How I Travel (I): The Readiness Is All

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How I Travel (I): The Readiness Is All

A song sparrow

Whenever and wherever I happen to be, people are prone to point out that they know time travel is impossible, because if it weren't, it would already have been invented, and they would have met a time traveller by now. I smile politely.

I don't tell them that every timeline that invented time travel has already collapsed in upon itself, because every single time-travel scheme that didn't use the dodge of dimensional travel created so many paradoxes that the timeline became untenable. And the dimension that does permit time travel crowds out the competition.

Obviously, I also don't tell them that I'm a time traveller. That would be impolite.

The Puddle Problem: Relativity and Perspective

Somebody pointed out once (and then kept pointing it out, because nobody was listening and frankly, that sort of inattention is irritating) that people thinking about eternity were kind of like water in a puddle. The rain fell, the water filled the puddle, and then the water (because in this version of the story, water is sentient, I suppose) looked around and said, 'Look how well this space fits me. It must have been designed to fit my needs. I must be pretty important.' Of course the water fit the space, not the other way around.

Some people think that demonstrates the non-existence of higher beings. This makes me laugh and makes me frustrated in equal measure. But I know better than to get into arguments about it.

Here's a better way to understand the problem, I think. Have you ever read Flatland, by Edwin Abbott? Here's how he shows you what a sphere looks like moving through Flatland:


Einstein thought time was an illusion. And so it is to people who live in it. To experience its passage, you need to use tricks. A clock is a trick. So is memory. Memory's not as reliable a clock. The clock either runs down or stops when its power source is interrupted. But even a stopped clock is right once a day (or twice, depending on what kind you have, or maybe not at all if it's the kind beside the bed that just blinks 12:00 if there's a power outage). Memory is worse: it's malleable. Memory can be influenced by wishful thinking, or persuasive reinvention, or just a bad history movie. Memory's time's fool, although Shakespeare said love wasn't.

Duomo Milan, 1846

The problem is, time is a dimension, just like length and breadth and height. It has its own axis. That's why structures like Stonehenge or the pyramids are important. You can plot things by them. Because they have the dimension of time called 'perdurance'. They last. So within the scale of 'time when humans are around', they represent nice, tidy, plottable points.

Did you ever take a photo with a very long exposure? Say, five-to-ten minutes? Go and look at really old photos. They required long exposures. Go and look at a very old photo of, say, a cathedral. You'll notice that there are no people in front of the cathedral. Or anywhere in the photo. Why? Because nobody happened to be there that day? Because the photographer asked them nicely not to mess up his pretty architectural photo? No.

There were plenty of people there. But they were moving too fast to be in the photograph. They might have been moving at a whole two miles per hour, but they were moving too fast for that photo. They didn't register. Time is like that.

That's why very, very silly people are always carving their names into things. They hope the things will hang around long enough to give them perdurance. It's all a matter of perspective.

How to Step Out of Time

The internal dialogue is what grounds people in the daily world. The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such and so and so. The passageway into the world of shamans opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off his internal dialogue.

Carlos Castaneda

Mindfulness is defined as a way of paying attention to what's going on in the moment, without judging. It's the first step in stopping time; first, because it stops you from moving forward in it, and second, because you become aware that your consciousness is separate from what's going on. It isn't all about you. It also doesn't require your permission to be going on.

The other thing you have to know about stepping out of time is that you have to have a place to step to. That's trickier if you insist pigheadedly that here and now are the only places that are. If here and now are the only places that are, what happened to yesterday? Where's tomorrow? But if here and now aren't the only places there are, how do you know that some of those places might not be on the timeline as you are used to it?

The View from Inside the Puddle

A fish sees a different world from a bird. Different views are available. You just need to grow gills and fins, or wings.

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.
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