## The River of Time: What’s its Direction?

The “River of Time” is a commonly used model of the passage of time where time flows in one direction. But in which direction?

## The River of Time

The “River of Time” is a commonly used model of the passage of time where time flows in one direction. The analogy allows a lot of play, for example, you can scrabble out of the river, run along the bank and re-enter time at a different place in the river. Or cause swirls and eddies within the waters of time. Or drown in it. There are lots of applications of the model and many authors have written may good novels based on them.

The model sounds simple enough – but I think there’s a more complicated undercurrent; which direction does the time flow?

## Bridge over troubled waters

Earlier this week I was on a walk with my family through a small forest, in which was a river. OK, I’m exaggerating – I’m living in Holland so vertical gradients are famously small in this flat land. So let’s redefine and call this a small barely flowing stream of water.

The main point is that there was a bridge over it, and the main point of that, as far as my daughters are concerned, is that we can chuck bits of wood into the water on one side and wait for them to appear downstream.

Bear in mind that both I and my wife are marine scientists and have therefore spent many moments discussing turbulent eddy flow, bottom friction and boundary effects in order to optimise our winning strategy.

But on this particular occasion, to be blatantly honest, I had other things on my mind, such as – I’ve just been offered a new job which takes me not only outside the realms of marine science, but well and truly outside the realms of my house. Relocation is well in order, so as such you’d have found me standing on the bridge staring upstream wondering what the future held.

And that’s what brought me back to the river of time. Which direction is the future?

Is it upstream where I’m looking at the water which will be arriving at the bridge?

Or is it downstream where the water flows on towards its destiny, towards its future?

Maybe it depends on the direction of view, or relativity. Considering the water, upstream is where it’s been so this direction represents its past. And vice versa.

Traditionally, we move from the future to the present and then to the past. But if (for example) we consider the year 2019 as the future, 2018 as the present and 2017 as the past, doesn’t this description of flow seem a bit out of kilter?

I think the key is in the case of the stationary bridge, or the fixed point of the present, we’re not immersed in the flowing river of time. We have a relative motion compared to it, but only one of us is moving. If I overtake a stationary car, it looks like that car is moving backwards when this isn’t necessarily the case.

A few years ago I wrote this post: Follow the leader where I showed that looking at the x-axis of time shows that the relative positioning of time (earlier / later) is counter-intuitive.

Perhaps the same holds here with the river of time.

## Sieze the Day

As I stood on the bridge wondering about my future, I heard my girls giggling in excitement. And I realised that perhaps I should be more concerned with what the present holds.

Nothing drove that point home more than when I cycled over to the bridge a couple of days later to take these photos. There were no giggling girls and there was no laughter as there was in the past. Just an empty bridge and the waters flowing on and on…

Paul

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## The New Year: Is it worth all the fuss?

The new year is a time which is traditionally celebrated by most people. But is it really worth all the fuss?

It may seem at first that this post is a bit late.

Apart from the fact that actually it is, by the time you reach the end of it I hope you may have changed your view…

## The New Year: Is it worth all the fuss?

So here we are in 2017 – we’ve clocked up another year, another notch in the calendar’s bedpost.

Happy 2017 everyone! 🙂

My wishes for a joyful year ahead also go to the Chinese who will celebrate the beginning of their new year (of different duration) on 28 January thanks to a lunisolar calendar and to Muslims who use a lunar calendar system who celebrated their new year last September (and who count their years from 622 AD).

The point is this: the passing of another year is arbitrary. We celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries, time spent at work and so on, all of which are annual milestones in our lives (funny how we refer to a temporal landmark with a spatial one…).

These are important reminders for how we spend our time (and who with), and celebrated by those who are closest to us (and I include colleagues here who may be closer in the spatial sense for more of our time than in the personal and spiritual sense). Naturally, these anniversaries are spread throughout the year.

What makes the new (solar or lunar) year celebrations different from other annual celebrations is that the date is common between us – this date means the same to everyone. My birthday, for example, is likely to be different from yours and likely to hold no significance to you. But if we follow the same calendar then 1 January is equally important for both of us.

Actually…is this date really important? New years’ resolutions might suggest so – until we read the statistic that 25% of new year resolutions by Americans are doomed to failure after just the first week, rising to 36% by the end of January. Additional sources suggest this rises to as high as 80% by the second week of February – though I’d suggest it’s unwise to compare stats from differing sites using dissimilar statistical methods and samples.

The point is that no matter how significant the beginning a new calendar year seems, these high fallout rates suggest that after the party, back home from Christmas holidays and the return back to work and to ‘normal life’ everything is forgotten. January 1st may as well be any other day (or date).

A twist on eternalism:

I wish it could be Christmas every day!

No-one likes Monday mornings, and equally there seem to be few people up and about at 9 am on January 1st ‘enjoying’ the bliss of the new year that they’ve just been celebrating coming in.

What gets us into such a frenzy in the first place? The Christmas spirit? The holiday season? The new year’s eve party where someone asks us what our resolution is and we feel impelled to say something ‘worthy’?

Ultimately, I’d postulate that the start of a new year calendar year means very little in real terms.

Every day is the beginning of your next year. Let’s just celebrate this by celebrating today instead! 🙂

Paul

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Header image credit: http://www.newyear.quotesms.com/

## The Disturbance of a Temporal Doppelganger

There were repercussions when I met my doppelganger in space; when I see temporal doppelgangers on the same day there’s a similar disturbance in the force…

## Happy in the Past

I had a late and very enjoyable night last night and this morning I overslept. That meant two things – the first is that I’d miss my usual train. The second is that instead of tiptoeing out of the house to get my train whilst my little girls were still sleeping, they were now awake and asking what I was doing.

And what I was doing, was explaining to them that I wasn’t able to get my usual train, but one which leaves half an hour later. I could wait a few minutes extra at home instead of at the station, and “It’s handy isn’t it sweetie because I can give you a cuddle!”

You’ve guessed it – by the time I’d disentangled myself from a forest of arms and legs and questions ranging from “Why is the sea wet?” to “Why are two things sometimes different?” I’d missed yet another train.

## The Present

So eventually I’m sitting on a train which is departing an hour later than the train I was originally aiming for.

OK, I’ll make the most out of a bad situation and seize the moment and catch up on some reading. I pull out Buckyball by Fabien Roy. Well, I say pull the book out, but I actually mean my phone. I’ve only a PDF copy and my ereader hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m stuck to reading it on a phone. It’s a brilliant read, but a terrible experience; one which is full of welcome distraction, and I look around the train carriage frequently.

## Doppelganger!

I’ve written before about my doppelganger, but now I notice that I’m witness to a similar but slightly different phenomena. Sitting just opposite me is someone else’s doppelganger – but an earlier version of him!

He’s reading his newspaper with a fold-up bicycle by his feet (in rush hour – recall that this is Holland…) and appears to be a younger version of one of my colleagues by some 20 years. Darker hair, sitting more upright and wears thinner glasses. He looks healthier than the creature I see sitting crouched in the office.

They dress the same; smart shoes, jeans, shirt and a jumper, and the fellow on the train also has that certain air about him which says “This is how I do things; it’s how I want them done and it’s how I’ll always do them.”

And judging from the appearance of my older colleague, he’s right – at least for the coming 20 years or so.

My colleague is classic passive aggressive. With retentive tendencies. I see no wedding ring and I wonder if living alone boxes us in our lifestyle – certainly I’ve found that living with my wife and kids I’ve made a lot of compromises in how I do things.

## Happy in the present

I wouldn’t have it any different. If I had my time again (like in Buckyball, Groundhog Day or Replay) I’d do it the same way to end up again where I am now. I don’t mean to be conceited by insinuating that my life is ‘perfect’ but rather to say that I’m very happy with it as it is now! 🙂

A couple of movies spring to mind where characters have a glimpse or experience of an alternate version of their life (“Sliding doors” 1998, with Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah; “The Family Man” 2000, with Tea Leoni and Nicholas Cage). Especially in the latter of these movies the question is raised about how would things be done to achieve certain changes in your life.

On a personal footing, the question I’d face following my own reinsertion back into the time steam would be whether I chose to live through the crap bits again to bring about the same knock on effects leading up to my present in the here (Holland) and now (on the train)?

Would I have missed last night to catch my train? Or given up my cuddles and precious moments with my daughters in the morning?

No, I don’t think so.

What will I do tonight / tomorrow morning?

I don’t know. But for now, looking at the temporally static doppelganger sitting opposite me on my late train, I realise that I’m happy with the consequences of my decisions that I’ve made in my life. I’ve made the best ones I knew how to at that time without any fore knowledge of the future. I mean, that’s all I can do, right?

Perhaps they’re not the right ones but they’ve brought me into a family and a home where I’m blissfully happy!

## The disturbance in the (gravitational) force

I hardly ever talk to my colleague so I don’t know him very well. He’s not very approachable but I do hope that he’s equally as happy as I am in his own way.

And I’ll tell you know what’s odd. Today there was a lunch talk where an expert told us about the results of the discovery that gravity waves exist and can be measured. My colleague was there, and I ended up have a chat with him at the coffee machine afterwards. (And it turns out that he’s quite a nice chap!)

Whereas things happen when doppelgangers meet in space, I can’t help thinking that when I see the temporal doppelgangers on the same day, that there is undoubtedly a disturbance in the (gravitational) force…

Paul

Header image credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller (www.sciencenews.org)

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## Groundhog Day…again?

The classic movie Groundhog Day makes the basic assumption that February 2 will repeatedly come around again and again. It sounds like a dangerous approach…

After reading Buckyball (Fabien Roy) I somehow got round to watching Groundhog Day. Again.

## Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is the classic 1993 movie where grumpy chops weather man Phil Connors repeatedly wakes up at 06:00 on February 2nd (“Groundhog Day”). No matter what he does, everything excepting his memory resets. “He’s having the day of his life…over and over again”.

Of course Groundhog Day is all Hollywooded up, but it’s still a great movie which asks the question: how would you spend your day if you lived it again and again with no consequences?

In the movie the main character Phil Connors assumes that no consequences means that you can do whatever you like. We see him driving recklessly, stealing money, being violent and eating ‘badly’ (a big no-no for Hollywood types I guess!) – all because he knows that February 3rd won’t come around and that any actions he takes (or causes other people to take) will be wiped away. No consequences.

Of particular note is that memories of other people are also wiped away, and Phil utilises this to manipulate people by memorising what he thinks are the right or correct answers to elicit certain actions from them the next time February 2nd comes around.

In other words, Phil operates with the certainty that tomorrow won’t come. After all, “It didn’t yesterday.”

And for me this is the sticky point. How does Phil know that he’ll get to relive February 2nd all over again with a clean slate? What is going on, why and what the boundaries are, are not fully known. It’s certainly not fully understood.

So it seems to me like a big risk to take. Phil steals money, but if the phenomenon vanishes as mysteriously as it came in the first place, then Phil will be (rightfully) facing a term in jail instead of reliving the day to steal that money again. The deadly outcome of his suicide attempts is morbidly clear.

I touched on the morals of changing the past last week. But is the past actually being revisited here in Groundhog Day, or are the events simply happening again?

There aren’t two versions of Phil so it’s probably not a revisit.

Whereas Phil retains his knowledge every time February 2 comes around, other characters don’t. It seems that for them this is the first time that they’re experiencing this day.

Surely this can’t be true? My wife noticed it as well – if February 2 is having multiple versions, then the other characters in the novel must be experiencing this day for multiple times too…even if they don’t realise it. The question is: why is it that only Phil realises that this phenomena is happening?

On a time travel front, the Groundhog Day producers don’t attempt to provide any explanation or answer any questions at all. At best, once Phil gets the girl they live happily ever after.

Yet again, I can’t help but realise the importance of now. I used to think it lasts only for a fleeting moment – affected by the past and affecting the future. But now I wonder if it’s an infinitely short moment in time stretched out to last eternity.

Live now wisely – we don’t know how many times we’ll get to live it!

Paul

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