No Stranger To Strange Lands - Prologue: It’s About Time

Time demands that we move forward, always forward, at a measurable, constant pace – well, relatively constant, under normal circumstances, and measurable to the degree that our experience of it is measurable. Apparently, if we decide to travel close to the speed of light, then all bets are off, because, according to Albert Einstein, time slows down the faster we go. This bizarre characterization of the nature of time has its roots in the earliest uses of optical lenses to manipulate beams of light, and it underscores the intrinsic relationship between time, space, and the nature of light. Ever since Galileo had looked through his telescope at far away objects, our basic understandings of how the universe functions began to enter the strange realm of modern theoretical physics that only seems to become more and more distant from our ordinary observations. Indeed, just as Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's orbiting moons dispelled, once and for all, the illusion that the heavenly bodies circle the Earth, so, too, have the investigations of the increasingly large and the diminishingly tiny continued to dispel the myths of our everyday experiences, such as the belief that matter is solid or that space is empty.

Matter became an expression of energy in concert with light’s motion; space and time were woven into a fabric that warps and curves around planets and stars to create the delusion of gravity; the measuring of bodies in motion was found to be relative to speed and the frame of reference of the observer, and it all only became curiouser and curiouser. The otherworldly conceptions of how time, space, and energy are related, on a cosmological scale, could smoothly predict gravity, but at the atomic level, things were spastic, lurching, and at the most, probable. And at this level, the influence of perception, of perspective, would become magnified. The scientific theories, with such perplexing names as Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Pauli Exclusion Principle, and with Niels Bohr's Complementarity Principle asserting the paradoxical notion that matter and energy possess wave-particle duality, would divert further and further away from normal experience, diving deeper and deeper into the wonderland of the strange. For having unleashed upon humanity, with his most famous of equations, the science behind the atomic bomb, Einstein spent the latter part of his life seeking redemption, attempting to put the genie back in the bottle, to return humanity to a state of grace and unity of thought, to develop a Unified Theory of Everything, but to no avail. Pandora’s Box had been opened, and, as with the march of time, there is no going back, only forward. The divide separating the weird science of the extremely large and the quirky mechanics of the exceedingly tiny grew seemingly irreconcilable. That is, until Stephen Hawking, after squeezing the entire universe, in its beginning moments, into an unimaginably dense point called a singularity, went on to explore the edges of black holes, where gravity meets quanta, where the two different systems of thought converge.

It is at the edges, the transitional areas, the margins, where the things get really interesting – a shoreline, where water meets land; a fragile ecosystem with a subtle message; a melding of cultures; a music that unites and inspires; a journey between places; an interdisciplinary convergence of grokkings; an idea that navigation through space and time can align our thinking patterns to the patterns in nature; a conception of time that is non-linear, more than a fourth dimension, expansive, existent every-when, knowable through the telling of stories, experiential through dark network daydreaming, accessible from another universe. It is by journeying into the margins, just over the very edges of our understandings, where the really interesting questions lie. Where does humanity end and nature begin? What does spirituality have to do with physics? How are perception and emotion intertwined with objective reality? Why does thinking matter?

Stephen Hawking also boldly went where no man had gone before in a different way, navigating into another margin – to where the scientific community meets the general public. He wrote a series of books that began with A Brief History of Time, in which he introduces the bizarre world of cosmology to regular people. The title suggests that the concept of time is at the center of the universe, somehow holding everything together, and its presence in all matters of physics is ubiquitous, even as it remains mysteriously secretive, hinting at possibilities, sparking our imaginations, offering fleeting glimpses of momentary infinity. The real beauty of Stephen Hawking’s popularization of theoretical physics is that he is able to demonstrate that, somewhere amidst all the strangeness and the uncertainty, the paradoxical and the contradictory, there is a way to make some sense of it all. And this gives me hope, that, amidst my own strangeness and uncertainties, my paradoxes and my contradictions, I can make some sense, too.

Despite the nature of this prologue, my book is not about physics. What it is about is exploring questions and ideas, discovering different perspectives, being at peace with some amount of uncertainty, confronting complexity. It's about time. It's about motion. It's about places, and ideas, and connecting ideas with places, thoughts with happenings, and past with present with future. It's about connectivity of each to all. As is theoretical science, the ideas that I present in these pages are in flux, as this is a thought-experiment-in-progress, an investigation into how thinking, feeling, and grokking – Robert A. Heinlein’s notion that the observer and the observed can engage in deeply empathetic interaction with each other – might affect the physical universe. My book is about the process that generates the conclusions, the how as much as the what and the why, the means being intrinsic to the ends. It’s about the journey. As Einstein taught us, understanding comes from finding relationships between measuring and measurements, and content must be attached to context and constructs and frameworks to reveal its true secrets. And he, of all people, learned the painful lesson that wisdom teaches about knowledge, that it is uncontrollable, that once an idea or a discovery is born into the world, it has a life of its own.

The how of this book is an overlaying of ideas upon a landscape that is itself layered with energies, histories, passions, and meaning. It is an interaction and engagement with as many layers as I could get my mind around. It is at times an obsession, at other times a release, with a lick of tongue-in-cheek here, an insertion of foot in mouth there, a poetic turn of phrase scattered about, and a healthy sprinkling of capricious cultural references throughout. It is the journal of a person who believes that there are infinite perspectives from which to get at patient answers to the biggest questions and perseverant solutions to the most persistent problems. Like Albert Einstein, I want to find a Unified Theory of Everything, and I believe that a literary means that can speak of anything and everything, that is open to all possibilities, all kinds of ideas, all manner of creativity, all facets of reality – love, spirituality, aesthetics, satire, as well as science and reason – would facilitate this better that trying to tackle the task from within any single discipline. This book is a push in that direction. I want it to be successful in its life, for the same reasons that Stephen Hawking wants regular people to learn about theoretical physics, because it unveils universal patterns, revealing interconnections, expanding understandings, unleashing the power of our imaginations.

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