Temporal Disentanglement

We’re deeply entangled in space and time – but if people can’t deal with different cultures or with people who change location how can we expect to deal with time travelers?

On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union. When I say “the UK”, I should clarify: statistics show that older voters were more likely to vote to leave the EU and opt for a regression back to pre-European times than voters younger than 49 years.

Temporal origins

Presumably the elderly are more tied up with the(ir) past and olden day values than younger generations who may not have been around much before the eighties or who have experienced and remember happier more recent times.

And of course being mortals, older people have less ties with the future than younger generations who will see more of it. The descendant argument applies to both age groups.

To be clear: I don’t intend the above to be ageist (that would be nonsensical) but to point out that differing age groups have differing strengths of ties and attachments with different temporal origins.

Spatial origins

And for the immigrants in the UK who are cruelly beaten, mocked and despised in these post brexit racial attacks (carried out by lunatics across all ages)…they are permanently reminded of their spatial origins, however long ago they (or their ancestors) shifted their spatial location.

What's worth more - experience with age, or from location?
Is time passed more important than space traversed? (Image source: www.thedailybeast.com)

My youngest daughter is growing up and is well out of her baby years. But bring on the sound of a baby’s cry and both my wife and I are brought straight back to those times of disrupted nights, continual nappy changing and bottle feeding.

In much the same way, reading about these post Brexit racist attacks brings me right back to the eighties – those British days where I was bullied at school and shouted at in the streets just because my skin colour is different from the local majority. It seems that like it or not, I have a tie with the past, albeit in part to my spatial origins.

(And I should publicly add here, that despite a few tongue in cheek comments about the Dutch, my experience with them over the past 7 years or so has been very good! It’s a turn of the tables – in Holland I have an English origin; in England I was made to feel I didn’t.)

Politics has had its time

It is evident that campaigns for and against Brexit needed to address how people perceived their ties with the past and their hopes for the future (however the ratio of the balance of duration between their past and their future is weighed). Apparently for some, disentanglement from their past was difficult and called into question the essence of their being.

Anyway, this is all fickle politics – whether it’s correct or not is a separate issue.

Entanglement with time

It is easy to understand that people have ties with their country of origin and culture etc., but less prevalent are the temporal ties. How tangled are we with our past, or to a deeper level, to time itself?

Many time travel mechanisms in time travel fiction refer to the flow of time as being like a river (The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is an excellent example); a river in which we are bound, for example, in some sort of marine vehicle which by design is attached in some way to the water (so to time, in this analogy). Being able to travel in time means separating from the river. To disentangle ourselves from time.

Or there are more biological forms of time travel where our bodies are intrinsically linked to some ethereal omnipresent time cloud or something. Just as we’re immersed in our usual 3 spatial dimensions we have a ‘place’ or point in time from which drugs (or a virus) can extricate us.

Drugs which alter our physical existence in one way or another sound harsh – a more softer approach (arguably…) is hypnotism (for example, in Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time) where we play with our perception of time, or take on a more spiritual awareness of it around us. Mental techniques can be enough to separate the body from time, with memory being the simplest example.

Time slips through our fingers but we can’t escape it. We think about it, and are ruled by it, and apparently in some books (and on some blogs! 😉 ) we can’t stop going on about it!

entanglement in time
Image: Gabriela Barreto Lemos

In Bonnie Rozanski’s The Mindtraveler there were a series of experiments which lead to the conclusion of a temporal entanglement – I remember it because shortly afterwards I read an article in New Scientist which reported evidence of quantum entanglement.

I’m expert here, but entanglement isn’t simply the joining or merging of two otherwise distinct entities, but something much deeper which an intrinsic union of inherent

I’m struggling to find a good example, but perhaps this comes close: The birth (or actually, the news of an impending birth) transformed me into a father. Whether my kids are with me, or separated from me, I still feel and think as a father. I’m entangled with them because when I think about them I smile. The fatherhood entanglement, once created, cannot be uncreated.

And so it is with quantum entanglement; we don’t simply exist in a moment (or spread of moments) in and across time, but rather we’re both embedded within time and time in us. And separating the two may not be easy.

Some argue that one reason why we like swimming is because we’re tangled with our evolutionary past when at some stage some bright fish suggested a walk on the beach instead of swimming along-side it. Apparently we want to return back to our watery roots. We’re tangled in both time and space.

Will we ever be free from time, or are we destined to be forever ruled and tangled up by it? Or do we just leave that to the politicians and voters?

Brexit racism against refugees.
If we can’t deal with people who change location how can we deal with time travelers? (Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/27/brexit-racism-eu-referendum-racist-incidents-politicians-media)
If people can't deal with different cultures how can we expect to deal with time travelers?
If people can’t deal with different cultures how can we expect to deal with time travelers? A halal butchers in Walsall that was firebombed. Photograph: DD Maxwell/FameFlynet UK (Image source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/29/frenzy-hatred-brexit-racism-abuse-referendum-celebratory-lasting-damage)

So perhaps the time travel dream is going to be a tough nut to crack. If we can’t get on with freeing ourselves from spatial origins, how can we deal with doing the same with time?

Feel free to comment, but please let’s keep it time travel! I’ll remove political / racist / ageist commentary. Time binds us all – or does it…?

Paul

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Quantum or steam powered time travel with a kettle

A watched kettle never boils. Does this make it a quantum or even just a steam powered time machine?

A watched kettle never boils. Does this make it a quantum or even just a steam powered time machine?

That said, the kettle in our work kitchen takes ages even when you’re not there to grow old with it.

Indeed, the kettle takes so long to boil I may as well go off and make a cup of tea whilst I’m waiting for the water to reach boiling point.

Many colleagues walk away whilst it hopefully brings the cold / tepid water inside to boiling point, and come back later to make their drink, but this brings about a moral dilemma; when I get to the kitchen to make a tea and see a kettle recently boiled and still full of water I’m faced with two options: first (and the most polite) is to hang around indefinitely until the person who switched it on comes back for his water, or secondly, add more water to the kettle so that there’s enough for both of us, and switch it back on again.

But this means another long wait.

Personally, I go for the third option – take the water. I kind of think that if you can’t invest time in a good cup of tea, then you don’t deserve it and deserve to wait until those of us who do are ready.

I wonder if people of the future would have a similar dilemma if they saw a time machine parked outside and no-one there to use it…

Back to the Future III Train
Image courtesy of movieboozer.com

Paul

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A decision back in time

Do we have a free will when we make a decision with time travel? Is the past fixed, and the future a set fate or destiny? The linear model of time doesn’t account that knowledge of the future affects the past, when even logic would suggest that is so. Alternative (multidimensional) models, such as those given by quantum mechanics would perform better. The future is yours. So is your history!

A thermodynamic solution

Lightning follows the simplest route through the sky; the path of least (electrical) resistance. A river flows from inland to the coastline in a similar fashion, flowing where hydrodynamic friction is minimal. It costs less energy.

Maybe linear time flows in a similar fashion, following the easiest route, costing the least energy.

Time for lightning!
Does time flow like lightning?

There is an argument that the arrow of time can only move in one direction due to the second law of thermodynamics which says that entropy must always increase or stay the same. Entropy is the degree of disorder; a measure of chaos.

This is to say, that given any process it’s always easier to attain a disordered state than an ordered one. For example, it’s easier to sprinkle sugar into a cup of tea and let it dissolve, than it is to crystallise the sugar back out of the tea and collect the sugar crystals and put them back into the sugar bowl.

What this means in relation to time travel is that time is uni-directional; it can only move in the forwards direction because moving backwards would mean a decrease in entropy and that’s thermodynamically speaking, illegal.

An alternate history

I recently read a discussion on a forum which centered on a couple of members who expressed a wish to go back to their past and change it so that they could relive a new life. I made a comment that changing our past may cause the creation of a new timeline, or a new multiverse where an alternative version of ourself would indeed live a new life…but that the original version of us would still exist and not experience that ‘new’ life.

My comment was followed up with an insightful view on human nature, that “…we have a tendency to “make the same mistakes” over and over”.

When I read that, I wondered whether this is because of the “the past is the past and cannot be changed” nut which cannot be cracked, or whether it’s simply the easiest route to follow.

“An easy route…”?

It’s easier to fall with gravity than it is to climb against it. It takes less energy; it’s the easiest path, or ‘decision’.

Why do we make a certain decision? We take factors into consideration, weigh them up and make a decision based on the information at hand.

Even though the decision itself may be difficult (or following through with it), the answer is essentially the ‘easiest’ path to follow because it’s the outcome after the factors have been weighed and measured. By definition, it’s the correct solution, simply because it’s the outcome of the decision making process, whether it’s been made with our head or with our heart.

The easiest route for one person may not be easy for someone else.

Here’s an example. What shape fits into a round hole? Circle, square or triangle?

There’s an expression that “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole”. So we’d say a circle.

And this is what we teach our children. At the same time, they might find it easiest to hold the sides of a triangle or a star rather than a smooth circle, and wedge that into the hole. They choose the easiest solution for themselves.

A case for free will?

Dr Cox said that time travel is like finding a teapot in orbit around Venus. There’s nothing in the laws of physics to prevent it, it’s just extremely unlikely.

This is sounding statistical!

On a statistical footing, Stephen Hawkins in his book The Grand Design puts forward the idea that on a physical and chemical basis, there is a pre-known outcome in every decision. Momentum, energy, pathways, velocities and reactions etc. of the atoms, molecules and neurons in our brain all follow a prescribed – and therefore predictable – course. Thus, every choice we make has an inevitable outcome. It’s already been made.

In reality, there are so many billions of factors and environments (i.e. variables in the ‘decision equation’) as well as the sheer multitude of combinations and permutations, that effectively a decision cannot be reasonably predicted – and so we lump them all up and call it “free will”.

But free will can be dealt with on a semi-statistical / empirical basis. For example, it’s more likely that a vegetarian will choose to eat a salad for dinner tonight than a roast chicken. The vegetarian has a free will, but we can predict his answer reasonably well.

But let’s say that the lettuce is teeming with disease-ridden caterpillars. The vegetarian wants to go back and inform his younger self to stay clear of the lettuce.

Would his going back in time, armed with this new information gleaned from hindsight (or foresight, in this case) alter the original decision and allow for a new history (and self) to be created?

How likely is it the vegetarian would choose the chicken? Or would he still go for the salad but try to pick out the caterpillars? After all, he is a vegetarian. (And please note, I’m not saying here that vegetarianism is a wrong decision).

In these posts about the importance of history (Part 1 | Part 2) I pointed out how knowledge of the past can significantly affect how we might choose to behave in the present.

decision making with time travel
Do we have a free will when making a decision with time travel?

Knowledge of the history can and does affect the present and the future. These states in time are not wholly independent from each other, they’re cross related…which can be difficult to describe in a linear model of time.

Likewise, the idea that knowledge of the future affects the past wouldn’t fit into the linear model well either. This misfit is the ontological paradox, yet it wouldn’t exist in a multidimensional model of time, such as could be afforded through a quantum description.

Quantum mechanics turns the linear model on its head. The set laws of classical physics don’t apply when it comes to quantum scales so it might not be the case that every particle is predictable. A quantum particle can exist simultaneously in two states, in two places and at two times, for example. It gives Schrodinger’s cat a fighting chance.

The ‘easiest’ solution, then, now operates on more dimensions than the linear time line. Predictability is thrown out of the window and into orbit around Venus with its friend, the teapot.

Free will triumphs. And time travel? It’s looking like it will open up the opportunity for alternate histories and futures which may well have already played out. The past need not be set, and the future need not be predefined as our destiny or fate.

The future is yours…so is your history! Go grab them!

Paul

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