Timestream Post: A note from 01.07.2011

7 01 2016

Bulls-eye! 1989 movie "Back to the Future Part II" depicts (invents?) a 60" widescreen, flat-screen TV and correctly hangs it above the mantle nearly 20 years before they were actually invented...

In the spirit of this experiment, I send this message half-a-decade into the future.  (Truthfully, I hope to positively litter the digital timestream with notes, showing that cyberspace may not only connect us through space, but also through time.)

First, my greeting:  Hello, 2016!  This is a year made nearly famous by films such as Back to the Future, Part II – where in 1989 the distant future year 2015 was depicted as a fantastic realm of flying cars, keyless entry, ubiquitous cybernetic implants, widescreen-flatscreen TVs, governmental weather control, 3D movies (without glasses), hoverboards, video calls (Skype?), video eyeglasses, and electronic roofies.

Reading the list five years out, 50% isn’t bad.  Do the remaining few years close the gap?  If not flying cars, do electric cars break the entry barrier at least?  I wonder…

So, what preoccupies me today?  Unsurprisingly, it’s space travel.  The future of space travel, to be precise.  In a move that some may consider pure insanity in the midst of an economic Great Depression, I decided last summer to start a spaceflight consulting firm, which I hope to incorporate and launch in the next few weeks.  To that end, I’ve been building a coalition of industry professionals during the last six months who I hope to become private space pioneers with me, and I entered an abstract for one of the company’s services – spacecraft ergonomics – into the Next Generation Suborbital Researcher’s Conference next month.  The meeting is only the second meeting of its kind, and one I hope will lead to frenetic networking, and ultimately, clients!

I’ve been working with a design studio, Studio Rayolux under brilliant designer Thad Boss, to develop a brand for the company, which I believe I’m calling “Astrowright Spaceflight Consulting.”  We’ll see if it sticks.

So, my question to the future is simply this:  Did it work?  Did the company get off the ground?  Did I get off the ground?  Can industries be forged during a time of economic strife and emerge triumphant?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Until then, take care, faithful readers.  Go for your dreams and never look back!



January 7, 2011.

January 7, 2011. 5:01pm.

Science as the language of time-travelers

16 04 2012

A note today on something that is implicit in many of the popular treatments of time travel that I’d like to make explicit.  Namely, I’d like to explore the answer to the question:

Presuming backward-and-forward time travel to be possible, how could we communicate with those from different times?

This is something that actually comes up quite frequently in science-fiction.  More often than not, the answer to the protagonist’s communication woes is simply: Science. 

More specifically, science is the means by which a character from a less-advanced culture is able to understand and quickly adapt to and utilize new concepts.  -And I think it’s spot on.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean.

The Time Traveler interacting with an artificial intelligence expert system at the future New York Public Library. (Credit: Warner Bros)

The Common Element

Take the recent film incarnation of “The Time Machine” as an example.  When the Time Traveler begins his journey into the future, he does so from the same spatial location – his house in early-twentieth-century New York city – to arrive in a futuristic New York City that looks to be mid-to-late 21st Century.

In attempting to answer his own question about the nature of causality in the universe, he is able to meaningfully interact with a computer system from the future to quickly digest advanced concepts.  (Further, on a related note, the backwards-compatibility of scientific concepts allows the computer to understand him.)

Take this exchange, for example, (bearing in mind it essentially occurs between two characters hypothetically separated by what could be nearly two centuries):

Time Traveler:  “What are you?”

Computer:  “I’m the 5th Avenue Public Information Unit, Vox Registration NY-114.  How may I help you?”

Time Traveler:  “You’re a stereopticon of some sort.”

Computer:  “Stereopticon?  Oh no, sir.  I am a third-generation, fusion powered photonic with verbal and visual link capabilities connected to every database on the planet.”

Time Traveler:  “A photonic?”

Computer:  “A compendium of all human knowledge.  Area of inquiry?”

Time Traveler:  “Know anything about physics?”

Computer:  “Ah.  Accessing physics.”

Time Traveler:  “Mechanical engineering.  Dimensional optics.  Chronography.  Temporal causality.  Temporal paradox.”

Computer:  “Time travel?”

Time Traveler:  “Yes!”

Very quickly, the Time Traveler is able to accurately communicate the advanced concept of technical time-travel to the point that the artificial intelligence from the future is able to anticipate his inquiry.  No small feat!

Crossing the Generation Gap

For another example, let’s take the more recent film “Tron: Legacy.” 

But wait, astute readers might say.  There’s no time travel in that film!  I beg to differ.

Programmer Kevin Flynn learns about the outside world from his son, Sam, in Tron: Legacy. (Credit: Disney)

In the story, programmer Kevin Flynn is marooned inside a computer system for nearly two decades.  Based on his technical background, he is easily able to digest the existence of technology twenty years ahead of the world he knows during a conversation with his son, Sam, (which is essentially like talking to someone from 20 years in the future).  He asks his son what the world he’s been separated from has changed:

Sam Flynn:  “I don’t know.  The rich are getting richer, poor getting poorer.  Cell phones.  Online dating.  Wi-fi.”

Kevin Flynn:  “What’s Wi-fi?”

Sam Flynn:  “Wireless… interlinking.”

Kevin Flynn:  “Of digital devices?”

Sam Flynn:  “Yeah.”

Kevin Flynn:  “Huh.  I thought of that in ’85.”

A Universal Language

And let’s not forget that this principle – the idea of science as a universal language – was essentially the basis of Carl Sagan‘s landmark book, Contact.

Dr. Ellie Arroway, moments from receiving an extraterrestrial signal using math and scientific principles to communicate engineering plans across space and time. (Credit: Warner Bros)

Being that it’s impossible to separate the distance of space from the passage of time, (and one of the reasons that my two passions – space exploration and time travel – are not too dissimilar,) any electromagnetic signal received from an extraterrestrial source comes from the past and must be able to communicate to future civilizations – whether technologically advanced or inferior.

This is why science is (or will be… or has been?) the language of time travel.

-Just a fun aside to keep in mind during your next millennial jaunt.

Ultimately, Time Travel is essential for Space Travel

17 04 2011

Long-time readers may note that this blog bounces (veers?) between space-related content and time/temporal physics-related content.  Today, aside from admitting that (not surprisingly) the two topics are primary passions of mine, I’ll tell you why they’re related, and intimately so.

It’s all Einstein’s fault.

After an interstellar trip, a faulty suspended animation chamber reduces an astronaut to an ancient corpse. (From Planet of the Apes; Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Put very simply, according to Relativity: When dealing with events in the universe, it is impossible to separate the distance of space from the passage of time.

This is why astrophysicists and cosmologists speak of actions in the universe occurring and affecting “space-time.”  (Hence the “space-time continuum” that makes such a frequent appearance in sci-fi technobabble.)

What does this mean for us?  Well, in day-to-day experience, not much more than the odd reality that the moon we see is 1 second old.  Similarly, the sun we see is lagging 8 minutes behind us in time.

Why?  Well, it takes the light that bounces off of the surface of the Moon 1 second to cross the 230,000-mile distance between the Earth and Moon to strike the retina of your eye, and it takes 8 minutes for the light that leaves the sun to cross the 93-million mile orbital void to get to Earth and reach your eye.  As a result, we see the Moon and Sun as they appeared when the light left them, not when the light reaches us.

The same can be said of distant stars.  The farther away a star is, the older it is. (Even if it’s 200,000 light years away – then you’re seeing it the way it looked 200,000 years ago.)

So, quizzically, yes – this means that universe we see is actually a horrible garble of apparent objects from intermixed times.  Fortunately for us,  compared to the incredible speed of light, we’re close enough (distance) to everything we need to experience, (e.g., our limbs, food, loved ones, walls, etc.,) so that this time lag is unnoticeable.

But when we start peering out into the rest of the cosmos, this distortion really matters.  Many of the stars we’re studying may have already exploded… but if they exploded a few years ago, we won’t know it until light from the explosion reaches us, which could take millions of years if the star is far away.

Now, let’s take our time-distance thought exercises a step farther and ask what happens if we score the holy grail of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  What if, for the sake of argument, we receive and translate a friendly message from an incredibly advanced race of aliens?  And what if, by fortuitous happenstance, they (hoping to aid other, younger life-forms) offer unlimited knowledge to any beings that can meet them on their world, face-to-face?  Well, the offer doesn’t do us more than a hill of beans of good if it takes us 200 years for a multi-generational craft to get there, only to find that the benevolent race has gone extinct due to a problem with their parent star.  We want to reach them as soon as we translate the message.

We want to separate the distance of space from the passage of time.

So, if we can conceptually and technologically conquer time travel, we will have in essence conquered space travel.  If one can manipulate the passage of time, then the time taken to cross the distance of space with any type of propulsion system becomes an almost trivial tally – little more significant than the miles-per-gallon of a modern automobile.

Conventional propulsion systems will get us around in space for the foreseeable future, and more exotic systems will likely take us to the nearest stars.  However, I believe it will be the mastery of time that will transform our race from provincial planet-hoppers to truly savvy, galaxy-trotting, cosmic-colonial game-changers.

Something to think about.

Another Time Traveler found in 1928 film?

29 10 2010

Chatty time traveler in 1928 movie scene background?

Just as with this 21st-Century hipster discovered at a Canadian bridge dedication in the 1940s, another historical anachronism has been spotted, this time in the 1928 Charlie Chaplin film, The Circus.  As reported by the U.K. Daily Mail, a Chaplin film expert discovered an older woman walking alone across the background of a scene in The Circus, and she is talking toward an object she is holding to her ear.

For all the world, she appears to be using a mobile phone.  (I highly recommend checking out the Daily Mail link, which includes an embedded video.)

Excitingly, this is the second high-profile anachronistic discovery within the last year, and if “time tourism” really does come into being, we can expect to discover more as the common body of historical material becomes digitized and universally search-able/accessible.

Without any compelling alternative explanations for what it is the woman is doing, it is tempting to leap to the conclusion that this is an legitimate “find.”  -And, if we take a moment to deconstruct the logic of such a scenario, interesting issues and implications arise:

  • Taking the position that the object is a phone in the hands of a genuine time-traveler, this could not possibly be a standard “cellular” phone.  The transmission network to process a signal from modern-day phones wouldn’t come to exist for nearly another 70 years.  (So, at the very least, to be useful at that time the device would have to work more like a 2-way radio.)  So, is it a “phone” …?  Probably not.  A communication device?  -Plausible.
  • Who is she talking to?  -Can we now infer that time-travelers, (like all good field explorers,) employ the buddy system?
  • Time travel cannot be very physically-demanding, as this woman (appears) to be in relatively ordinary physical condition.  (i.e., unlike the time-traveler in the 1940s image, she’s not a young, fit “field” type, and she has evidently made the trip.)
  • What are the odds of catching this on film?  Would a time traveler be unaware of the filming of a Charlie Chaplin film and be careless enough, (presuming leaving evidence of temporal tinkering is considered to be a bad thing,) to walk in front of the camera?  Does this imply an incredible coincidence?  -Or are time-travelers ubiquitous in history?

All in all, a very interesting development.  -Keep your eyes peeled next time you’re in the local library or museum.

Time Traveler found in 1940s museum image?

9 05 2010

Time Traveling "hipster" found in 1940s photo? Credit: Bralorne Pioneer Museum, Canada

According to Stephen Hawking, perhaps the biggest argument against time travel is the fact that we haven’t met any time-traveling tourists.  When you think about it, the point is a fairly strong one.

However, the Earth is almost incomprehensibly vast, and with such a nigh-infinity of moments available to a potential time traveler, the numbers argument against finding a living, walking anachronism is huge.

In short, what are the odds anyone would actually notice or recognize a time traveler in real life if he or she didn’t broadcast their presence?

That brings us to the photo above.  It’s like the beginning of a Crichton novel.  A figure is noted in a historical photo who doesn’t appear to belong.  Proof of something more?  Take a look and decide for yourself – forgetomori has a fantastic breakdown.

When at the end of the day it looks like fashion is simply cyclical in nature, man does the picture tickle the neurons.  It certainly makes me take a harder look at people in a crowd.

…What if?

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