A Single Life (a short time travel animation)

“A Single Life” is a short animation where time is bi-directional on a single time-line. “You might think your life is never ending” – but only for as long as the duration of your life.

The Netherlands does it again!

I’ve written several times about how the Netherlands is making its stamp when it comes to things time travel. An appearance in one of the first time travel novels, the time travelling train, the temporally challenged table cloth and months to name but a few instances.

And now Joris from the “Job, Joris & Marieke” animation studio in Utrecht (the Netherlands! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) has alerted me to a brilliant time travel animation: A Single Life.

I could mention that A Single Life was nominated for the 87th Academy Awardsยฎ in 2015 for best animated short film and that it’s been awarded with 40 prizes. But pictures paint a thousand words. Come to think of it, a movie trumps the lot – so here it is!

Groove-y eh! ๐Ÿ˜‰

A Single Life operates on a beautifully simple idea; that time follows a single time line but that it’s bi-directional. A straight-forward (and backward! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) idea, but one which got me thinking about a few issues.

Dead end

If the vinyl record (or “single”) plays the soundtrack to your life, maybe there’s an underlying story. A book of life, maybe. And as many authors are aware, there’s a beginning a middle and an end. Time travel is allowed only during this person’s life. The middle. Obviously there’s interesting stuff going on here!

A Single Life - as a baby

But time travel to before or after isn’t possible; it’s a hard stop. A point of singularity beyond which you can’t say “actually I zoomed on a bit too fast there, I think I’ll go back and not die/not be unborn” because there is no “go back” when you’re on a point. The line has literally ended; time travel in “A Single Life” isn’t possible beyond the point of death, or birth.

A smooth progression?

So time is progressive within boundaries – but it can also jump.

A Single Life - with a record player

I love the idea that the needle follows a scratch in the record and causes a time hiatus, a moment where two discontinuous points in time are adjacent to each other (an idea played with (rather badly) in Time’s Eye by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke).

(Come to think of it, this seems to be a little similar to the idea of wormholes in space which connect two otherwise separate locations).

Time for progress?

Music enthusiasts would have us believe that the analogue sound quality of a record player is superior to the digital formats from CDs and MP3 players.

A Single Life - vinyl single

I’m not one to judge sound quality – or in this parallel, the quality of a person’s life, but it would be interesting to consider different kinds of music players as a time travel machine.

How would a time travelling CD track play out? The laser reads digital points located at specific locations on the disk, so in theory, with programming this could give us the same result as a needle following a groove (or scratch). We know this because we can easily skip from track to track, for example. This wouldn’t be so simple with an audio cassette when it comes to time jumping. I’m guessing an MP3 player would act similarly to the CD player – although perhaps we’d be open to effects due to corrupted files. Anything can happen with viruses

The personal touch

That’s the time travel machine – this one needs an operator / operatee…

One of the things which first struck me whilst watching this animation is that the hand was always able to remain on the record whilst the surroundings were changing in response to a change in time. It brought to mind my earlier thoughts about the time in a time machine (see my comments in my review of “Piercing the Elastic Limit“).

Naturally, the hand is connected to the rest of the body, so in which case I’m interested in what happens to the person during time travel.

Whilst biological changes are evident (she gets older / younger), her mental state is not so clear. She can remember that she needs to keep her hand on the record, for instance, but is there a more general preservation of memory? What’s the difference between living life (or a part of it) the first time round and say the fifth time? In the latter case, the memory of how to ‘play’ the record makes sense, but are there life experiences to recall? I’d guess not, but it seems inconsistent.

Several novels and movies have dealt with this issue. Memories are clearly kept in Groundhog Day allowing Phil Connors to cumulatively educate himself. And in the movie Click (where a remote control allows fast forwarding through life) Michael Newman’s mind goes into zombie mode whilst his body plays out the actions without a real mental presence. And of course I should mention Buckyball by Fabien Roy where a particular musical track brought about time travel and replays (memory preserved).

The cast of "A Single Life"
The cast of “A Single Life”

Whether memories are preserved during replays or not, or whether it’s a good idea to go forwards past seemingly dull moments in life, I think the take home message of the animation is clear:

We have one single life – live it! ๐Ÿ™‚


If you enjoyed this post, you might like to visit, like or circle time2timetravel on Facebook and Google+

Sign up here to receive future posts sent direct to your email!

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!)


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…! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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?


If you enjoyed this post, you might like to visit, like or circle time2timetravel on Facebook and Google+

Sign up here to receive future posts sent direct to your email!

Time lines

One of the arguments used against the possibility of time travel is that there are no firm or proven solutions given the problems of paradoxes.

In this post I postulate against one of the commonly used get-out-clauses for the grandfather paradox…multiple time lines. Actually, the same holds true for multiple universes too.

One of the arguments used against the possibility of time travel is that there are no firm or proven solutions given the problems of paradoxes.

In this post I postulate against one of the commonly used get-out-clauses for the grandfather paradox…multiple time lines. Actually, the same holds true for multiple universes too.

time branches

The creation of a new time line / universe is often used to avoid paradoxes. The chap who goes back in time to kill his grandfather creates an additional time line or universe – one where he doesn’t exist as he’s killed his grandfather. The original still exists were he went back in time. So we have two time lines or universes, each containing mass and energy, and information relating to its present and past.

This is where I have a problem…where does all that extra mass come from, or the energy to organise it? What defines how and when a new time line is going to branch out, to subdivide, or even as I read in The Paradox War (CJ Moselely) rejoin?

One suggested solution lies in quantum mechanics where quantum particles can exist simultaneously in two states – such as Schrodinger postulated with his unfortunate cat. (Schrodinger’s curiosity likely killed it).

There is a line of thought where these quantum particles can also co-exist in 2 times – and hence allow, somehow, the continuance of a co-existing time line.

Cats, bunnies and rabbits.
Image credit: A Che

But let’s take the cat which has a finite mass. Now even if the continuance of one time line should stop to allow a second (or third, or more) time line to continue, then that cat must share it’s mass between these time lines. It needs to split, or to subdivide…so that the cat effectively permeates through all time lines is a catty multiplication.

Nine lives of a cat spread now run simultaneously over 9 time lines.

I just don’t buy it. Besides – perhaps we should be using rabbits as examples of self-multipliers. They’re rather famous for it.

A stitch in time saves nine cats from curiosity.


If you enjoyed this post, you might like to visit, like or circle time2timetravel on Facebook and Google+

Sign up here to receive future posts sent direct to your email!

3 theories of time travel

I found this excellent infographic over at techeblog.com which explains 3 theories of time travel; fixed timeline, dynamic timeline and multiverse.

As I commented on the original site, I have a problem with multiverses! They’re too much of an easy ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card and I can’t find any sound scientific basis for the creation of all the additional energy and mass required to go round creating new universes willy nilly…let alone specify a defined moment for divergence.

So many problems, so little time…I think I have an idea for another blog post!

Image courtesy: www.techeblog.com
Image courtesy: www.techeblog.com


A game of patience

Patience isn’t something for time travellers.

As time travellers we don’t want to wait for a moment or an event to reach us at the ambient rate of 1 second per second. We want it now.

When I show frustration born from impatience, there’s always some idiot telling me it’s “…a lesson in patience”.

How the hell is that? All I’ve learnt is that I’m still impatient, and it’s usually the patient people trying to make me more like them; to be more patient whilst I wait for them to just get on with it.

The cure for impatience

Apparently help is available in dealing with impatience. Not that impatience is a disease…more like patience is a resignation to the idea that we can’t change (speed up, in this case) the rate of time. And I don’t like that!

The suggestion comes in two forms: either we either hold tight, or that we let go completely.

Here’s the thinking:

  • Holding on tight
  • This means keeping focused on the end goal, and working hard to achieve it.

  • Letting go of the end goal
  • Read here…forget it. Que sera sera (whatever will be, will be), and presumably, whenever whatever it is, will be ready. Do something else. Take your mind off it. Stick your head in the sand. Pretend like you don’t care.

    I reckon that sounds like giving up doesn’t it!

    Or…could we consider it more as parallel time line jumping? Fill your waiting time with another activity, i.e. instead of waiting on the same time line, jump to another parallel one and bypass the wait by doing something else. Then return to your original time line where the perceived time will seem shorter, like starting a chapter in a book which returns to a story line dropped a few pages ago.

    Time compression
    Apparent time compression through parallel jumping

    It’s ironic that the time will then seem to pass quicker when you don’t concentrate on it. Like a kettle boils quicker if you don’t wait for it. Friction works harder against you the more you try to overcome it (by pushing harder or going faster).

    The more you earn the more you’re taxed. Love comes to you when you don’t look for it. Yeah I know – it’s all messed up…so forget all about it! Besides, it’s not fair that this form of ‘apparent time travel’ comes quicker to those who don’t want it!

    The best things don’t come to those who wait. Those who wait are inefficient with their time and kid themselves that whatever they want to be doing now can wait till later.

    So should we hold on? I don’t think so. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Seize it by the neck and then strangle it and tell it to get a b***dy move on!

    Just make the most of it…or do something else!