Andy Lloyd's Book Reviews
This Book is From the Future
Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman
Subtitled 'A Journey through Portals, Relativity, Worm Holes, and other Adventures in Times Travel'
2012, New Page Books
This book provides a comprehensive overview of the science, and science fiction, of time travel. It binds together modern science, philosophy and various cultural factors relating to our understanding of time. Although the science described is sometimes complex, there are no equations in sight. As the authors explain:
"Our goal is to provide an exciting glimpse into the past, present, and future of time travel, without getting too deep into the physics and math. This is a book for the layperson, so we are not going to go all "deep physics" on you, and we happily provide enough information to tantalize you... to further delve into the "deep physics" on your own." (p18)
They keep to their promise, presenting some of the more mind-warping ideas of physics in clear and lucid terms.
In so doing, the authors shift towards writing a standard popular science book, condensing down the latest research findings in science and working methodically through many areas of cosmology and physics. But then they also break up the deeper stuff with lighter sections, many of which are essentially lists of movies, books and TV shows containing time travel. A rhythm between heavy science and light entertainment runs through the book. A standard popular science book would not contain detailed references to fiction, like Doctor Who, for instance.
But given that our perception of time travel, hyperspace and wormholes is greatly influenced by Hollywood, then such a digression seems appropriate. Although these lists seemed comprehensive on first inspection, I realized that they related to English-speaking fiction only. The authors had missed my all-time favourite time travel movie: "The Visiteurs", starring Jean Reno (1993). It may be in French, but it's side-splittingly funny.
Anyway, the possibility of time travel is controversial, and seems to take up a surprising amount of time in the minds of professional scientists. The very nature of time itself is debateable. At the quantum level, is there actually a difference between the past and the future (p32)? On the face of it we have no freedom to move in the time dimension, or the ability to control it (p45), but that does not stop us from dreaming that one day science may come up with a way around the limitations of Einstein's theories of relativity, and the various time paradoxes that that would create (the best candidate for which appears to be a provable Multiverse theory (p115)).
Even if we don't, we humans are able to travel in time mentally, and, like other animals, our bodies have a natural capacity for time-keeping at a cellular level (p33). Such findings took the authors in alternative directions as well - paranormal events relating to our perception of time, and further down the rabbit hole into various conspiracy theories, like Montauk, the Philadelphia Experiment, claims of Stargates and Timelines. We learn of the claims made by Dan Burisch (p144) and Andrew Basiago's 'chrononauts' - who are alleged to have included President Obama (!?!) - and the time travel blog of one John Titer, who popped in to visit us from the year 2036 (pp136-41).
Such far-fetched stories sit uneasily alongside serious discussions of modern physics, it must be said. But the authors do a good job describing the work of Tesla, whose work sat somewhere in the middle. They indicate that there are real possibilities in the idea of closed time-like curves which are theoretical paths in space-time which - like all good conversations - return to their starting points (p91). So perhaps melding together fact, fiction and conspiracy, when discussing time, is not so ridiculous. After all, it was a couple of particle physicists who contemplated the intervention of baguette-wielding time travellers from the future when the LHC broke down a year or so ago at CERN.
My favourite section of the book described apparent time travellers turning up in old movies and photographs. The woman seemingly chatting on a mobile phone in one of Charlie Chaplin's movies was highly amusing (right), as well as the photo of a modern dude in a crowd of people from the 1940s. Although these anomalies may have rational explanations, they fascinate all the same. I enjoyed the section of apports, too, within the wider context of spiritualism.
The authors seem to be on the right track when they hint that death itself is like approaching a personal singularity experience, where the perception of time changes fundamentally:
"Death exists in the illusion that is time. Just like the Big Bang arose spontaneously from a timeless void so at the end of our lives we return to a timeless void, a void that is not empty because consciousness does not need time to exist within." (p166)
This could have led onto a fruitful debate about mysticism, Buddhism and so on. Although they touch on meditation and altered states of consciousness, they didn't delve into the mystical side of religion in quite the same depth as they did the physics of time travel. Instead, the authors filled many of the last pages of their book with short articles written by Nick Redfern, Stanton Friedman and Sally Richards, and finally a fairly lengthy interview with Starfire Tor. As generous it may be to give other authors space in your published book to present their own ideas, the narrative began to lose focus towards the end. Altogether, though, I learned a lot from the book, and feel better equipped to contemplate future announcements by time-obsessed physicists trying to crack the great puzzle that is time.
You can order your copy through Amazon.com here:
This Book is From the Future
If you live in the UK, you can obtain your copy through Amazon.co.uk here:
This Book Is From The Future
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 19th September 2012
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