Hello and good morning. Welcome to Thursday, and to another edition of my blog post. It’s the last Thursday in April of 2021. This day of this month will never come again.
Of course, we could say that about any given date, or hour, or moment—that’s the nature of time. We may, in some future epoch, decide to restart our dating system, and so we might eventually come to a day the designation of which would match this one, but it would obviously not actually be the same day.
If there is some external meta-time, in which higher-dimensional organisms can replay our time and lives at will—perhaps like Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians—they might be able to look at any of our given moments or days over and over again, just as we can re-watch a movie as often as we may like on anything from VHS to DVD to blu-Ray to digital download—or even on old-fashioned film. For the characters in the story, however—as for us if we were “looked at” earlier in our time—the events are always identical.
Each moment of the story is the same moment, no matter how often you see or read it. The characters don’t change, their experience, if you will, doesn’t change, and they have no ability to recall previous viewings or readings. Each time you rewind, you undo whatever developments might be coming. A character in a film—or in a novel—who comes to a tragic end that “could have been” avoided cannot learn from that tragedy, cannot do things differently the next time you read the story or watch the video.
There is a sense in which, according to most interpretations of General Relativity, every moment in spacetime is “permanent”, but it doesn’t help us as individuals living in time. If, after the moment of our death, we immediately simply re-begin at the beginning of our life, there will be no memory of having lived “before”. Indeed, the very concept would make no sense.
And, of course, as even the MCU recognizes, at least at some level, if you could “go back in time” and change things, you wouldn’t literally be changing the past, you would simply be creating a new sequence, which would now be your local future.
It’s an interesting notion to write a sci-fi/fantasy, or perhaps horror, story in which a person reads a book over and over, or perhaps watches a movie over and over, and finds that the characters are learning, in a sense, from the mistakes they made “later” in the story. Perhaps there could be a character with precognition, or some other form of metacognition, that allows her or him vaguely to recall particularly horrible events from “previous” iterations of the story, and so be inclined to change them on another go-round.
A simpler version of such a notion has been dealt with often in science fiction—in such movies, for instance, as Edge of Tomorrow, based on the story All You Need Is Kill. But in that story, Tom Cruise’s character (or Keiji Kiriya in the book) gains the ability not merely to return to an earlier time, but to remember clearly, in an “ordinary” sense, what he’s gone through before, every time he dies. So, it’s not quite the same. Ironically, the course of the stories, including the time repeats, are the same each time you watch or read it.
Anyway, that’s all a digression.
It’s been a peculiar week—in this, it’s not unusual. Perhaps one might say that a week in which nothing that feels peculiar happens would be quite unusual, though we might not notice it as such. As I think I said previously, I got distracted last week by playing with video, and playing on video, a bit, so I didn’t write as quickly or as much as I might have in the morning. This week, I did better. In fact, on Tuesday morning—I wish I knew why—I went into afterburner mode, so to speak, and in only an hour wrote 2968 words on my new story! This is first draft, of course, but still, it was coming out in a gusher.
Then, Tuesday night, I got a flat tire on the way home, and after taking the train the rest of the way that night, I had to come out with my housemate early on Wednesday morning so he could fix it (he has the proper tools), which quite obviously set my schedule back quite a bit. Nevertheless, I still wrote exactly 1400 words yesterday, still leaving me time to diddle around on the guitar before I needed to start getting the office ready for the day.
If the rule of 10,000 hours’ work needed to become an expert at something holds—and it does seem to be a pretty good rough rule*—it would take me almost 47 years to become an expert guitar player at the rate I “practice”. I could shorten it, obviously, if I put more time in each day, but that’s difficult. And I certainly don’t want to live 47 more years. I don’t even want to have lived as long as I already have!
Oh, well. I can’t change my past—and I maintain that I would not change anything prior to September 13, 2001, for any reason**—but perhaps I can learn from it. Indeed, one cannot ever learn from anything but the past, since the present*** is always already happening. And, unless one falls into the singularity of a black hole, it presumably always will be.
So, the final take-away from this week’s blog post is, “stay away from singularities”. And in other ways as well, stay safe and healthy if you can, and try to be happy, at least occasionally.
*I once did the math and realized that, during internship and residency, I had literally worked about 10,000 hours in three years.
**That’s my daughter’s birthdate. I suppose I might be willing to change things on or just before September 11, 2001—it might be worth it to avoid the 9-11 attack and the subsequent/consequent wars; I cannot easily imagine any realistic way in which those two days would have a detrimental effect on my daughter’s birth. Of course, if this were a “monkey’s paw” type story, there would be such a way, and being a pessimist, I would still be quite nervous. But I probably would bite the bullet and do it, given the extremely low probability of a bad perinatal outcome. Goodness knows I would change many things that I’ve done since then. But if I were told to choose between 9-11 and something bad happening to my daughter or preventing her birth…I’d probably just have to accept 9-11 happening. That’s easy enough to say, though, since 9-11 did happen, and I already know and have internalized it, sadly enough. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s also biased, since we become inured to what’s already happened…even horrible, horrible things.
***Locally speaking, anyway. In General Relativity, there is no sensible notion of any universal “now”. Time is always local. It makes some sense if you think about it. I can’t say that this address on West Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach is in some sense located everywhere, or even anywhere else, and likewise, I can’t say that the moment I’m presently experiencing is happening anywhere else right now.
Love the still from The Time Machine!
I always loved that movie! Haven’t seen it in I-don’t-know-how-long.