It Must Be Done.

September 9, 2015 § 2 Comments

It must be done. I nervously glanced down at my watch, calibrated to detect the precise instant in time I had entered as well as to keep track of the relative time that had passed since I had begun my travels. It was 6:43 pm, September 18, 2139. Ten minutes until show time.

I discovered the mechanism for time travel approximately five days prior to now; or, rather, I have lived five days since I began traveling in time. The mechanism of my travels is rather simple, yet it took me years to create. Any child past 7th grade (or is it 6th grade curriculum now?) knows that the space-time continuum of Minkowski Space may be manipulated by an extremely strong gravitational well.  It is also known that it is possible for this well to bend the plane of space-time so much it that it doubles back upon itself, creating a kind of “hole” where the two points in the plane intersect that connects one part of the plane to another and therefore connects two instances in time. Most believe that this kind of hole only occurs within the vacuum of space and would be impossible to create here on Earth. I, however, managed to achieve this feat, an accomplishment I now regret with the deepest passion. I created a machine that uses gravitons, the boson particle that carries the force of gravity, to create a strong enough gravitational well to bend space-time and create a doorway that remains contained and closable through the use of counteracting anti-gravitons that act as a kind of “push to the pull,” per say. It took a lot of calculating, but I managed to figure out how to calibrate the machine so that I can control what instance in time that the door opens into down to the second. The machine is a masterpiece. And now I hope to make it so that the masterpiece never comes into existence.

7 minutes until I complete my mission. When I created the machine, I never thought of any negative implications. I understood the hypothesis of the ripple effect, that a small change in the past could greatly alter the future, but I was a stark believer in my own hypothesis, that the ripples would have negligible effects on human life and that so long as you mapped out the effects precisely, you could travel freely into the past, altering it in whatever which way you want. I believed this earnestly, and spent five days mapping out paths, planning a test, a simple test, to see if my hypothesis was true. All I did was pick some flowers, five to be precise, a simple week before my own time. I brought these flowers back to my original time (creating a pretty decoration), and checked to see if my simple action had any effect at all. It had.

After studying the incident my action had altered, I concluded the following had occurred: the flowers I had picked were to be admired by a young three-year-old girl precisely two days after I had picked them; her stopping to simply smell the flowers had allowed the girl’s mother time to grab her before she mindlessly ran out into the middle of the road; without the flowers, she did not stop, and was hit and killed immediately. I had removed the flowers; I had killed a three-year-old girl.

Two minutes left. I wait patiently for my past self to leave the lab; it is the day before my inspiration, the day before the invention of the time machine. I know what I have to do, but still fear and doubt creep into my mind as I prepare to destroy my life’s work. It is not just the years spent conceiving and designing the machine that I will be losing; when I destroy the machine, I am consciously destroying any version of myself (and truly any version of the world) that had contact with and was affected by the machine. In that way, this mission is suicide. I am destroying the version of “me” that I know as me. I feel like I am facing death, but at the same time this “me” will actually never have come into existence, so is it really death at all? These questions make my head reel; I cannot think about them now. I must complete my mission. The experiment that led to the death of the little girl is only an incident that will repeat and be amplified a million fold if the machine is allowed to come into existence, for if not I then others using my work will create such machines and affect many futures. One small ripple can combine with many ripples to form a tidal wave, and I cannot allow that to happen.

One minute. I walk into my lab seconds after my past self walks out. I leave the note I have written outside the lab, explaining everything about what happened, why I must do this, and why I, or the past me, should discontinue all research on time travel. I am not sure whether or not the note will cease to exist with my own existence terminating, but no matter; I mustn’t bother with the petty details and just do what I have to do.

I insert the drive into my computer, implanting a virus I created specifically to wipe out any electronic trace of my work, deleting everything. Smiling softly, I turn on the gas nozzle of an old burner, letting the smell of rotten eggs fill the room. I know once I light my match the room will go up in flames, but I do not worry about burning. I will cease to exist, never having existed in the first place. I know what I have to do. It must be done.

-CRW

A wormhole connecting two sides of space-time By Panzi (English Wikipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Wormhole-demo.png

A wormhole connecting two sides of space-time
By Panzi (English Wikipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Wormhole-demo.png

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Time Travel for the Sake of Mathematics

September 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

One of my favorite rainy day hobbies is doing math.  Yeah, I know, it’s a little strange.  But all of us our strange in some way or another.

One of the things I enjoy most about math is the sense of accomplishment you get after solving a problem in a clever way.  You started with a problem that that 99 percent of the world’s population couldn’t even begin to understand.  In fact, a couple centuries ago, people wouldn’t have even known what the words in the problem meant.  And yet, after hours of thinking about a homework problem and trying to find new ways to look at it, you finally come up with a solution, bringing the simplicity of a solution out of the chaos of the problem.  You’ve discovered something that is a solution to a routine homework problem now, but would have been considered a stroke of genius if you had discovered it a few centuries earlier, before calculus had even been invented.  Whenever I have these moments, I always think about time travel, and how great it would be if I could travel back in time bringing all of our present day mathematical knowledge with me.

Granted, it would probably not be good for my ego to be thought of as a mathematical genius, just for having transported some mathematical knowledge from one century to another.  But I think that a lot of great things could be accomplished by giving people of the past greater mathematical knowledge.

A lot of the big areas of math, like Calculus and Knot Theory, have only been developed in the past few centuries, and yet their impact and applications have been monumental.  Especially with Calculus, these recent mathematical discoveries have led to countless physics discoveries and engineering innovations that have improved life for many people.  If we had developed this knowledge sooner, we would have much more advanced technology, better medicine, a better understanding of the Universe,  and a better society all around.

For many reasons, going back in time and giving people advanced mathematical knowledge would be much more effective than giving them scientific knowledge.  If you attempted to explain modern scientific knowledge to people from past eras, they would not believe you, because our understanding of the Universe would seem so absurd to them that they wouldn’t accept it.  However, with mathematical proofs and theorems, there is no denying them.  A proof is a proof, and even if it may take you a very long time to read through it, there can be no denying its validity if it is true.  In many ways, I think it would be much easier to use time travel to bring mathematical knowledge to our ancestors than scientific knowledge, and more effective nonetheless.

Granted, this probably would not serve as an extremely exciting science fiction story.   But, I think that if time travel were possible, this is one of the best things we could do with it.

And of course, this introduces one of the standard paradoxes of time travel.  If time travel truly became possible one day, then some eager mathematical mind would likely go back and given Isaac Newton all of the most advanced math of their time, so that he wouldn’t have to waste his time inventing Calculus.  But if this happened, we would see its effects in the present, and since we haven’t, time travel must never be possible.

But I guess I can still hope.

So, if you are a mathematician reading this and we have finally invented the time machine, please travel to my bedroom, September 10, 2012.  I have some topology homework for you to help me with.

– PJ Jedlovec (pjjed)

Borne back ceaselessly into the past

September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have never felt like I was born in the wrong decade. This seems to me something of a folly, a rather extreme analogue might be the desire to change genders. I can’t well follow the path that leads to either wish, but at any rate, I’d rather explore time. When I toy with this idea for a bit one particular passage comes to mind. It’s something that will be very familiar to many of us, but not something that we have read or, I’m fairly certain, will read for this course. I’m thinking of the final page from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

I’m sure Baz Luhrmann, director of the forthcoming silver screen adaptation, will have some suitably “epic” CGI to render this page onto the screen, but he won’t touch Fitzgerald. For those unfamiliar with the novel, the final page finds the protagonist Nick Carraway on the fictional island of West Egg, looking out across Long Island Sound. In his introspection Carraway is drawn to think of the Dutch Sailor who first encountered New York and was met  “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

Those words have stuck with me since sophomore year of high school. I should say the gist of them has – I was not able to produce the quote verbatim without some refreshing. But this quote addresses something which I think we have touched on to a certain extent in this class. At one point the idea was raised that with each generation sci-fi is a little less startling, as if anything you can dream up might be in next month’s Popular Science. We’ve come so far we’ve lost almost all our myths. It’s become so difficult to cultivate a sense of wonder.

I’m trying to summon the images and experiences which have inspired wonder inside of me.  The jagged blue crests of the Tetons. Great white pines in clear New Hampshire air. The wind ripping off the ocean up to the dune where I stood and black water crashing onto the beach below. These moments have been few and far between. Perhaps this is more a reflection of my own capacity for wonder than of society’s, but I doubt it. I’ve had some nice opportunities for wonder, more than most I’d bet, but it seems like every year it gets harder to find something that really floors me.

The Hamptons, which if I’m not mistaken are the real world equivalents of Fitzgerald’s West and East Egg, would today be even less recognizable to those Dutch sailors. Every jitney deposits a fresh load of the privileged, fedora-clad set disparagingly known as “Hampsters” (Hamptons + Hipsters = Hampsters). Maybe today’s environments just don’t lend themselves to wonder because everything is very familiar and explained. What region on earth remains unexplored? What peoples unexamined? Perhaps some remote fold of the ocean floor, perhaps a handful of tribes in the deep Amazon. Wonder, for the most part doesn’t hang around where humans do. We try to chase it down ski mountains and out of airplanes but these are all contrived scenarios. Wonder is not adrenaline. If I had access to a time machine I think I would explore some time and place that was wilder and far less definite. I would try and encounter something so incomparably vast and uncertain as to be actually sublime in the terrible/wonderful/awesome mode of Edmund Burke’s definition.

-Will Tarnell

Decisions, Decisions…

September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

If I somehow had the good fortune to come into possession of a time machine, the first decision facing me would be whether to transport myself into the past or into the future. Though on the surface this seems to be a difficult issue to resolve, the answer soon became clear as I considered the potential repercussions of traveling into the future. I feel that such a voyage would engender a sense of fatalistic inevitability in me; I would see the development of my own life, and of human society in general, then return to the present (assuming that I still desired to) and traverse my pre-established path to my preconceived end and watch all humanity do likewise. I would observe personal and global struggles and disasters with a morbid fascination, riveted by the inevitable progression of foreseen tragedies, as humans always are.

So, it is decided: I would travel into the past. But, again, a dilemma presents itself: Would I transport myself back into earlier years in an effort to change certain happenings, thus altering and, theoretically, improving, the present status of myself and all humanity, or would I return as a mere observer, in an effort to satisfy certain desires or curiosities I might have? Somewhat surprisingly, even in my own eyes, I realized that I would opt for the latter, perhaps selfishly, perhaps thoughtfully; as has been effectively illustrated in countless books and stories, no one can judge the effects that his or her actions, however minor they might seem, would have on the progression of human existence. Thus, I would want to return to an earlier time as an observer only; I would, however, in order to achieve my desired aim (to be explained shortly), also require the ability to choose a very specific location to be transported to, and that I be invisible, perhaps not physically, but in the sense that my presence would not alter any other person’s choice of words or actions.

And here would be my aim: to return to various points in history at which critical decisions were made, and merely to observe how they came about; specifically, I would like to know whether the decision-makers were plagued with doubt and uncertainty, or whether they seriously considered other options, the choosing of which would have drastically altered the course of human history. Did the fingers of the killers of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, for example, hesitate for a fraction of a second before they made contact with the fatal trigger? Did they conceive of the effects their actions would have? Did Benedict Arnold spend countless nights in a tortured state of internal conflict over whether he should carry out his betrayal? Did the quills in the hands of the signers of the Declaration of Independence waver at all as they moved over that seminal document? Perhaps less significantly, or maybe more to some, did Shakespeare ever consider letting Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after, and did he experience any twinge of regret at his literary murder? Did Napoleon or Alexander the Great ever secretly weep for the fathers and sons they slaughtered, and did they at any point reconsider the need for conquest and empire? Specific individuals, and thus humanity in general, are continuously facing innumerable decisions, countless roads which we can choose to travel; in so choosing, we also choose countless roads that we shall not travel, and we are never permitted to go back and make a different decision under precisely the same circumstances. With a time machine, I would go back to these moments, not to change any of these decisions, but rather to ponder what might have been…not to change the present, but rather to see other possible “presents” that were considered and rejected, and, ultimately, to enjoy and be thankful for the present selected for me.

-Ginny

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