Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Original Timeline?

Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006).

"'Whatever you have to do to cancel a temporal interference, you can at least think you're restoring the original line of development.' Everard fumed on his pipe. 'Don't remind me that "original" is meaningless in this context. It's a consoling word.'" (p. 146)

"Original" is not meaningless in this context. Let us suppose that a time traveler originates in one timeline but that, by traveling into the past and altering events, he generates another timeline. We can begin by numbering these timelines as 1 and 2. Timeline 1 is literally the time traveler's original timeline, in which he originated. Timeline 2 is his derivative or divergent timeline.

It is easy to differentiate alternative uses of the word "before."

(i) Timeline 1 is before timeline 2 in the time traveler's experience and memory.

(ii) Unless informed by the time traveler, inhabitants of timeline 2 can know nothing of events in timeline 1. If asked about such events, they will reply not that those events happened before but that they never happened.

(iii) The events of timeline 1 did not happen before the events of timeline 2 along the same temporal axis as the events of timeline 2. If they had done so, then there would be one timeline, not two.

(iv) Let us postulate not three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension but three spatial dimensions and two temporal dimensions. Before bringing the second temporal dimension into play, we are already familiar with the idea that, in our four dimensional universe, each instant along the temporal axis contains the entire spatial universe with all its three dimensions. In the five dimensional universe, each instant along the second temporal axis contains an entire four dimensional continuum with its three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension.

(v) The first temporal dimension is a linear sequence of temporal ("before" or "after") relationships between a succession of three dimensional states of the universe. The second temporal dimension is a linear sequence of temporal relationships between a succession of timelines.

(vi) The original timeline, before any others, was one in which the Nine discovered time travel. It is not clear what happened next:
"'Time travel was old before [the Danellians] emerged, there had been uncountable opportunities for the foolish and the greedy and the mad to go back and turn history inside out. They did not wish to forbid the travel - it was part of the complex which had led to them - but they had to regulate it. The Nine were prevented from carrying out their schemes. And the Patrol was set up to police the time lanes.'" (p. 11)

(vii) Does "...old..." mean just long ago on the original timeline or also long ago in terms of changes to history and thus in terms of number of timelines? Did the Danellians emerge in a subsequent timeline so that the timeline preserved by the Patrol is not the original? Either way, the term "original" is highly meaningful.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

And these reflections and speculations of yours certainly helps to explain why time traveling is so skull crackingly hard to grasp! But, good time traveling stories and interesting comments like yours are still fascinating to read.