Mind Hacks and the 4th Dimension

I just finished reading H. P. Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House about a brilliant mathematics student who stumbles upon (by way of the occult) a means of bending and traveling through time and space. In the story the student, Walter Gilman, develops this ability unwittingly, coming up with the idea "in theory" while simultaneously denying that his nightly journeys through an infinite abyss populated by monsters to alien worlds as nightmares rather than the hyperspace journeys they are. When he finally accepts that he has stumbled upon this ability and that the horrible creatures he has encountered are real he is brought to the brink of sanity. It reminded me of a documentary much like this one where Buddhist monks are able to shrug off the effects of potentially lethal cold by raising their body temperatures to counteract the effects:

Lovecraft's story reminded me of this because, like the protagonist of his story, I feared stumbling upon an ability I too could not control. That if by sheer chance I managed to raise my body temperature I wouldn't be able to get it back down again and would effectively kill myself with my own mind. That is why when the day after finishing this story I was so affected by seeing this Tim and Eric sketch:

And finally this on SNL:

All this manipulating of time and space was messing me up and then I read this piece by Stephen Hawking. You should read the whole thing but here's my abridged snippet:
Hello. My name is Stephen Hawking . . . Time travel was once considered scientific heresy. I used to avoid talking about it for fear of being labelled a crank. But these days I'm not so cautious . . . Physicists . . . wonder if portals to the past or the future could ever be possible within the laws of nature. As it turns out, we think they are. What's more, we've even given them a name: wormholes. The truth is that wormholes are all around us, only they're too small to see. Wormholes are very tiny. They occur in nooks and crannies in space and time. You might find it a tough concept, but stay with me. Nothing is flat or solid. If you look closely enough at anything you'll find holes and wrinkles in it. It's a basic physical principle, and it even applies to time. Even something as smooth as a pool ball has tiny crevices, wrinkles and voids. Now it's easy to show that this is true in the first three dimensions. But trust me, it's also true of the fourth dimension. 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. Unfortunately, these real-life time tunnels are just a billion-trillion-trillionths of a centimetre across. Way too small for a human to pass through - but here's where the notion of wormhole time machines is leading. Some scientists think it may be possible to capture a wormhole and enlarge it many trillions of times to make it big enough for a human or even a spaceship to enter. Given enough power and advanced technology, perhaps a giant wormhole could even be constructed in space. I'm not saying it can be done, but if it could be, it would be a truly remarkable device. One end could be here near Earth, and the other far, far away, near some distant planet . . . In the end, I think a wormhole like this one [into the past] can't exist. And the reason for that is feedback. If you've ever been to a rock gig, you'll probably recognise this screeching noise. It's feedback. What causes it is simple. Sound enters the microphone. It's transmitted along the wires, made louder by the amplifier, and comes out at the speakers. But if too much of the sound from the speakers goes back into the mic it goes around and around in a loop getting louder each time. If no one stops it, feedback can destroy the sound system. The same thing will happen with a wormhole, only with radiation instead of sound. As soon as the wormhole expands, natural radiation will enter it, and end up in a loop. The feedback will become so strong it destroys the wormhole. So although tiny wormholes do exist, and it may be possible to inflate one some day, it won't last long enough to be of use as a time machine . . . Any kind of time travel to the past through wormholes or any other method is probably impossible, otherwise paradoxes would occur. So sadly, it looks like time travel to the past is never going to happen . . . This doesn't make all time travel impossible. I do believe in time travel. Time travel to the future. Time flows like a river and it seems as if each of us is carried relentlessly along by time's current. But time is like a river in another way. It flows at diff erent speeds in diff erent places and that is the key to travelling into the future. This idea was first proposed by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago. He realised that there should be places where time slows down, and others where time speeds up. He was absolutely right. And the proof is right above our heads. Up in space. This is the Global Positioning System, or GPS. A network of satellites is in orbit around Earth. The satellites make satellite navigation possible. But they also reveal that time runs faster in space than it does down on Earth. Inside each spacecraft is a very precise clock. But despite being so accurate, they all gain around a third of a billionth of a second every day. The system has to correct for the drift, otherwise that tiny di fference would upset the whole system, causing every GPS device on Earth to go out by about six miles a day. You can just imagine the mayhem that that would cause. The problem doesn't lie with the clocks. They run fast because time itself runs faster in space than it does down below. And the reason for this extraordinary e ffect is the mass of the Earth. Einstein realised that matter drags on time and slows it down like the slow part of a river. The heavier the object, the more it drags on time. And this startling reality is what opens the door to the possibility of time travel to the future . . .

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