About time for a reflection

Is there a future with optic fibers and warped mirrors as time machines? Or are these just some random thoughts from the reflection of a wrinkly old man day dreaming in front of a mirror?

As I stood in front of a mirror a few days ago I saw wrinkles on the man in the reflection. Sadly the wrinkles weren’t from the mirror itself, but an unwelcome sign of my increasing age and my ongoing one-way movement along the time line.

I’m sure they weren’t there a few days ago…but what’s a few days in the scales of the infinity of time?

It got me thinking…

In a guest post I wrote a couple of years back, I commented that we perceive a reflected ray of light as an extension into and beyond that of the reflective surface. In other words, the reflection is a construct which our brain has put together. What this means for time and time travel is outlined in the full article on the Quantum Time Travel Institute.

In this post I’d like to revisit this idea of light rays and their parallels with the time line.

Admittedly this post is a little long as I briefly describe a couple of optical properties, but you can jump straight to the time travel bit here if you wish! (Time is a precious commodity, after all!)

Commutative

Reflection is commutative – in the same way that the order of the factors in multiplication is irrelevant (e.g. 2 x 3 is the same as 3 x 2), the same can be said for the direction of a light ray. i.e. the angles of incidence and reflection are interchangeable.

Or to put it another way, the direction of the light beam can go along either pathway – from source to destination, and the vice versa.

Torch rays and reflection
The torch can be moved from the left of the line to the right, but the ray of light follows the same path. (Image source: http://spaceguard.rm.iasf.cnr.it)

Here’s a practical example: shine a torch at a mirror in the dark, and you’ll see an illuminated spot on the wall where the light beam from the torch has been reflected. Now shine the torch from the illuminated spot on the wall onto the same spot on the mirror, and the new reflected spot will be in the place where you were just standing. Source and destination are interchangeable!

Note that the same principle also holds true for refraction, where a ray of light (partially) enters another medium of a different optical density and follows a different direction.

Total internal reflection

In optics there’s a condition called “total internal reflection” where a ray of light doesn’t enter and refract into a medium of a different optical density, but is instead reflected within the same medium as it’s source. More simply put, the interface between the two optical mediums becomes a mirror, even though this particular mirror can under other conditions allow light to pass through it.

Incidentally, this is the principle behind fiber optics – the light stays within the optic because it’s totally internally reflected (it doesn’t pass out of the fiber optic cable).

Image source: http://askmichellephysics.blogspot.nl/2012/04/light-and-sound.html
Image source: http://askmichellephysics.blogspot.nl/2012/04/light-and-sound.html

It’s also the principle that a certain 7 year old tried putting into practice by sticking a torch in his mouth and taking a leak in the dark to see if the fruit juice he’d just drunk glowed in the dark when it came out… I’ll let you conduct the experiment yourself if you’re interested in knowing the outcome…! 😉

Critical angle of incidence

Between reflection and refraction there’s an interesting phenomenon.

As the angle of incidence away from perpendicular is increased, there comes a certain angle (the “critical angle”) where on meeting the second medium there is a line of light which is reflected along the interface. The light ray doesn’t bounce away, and it doesn’t penetrate through – it simply zooms of sideways! It’s explained well in Mr Cutlife’s Web Pages where I also found the image below.

Progression (left to right) from refraction to reflection
Progression (left to right) from refraction to reflection. Note the ray of light parallel to the interface third from right. Image source: http://www.edu.pe.ca/gray/class_pages/krcutcliffe

Recall from commutativism (?) that the torch in the above graphic can be moved to the top of the picture and the rays would propagate downwards.

And put it all together…

Now this is the juicy bit!

Let’s take that case third from right in the above image. The torch shines from the blue side, and the resulting ray travels along the boundary. But we know that light rays are commutative, so we can expect that if we now place the torch on the line between the blue and the white and aim it to the left, the ray of light will bend down and enter the blue.

Here’s the thing: at what point along the boundary (and how) does the ray of light change its horizontal direction downwards?

This is a paradox, because actually that single point is undefined – it can be anywhere at any and every point along the light ray. And further, what physical mechanism exists to cause the light ray to change its direction? It’s scientifically possible but (currently) inexplicable!

(My high school physics teacher tentatively suggested there’s a small irregularity on the reflecting surface, but I disagree – the effect occurs with a perfectly smooth interface.)

Arguably, the above paradox could be considered to be an inverted version of the scientific explanation of time travel mechanics in physics; there’s nothing in physics to say that it can’t happen, but we don’t know how it can happen – let alone know how to explain it!).

Finally…the time travel bit!

Now let’s compare the line of light to the time line.

The time line is probably the simplest model of time that there is – that time progresses linearly from past, through present and into the future.

Many mechanisms for time travel in science fiction refer to a ‘river of time’ where it’s a little easier to visualise the flow of time in one direction. It allows for certain modifications and adjustment to the simple time line model, thus providing ways to allow time travel. For example, inserting loops and meanders into the river of time, creating eddies, or just getting out the river completely, walking along the river bank and jumping back in again.

(I’ll momentarily interrupt myself here to point out that moving away from the traditional time line has been discussed in my imaginary yet complex post post.)

In short, we have some form of time travel if we’re able to deviate away from the regular and unbroken) linear flow of time.

Using our light ray example, can a fiber optic be seen as a parallel with a time machine, causing us to jump out of a time line?

Optical fiber as a time machine
Image source: http://www.edu.pe.ca

Such a time machine would maintain the basic principle of optical / temporal straight lines, yet provide a physical mechanism for the same net result as a departure from the linear condition.

Timewarp – a change in reference

There’s another way we can add curves to our time line – by changing the viewing reference.

Now after a very complimentary comment on my post about complex time I do feel quite self conscious about my following example which this time, yes, I read from Stephen Hawking (“The Grand Design“).

This particular example examines the view which a goldfish has of the world whilst viewing it the confines of his goldfish bowl. The water and curved glass make straight lines outside of the bowl appear distorted and curved, but for the fish, that ‘means’ straight. That’s his reality and a question of perception.

(You might be interested to read my guest post on Mihir’s Theory of Space Time blog on the Perception of Time).

View from a goldfish bowl
Image source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/

Perhaps we can imagine the life of a goldfish more readily when we see the wobbly shadow of a straight stick on the rippled surface of a beach. From the sun’s view, that wobble is a straight line because the dimension of (sand ripple) height is projected – and to use the Matlab programming term, squeezed – onto the 2D surface of the Earth; it becomes hidden in perspective. As our viewing angle changes, that third dimension comes of out hiding and becomes visible.

Going full circle and coming back to the mirror – or at least going on a trip to the funfair and visiting the hall of mirrors – we put ourselves into a kind of goldfish bowl; an altered state of fixed reference where normal images and lines appear distorted thanks to optical trickery and misdirection of rays of light.

Wobbly mirrors play with our perception of straight.
Light travels in straight lines but our perception is otherwise. Image source: www.static-ip-85-25-168-52.inaddr.intergenia.de

If we consider travel between two points on that warped image, where they’re stretched apart if follows that travel between them will take longer. The inverse is true for points which have been compressed or squeezed together. Of course we know that these points aren’t really at differing spatial distances and the speed between them must be constant. Yet we see them differently.

But could we consider a possible explanation in having a change in local time to account for these differences in speed? This is covered in General Relativity.

Can we achieve time travel by changing our point of reference?

Like most things, it’s easier said than done. We can’t jump into the mirror and become the reflection, although we can certainly influence it’s behavior. And recall that a reflection, after all, is a construction from our own perception of optical rays of light based upon our knowledge that it always travels in a straight line. Maybe if it’s in our head we can totally immerse ourselves after all.

But perhaps our analogy with time may still hold.

Aside from the synergistic view, we can assume that the total travel time of all light rays must be equal to the sum of the individual components from all directions. By definition, the average speed will then be the baseline norm given with a flat mirror where all light paths are straight and parallel to each other. But if we could get a handle on local variances in the speed of time effectively trading moments of low speed for high speed (or vice versa depending on your point of view) then maybe time travel would be within our reach.

Oddly, this brings us back to the optic fiber based time machine I mentioned earlier. The paths of individual some rays of light will be longer than others, depending on the number of internal reflections it’s suffered. Whether all travel durations take the same amount of time, or that we simply cannot perceive the fractional differences in arrival speed from within the fiber is a question best directed to general relativity specialists.

Is there a future with optic fibers and warped mirrors as time machines? Or are these just some random thoughts from a wrinkly old man day dreaming in front of a mirror?

Paul

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Review: The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski

Time travel offers another chance to relive parts of your life which don’t turn out the way you’d like. Scientist Margaret Braverman discovers how to travel back in time by transporting her 60 year old mind into her 35 year old body and hopes to do things differently this time around.

But time travel is never as simple as it seems. She can only move a few fingers in her younger body and is forced to watch with fascination and horror as history repeats itself…and she has plenty of trouble in store for her when she returns to the present.

The Mindtraveler is a captivating time travel romance novel with scientific oomph! Unafraid to delve into the realms of time travel and its complications, it provokes moral and philosophical questions if we were given the chance to live our life again. Marrying romance with science and divorcing ignorance from time travel, The Mindtraveler is novel which you can’t put down!

The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski

The Mindtraveler

The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is a captivating time travel romance with a firm footing in science. It’s unafraid to delve into the realms of time travel and its complications, provoking moral and philosophical questions if we were given the chance to live our life again.

Brief Synopsis

Margaret is a 60 year old scientist living with the regret of a failed relationship. To the annoyance of her colleagues she develops a time machine as sideline research and finds a way to transport her mind back in time into the body of her 35 year old self.

From this perspective she is able to relive her past – her affair with her colleague Frank, witness of police brutality, victim of an attack and the development of her time machine.

Unfortunately Margaret finds that she can take barely more than a passive role, able at best to move only a few fingers of her younger host body. This means that she can’t pass on or share her 25 years worth of wisdom (and hindsight foresight), and is forced to watch the same mistakes being made again.

In a wild flurry of necessity Margaret finally discovers how to move her host body and manipulates it so that a key moment in her history is changed.

She returns to an altered present where she discovers that her younger self has hitched a ride with her, and who now knows that her time machine works. The young ambitious scientist wants wants to publish the results in scientific journals of her time, but is advised against doing so by the older Margaret.

This is a sting in the tail for the elder Margaret whose present is once again altered.

But is it for the better?

The underlying science

The Mindtraveler is a centipede of a book with many feet in many camps; romance, drama and sci-fi. But what makes this novel different from many others is how it intertwines real science within the narrative.

It’s beautifully done; the story is told from the viewpoint of a lady in her sixties who’s a lecturer and researcher at a university. When she explains science to the reader it’s as though…I was never quite sure…we were either her students or her grandchildren. I was happy with either.

So the science behind her experiments, her thought processes and the methods she uses to solve them are all explained to us clearly and fluently and we get to understand the mechanics of the time machine.

Bonnie has clearly looked into underlying scientific principles and applied them well as the basis for her main character’s time machine – and explanations of it to her colleagues.

And here’s a direct example of how well Bonnie understands the subject area:

In Chapter 3 Margaret describes an experiment which shows how 2 particles are entangled in time: a laser fires a beam to a crystal where twin photons in each split beam take different paths. The photons in one beam are delayed so they arrive later than it’s entangled photon in the other beam. The setup of the cameras to detect the photons capture the image of the earlier photon, but who’s pattern was determined by the latter photon.

Let’s jump away from the novel for a moment and dive into real life.

Image: Gabriela Barreto Lemos
Image: Gabriela Barreto Lemos

The image to the right is taken from an article in New Scientist, published on 27 August 2014, and shows cats which:

“…were generated using a cat stencil and entangled photons. The really spooky part is that the photons used to generate the image never interacted with the stencil, while the photons that illuminated the stencil were never seen by the camera.” (Quoted from New Scientist article)

What I find spooky is the similarity between Margaret’s experiment and this one! Kudos!

The time travel

Time travel is an integral part of the novel – not simply because there’s a time machine, but because the story involves its development, and crucially, the scientific thinking behind it.

The time travel method is to map the quantum state of the mind, and establish its quantum connection to another point in time. The mind can then travel through time (backwards or forwards) as long as the host body is ready to receive it.

This reminds me a little of the movie “Being John Malkovich” where a puppeteer enters the mind of John Malkovich and sees and feels everything that John can, but all the while maintains his own sense of self.

Unlike the puppeteer in the movie, Margaret finds it more difficult to control her host body, and asks herself the question “what was the point in going back in time if you can do nothing to change it?”

This is a key part of the novel – can (or should) you change the past? And likewise…can you change the future?

Whilst reading The Mindtraveler I also came to think of The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser. Admittedly I found The Mirror to be a huge disappointment and non-event, but there is a similarity in the novels in that there is a transference of mind from one body to another body in another time.

In The Mirror there was an interesting point where the mind that had gone back in time ‘caught up’ with its own body in the present.

Whilst this didn’t quite happen in The Mindtraveler (though I think would have given rise to some interesting implications!) there was an interesting Looper-like argument between young and old Margaret when two minds were in the same body at the same time.

Something which I thought was particularly good was how Margaret’s memory was preserved – both in the 60 year old’s memory of the past, and when she came back to the alternate present (i.e. no new memories were instilled, or original ones taken away). Whether this was due to the ‘mind mapping’ time travel technique, or something more philosophical I’m not sure – but it’s a really nice touch!

There is also a brilliant segment on Margaret’s lab assistant Morgan – pay attention to her!

The romance

The time travel element in The Mindtraveler isn’t simply a vessel to describe things in Margaret’s past; indeed, its description is done through thoughtful contrast with the perspective of the present.

So we’ve done the time travel…now what do we do now that we’re back in the past? Instead of droning on and on about the past as Jack Finney does in the dreadful Time and Again where nothing happens, The Mindtraveler is thankfully different.

Margaret cracks time travel and tries to change things, notably, her failed relationship. Whether the relationship between Margaret and Frank is the primary or secondary plot (after the time travel – getting to be in a position (i.e. a time) when the relationship can be salvaged) is probably a matter of personal perspective.

Margaret herself of course takes two personalities – those of her younger and older self – and this makes for some pretty interesting reading when it comes to her thoughts about Frank. (It was also interesting for me as a man to read about how women (or at least, this one) feel about relationships and things.) I’m generally not into romances and stuff, but it came across nicely here.

Other thoughts

Something which immediately struck a chord with me (and perhaps this is because I’m a scientist by profession) is the accuracy of Bonnie’s insight (or research) into the negative side of academic politics – the petty mindedness and ambition of individuals, personal vendettas for selfish reasons.

You do get complete self serving and inflated s*its like Caleb, and you do get researchers on the fringe of the norm but who are academically excellent. These characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they’re real.

However, the novel is about Margaret (and Frank), and about her research in time travel. It isn’t about her colleagues, friends or students – they feature because they make up part of her history, but they’re not the main focus. (Although as I mentioned earlier – pay attention to Morgan!)

Quite shockingly there are two violent episodes – police brutality and an attack. At first I wondered why they were included…but it was a natural read and the events didn’t appear to be contrived and added for the sake of it. Violence itself is shocking, but for me, what added to that is the fact that these events persisted to the memory of a 60 year old.

Well…understandable I think, given the circumstances.

For me the weak point in the novel is when Margaret returns to the present and hears that she’s won the Nobel Prize; I thought the timing was strange and too coincidental in that we’ve already seen that there can be an alternate history so the award of the er…award at exactly the point of her return seems too unlikely.

So is it better to have known love and lost it to a Nobel prize in physics, or to never have known [that] love at all?

When Margaret was in the ‘with-Frank’ future, she didn’t seem to take time to enjoy it fully, though I suppose the scientist side of her took control to see what had happened and how to preserve it. Her efforts are hampered, but it did leave me with an unanswered question: why didn’t Margaret go back in time again? Perhaps there is room for a sequel…I certainly hope so!

Availability

The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is due out in February 2015 and will be published by Bitingduck Press. Unless you can get hold of a time machine, you’ll just have to wait until then! 😉

Rating * * * * *

The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski gets 5 stars for all the reasons I’ve written about above!

The Mindtraveler: A captivating time travel romance novel with scientific oomph!

Paul

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Disclaimer: A PDF copy of The Mindtraveler” was sent to me free of charge so that I could read and write my honest thoughts and opinions. These are they!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

Synopsis

The_Mirror_book_cover

Many reviews describe The Mirror as a horror book. I must admit that I can’t see it as such, though do concede that some of the events therein are certainly not desirable. I suspect that the horror label is more to do with previous books the author has written.

The premise of The Mirror is simple – a mirror acts as a time portal and selectively throws people, not of their own choosing, into the past or future. The book revolves around two such affected characters, Brandy and Shay, who are grandmother and granddaughter respectively and who swap temporal positions on the eve of their weddings. This calls to mind the grandfather paradox…

Writing Style

The Mirror is written in three sections, each told, allegedly, from the perspective of the grandchild (Shay), the mother (Rachael) and then the grandmother (Brandy). However, there is very little interplay between the characters and / or events which I felt to be a hugely missed opportunity.

Indeed, the sectioning of the characters was somewhat moot as the novel was written more or less in chronological order and showed no overlaps or time loops.

The author kept alive the idea that the person who had travelled through time was trapped in the body of someone else. This was done by describing the body as a third person, for example, “Shay gave Brandy an apple to eat.” This was a very powerful technique, and one which helped to see events through not only the eyes, but also the feelings of the main character.

I found the novel quite a ‘feminine’ book with a lot of detail regarding period pains and discomfort etc.. It was certainly a heads-up to me of how few books I’ve read by female authors (not of deliberate choosing, but just the way it’s turned out!).

The Time Travel Element

The time travel machine is a mirror, and there is no indication of how it works – it is black box…albeit very reflective! 😉

Although how the mirror functions remains a mystery, it was a nice touch that there were symptomatic descriptions given, for example, electric tingling, etc.. There were also references, though brief, of momentary glimpses of the past or future in the mirror’s image. I’d liked to have seen more significance given to these images.

Shay

Shay did not spend long in confusion over her situation when she was thrown back in time to that of her grandmother. Much of the story describes events which occur in the new time frame, and at times I found this quite tedious. It didn’t seem to add anything to the plot, and seemed to be there almost for the sake of it.

Actually, the plot line remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I thought it might have been a quest for Shay to get back to her original time, but her efforts to do so were given no more attention than the mundane goings-on in her new found life style.

Perhaps these involvements in everyday life added depth to the character; by the end of the section I felt I knew the character fairly well. There were also nice little comments in italics which showed what Shay was thinking, and this often harked back to her own time and showed the juxta-positioning of the time lines.

One particularly irksome angle of the Shay timeline was reading dialogue from Thora K. Thora speaks with a regional Cornish accent and this is delivered to the reader through phonetic writing. I found it really tiresome to read and at times needed to read the syllables out loud to be able to understand what the author was trying to get her character to say. I’d have preferred to have ‘invented’ the accent in my own head, after knowing that Thora spoke in such an accent.

Rachael

Rachael is an interesting link in terms her peculiar biology; her mother is her future daughter, and her daughter goes on to become her grandmother. Sadly, this was not really developed into anything particularly worth of note. It is only towards the end of the last section that Rachael starts to piece together what had happened, and even then I thought it was dealt with weakly.

Brandy

Brandy was a delightful character. This surprised me as I was expecting to be bored to tears with old fashioned ideas and morals being out of place in the modern world. In contrast, it was a refreshing insight into our modern world see though the eyes of a girl.

Brandy seemed to adapt to her new temporal surroundings a lot quicker than her grand daughter did. I don’t know if this was because a modern way of life is ‘easier’ than an outdated one, or whether it was simply a difference in character.

The High Low-Light

I was very interested to know what was going to happen when Shay living in Brandy’s body was going to meet herself when she was born as a child.

The moment happened very quickly, and was over in a paragraph. OK then.

There was hint of a recovery when Rachael began to catch on to what had happened – ironically this was quite a drudge to read through given that it was at the end of the book and things were coming to a close. I think it would have made much more of an impact if the truth had been realised much earlier on in the novel.

Summary

In harsh summation, I found this to be a very tedious book to get through. Yes, 2 characters swap places in their position in time, so there’s an element of time travel, but that’s about it. For the most part the reader is reading about how a girl from the modern time finds it in the past, and vice versa.

I found the story line therefore to be unclear – it was more of a drama than anything else where the reader was invited to get involved, but there is very little to keep me wanting to turn the pages

Very disappointed 🙁