Time Dialogue Part 1

As it turns out, the cat cafe we had intended to visit that day was long gone and there was a new clothing store at the address that had been indicated on their website. This should not have come to too much of a surprise to us when we considered the fact that the homepage of the site made reference to events in November and it was currently mid-July. We had hoped that this meant that they merely had no events going on during the summer, though apparently it had indicated that they had gone out of business during the winter prior and could not be bothered to take down their site or at the very least update it.

We began walking back towards Beacon Hill though we decided to first sit and rest a bit at the Swan Pond in the Commons. It was at this point that my sister turned to me and asked, “Now what do we do?”

The question was so mundane but today it struck me with a profound intensity. Perhaps it was that my mind was caught on a few other questions, indeed, the phrase that came into my mind was “how then shall we live?” Our best laid plans had gone awry as so often they do and we were left there gazing at our own reflections and wondering what comes next.

“Can we go to the museum of fine arts?” She nudged my shoulder to try to bring back to the conversation at present as she could clearly tell that my mind had wandered elsewhere.

“No,” I responded solemnly, “There is not enough time. The train comes in two hours and if we miss it, we will be stuck in the city for another three at least and if we miss the one after that then we will need to find some place to spend night.”

“What can we do then?”

“I don’t know, we could always sit and talk for a bit.”

“We can do that any time at home though, we don’t come to the Boston that often so we should make the most of it.”

“So we must not waste time you say? Though as many say, it seems that time is not something that we can waste but rather it is something that can waste us.”

To this my sister only tilted her head to the side. “Alright, we can talk while we try to think of something to do.”

“Very well, time has been what has been eating away at me, so let us eat away at it.”

“What is time?”

“That is a question to be sure, though whether it is good or bad I have not the slightest idea. I have always tended to view it as the fourth dimension, though how accurate my view of this is I am also quite uncertain. The way I see it is that all dimensions really exist as a bending of the one below them. If you have a straight line, which has only one dimension which we will call its length, X. You could bend one end of it back into the other and make a circle which is a two dimensional shape that still has it’s length but now also has a measurable height, Y. We could then roll the circle up into a cylinder and it would be three dimensional and would have a measurable width, Z.”

“I do not quite follow”

“Very well, I shall give you a classic example. Imagine that the King of Hearts is taking a stroll across a newspaper. He exists on a two-dimensional plane, his card, and he is walking across the paper, which is itself another two-dimensional plane. Because he cannot fly, he can only walk what we will say is left or right, that is he walks across the X-axis. He can jump a little bit to change his up and down position relative the Y-axis, but that is pretty irrelevant at the moment except for the fact that we can say he is an “X/Y” being as his form exists on those axises. As for how he perceives the newspaper, as it lies perpendicular  to him, it stretches across the X/Z plane, the king would only be able to perceive it as a line down the X-axis, however, as he has no means of looking into the Z-axis. He decides that he is going to go for a walk down from the headlines towards the editorials, a walk that would take him let’s say an hour at his normal pace as kings tend to walk very slowly as they try to maintain their air of prestige and nobility. Now suppose we, as three-dimensional beings, decide to fold the newspaper in the middle, making a crease like a valley in the middle and we pull the headline towards the editorial and make the king’s hour long stroll take only a minute. That is a concept rather similar to time travel really.”

“Would the king be able to tell what was happening?”

“Of course he would, our folding exists on the Y-axis, something which he is a part of and would be able to perceive. He would see the straight line of the newspaper bend downwards and he would also see the editorials being pulled closer to his throne on the headlines. A being that existed on the X/Z plane along with the newspaper, however, would be none the wiser. The bending and folding would have no impact to the world from its perspective.”

“But what does this have to do with time being a dimension”

“Analogy I suppose, puts us in the mindset for thinking about things. Suppose that the King of Hearts was not the only one living on the newspaper. The King of Diamonds does as well though they have never once met. Despite the fact that they are both X/Y beings, they live on different Z values. The King of Hearts lives towards the ‘B’ of “Breaking” while the King of Diamonds lives towards the ‘S’ of “News!” They could be at the exact same coordinates on the X/Y plane, but the different Z value makes them a world apart, just as we went to the correct address, or XYZ coordinates, for the cat cafe, but as we were there at the wrong time, we were greeted by Forever21 rather than kittens.”

“So you are saying that time is just another coordinate?”

“More or less, though it is a coordinate that we have incredible difficulty in perceiving as such due to our nature. We are three dimensional beings that can move freely throughout the XYZs, but for time it is a value we have no control over and it is always increasing. Let us imagine that instead of a newspaper, the King of Hearts lived on a conveyor belt that was always moving whatever was on top of it along the Z-axis, starting from a drop off point and moving towards a grinder. The slice of world along the X-axis that is on the conveyor belt itself along with him would always be the same as it moves with him, but what he would see beyond it would be constantly changing as the belt brought him closer to the grinder. If the newspaper from before were sitting upright perpendicular to the belt, the king would be able to read each letter, at a rate of let’s say one per minute, as he moved along the belt. “B-r-e-a-k-i-n-g—N-e-w-s.” And after he finished reading it, he would have but another hour of life before he reached the belt’s end and fell into the grinder just as time eventually brings us all to our graves. Ah yes, and if the King of Diamonds was also on the belt but let’s say he fell out of the shoot onto the belt a minute before the Hearts, the two would never see one another. It would be as if they were born in different eras. In this way it almost becomes as though the belt itself if the present and they both live on different segments of what is the present, and history would be whatever is on the outside of the belt, as the King of Diamonds could scribble on the newspaper “Diamonds was here,” and the King of Hearts would see that as he passed, but he would never be able to live on the same X-axis segment as Diamonds.”

“That makes sense, but there is something that has been bothering me this whole time.”

“And what is that? Your thoughts are just as valid as my own, I am no expert on this matter.”

“Well it seems to me that if time for us is the fourth dimension in the way you described it, then time would be the third dimension for any two dimensional being such as the King of Hearts, and if that is the case then it comes into question as to whether or not there is any point in having time be called fourth dimension as it all seems relative and it would possibly make us forget to think of what else the fourth dimension could be, just as if the King of Hearts decided that time was the third dimension, he would never learn about the Z-width that we call the third dimension…” She began to trail off.

At this my face lit up with a great smile, “Go on,” I prodded.

“Well, if the Queen of Hearts was living on the same X-axis as the King of Hearts in their castle, and the king went off in one direction to go find the Jack of Hearts, and while he was gone she went off to their garden in the opposite direction, when the king got back to her throne where she was only to find that now she is gone, it would be the right place in the XY coordinates, but she would not be there because the time was wrong. No matter what, we would need to consider time when we think about them moving around, and time fills a role that the Z-axis never could. We could make a function that for every one meter the King of Hearts is moved along the Z-axis, he moves one meter along the X-axis, but that function would never amount to anything if there was not also some time for it to be moved in and at that point the function should just be something like he moves one meter on the X-axis for every minute that passes.”

“Very true, but I fear that we may be taking the thought experiment a bit too far and literal. For example, we do not even know if a being that existed in two dimensional space could even be moved along the axis that it does not exist in, so perhaps the king on the conveyor belt would just remain still. While we can briefly imagine a being existing only in two dimensional space, thinking about what this existence would be like in depth becomes rather difficult as with our laws of physics as we know them, there would be no way for such a being to really exist. Indeed I would say that there are many things that the nature of our existence makes hard, if not impossible, to imagine. The great wizard Merlin experiences time in reverse, I believe he puts it that for him every goodbye is full of joy as he knows that he is going to make a new friend, and his first time greetings are his tearful departures. Dr. Manhattan experiences all of time at once, as is how many conceptualize God. We exist within time and experience the flow from past to present to future and having those all happen simultaneously is very counter intuitive to our nature which is dictated by causation. We feel hungry, we go to the fridge, we eat, we feel full. Each cause leads to a new effect which then leads into another. The reverse process of feeling full so we eat is absurd and feeling full so we know we are going to eat soon has dire implications of how we view the freedom of our will. Having all of these states be experience at once, being both full and hungry at the same time, does not make the most sense either, though it is something we may feel at times. Perhaps a better example of absurdity would be walking to the fridge at the same time as we are eating what we got out of it.

At this point my sister seemed to be getting quite annoyed and perhaps demoralized, “Well there is no point in thinking about it if we are unable to ever understand it. That is just a waste of time.”

“Is it really? I like to think of it as fiddling with a puzzle that there is likely no solution to but there does exist the chance of there being an answer, albeit very slim. So long as the fiddling is fun, there are no issues. In many ways some would say that we are all just wasting time until the grave trying to answer questions about life, the universe, and everything that there very well may be no true answers to but that is another matter. Getting back to the nature of a two dimensional being, what qualities such a being would have are rather confounding. Weight or any amount of mass really seems to be quite the impossibility for such a thing to have, and if it did have any, then seeings as it is sharper than a razor and all of its weight would be distributed along an impossibly fine edge, it would slice through just about anything it was standing on. However, if it did not slice through and there was a way for a two dimensional object to have weight, then I imagine something very interesting could happen. Suppose we go back to the thought of the King of Hearts standing atop a newspaper and suppose the king develops an incredibly dense and heavy object he calls his Ace. The weight of this Ace is so great that it causes the newspaper to sag downwards in an effect similar to us folding the paper inwards. The King could exploit this hole making Ace to travel to the editorials faster in his own form of time travel. How well this concept translates into our reality, I am uncertain as I am no physicist though I have heard many tales of things such as incredibly high speeds and black holes distorting the fabric of spacetime. I have heard that if one were to travel around a black hole going at the speed of light, they would age relatively slower to the rest of the universe. What is one year for them could be one hundred for the rest of existence. It could more or less be said that they traveled to the future.”

At this her spirits seem to have been raised, “So time travel is real?”

“So it would appear, though it can only bring one forward. I cannot think of any way one could go backwards.”

“It is still rather exciting.”

“No, not at all. I cannot think of anything worse than going forward in time. We are already doing that all the time and there is no reason to speed it up. While yes there is some appeal as our own body would not be being ravaged by the wear of time, witnessing a world further eroded by time’s abrasion is not worthwhile.”

“Why do you think that?”
“Hmmm. give me a moment to collect my thoughts and I shall tell you precisely why.”


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