The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

2 January 2005

You are ----> here

A sound: loudest at first, then softer, then softer still, then finally gone. In technical terms, the wave diminishes in amplitude until eventually it's lost, faded into the background noise, indistinguishable from any other random quantity of air.

My father has always believed, perhaps with a nod to Zeno, that "finally gone" is never finally achieved, that under the right set of circumstances, or with the right set of tools, that sound can be reclaimed, amplified, restored to its original loudness: it never really went away to begin with.

I live in what the city calls an Urban Conservation District: there exists a zoning overlay which prescribes that changes to properties must be consonant with the character of the district, if not necessarily the actual building materials, that existed when it was built. Ideally, you should be able to turn off the main road and fall right into post-World War II America.

All this is by way of saying that the past never goes away. We have a path, a timeline, from which we do not deviate, but so does everything else. What we see as the present is simply the intersection of all those timelines: our own, those of our friends and families, the homes in which we live, the forests that were supplanted by the cities that now contain most of those homes. I'm not saying it's possible to walk up my street and suddenly jump back into 1948 — the first Honda or Toyota you see would likely catch you in mid-jump and send you back where you came from — but I am saying that an awful lot of 1948 remains, even in 2005.

This is the premise behind Jack Finney's 1970 novel Time and Again, which Michele is discovering right about now. And she clearly grasps the concept:

The idea that different planes of time can co-exist is something talked about in science fiction novels, but taken seriously by very few. I don't know anything about quantum physics. I can understand very little of the mechanics of theories put forth on this subject. For me, it's not a matter of equations and calculations. It's just feeling. It's the knowing that something existed long before you did and lived and breathed on the very spot you are standing on now. Who is to say it is that January 2, 1894, 1900 or 1776 does not still linger there? Perhaps reaching those dates from 2005 is a scientific impossibility, but that doesn't mean they aren't here, unfolding right on top of us, unseen.

And, in the other direction, that something will exist long after we do: when our own timeline is terminated, interrupted, rerouted, whatever, the world goes on. Two thousand five will still exist in 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive.

We may not think of ourselves as time travelers, yet truly we are, even though we seem to be limited to a single route at a specified speed (one day equals, well, one day). And the fact that we are moving means that each present, each intersection with all those other timelines, is necessarily different. It's this very multiplicity of intersections that makes it impossible, so far as we know, to alter the past, but it's that same multiplicity that makes it possible, in fact necessary, to alter the future.

Posted at 10:57 AM to Immaterial Witness


I will forever thank you for the book. It's amazing to see the notions that I've had all along put into print, with such imagination and detail.

Posted by: michele at 11:01 AM on 2 January 2005

So, like, you are saying the sun will never set on the age of aquarius? Man that's heavy.

Posted by: Punctitious at 11:29 AM on 2 January 2005

Ahh ... String Theory's quantum reality always rears its head ... to experience it's many outcomes would be heady but exhausting I'd think ... but I'd like to try it.

Posted by: Ron at 9:34 PM on 2 January 2005