The Time Travel Fallacy, the blurred line between science and science fiction.

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms” — Muriel Rukeyser

In the 1870s The world of literature was taken by a storm when Jules Vern’s book ‘a thousand leagues below the sea” was published, a novel that is basically a sci-fi spin on a little story that came out just twenty years prior called Moby Dick, only that the giant whale was replaced with an artificial one, a submarine, at the time, a very unorthodox thing to the majority of people, even though the idea itself wasn’t entirely non-existent. A few decades later German U-Boat submarines sunk British Ocean Liner RMS Lusitania, prompting the United States to join the war, dramatically changing its course.

Twenty-five years after Vern’s sci-fi hit was published, British novelist G.H well wrote “the time machine” the short story that more or less popularized the concept, taking it beyond the annals of fiction. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the story didn’t transmute into reality as quickly as Vern’s submarine, but who’s to say it’s not, so to speak, a matter of time.

Actually, scratch that.

If a time machine is due to be invented, the connotations which the likelihood in itself presents are to the effect of ‘there’s NO ‘time’, at least in the linear sense, instead, it could, strangely — but nonetheless — soundly, be said that a time machine was already invented, or, let’s just say the statements ‘a time machine is going to be invented’ and ‘a time machine has been invented’ would be reiterative, tautological, a stutter if you will.

Time machine = No past, No future. “time travel into the future” said Brian Cox in a 2015 Doctor who episode “is possible”, I wonder what he meant by that….

In the movie world, the concept of a time machine has long become a cliche, Dozens of movies from Terminator, Back to the future, to Looper and the last Avengers movie, have experimented with the concept in every which way, some feature character traveling into the past, some the future, some into different timelines like the twisted Donnie Darko.

For once, nothing impressive and mind-blowing that was ever made was inconceivable, I mean, a printer had to have been conceived before it was made right?, the myriad of parts of which a printer is made up were (as can be said about everything else) as alive in the mind of its inventors as they are vaguely in us, right?; it’s just a sense of urgency, and a recognition of the convenience of the invention which finally brings those parts together.

As Jung explains in the collection ‘Modern man in search of a soul’ (p206); It’s known that the Romans knew enough of the mechanical and physical principles that would enable the construction of the steam engine, but all that came from it was the “toy made by the Hero of Alexandria”. He rationalizes it, as I have, that “there was no urgent necessity to go further”.

That very urgency — absent in the ancient world — would materialize in the 19th century with the division of labor and specialization, where ‘speed’ and ‘efficiency’, so to speak, hyperbolized (exaggerated) the process of industry so radically as to become, as Toynbee put it (A study of history p32), a Fetish, and this fetish, became a valuable activity in itself apart from “the value for mankind of any results produced by the process itself”. Our modern, post-industrial world, from its political landscape to its sociological topography, could be reliably understood in terms of this fetish; and it can thus be remarked that the incentives behind German gravitation towards the Rhineland in 1936, and Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in 1931 were — on a level below (and more essential than) pure ‘expansionism’ and ‘territoriality’ — advances on behalf of that fetish.

Who said we can’t be junkies on the national level as we are on the individual?. The history engendered by this material obsession could be read, weirdly, in De Quincy’s ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater’

Just as the blueprints of the steam engine were ‘already there’ as it were, so too were those of the computer, drones, AI and all!.

German Rennaissance polymath and occultist (and magician) Cornelius Agrippa (who I came upon unsuspectedly on the pages of British occult historian Frances Yates’ ‘Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic tradition’ 1964) foretold, in his 1533 ‘De Occult Philosophia’, what strikes us readers as the constituents of automation/robotics, saying; that a ‘magician’ must be versed in mathematics, for by them could be produced “without any natural means”, that is, by purely mathematical means, wonderful operations. Agrippa names, among those ‘wonderful operations’, Architas’ flying wooden pigeon, Daedalus’ ‘moving statues’, and the ‘speaking statues’ made by a figure called Mercurius.

William of Paris, a priest who lived in the fourteenth century (1300s), and whom Agrippa mentions cynically (De occult Phil II, I), wrote of the possibility of making a head that speaks with a human voice!. If that’s not a foreshadowing of Robots, I don’t know what else it could be. Intriguingly yet, Albertus Magnus, another German occultist, whose known largely for his spiritual writings, claimed to have actually made one (a head that speaks in human voice).

“Great innovations never come from above, they invariably come from below” — Carl Jung (Modern man in search of a soul; 1933)

I also happen to wonder what exactly William Arthur Ward meant when he said “If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you can dream it, you can become it.

If we take a minute and think about it, what’s inconceivable? perhaps, A more fitting question would be, is there anything that isn’t conceivable?, We know that there are laws of physics and nature that makes it so an idea or an invention is impossible, but so would a 9th-century philosopher have said that instant contact with someone halfway around the world is not possible for so and so reason. In that sense is it really the idea that’s faulty, or could it be that our current knowledge and understanding of the laws are still hazy and not fully developed?.

Maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to apply to this case what Thomas Jefferson once said

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind”

16th-century Mathematician Rene Descartes agrees that there’s no such thing as inconceivable, saying, even painters when they try to imagine the most unusual sirens or satyrs, cannot assign natures to them which are completely new; they simply mix up the parts of different animals. (Meditations; p20). His point being, we cannot conceive what’s inconceivable; and conceiving something makes it possible, if not wholly, then at least the parts of which it’s made.

The classical (and paradoxical) theme followed in time travel films is just bizarre, to say the least, and It wouldn’t be worth pointing out had it not garnered so much weight in what’s meant to be ‘science’, which we seem to have lost to entertainment, (I’m putting it in the etymological sense of ‘entertainment’, as in, tainted with something external to it, in this case, for the sake of making complex ‘scientific’ concepts more ‘mainstream’) namely Steven Hawkins whose 2010 daily mail article gave all the more momentum, but more on that later.

Think of detective Lonnart in Borges’ short story ‘Death and the compass’ (a story you ought to read it before you die) who, responding to the hasty conjectures of Yarmolinsky (another detective) at a crime scene, says:

“Possible but not interesting; you’ll reply that reality hasn’t the slightest obligation to be interesting, and I will answer you that reality may avoid that obligation, but hypotheses may not”

Okay Okay, we get it, let’s get to the bottom of it, where exactly is the fallacy in time travel?

Critique

Since the prospect of time travel as we’ve established in the beginning automatically suspends ‘time’ itself as the linear, progressive sequence of (successive) events that it is, what use would there be for it (time machine) in the first place?, I mean, doesn’t ‘going back’ itself presuppose linearity? (as is going into the future). Do you not see a fallacy somewhere?, a contradictio in adjecto?

The situation in which we find ourselves is a form petition principii?(begging of the question), a conundrum that’s best illustrated in the cultural symbol of the ‘ouroboros’ (the snake that’s eating its own tail), untenable as the idea within which we find it buried, and for that, look no further than the grandfather’s paradox.

Leon Bloy once wrote “if we see the milky way, it is because it exists in our soul”, this double entendre, this Heraclitean enantiodromia — so inherent in ideas of any kind — persists in more way than may seem obvious to us…

But for the sake of illustration let’s run the classical Hollywood theme,

A Character travels back in time and saves the world by altering a seemingly minor event, the result is a future disaster NOT taking place. In the Terminator series: to eliminate a resistance group that arose against it in the future, the highly advanced AI system Skynet develops a time machine and sends assassins, (terminators) into the past to target and kill key figures of the resistance army.

The reality of time travel on the other hand no longer seems to be looked at as science fiction, at least not since Physicist Steven Hawkin found the idea to be theoretically plausible, discussing this plausibility through the Einstein–Rosen bridge theory, aka the theory of wormholes, explaining, in the aforementioned 2010 article that wormholes are all around us, only that their imperceptibly small, and too tiny to see, but they’re there, and just as all physical objects contain wrinkles on them, so too, are wrinkle in time.

“There are tiny crevices, wrinkles, and voids in time. Down at the smallest of scales, smaller even than molecules, smaller than atoms, we get to a place called the quantum foam. This is where wormholes exist. Tiny tunnels or shortcuts through space and time constantly form, disappear, and reform within this quantum world. And they actually link two separate places and two different times.”

These ‘wormholes’ and ‘tunnels’ are basically (according to him) the minuscule equivalent of what we saw in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which the crew (in the movie) used as a sort of tunnel system with which to skip millions of ‘light years’ worth of travel distance, placing them, in the process, on what could only be described as a horrific point on ‘relativity’ spectrum.

That being said, It’s truly impossible, against this deluge of logical incoherences, not to notice the inordinate primacy which ‘time’ is given over matter. Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ illustrates this hierarchy towards the end in the scene where Lucy (Scarlett Johansson’s character) says, in a meeting with some of the world’s top scientists:

time gives legitimacy to its existence, time is the only true unit of measure, it gives proof to the existence to matter. Without time, we don’t exist

It Doesn’t, as I’ll show, get any more backward than that!, and this ‘backwardness’ is securely invisible so long as our concepts are not defined, but assumed.

For starters, it is impossible to discuss ideas this abstract without unknowingly descending the abysses of metaphysics, after all, time is a metaphysical concept, as we understand time through the reasoning method known as abduction. Abduction is what Robert Greysmith used to try to identify the Zodiac killer, and what detectives Mills and Somer used to identify John Doe in the movie Seven. (Whereas abduction might closely resemble and is often easily confused with induction and deduction, they’re different).

For instance, You use abduction when you see an empty water bottle, and infer that at some point it contained water, and that someone has drunk it, or see words scribbled on a piece of paper, and infer that someone had written them. That inference, that inferential point/stage of the abduction is — due to habit and experience — carried unconsciously, and by default. that’s to say, we commit an act of faith, absentmindedly, as we move from premise to conclusion. I say ‘faith’ because although the act itself was not observed by the abductor (someone drinking out of the bottle of scribbling on a piece of paper) it is nonetheless reasonably assumed.

We apply the same reasoning method with time. We infer that time has passed from the constant and periodic alterations of day and night and the subtle gradations intervening these phenomena, and see signs of time having passed in our own senescence, how leaves change colors, and plants grow.

Remove motion (matter) and our concept of time falls apart. That is to say everything from:

  1. Space, which some key philosophers reject, like Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature 1739)

2 . Geometric extension, as in the size occupied by an object in space, which some key philosophers reject, like Schopenhauer, (The world as will and representation )

3. All the laws that factor into the motion of that object in the space which it occupies (like gravity, the object’s density, and the density of the medium through which the object travels) — Conspire together in such a way as to give us the illusion of time.

No matter, No time, not, No time, No matter.

So When we see characters traveling freely across different points in time, what’s actually happening is that the universe wherein the ‘time-traveling’ takes place is indifferent to matter, a universe where time is independently intelligible from matter.

Without taking away from the thrill and brilliance of the movies’ idea, is it really possible to write a story like that without approaching the world from a place of contingency?, without — and in spite of the chaos theory of the butterfly effect — thinking that the universe is a series of ‘independent’ acts, in that it’s not a complete and total fabric, like Borges who, in contrast to Hume’s denial of absolute space, denies the existence of a single, absolute time,

I deny in an elevated number of instances the successive, I deny in an elevated number of instances, the contemporary” (a new refutation of time 1944/5)

For Borges, or so we’re meant to believe, time, to which he also gives primacy over matter, and treats as the principle and marker of reality, isn’t absolute, but divisible (and subdivisible like, read ‘the Garden of forking paths’ )into independent ‘states’ in which each ‘state’ is ‘absolute’. A man cheated on by his wife, and the grief/anger that follows (and happiness that percedes) the moment of finding out are, to Borges, unrelated!, because, if each ‘moment’ is absolute, ‘happiness’ and ‘grief’ are two distinctly different states, neither is the contemporary or precedent to the other.

In the exhaustive economy of cause and effect which governs our universe, can we say a thread is any less significant than the whole cloth?

Or is it more reasonable to say that everything in the universe is connected to such a degree that an atom or a cell, from the beginning of time, had a role that it successfully fulfilled in giving the universe and life their current expression, and that going back ten years ago and changing even a small event would make the role which that same atom or molecule, redundant, or render that whole chain of causality obsolete?, thereby recreating the universe. If every atom and molecule necessarily leads to a moment, how far back would a time traveler have to go to alter it, to the very beginning?, to a point in ‘ time’ — the linearity of which by the way — the hypothetical time machine clearly revokes? (read ‘stories of your life and others’ by Ted Chiang, better yet watch ‘ Arrival’

In one of his hardly known essays ‘The soul of Napoleon’, the hardly known French novelist Leon Bloy compares history to a text, in which he says:

the iotas and the dots are worth no less than the verses or chapters

Nuff said for now..

The moving hand writes