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One of the prevailing theories among scientists in this age is that when we get to the end of time the whole thing will just turn around and go back to where it came from.

Now I’ve done a few things wrong, so I’d like us to think more deeply about the concept of turning back time. Of course, I know nothing about this really and I want to say this right now – please don’t come and get me in my sleep Stephen Hawking. Disclaimers aside let’s do pseudo-science! You must now believe everything that Professor Wah Wah is about to tell you.

There are three basic “arrows of time” in quantum mechanics that define our perception of time. Let’s look at turning each one around. The first is the cosmological arrow. This shows us whether the universe is expanding or contracting. Moving in its normal direction it is always expanding. If we flip it, assuming that we’re in the same epoch that we are in now, which we have to be because it’s the only epoch in which we exist, we shouldn’t experience too much difference. The astronomers would be telling us that the universe is contracting, observable by a blue-shift in the galaxies that would be hurtling towards us. That’s all this reversal would do. No biggie. Turn it around if you want. Of course, the ultimate destiny of the universe would then be that everything would come to a stop at a single no-dimensional point.

The second arrow is the psychological arrow. That’s how we perceive time – i.e. we know our past (or some of it at least) but haven’t got a clue about the future. I’m going to posit, for the sake of argument, that if we turn this beauty around, again, it wouldn’t make much difference. Perhaps I haven’t thought enough about how it would affect thought processes, or if people would walk around backwards, but damn, you’re not reading Time Magazine. Let’s assume (perhaps wildy) that a cognizant human being, aware of his future and not his past would turn around to face his past and it would seem pretty much the same. He could even call the part he was aware of (future) “the past” and the unknown part (past) “the future.” Not so fun this arrow. Not when I’ve had my grubby pseudo-science hands on it.

Our final arrow is the thermodynamic arrow. How entropy increases over time defines this arrow. Turning this one around would be awesome in my vision. Everything around us would then be taking itself from a chaotic state and ordering itself. Imagine, for a moment, accidentally kicking some shards of porcelain on the floor only for them to suddenly fly up onto a table and form themselves perfectly into a cup. Everything would be conspiring to perfection around us. Think about how fantastic that would be. There wouldn’t be a care in the world, and our sole function would be to experience the beauty of everything coming together (of course, Stephen Hawking might tell you that this wouldn’t happen because our perception of it would be going backwards, therefore everything would seem normal, but who are you going to believe, him or me? You don’t want to follow a nay-sayer, do you?).

When we ignore what I’ve just said in parenthesis and think about it, we’re really going the wrong way through time right now. Why wrong? Well solely because of what we are, and I speak on behalf of the entirety of living organisms when I say this:

life is a rebellion against high entropy.

This is how I figure that. According to the second law of thermodynamics, all objects must decay. The only difference between regular objects and living objects is that the living ones are constantly trying to delay, bend and circumnavigate this universal law. To keep it simple let’s think only about humans. First of all we manage to go in the opposite direction to high entropy for a while – we grow and we learn; we find a way to perpetuate ourselves – respiration and consumption; and although we can’t defy high entropy forever we find a way of squeezing out little versions of ourselves to continue the defiance when we’re gone. Are these versions of ourselves the same or inferior? No, generally they are superior versions, when we factor in evolution, meaning that we are defying high entropy.

The law of gravity states that two bodies needs must be attracted to each other. Life grows legs and walks away.

Every day life gets better at defying nature. We live for longer, cure diseases, swap organs, We can fly and even leave the atmosphere. We can roam deep under the water where we’re supposed to suffocate and get squashed under the pressure. All of human endeavour seeks to place an order upon that which naturally wants to fall apart. No wonder so many of us have a hard time.

To move on from that idea, and link back to the notion of when time reaches its ultimate length and starts to go backwards, I’d like to ask this question: will they be the same events that we experience but in reverse, and does that mean that the great destructors of forward time are the heroes of backward time? Will the allies of World War II march to Berlin to initiate the existence of Hitler, who will build from the rubble an empire for the purpose of bringing 6 million Jews into existence in his magical anti-gas chambers, later improving their living conditions and liberating France, Austria and Poland? Is a message of race hate played backwards a speech of unity? It would be startling to discover that Hitler wasn’t a bad man, he had just been going through time in the opposite direction to us.

And conversely what of that wicked bitch Mother Teresa? In reverse time she would ensure that the ill and disabled were taken from their comfortable, cared-for living spaces and put out on the streets, dismantling the hospices and giving all the money to the already rich, and all out of spite that she was posthumously de-beatified by the Vatican.

Time defines perhaps more than any other property of the universe the way that we live, the way that we perceive things. Yet already we’re aware that it is not a constant and that it is subject to our own personal rhythms. At our evolutionary stage we can manipulate matter to a startling degree. Perhaps we will evolve to also manipulate space, and then time. When we have uncovered the mysteries of time it may change everything we know about, well, everything.

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8 thoughts on “A Jaunt backwards through Time

  1. Time is not necessarily linear, if it is real at all, it may have other dimensions just like space. You can’t reverse space either, but you can move around in it. Consider what other time dimensions would look like. Love to hear your take on it.

    • I’m still musing on the time-leading-to-low-entropy idea actually. What a dimension that would be! It’s hard to imagine that being a natural reality. Rather than fending off chaos our whole time we’d be cognizant of a move towards unity…
      Would we enjoy it or would we rebel against that too?!
      I’m having a little trouble imagining anything more complex than that. How would circlular or spiral time work, for example?

  2. Pingback: Time’s arrow | cartesian product

  3. Fun stuff! There is so much we don’t know, which is perhaps a primary reason Einstein asserted imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination by its inherent nature creates and reshapes its own limits. Einstein understood knowledge has its limits, even if stupidity doesn’t.

    Time is definitely relative, as Einstein explained when he used the analogy of time flying when sitting by a pretty girl. I suspect our human construct of time is something we can all laugh about one day after we’ve been poured back into stardust.

    Regardless, the openness of your approach is appreciated. That spirit of humility in the face of infinite possibility is a defining characteristic that draws me to Michio Kaku, who often says, “Boy! Were we wrong about that!”

    • Indeed. The mind is a creative space that takes in reflections and vibrations from which it interprets a universe. Recently, I enjoyed watching the excellent film Arrival, which – carrying on from what you and Einstein have said – suggests that a non-linear mode of thought could one day allow us to see the future. Worth a watch if you like that sort of thing.

      • Are you referring to the 2016 movie? A few different titles came up.

        There are several physicists and other scientists that fascinate me. To name a few, Sir Brian Cox, Alan Turing (really a more of mathematician), Feynman, Oppenheimer (whose Destroyer of Worlds quote from the Gita following the Enola Gay’s excursion into Japan inspired what I think is one of my better shorts so far although it has a section or two I can’t seem to get right). You might like The Imitiation Game (based on Turing and Enigma), if you haven’t seen it.

        Einstein is particularly intriguing to me because he did not see science and faith as mutually exclusive constructs yet was not overtly religious. Many of his quotes are clever allusions rather than assertions. Indeed, Einstein made many allusions to the limitations of science—often suggesting that science does not dispel the essence of our higher nature so much as it confirms our human limitations while suggesting there are forces we don’t understand. I admire the intellect that can straddle paths that are so often viewed by others as inherently divergent when they could be different points radiating from the same prism. Both positive and unsettling supernatural experiences in my life, neither of which I actively sought, have done nothing to diminish my ardor for science. If anything, science tends to deepen the mystery by creating more questions.

        It’s funny sometimes to hear certain scientists talk with such certainty about theories as if they are fact when they can’t even define dark matter, the stuff that may or may not comprise the majority of the universe. It’s so fascinating. I also like to hear them say there must be life on other planets based on the sheer volume of “Earth-like” planets (often determined by light patterns and other methods that are difficult to take too seriously). I understand the excitement, but the logical fallacy is strange coming from scientists. They are completely ignoring probability and mutual exclusivity.

        You probably realize there were are at least sixty-eight known conditions that had occur for complex life to develop on Earth. The timing and the odds are staggering. Complex life on another planet would be remarkable. But to say it must be present is akin to saying someone must win the lottery even if the MC never puts his hand in the till and draws out the winning numbers.

        I certainly have no grounds to say life does or does not exist elsewhere. Virtually anything is possible. As Jack Haldane suggested, the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine. Well, that’s perhaps more than you wanted to hear from me but it’s rare to find a person with your combination of interests who is about to write about them so cogently.

        Your line about the mind taking in reflections and vibrations is a good one. It reminds me of Plato and his Forms that precluded the existence of reality as we perceive it.

      • The odds of life are immense – but the space-time continuum is so much more immense that life seems inevitable. Factor in a possible multi-verse and pretty much anything you can conceive becomes inevitable. I think in the next century or so we will find that life is the next necessary development of matter after heavy elements, and that life is at least beginning to grow in other dark corners of our galaxy.

        Yes, Arrival (2016) is the film in question. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2543164/

      • Your multi-verse contention is stronger than some of the more common arguments and I’ve enjoyed your feedback. I don’t mean to sound overly critical. I just think some statements show how even the most rational of people can be overwhelmed by the euphoria of possibility. I still have deep respect for those scientists even when they say silly things (e.g., invoke absolutes). Even the most brilliant humans are at times terribly fragile and frustratingly illogical, blinded by things they themselves might not be able to recognize. Mother Teresa said to love them anyway. “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!”

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