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Listen: Billy Pilgrim Has Come Unstuck

billypI read Slaughterhouse Five as a teenager. Reading it, even knowing that it was a highly fictionalized account of war, had more influence on my thinking about war than it should have. But time… as though I hadn’t daydreamed enough about time, time travel, time dilation, eternity, … you name it – Billy Pilgrim’s pickle took that to a whole new level of befuddlement, where it remains to this day.

Now, physicists are telling us that time may not, exactly, exist. Is time an illusion? sums it up as well as anything else I’ve read about Rovelli’s paper… as far as I can tell. Someone who knows better may think differently.

This, I find comforting:

Others also urge caution in interpreting what it all means for the nature of time. “It is wrong to say that time is an illusion,” says Rickles. “It is just reducible or non-fundamental, in the same way that consciousness emerges from brain activity but is not illusory.”

In other words, I find it reassuring that while time may not be “real”, it probably still cannot be defeated in the macro sense. In other words, I’m glad the science fiction of time travel will always remain science fiction. As much as I’d like to go back and “fix” some things… as much as I’d like to go back & witness events from history that we only know now through ancient texts and archaeology… I’m quite happy to keep my sanity, thank you!

At the same time, just as I felt when contemplating Billy Pilgrim’s difficulties, reading this makes me feel I can almost mentally model the concept of eternity. From a frame of reference inaccessible to me, there is never a “time” when there is no smijer. There is only an ever-expanding space. And in that space, there are areas with quantum entanglements in arrangements you might call “smijer” joined with arrangements that can’t be recognized as such. Same goes for anyone or anything else. No one is born or dies – everyone is just a weave of probabilistic threads coming from all over the place, going all over the place, smooth on one end and wrinkled on another.

Such a picture leaves me kind of cold. It’s not a happy thought or a sad one. And probably no more “true” than any of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re doing. But it’s a picture that finds its way into my head. Someday, maybe my grandkids will explain to me the physics of it all, and tell me why my picture is so dumb.

2 comments to Listen: Billy Pilgrim Has Come Unstuck

  • Jan

    Interesting column. You might enjoy this:

    http://www.victoria.ac.nz/chaplains/issues/eternity.html

    I will tell you ahead of time that the writer ends with the following conclusion, but how he gets there is worth the read:

    We need in our modern times to come to terms with this Jesus who is not just Christ in an abstract theological construction, but the very Lord of history and of the Cosmos through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. This Jesus is both Lord and Christ, Creator and Redeemer, the very pivot of history and fulcrum of time.

  • Thanks – I’ll check that out this weekend.

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