time.

      • Wouldn’t work—I could go back and teach me but I know me well enough to know that the younger me wouldn’t listen (and if he did I’d turn out not to be me and as the not-now-me who never was or would be me I couldn’t go back to teach the wouldn’t-listen-enough-to-not-be me to not not me …

        Oh gods, why do I get into these things—?

  5. Great post! 🙂 I’ve always thought that if you break the speed of light, you’ll start to go backwards in time, but since the energy needed to break that speed is almost impossible to obtain and maintain, I doubt time travel will become possible. You’re right, for now it is science fiction.
    However, maybe it is possible, but everything that has been changed in the past has happened, and our reality is the result.
    Also I’ve heard that if one does build a time machine, they will only be able to travel between the point it was first used and everything onward from that, not before it.
    Whatever the truth may be, it’s certainly an interesting concept.

    • But if you go back in time, wouldn’t your mere presence change the past, as your future self was not originally present at that time. And if you automatically change the past with your mere presence, wouldn’t you cease to exist because your version of the past would no longer exist and therefore you could no longer exist.

      Sorry, I’ve had a few red wines…

      • I’ve often wondered about this; I always thought that if going to the past did occur, then a duplicate of the traveller would be exist at the same time as the original, but the duplicate and the original would continue their existence on a newly created timeline.

  6. A couple of scientists have theorized that since we’re all created from the matter that spread out in the Big Bang, then in essence we’re all just those little white flakes in a little globe that is our universe. With that in mind, it could be possible for us to somehow subvert physical space and head to a different part of the globe, but right now we don’t have the means for it. If we did though, it could mean that since all matter is from the same stuff and in the same sphere, we could travel forward and backward through time, seeing as all events happen within a globe.
    However, I’m more concerned with whether or not that’d be the right thing to do. As much I don’t like Hitler, I’m not going to travel back and assassinate him; I don’t know what’ll happen in the future! I might not even exist!

  7. Haven’t seen the movie. Always have wondered, however…if you travelled to the past, how could you act differently than when you were in the past…without existing in some alternate timestream?

  8. I LIVE for sugar-crazed, movie-induced, pseudo-philosophical, quasi-scientific theories!! My husband just shakes his head (because he sees it coming from mile away); there is no stopping this train once it leaves the station. Great post – congrats on the FP!

  9. Okay, you’ve convinced me. When the disc comes out I’ll buy a copy.

    I’ve blogged a lot on the topic (time) myself (in other places) with genuine questions but always always always some religious nut crawls out from under his log and hijacks what was intended as serious—in a nutshell, I’m not permitted an eternal universe (‘cos nothing lasts forever) but they are allowed an eternal God. Ouch.

    To cut to the chase I see a static universe wherein nothing ‘moves’ but individual consciousnesses en masse. Beam me up, Scottie …

  10. You know, after watching the music video at the end, I completely forgot what the post was about… lol. But, I completely agree that an over-consumption of sugar can bring you to fantastic conclusions about time travel, and the concept of time itself. A very entertaining post and thought-worthy question 🙂

    • I don’t think I could cater for that many people. Perhaps I can choose the top 8 (you’d definitely be my number 1).

      We could chat for hours, then half way through the night the lights would go out and someone would be MURDERED. We would then spend the rest of the night trying to determine the identity of the killer!

      … Too much coffee this morning …

  11. Time is a subjective concept. There is no real phenomenon described by the word. Matter (aka energy) is real. It flows (aka moves). So things change. Clocks help. Calendars help. SF writers do NOT help.

  12. There’s actually a really great book that I enjoyed centered around the concept of Time Travel by Dean Koontz. I, unfortunately, don’t remember the title, but I do know the concept very well. A person can only travel forward in time, because the future is uncertain, they cannot travel back because the past already happened and is locked in history. So if there’s somebody from World War II travels to our time, they can travel back to their time, but if you or I tried to hitch a ride with them, we wouldn’t be able to go because it’s a part of our past.

    • If you were forced to go back in time, knowing you couldn’t go “back to the future”, where would you go. I think I’d choose the 1960s. I could relive all the great music and film.

      Meanwhile, how did I manage to write an entire post on Time Travel without mentioning Michael J. Fox?!

      • Hmmmm, i don’t know, i rather like the comforts i get in this era. But i would also choose the 60s so i could enjoy the music and cultural chaos that occurred.

        And that sir, I’m guessing would be mad skill.

  13. Most physicists agree that we exist in a 10-dimensional universe of which time is one dimension. Imagine two squares existing in 2d space on a piece of paper having a discussion about 3d. “A cube is like a square, but spread out more in a direction that we can’t perceive.” Similarly, time exists to spread out events so that they all don’t happen at once. Those physicists believe that dimensions 5 through 10 exists because of really complex math, but they exist in a way that our brains lack the ability to even articulate in language. For example, someone said that if we took a basketball in 5d space, we could demonstrate mathematically that we can turn it inside out without breaking the surface of the ball (something impossible for us to do here in our 4d existence) Um, hopefully that piece of science trivia will help you at some point in the future. (Heh, “future”)

    • Is that true? Who are theses physicists? I think I’d like the seventh dimension best. I just have a feeling.

      In all seriousness, this genuinely intrigues me. Physicists can use maths to prove anything!

      • I’m not sure I understand the question. Literally, I am asking if the concept of time travel is a little crazy. This is based on my discussion on time and the universe in my post.

        I used the word Loopy as a reference to the film Looper, which is about time travel. As outlined in the post.

        I also ask whether it is me that is car y (as opposed to the concept of time travel). I ask this due to my tendency to over think.

        I thought the title was reasonably clever given the multiple meanings that were reflected in the intersecting discussions in the post.

        But perhaps I’m wrong. Who do I think I am? A physicist?

      • OK. I really thought it was clever.

        However, if time travel is a little crazy or drunk (the other loopy), then it would stand to reason, an author chooses to use time travel as a short cut.

        A short cut to not have to do a longer and better thought out plot.

        IMHO.

        ghost.

      • I take your point, but I don’t really agree. Time travel is as legitimate a plot device as any. It’s the message conveyed and the delivery of story that is important. I thought Looper was very clever, and had a really interesting morality tale. I don’t think the time travel element let it down in the slightest.

      • Loopy … could be an oblique reference to a Mobius strip, which is a loop. Fascinating really, you can make one from a normal wee strip of paper or card; finish up with a thingy that has only one surface and one edge.

  14. Just came back from seeing Looper, thought it was a great movie. Reminded me of Bladerunner, in some odd sort of way. I’m fascinated with books and movies about time travel, but I often lose the thread of the plot while trying to work out whether the time travel narrative is consistent or not. Drives my movie companions crazy when I point out the inconsistencies and they are just trying to watch the show. This story was compelling enough that I managed to stay with it most of the way, only digressed into time travel probability land once or twice. Loved the tattooing on the arm as a means of communicating with your other self, first time I’ve seen that. And the “doctor” stuff – well that was just plain creepy. Congrat’s on being FP.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I see your comparisons with Blade Runner. Both had a bleak view, portraying a dystopian future. And both had created solid “worlds”.

      Keep up the work with picking films apart. The world needs smug critics!

  15. Don’t let my apathy for descriptions fool you. I really enjoyed this film. Really. I just don’t think I would do it justice by trying to condense the film’s ingenuity and complexity by describing it in a few sentences.

    As much as I love cinema, I really dislike vocally summarizing a film’s plot unless I can boil it down to a list of themes and aesthetic devices OR, I can give away spoilers in one or two sentences along the way; eg. “Rosebud is ____.”

    Bruce Willis was previously in a time travel-esque Disney movie called The Kid. You can see the trailer here. He got to hang out with the child version of himself.

    I am also prone to bouts of “But what came before that”–unfortunately, nobody around me will humor me for any length of time, and my ponderings typically revolve around human behavior or subjunctive history.

    • Human behaviour can be even more confounding than time and the universe. After studying Psych 101 (and not taking anymore psych units) I have been a self-professed life coach ever since.

      Not many people indulge in my wisdom.

  16. Saw the film and enjoyed it. About the same time, I read a piece in the media where scientists say it should be possible to travel back in time but not forward since forward would take about as much energy as exists in the universe and would probably blow the universe up.

    So, if true, that means time travel will be one way: back with no return trip unless you live long enough to arrive back at the time you left.

  17. Well, “before the big bang isn’t really supposed to exist. When they say that the big bang was the beginning of everything, they mean time as well. Unlike your parabolic graph (Which, btw, perfectly describes my own thoughts about the subject) which extends infinitely in both directions in the x-axis, you cannot make the big bang ‘time 0’ and simply go a step backward on the timeline to ‘negative time’. Negative time is like dividing by 0. Not defined. 🙂

      • No one knows the true nature of time. In fact, we’re still speculating if it’s possible to travel through it like any other dimension, right? Or even if it is the same kind of dimension as the dimensions of space. So currently, physics simply says that it has no answer to that question. It assumes that negative time is not defined, that’s all, because no one has been able to scientifically define it yet. So answering your question would require, currently, going to a philosopher. For the record, this bothers me as well. But I have faith in physics to (eventually) come up with the correct answer!

      • I can honestly say this is the most satisfy non-answer I have ever received.

        How can we expect answers from physicists if they haven’t figured it out? We can’t expect them to know everything. At least not yet. Thanks for the perspective.

  18. Pingback: Is Time Travel Loopy? Or Is It Just Me? | birdmanps

  19. Time travel is such a mind twister isn’t it?! I liked the premise of Looper, and I thought they did a really good job with it…but I didn’t like the details, if that makes sense. But anyway, back to time…it could be something made up by the human mind to help us understand the world. Or if you believe in God, then it’s something created by Him to help us, and He is outside of time! Hence eternity being out of time. Weird huh?

    • I’m quite a content lapsed-Catholic-cum-Atheist. I just think that entire logic is too convenient. I might as well say that a wizard did it.

      I’m inclined to believe the world is much more complex than we imagine. Think of the thousands of discoveries every day!

  20. Time travel? This is the most basic point about time travel, and it relies on the principle of non-contradiction, for the most part.

    It is logically possible for you to go into the past, if the past exists at all (big if people). If the past exists then it is logically possible for you to go into the past. Can you go somewhere that does not exist? If so, then you can both go somewhere that exists and does not exist, like you can both be a bachelor and a married male, i.e. contradiction.

    Anyway…You can go into the past, but you were *always* in that past. And you can only do what you did in the past. You cannot change what you did in the past, or you both did x and did not do x in the past. This is what makes talk about time travel kind of pointless. It relies on assuming that the past exists; and if it does exist, then you cannot change what happened in the past and must re-live what happened in the past.

    Take Looper, which I never saw. You have person X at 30 years old (i.e. Joe) and you have person X at 50 years old (i.e. Old Joe). Old Joe use to be Joe, i.e. in the past which cannot be changed. So Old Joe was once the Joe that he meets when he is to be murdered. So Joe will do everything that Old Joe did back in the past when he was Joe. So Old Joe, once being Joe, will know what Joe will do. Old Joe cannot do anything different from what Old Joe did when he was Joe, and vice versa.

    • I agree. I think. I’m actually quite confused.

      I’m inclined to believe that the past is impenetrable. Each moment is unique from the next and can’t ever be replicated or revisited.

  21. Great post! I think that the Doctor from Doctor Who summed up time and its progression especially well: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big bowl of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” I hope that helps 😉

  22. Has anybody wondered whether time might have two dimensions, or three, like space? Just because we perceive it as one doesn’t preclude that.

    What’s more, everything in space is moving (including us), which means that if you zap back in time to the same spot, you’d find the Earth wasn’t there. A real time machine would have to move through time and relative dimensions in space. Hollywood time travel never caters for that one, though the BBC do 🙂

  23. What are you all saying? Of course time travel is possible, we all do it one second at a ‘time’. And no, you can’t travel to the past, the time police would arrest you.

  24. Pingback: Is Time Travel Loopy? Or Is It Just Me? « Serendipity

  25. Hawking’s personal torpedo at the idea of time travel remains watertight to me: If we remember things in the direction in which entropy increases, then no matter what direction time goes (if it matters) we’ll continue to recall things from past to future, because that’s the only direction our brains can store information. As he put it, you can’t have a safer bet than that. We recall things in the direction in which entropy increases because our brains store information in that direction. Time could well be a muddy eddying whirlpool going in all directions, but as far as we’re concerned, we’re locked to the rails, even if they do look like a pretzel.

      • When concepts like “the arrow of time travels along a geodesic in the universe of human consciousness” start to make sense, it’s time for a cocktail. 🙂

  26. I only have two friends who ‘get’ movies. We watched Inception together. We’ll watch Looper too now that you piqued my interest. (what does pique mean anyway? :s)
    Your interesting! Great post 🙂

    • Interesting is as good a compliment as any. The best I usually get is, “you are great at talking a lot.”

      Inception was a beautifully conceived film. Looper didn’t have the budget, but it was just as clever. And no open ending!

  27. Awesome post. My darling and I conform to your bell curve theory! I think the length of time on crap films is a means of justifying why we wasted that two hours. But then time may in fact be irrelevent so why bother trying to justify wasting it?
    When I was about 12 there was a show on tv about time and time travel and it suggested that based on Einstein’s theories, time is irrelevent and is just a perception we have.

    • I like that theory. I want to use that with my boss when he tells me I spend too much “time” playing with my iPhone.

      I must admit, I am a sucker for crap films. I highly recommend The Room. It will have you and your darling talking for hours.

  28. If time travel was invented, I would take two time machines, one bigger than the other so the small time machine and I can fit in it, then drop one into the past, telling them it’s a time machine, then go to the future to see if I have screwed things up.

  29. I’ve just finished a University unit called ‘Philosophy on Screen’, that babbles on and on about what makes a good movie. I think this bell curve theory should be legitimately added as a point of evidence, because I completely agree with it, and obviously what I agree with should be recognised as academic material. Anyways, thinking time is an illusion isn’t something to be scoffed at. Humans cannot comprehend, in this physical state we’re in, the limitlessness of the universe. We do think linearly, always looking for the ‘beginning’, and trying to accept that there is no beginning and no end is enough to, yes, blow our minds to smithereens. Nice post by the way. Don’t be afraid that people will look at you weird if you think past the sensory illusion of this ‘reality’ around us. I get it all the time and I’m perfectly well adjusted…*eye twitch*.

  30. Your description of JD’s conversationalism made me laugh. He sounds like a fun person to take to the movies.

    On the subject of time travel I just wanted to recommend a film I’ve watched recently called Safety Not Guaranteed. Based on this post I’m pretty sure you would enjoy it. If you do see it or have seen it I’d love to know what you think!

  31. Ok, I have some science to me, some small amount of philosophy, a few wacky theories of my own and, as a writer (please don’t cringe) just a few analogies that I think will work.

    First, as to your question of what came before the first moment, I think you’re looking at an error of syntax. The question would be better phrased, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” only now we’re asking about the universe at large, a whole lot weightier than just a chicken. Because of the syntax you chose, you force yourself to pick an arbitrary point in this chicken-egg cycle, declare it the beginning, and ask yourself what came before. The answer, ad infinitum, is the previous point on the cycle. So stop asking what came before and start asking what came first.

    Q: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

    A: A circle has no beginning or end.

    Again, a different analogy might serve to further elucidate. Another way to change the question’s syntax appropriately would be to answer the most fundamental question of all physics: why is there something as opposed to nothing?

    Here we delve into my own maniacal theories but I say the answer is that, effectually, there is not something, only nothing. If we were to graph all existence — on an oscilloscope, say — we should have an almost perfect flat line running true down zero. Almost perfect. That line would, though, have some perturbations — static if you will — miniscule fluctuations which, given eternity, would cancel each other out to zero. However in the momentary lapse, in the moment of fluctuation universal energy is released and all the universe exists for what, to that flat line, is but an eye blink.

    So, when you ask what was before, I should say, “Nothing.” Just as if you asked what is now or what will yet be, I could reply just as assuredly, “Nothing.”
    I hope that’s enlightening. I’d love to here your response. Here’s a shameless plug for my own blog:

    mathematicsandtheuniverse.wordpress.com

    May the force be with you. (Sorry to repost, I figured this would be a lot better as not a text-wall.)

    • Thanks for the post. You kind of agree with my point. I don’t believe in “firsts” or “beginnings”. I just don’t think, on an evaluation of time as a finite concept, a beginning (or and end) makes sense.

      Yet, I don’t like the analogy that time is circular. That implies that it goes in a cycle, or rather that we would relive our lives on an infinite loop. On its own, I think that’s nonsensical. However, thinking logically, a circular model still requires a beginning and end point to restart the cycle.

      As for nothingness, I don’t buy it as a concept. Where is the proof that nothingness exists? And if so, how do we enter nothingness? Can we interact with it?

      I’m not a defence lawyer. I considered it as a career once, however I assure you, while they might be glamourised on TV, they are the absolute worst. I am just an ordinary, boring lawyer.

      • The truth is that the well-venerated Mr. Stephen Hawking would disagree with my circular formulation of time, the idea was intended philosophically as opposed to scientifically. The problem is that the more sense we try to make of these things, the less sense they seem to make at all. Philosophically the idea was that one should stop looking for a beginning or end or even a point of reset but view time as a discrete whole. Why then, the wise student asks, do we view time as a forward march? As an earlier poster said, our brains are wired to understand time in the direction of increasing entropy, such are the times we live in. But entropy is only chaotic energy and if we look at things on the whole we must employ the laws of conservation. Conservation — the big picture — will shows us time as a closed system: a circle.

        But to be scientific we have to abandon the chicken and the egg and wade into the primordial quicksilver of the early universe. There are many models that describe what time might be or where it might arise from and, truthfully, they are mind-bending. The most illustrative two are:

        The Hartle-Hawking theory sets finite limits on timespace, beginning at the big bang. Saying things happened BEFORE the big bang becomes relatively meaningless because there was no time before the big bang. The theory further proposes that at the beginning there was a whole lot more space than time. If you were to travel backwards towards the beginning you would find less and less time until suddenly there was none. (If that’s not mind-bending, I dunno what is).

        The most current models of String Theory say that time (and space) are 4 dimensional projections on many-dimensional membranes; think of drawing a circle on the surface of a cube, the circle only has 2 dimensions but the cube has 3. Before time as we know it, then, there was some sort of analog embedded in a high-order membrane. Don’t try to picture it, it’s got more dimensions than your brain is built for. The branes themselves are often thought of as existing in some unfathomed hyperspace, an emptiness beyond the emptiness. As for what came before branes, that’s not science we’ve started on yet. We’re still working on branes.

        As for the proof for nothingness, certainly you must understand the difficulty with proving a negative? I’m not a nihilist, actually I find the doctrine of nothingness to be humbling. We — mankind — are, as I see it, so much more than we seem and vested with a greater responsibility than we could know. You and I fancy ourselves wordsmiths so I’ll ask you to critique an excerpt from a yarn I’ve been spinning for some time:

        “Magic is the power’a creation; the way, the truth and the life. It is the power by which a will is able to change reality around itself, so where there’s magic, there’s will; and where there’s will, there’s life; and when we speak’a life, the most excellent kind, the kind with the most will, the only kind with enough will to magic up the whole creation, is man. Man, who is alone answerable for that whole creation. Man is magic made flesh…

        …Ok, put this in your pipe and smoke it: the biggest question in all cosmology is: why is there something as opposed to nothing? And the correct answer is: there ain’t something, only nothing. The most accurate way to represent all existence – life, the universe, and everything in it – is as a flat line running almost perfectly straight down the zero mark of a graph. Almost perfectly. What does happen is that every once in a while you get just a bit’a noise, the line trembles – fluctuates – just a bit. Now, looking at the long term, them fluctuations are well distributed so they all cancel each other out and you got the flat line again. But, in that trembling moment, in that noise on the line, in that second when the perfection is just slightly jarred you get life, the universe, and everything in it. Creation is something a little less than perfection. Its power is fluctuations about zero, noise on the line. This is magic.

        Now man, man is what you get when those imperfections manifest themselves in time and space. When that little bit’a mathematical power ruling everything underneath suddenly pokes its head up, busts through the thin fabric, and locally is made flesh. Man is magic incarnate. Magic is with us and it is us. That’s man.”

        (Sorry about the length of this thing. I get carried away.)

      • Wholly crap, you wrote enough for an entire post. It is absolutely fascinating. My head is going in circles. I need to do some heavy reading.

  32. Interesting. I have thought of issues with time travelling extensively too.
    I think your point about the ‘beginning’ is certainly true. If earth and everything in the universe was created at the bang. Are we to assume before the bang, time was a concept? Was time linear then? was there time? was there a point for time to exist, since there was nothing but the small dense singular before the big bang? How long has that ball of energy been in existence? What IS time and what moves time? Thankfully, my belief in God has made answering that question simple. God is the beginning. There is no before him because he transcends time. There is no asking ‘what was before God?’. Because unlike us, he is not trapped in the linear forward travelling dimension of time. He experiences the whole time dimension. Much like how we live in a 3D world. Ants live in 2D.

    • I share your questions, but not your faith unfortunately. It’s all too a convenient answer for me, with no evidence to back it up.

      But I’m not one to judge others’ beliefs, if they aren’t harmful to anyone else. Thanks for your comment.

  33. wow! one hell of a chat going on here about time!
    you know, it makes me want to start up another blog…solely to talk about things like this..time, universe etc etc.
    but…i just dont…have the time!!!
    i know where “creeped” is coming from too….religion depends too much on faith…believing something when you havent seen it….i say that to many religious nuts i encounter….how do they know the whole thing is not a fairy story…designed to keep everyone in order?
    and they just look at me as if im a blasphemer (im not)…..or just an idiot (as long as my wife and kids dont call me that on my face..im not an idiot…yet!).
    i mean…heaven/hell…theres not a single person who has seen the damn places…and yet we all believe in them!
    time? i just dont know…..maybe time is an illusion…something our brains have been designed to click with…..just like everything around us is not what it seems…that chair youre sitting on…its not solid….if you could go all the way down past the wood or plastic or metal, way past the atoms that make it up, way past the smallest things..you’d find that the stuff its made from vibrates…and so its not really solid…our eyes and brains have been configured by nature, dna, whatever…to see things as solid…
    anyways, carry on this discussion..its all real healthy….until some religious nuts hijack it…..;)

  34. I’ve just watched this movie yesterday with my close friend. That was rather sadistic (shooting scene), but I liked the movie. The most interesting part of the movie is about time-travel that you wrote. I think it would be interesting if we can change our own destiny by going back to past. I need to think hard about this time-travel discussion. But, congrats on being FP.

  35. Neat post. Since reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine I have been fascinated by the stories we create about time travel, and how the human perception of time influences them and broader aspects of our lives

  36. Looper was an excellent movie! I didn’t expect the plot from the trailer at all.
    As far as time travel is concerned, I truly believe the saying “if there is a will there is a way” If you can imagine it, it can be done. One day.

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