The plot involved a woman finding an ancient time machine and using it to go back 10,000 years in time to visit an advanced race of people who had built an ancient city. In her time, she was part of a group of explorers who discovered the abandoned metropolis, but in doing so set in motion a process that resulted in the destruction of said city and the death of everyone else in her group. In order to prevent this from happening, once she settled in among the original inhabitants she made some changes in the way the city was organized and put herself in slowed-down animation so she could come out and do some maintenance from time to time over the ten thousand year wait. The plan worked, when the expedition arrived, its members didn't destroy themselves. Eventually they found the woman in her preservation capsule, but by then she was the equivalent of 120 years old and she died soon after explaining what had happened.
There are two interesting points that the episode brings up.
First of all, the people who built the city were talking to the time traveler and going about their lives just as if the future wasn't known or even of concern. This makes sense, but jars against my intuitive understanding. If someone comes from the future, then the people in the past are already dead. Moreover, their lives have already been lived. But yet they eat, talk, make decisions, have dreams, etc.
Secondly, the woman who lived out her life in a pod that slowed down her aging explained her situation to the younger version of herself that survived because of the work she did to prevent the catastrophe. This younger expressed regret that the older had lost her life sitting in slowed down animation. But the older one refused to accept this interpretation. "No, you are me. I still get to live a full, rich life. We just did this thing in order to save everyone else."
What I'm wrestling with here is how we understand "time". I think that insofar as most people think about time, the see it as some sort of "one damn thing after another". But when I was at university I came to the conclusion that it makes more sense to think of it as another dimension. Think of it as something like a ruler with a cursor point that slides up and down the index, like an old-fashioned slide rule.
The line on the transparent piece of plastic is how we experience the "now" of existence. But that doesn't mean that all the stuff that has happened in the past has ended or the future doesn't exist at all. Instead, we are just being aware of the "now" at any given point.
The "nowness" was what the aged woman was getting at when she told her younger self that she was going to live a full rich life through her counter part. She understood that for everyone----time traveler or not----all we experience is NOW. The past is a memory and the future is anticipation. And as modern science tells us, even memory is to a large part as much a created, illusory experience as our anticipation of the future. So it is literally true that the physically separated body of the time traveler has as much connection to the younger woman before her as if they shared the same body instead of two identical ones.
I first seriously thought about this issue when I came across some essays by philosophers who were trying to undermine naive assumptions about life. Two arguments come easily to my memory, so I thought I'd share them.
The first is a response to the question of "What evidence could we have that time is a spacial dimension?" Briefly stated, the argument starts out by asking how a being who inhabited in two dimensional space would be able to conceive of three dimensions. The answer is to think about congruent triangles which look different.
|Nicolas of Cusa|