Motion in the N Dimensions of Time

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

What would an alien life-form be like if it were to move through time the way we move through space and space the way we move through time?

Initially, one might assume that we would perceive it as moving eternally in one direction, never turning, stopping, changing speed, or retracing its steps. This isn’t quite right, though; its ability to move through time in the manner we move through space would allow it to do at least some of these things, and considerably more bizarre things as well. By moving backward in time, for example, it might appear to be standing perfectly still, since at any moment, it would have the same position as it would a moment into the future, up until the point in time at which it had begun moving backward. By standing still in time, it might appear to disappear completely from our world, only to reappear not only in our sight, but also in our memories, by beginning to move through time once more (with its position determined by the point in space at which it began to move through time). Only if it were to move forward in time at exactly the same rate as us would it seem to move as we intuitively think it would: ever in one direction and ever at the same velocity, from our perspective.

But what about the alien’s perspective? For one thing, it would have no conception of area or volume, only length, just as we humans only conceive of time in terms of a one-dimensional quantity, duration. If time is indeed a one-dimensional quantity, as we humans assume it must be, then it would perceive its world as stretching endlessly before it and behind it, but never to the side or above it; it would consequently have no notion of “sideways” or “above”, either. Suppose time is multidimensional, though, and we merely move forever in one direction through the multidimensional “space” that is time just as this hypothetical alien moves in one direction through the multidimensional space that is space; then it might have all these notions and more, even more foreign to us, involving movement through the second, third, fourth, and so on dimensions of time.

Communication with such a creature would be somewhere between very difficult and impossible. Even if it could “hear” or “see” in a manner analogous to the way we hear or see, the sights it “saw” would be scrawled through time, not through space, and the sounds it “heard” would be stranger things still. There is, however, at least one question regarding these aliens that has a relatively simple answer, though: Fermi’s paradox. If such aliens exist, why have we not yet encountered signs of their existence? Because although they can be at any point in time an infinite number of times, they can only be at a position once, and even if their path through space were to cross ours, we likely would not know; by simply being at a different point in time than us when crossing our path, they would render themselves virtually undetectable. How do you detect something that only exists, from your point of view, for an instant? How do you even know when to look for it?

(Of course Fermi’s paradox refers to the existence of any alien life, not just the existence of one variety of alien, so this answer doesn’t address Fermi’s paradox in general at all. It does address one case, though. So that’s sort of addressing Fermi’s Paradox…from a certain point of view.)

Richard W.

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