The WORD on Time Travel with James Gleick

“Quid est ergo tempus?” “What then is time?” (Augustine)

When did Time begin? Was it the Creation, or Big Bang? Is it just an Illusion, a construct of man? Who coined the phrase “Time Travel?”

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickFor the answers to these and many other questions on Time Travel, James Gleick is your man. Come along to his WORD Christchurch session at the Piano on Tuesday 16 May, 6pm to hear him talk about his book, Time Travel: A history.

I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to find out how to Time Travel. I could get so much more done.

My first memory of a Time Travel story would have to be the Time Tunnel. Yet as I look back it’s an element in so many stories – the Pevensies always came back to the same moment they left (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The guys in Land of the Lost travelled, and then I read The Time Machine.

H.G. Wells is arguably the master, although he was no Newton. Yet he raises a theory (mirrored by Ben Elton in Time and Time Again) that Time exists only in the memory: “There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.” (p.8).

Susan’s student, Penelope, in Terry Pratchett’s The Thief of Time, asserts that “Its always now everywhere, Miss.”

Cover of Isaac NewtonGleick, a Harvard graduate, explores not just story in his book, but scientific theory also, from the concept of Time to the idea of travelling at will through it. He has also written a book on Isaac Newton.

Time Travel: A history, has a formidable index, and an indispensable book list of stories, anthologies and scientific works on the nature of time and travel.

After a small survey of colleagues and friends I’ve come up with some questions for Mr Gleick. Feel free to ask one at the event. (They won’t let me ask them all!)

  1. Can you meet yourself in Time and not cause a temporal reaction?
  2. Can you move through Space as well as Time?
  3. Did the Time Tunnel guys EVER make it home?
  4. What was the outcome of Predestination?
  5. If you kill yourself in time will you cease to exist in other dimensions?
  6. Can you kill your mother/father yourself and not cause 1.
  7. Why can’t Dr Who fall in love?
  8. If the future hasn’t happened yet, can you only travel backwards?
  9. Can you travel back/forward to wipe someone out and change the future?
  10. If light can split into particles and waves, can a person be at two places in Time?

Time travel fans will want to check out my lists of –

It’s all over Red Rover

Daylight Saving’s number is almost up for another year. Come some unearthly hour in the middle of tonight, the clocks ‘fall back’ and we will get a little more light in the mornings as we stagger out of bed, and a little less light when we are heading home from a hard day’s toil.cover of The Book of Time

Summer this year was certainly a cornucopia of weather, with heat, cold, hail, rain, storms and floods. You name it, we pretty much got it, except snow on the city streets and the usual news reports of extreme drought.

I was sitting in my car at some traffic lights on the way to work this week, and happened to be under one of the city’s large oak trees. The wind was blowing gently and I found myself showered in gorgeous copper leaves. It was beautiful. I do love this city in the autumn, almost as much as I love it in the spring, but Autumn also brings that reminder of  chilly nights and condensation.

I always feel as if daylight saving is a kind of ‘messing with nature’ event. We are changing the very course of time with a single moving of a clock hand, or digital numbers – or not. I guess time just happens, the passing of seasons, days years, just happens.

It is, of course, a human construct. The use of  Daylight Saving is older than I thought, making it highly likely  I would have got it horribly wrong at a pub quiz.cover of Time a Graphic Novel

New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to officially adopt a nationally observed standard time. New Zealand Mean Time, was adopted 2 November, 1868, was set at 11 hours 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

The idea of ‘summer hours’, as they were originally called, was mooted in the 1890’s, but didn’t gain traction until the early  1900’s, when Sir Thomas Sidey introduced a Member’s Bill. It was rejected, but Sir Thomas doggedly went on to introduce it every year for the next twenty years.

During the second reading of his Summer Time Bill in 1926, Sidey argued that:

the extra hour of daylight after working-hours during the summer months is of especial value to indoor workers and the community as a whole as it gives one additional hour for recreation of all kinds, whether playing games or working in garden plots…one cannot overlook the economic advantages that will also accrue. There will be a saving in the consumption of artificial light.

The bill was successful in 1927. “New Zealand Standard Time” is currently defined in the Time Act 1974 as meaning 12 hours in advance of Co-ordinated Universal Time. The time for the Chatham Islands was set 45 minutes in advance of New Zealand Standard Time.

So, enjoy your lie in on Sunday, I will savour that extra hour, as will my cats.



Got a minute?

Do you ever find yourself running out of time to get the things done that need to be done? Wish you could travel into the future or back into the past for that matter? No worries! What if I told you I could make time slow down so you had more of it or could send you back into the annals of history or forward into the unknown future? I could, you know, at least theoretically.

To quote the English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington:

Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Book coverAnd such is the nature of the universe that it is possible to slow time, so much so that you could age merely days in the a normal human life time. It is all to do with physics and equations like e=mc², which we all know of but know little if anything about. In a nutshell, what it tells us is that energy (e) and mass (m) i.e. things or stuff, are the basically the same, just in different forms and can be converted into one another using the speed of light squared (c²).

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity tells us that the speed of light (c) is the same for every person or observer no matter how fast they are moving but that they will witness the same events in different ways i.e. space and time become altered hence they are relative, not absolute i.e. like energy and mass, they are variations of the same thing. This means that the faster one moves relative to someone who is not moving (and by faster, I mean towards the speed of light (about 300,000 km per second – yes, per second, not per hour!), the person moving will appear to be moving very slowly and the person not moving will appear to be going faster. So, if you could move at close to the speed of light you would age more slowly than someone who was not moving at all and when you stopped moving you would find you were in the future relative to where in the future you would have been if you had stayed still.

Book coverHmmm, make sense? To go back in time it is theoretically possible by using black holes or going at the speed of light but you’ll have to read about that from Paul Davies and Stephen Hawking or build your own time machine. Of course the one thing I didn’t mention was the consequence of accelerating towards the speed of light and that is your mass increasing to the size of the universe (so, pretty big then) but of course you already knew that would happen from the description I gave you for the e=mc² equation, right?

Want to learn more? You should. Science and especially this aspect of it called cosmology, is more interesting than anything a science fiction novel could come up with and it is all real (at least theoretically).