Disclaimer: Pretentious and philosophical content
I read a book today: A Tale for the Time Being. It was a fascinating take on the here and now and the human connection with the cosmos, and it really got me thinking.
The far-fetched things we read about and watch in movies are labelled science fiction. But in reality, they aren’t fictitious at all. Doctor Who, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are totally, and utterly, metaphysically possible. The concepts might be exaggerated in the movies, but this doesn’t necessarily preclude any sort of possibility.
Now perhaps my sweeping statement is rather too general. I just get overexcited whenever I talk about metaphysics and time…
You probably think I’m crazy now. And maybe I am. Or perhaps I’m just in a dissertation-induced haze, fuelled by caffeine overdoses and non-stop thoughts. But just hear me out.
We’ve conceived of these alternate realities, these simultaneously dead-alive cats, these pulsating wormholes. This means they must be possible, right? I won’t get too philosophical and talk about the conceivability implies possibility argument, but there does seem a pretty good case for it. Let’s go back in time a few hundred years. We thought the earth was flat, we subscribed to the geocentric theory of the universe, we believed in vitalism and phlogiston. If we backtrack a mere fifty years- a chunk of time well within the lifetime of around 25% of the world’s population- the concept of most information being accessible via a seemingly intangible, interactive online platform would have seemed ludicrous. Yet here you are, reading my philosophical ramblings conveyed by pixel-generated words on a screen. Pretty impressive, eh?
But I digress. Back to the point…
When we think of things such as time travel and alternate realities, we aren’t confronted with the feeling that something’s wrong. It’s not like I’ve just told you that I travelled back in time to where a circle was not a circle, and 2 + 2 =5. There’s nothing logically contradictory in saying stuff like “we can travel back in time”: it just doesn’t seem to be possible to us…yet. My point is that perhaps the fact that we can conceive of these things implies their possibility. We’ve thought of these things so now we work to discover/prove/invent them. Maybe the fact that we have a specific thing in mind makes it all the more easy to find. And, in fact, a lot of these concepts we’ve conceived of have actually been scientifically proven. Einstein’s special relativity posited that time travel is actually possible, and that you age slower if you’re travelling faster; quantum mechanics argues that we change things just through observation, and that the teleportation of information throughout the cosmos is feasible. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn amazing.
But of course we are fallible beings, and we can’t escape our own perspective. Despite what many think, we are not the centre of the universe: we are really not important at all, in the grand scale of things. The fact that we’re so tiny and insignificant means that our mental capacity is limited. We’ve done pretty well to come up with technology and delve into science, but there is a definite cut-off point to our investigations and musings about the universe. And that cut off-point is the physical capacity of our minds (ha- get it?). That’s to say- we cannot even cognitively grasp the notions.
The findings of special relativity serve to illustrate our cognitive closure nicely. Einstein posits that we live in a four-dimensional space-time manifold, in which time is our own invention, and has no independent existence apart from the order of events by which we measure it. So Tennesse Williams, who said that “time is the longest distance between two places” was actually on the right track. But we can’t properly imagine this- as we cannot get into the fourth dimension and view the third dimension objectively as we are 3D beings! The best we have is a 3D representation of a 4D universe. Which is still pretty good.
There are so many things outside our imagination (or maybe there aren’t- I don’t know!) that there is no point in even trying. And because of that, we may as well get along and live our lives to to fullest within our capacity. I like to draw the analogy of humans in the universe with a giant holding a snow globe. As far as we know, our “universe” could be a snow globe held in the hand of a giant. And that giant could live in another snow globe held in the hand of another giant. And so on, to infinite regress. And since we’ll never know whether this is the case- since we’ll never know whether we’re in the Matrix or not, we may as well get along with our lives. Accepting that we can never know things like this is not being defeatist- it’s being realistic. Because after all, what’s the point?
Now, before you jump down my throat and call me depressive or something, keep reading. You can interpret “what’s the point?” as “there’s no point in trying”, i.e., take the statement to be one of defeat. Or, you could look at it in a different light: “what’s the point?” could galvanise you into doing everything you’ve ever wanted to have done, as nothing really matters. Carpe diem, and all that jazz. Jean-Paul Sartre and all that Existentialism.
But this probably gives you even more of a reason to disregard me. People are awfully quick to dismiss philosophy. Physics, no, but philosophy yes. Yet what people don’t realise is that up until a hundred years ago science was called “natural philosophy”. People assume that philosophy is waffle and bullsh*t, concerned with whimsical musings and unsubstantive claims. And yes, some of it certainly is! But it teaches you to think, which most people don’t realise. A thousand years ago philosophy marked the pinnacle of human excellence. Up until the turn of this century, our role models were the likes of Martin Luther-King, nowadays we have Donald Trump and One Direction.
Anyway, I didn’t mean this to turn into a defence of philosophy. Think what you like. Just make sure you think. Don’t rule out the possibility of anything, as possibility could (possibly) generate possible worlds and further possibility. Learn from Schrodinger’s Cat.
A guy said something to me the other day. He said that the most difficult part of writing is sifting out the salient points. So, I think it’s time to stop now, and leave it up to you.