Time Travelerís Notebook
The practical time traveler doesnít really attempt to navigate time. As I've already observed (and I suppose we all knew anyway), time moves at a steady rate(1). There's no magic in practical time travel that will allow you to change the speed of that flow, or reverse it. Returning to the automobile analogy I used earlier: in making your way through time, you have only a steering wheel. You have no brakes, no accelerator, no reverse gear(2).
And, when you think about it, the steering wheel doesnít change your direction in time. You can steer all you like and yet tomorrow will still come along after midnight tonight, next week will still follow this week, and next year will still follow this year. The steering wheel does not allow you to change whether you arrive in the future (excluding those instances where you steer towards or away from something that might kill you), it allows you to determine which future you arrive in.
As we saw last time, your ability to steer towards a particular future has a lot to do with what kind of future you have in mind to achieve. As I sit here writing these words, it would be fairly easy for me to steer towards an IAM Simple future in which I make myself a cup of coffee. It would be much more difficult for me to steer the world towards a T Relative future wherein the words I 'm currently writing would be viewed as the beginning of some kind of a new era for humankind. Still, 15 minutes from now ówhether I make the coffee or not ó it will be 6:30. And in January, a new year will begin irrespective of whether the world has decided to reorganize its fundamental thought processes around the Time Traveler's Notebook
So itís not time that we steer through. We navigate a medium that I call Possibility Space(3). But before we get into a detailed discussion of Possibility Space and the closely related domain that we will call Thought Space, we need to back up and talk about something more fundamental.
i Space is where it all begins. It is the realm that contains both the possible and the impossible. Some of what's found there is fact, some is theory, some is idle speculation. Most of what makes up i Space is in blatant violation of both fact and possibility. Every notion that can be conceived ó as well as all those that can't ó exists within it. The i could stand for one of several things: i Space is the initial space; it is infinite; it encompasses the imaginary; it contains ideas.
So what will we find if we visit i Space? Everything. i Space is the only unbounded destination in the Practical Time Travelerís cosmos. Actually, itís a mistake to refer to it as a destination; itís a point of origin. In fact, i Space is the point of origin.
Other regions we will visit, such as the aforementioned Thought Space and Possibility Space, have clear boundaries: a thing is either possible or it isnít; youíve either thought about something or you havenít. Time provides boundaries: a thing either has occurred, is occurring, or may yet occur. And then there is the biggest boundary of all, the ontological one: a thing either exists or it does not. However, none of these boundaries ó rules, dualities, distinctions ó apply in i Space. Anything goes in i Space. A fair description of i Space might run along these lines:
What might be. What might not be. What might have been. Whatever.
Or I might say that i Space is the home of the exhaustive past, present, and future.
The Exhaustive Past
The exhaustive past includes everything that ever happened; everything that might have happened, but didnít; and everything that never even came close to happening. So the Battle of Gettysburg as it is recorded in history is in i Space, as is the Battle of Gettysburg in which the Confederate army took control of Little Round Top and won both the battle and the war, as is the Battle of Gettysburg that was brought to an abrupt halt by an asteroid colliding with Earth.
Moreover, i Space is home to worlds in which there was no Battle of Gettysburg because there was no Civil War because there was no United States of America because the Mayflower sank, and things worked out differently such that we never got around to rebelling against British rule. Or because Columbus arrived in the New World to find the entire region colonized by a technologically superior Chinese civilization. Or because Homo Sapiens Sapiens never made it through one particularly tough winter, and the planet ended up belonging to the Neanderthals. Or because a huge ball of gas was released a little earlier (or later), fundamentally changing the course of the evolution of all life on Earth. Or because Earth ended up a little closer to the Sun or farther away from it, preventing complex life from every even getting started. Or because something went slightly different in one of those tiny blink-of-an-eye epochs of the early universe, and we ended up with no Sun, or any stars or galaxies, just a huge inert cloud covering billions of light years(4).
The Exhaustive Present
Once we get the exhaustive past in place, the other two are a little easier. The exhaustive present includes everything thatís happening right now as well as everything that isnít. That which isnít happening right now derives both from things that did and things that did not happen in the past. For example, Iím not sitting on the beach in Florida right now because
Likewise, everything that is happening right now derives equally from things that did and did not happen. Iím sitting here right now because I got up, but also because I didnít stay in bed. I live in a subdivision called Highlands Ranch that exists because
So in the exhaustive present, Iím sitting here writing these words and Iím also sitting on the beach in Florida. I live in a subdivision called Highlands Ranch, and I also donít exist at all, because the Chinese settlement of North America changed so many things that neither I, nor my parents, nor their parents, nor any of my ancestors for quite a ways back, were ever born. The exhaustive present also includes infinite current incarnations of the world where the South won the Civil war, the world where the Mayflower sank, the world where weíre all Neanderthals, and so on.
The Exhaustive Future
Thereís an interesting difference between and the exhaustive past and present and the exhaustive future. The former regions of i Space can be easily divided between the real and the unreal, the existent and the nonexistent (4). The scenarios that make up the exhaustive future are not so easily classified. To begin with, none of the future is real in the sense that the past and present are real. Think of the word real as being the short form of the word realized. None of the future has yet been realized.
Thatís what makes it the future.
Instead of being made up of the existent and the nonexistent, the exhaustive future comprises what might be and what wonít be. As with the things that are not true or that do not exist in the present, most of the woníts derive from the areníts and the wereníts. I wonít be flying home from Florida in later today because I didnít go there earlier and Iím not there now. The Confederate States of America wonít be having a big sesquicentennial celebration in a few years because they donít exist any more. Likewise, the Neanderthals are not in for a rough (or easy) winter.
Actually, to be very strict, the first example isnít a wonít. Technically, itís a might. In practical terms, I wonít fly home from Florida later today because Iím not there now. However, something really startling could happen in the next few minutes and I might be on my way to Florida. I might get there, do what I need to do, and decide to go home. In which case, I really would be flying home from Florida later today. I sincerely doubt thatís going to happen, but I donít know for an absolute certainty that it wonít.
As I mentioned earlier, i Space does not discriminate on ontological grounds. The unreal is the same as the real. This is where you and I differ from i Space. We may have some use for the unreal and the nonexistent, but weíve got a lot more use for the real and the existent. And weíre extremely interested in determining whether a given scenario belongs to one camp or the other. This is why the future, exhaustive or otherwise, is so interesting to us. We know that some things definitely wonít happen, but we donít know what will happen. All we know is that certain things might happen.
i Space is the point of origin for practical time travelers precisely because it includes all the scenarios of the exhaustive past, present, and future. If youíre interested in bringing a scenario into being or preventing one from occurring, you need a handle on how things have come to be (or not come to be) in the past.
When I first introduced the driving analogy for time travel, one reader objected that itís hard to get anywhere if you donít know where youíre going and you donít have a map. i Space is the practical time travelerís road atlas. Itís not as complete an atlas as weíd like to have, perhaps. And, unfortunately, it doesnít show the exact routes that weíre most hoping to take; however, it gives us a good picture of the unexpected curves and bumps found in other roads. And it reminds us just how broad our choices of route really are. If weíre ready to study the lay of the land and make some inferences, i Space can begin to point us towards the destinations we have chosen.
1. Hours and minutes continue to run at the same rate, but there is one sense in which time appears to be speeding up. The rate of social and technical change is accelerating. So even though you and your grandmother might both live to be 90, you will experience considerably more change in your lifetime than she did. If you look at time as a sequence of events or changes rather than a measure of duration, you can say that you will have moved through time more quickly than she did. (Back)
2. I should point out that the term "possibility space" has a specific meaning within the field of statistics. I am using the term somewhat differently, although there are some commonalities between their possibility space and mine. (Back)
3. If i Space begins to sound like the multiverse of the Many Worlds Hypothesis, thereís a good reason for that. The two are closely related. The Many Worlds Hypothesis contends that every possible quantum state is, in fact, realized. As a result, everything that ever could happen really has happened, somewhere out there in one of an infinite number of branching parallel universes. This hypothesis may or may not be an accurate description of how things work. i Space, on the other hand, really does exist. Itís an abstraction, what mathematicians would call a set, like the set of all countries attacked by the US in the past two years or the set of all episodes of Alias in which Jennifer Garner beats a guy up while wearing provocative lingerie. i Space is the set of everything that ever happened or didnít happen. Itís big. Itís abstract. And itís real. An entertaining way to explore i Space is to read the genre of fiction known as alternate history. I've recently been reading the book shown below. My (not terribly original) scenario of the South taking Little Round Top and thus winning the Civil War was inspired by a story called "Bring the Jubilee" by Ward Moore.
4. Remember that these divisions are for descriptive purposes only, to aid our understanding. We can distinguish between what really happened and what didnít, but in i Space there is no such distinction. One is as much a part of i Space as the other. (Back)Posted by Phil at September 8, 2003 09:27 AM | TrackBack