Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Arrow Of Time In Wells And Anderson I

I began to reflect on the "arrow of time" in two Time Patrol stories but first applied this line of thought to The Time Machine.

In our experience, the "arrow of time" differentiates the single temporal dimension from any of the three spatial dimensions. Thus, in a single temporal direction, organisms live from birth towards death, memories accumulate and entropy increases.

On his outward journey, the Time Traveller follows this arrow of time:

"at ten o'clock today," he pressed the starting and stopping levers of his Time Machine, then saw that the clock had jumped to nearly half-past three;

holding down the starting lever, he saw Mrs Watchett, who did not see him, shoot across his laboratory like a rocket;

then he saw night following day like the flapping of a black wing and the sun like a brilliant arch...

It is unnecessary to recount the entire journey to 802,701 AD and beyond.

Returning, the Time Traveller saw Mrs Watchett proceed backwards through the laboratory. He comments that this seemed odd but surely it is to be expected? Just before seeing Mrs Watchett this second time, he glimpsed "Hillyer" for a moment. I took Hillyer to be another servant. Since the Time Traveller is now travelling pastward, Hillyer must have entered the laboratory some time after Mrs Watchett had left it. Because of the Time Traveller's speed, Hillyer might have come a day or so later rather than immediately after Mrs Watchett.

The following day, the outer narrator of The Time Machine enters the laboratory just as the Time Machine bearing the Time Traveller departs for a second time, never to return, then the man-servant enters from the garden. So one of these two men must be Hillyer. However, the outer narrator was present just as the Time Machine was disappearing/beginning to accelerate whereas the man-servant entered immediately afterward when, as the Time Traveller had said of his first journey, the slowest snail would dash past too fast for him to see. The outer narrator glimpses a ghostly, indistinct, transparent, instantly vanishing figure. This must be the moment when the Time Traveller glimpsed "Hillyer." (No! I am imagining that it is the older Time Traveller departing from this moment, not the younger Time Traveller returning through this moment, that sees the outer narrator and fails to see the man-servant. Hillyer could still be either man.)

Also, the Time Traveller's dinner guests, to whom he narrates his adventures, include the outer narrator. These men would be used to addressing and referring to each other by their surnames and would be less likely to know the man-servant's surname. Therefore, we deduce that the outer narrator is Hillyer.

The Time Machine had departed from the south-east corner of the laboratory but returned in the north-west because the Morlocks had moved it.

On his futureward journey, why does the Time Traveller not see his returning self, and vice versa? Even if invisible to everyone else, which I doubt (see here), he should be visible to another time traveller, including his older and younger self.

Finally, Doctor Who has two precursors, the Time Traveller and Professor Bernard Quatermass, head of the British Experimental Rocket Group, hero of the first BBC TV sf series.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Ugh, just trying to think about and make sense of time traveling is skull cracking! The fact you is one reason why I enjoy participating in your blog.

    One small point, you said late Victorian gentlemen often addressed each other by their surnames. But not so their servants (I assume their given names were used). But I recall how Dorothy L. Sayers' detective Lord Peter Wimsey often addressed his butler/manservant as "Bunter." So some customs may have changed by the 1920's.


    1. Sean,
      I got something wrong in this post and have extended a paragraph.