Space-Time for Springers

92CDEB86-I’d like to divert your attention to “Spacetime For Springers,” a short story by Fritz Lieber. It is my favorite short story of all time.

I can’t pick a favorite book, or even narrow my selections down to a favorite hundred books, but this story pushes all my buttons. It hits all the story beats. The form could not be better. Not a word or sentence is unnecessary, and each builds toward the climax.

The great reveal is both devastating yet trackable through the story.

The hero, a hyper-intelligent kitten named Gummitch, is both lovable and relatable, in spite of species’ differences. And the author’s use of language gapes my jaw; “…he flung his spirit into her like a fistful of flaming arrows;” “mirror beings were insubstantial or at least hermetically sealed into their other world, probably creatures of pure spirit, harmless imitative ghosts;” “…he teleported himself three yards to the rear, making use of that faculty for cutting corners in space-time, traveling by space-warp in fact, which was one of his powers…”

 All my favorite writers have poet’s souls, but this piece, this miniature magnum opus, speaks to my heart. The theme of self-sacrifice, especially when that sacrifice is made to protect or preserve family or friends, underlies all my favorite stories. I have a soft little place in my heart for unsung heroes.

Other readers either love it or hate it. Some object to the entire theme, and long for a happy-ever-after, a magical ending where everybody gets what they want and joy is everywhere and the sun shines forever. Others don’t appreciate being manipulated by the writer into tears, but who wants to read an emotionally sterile story? Some simply hate cats, but I’m not able to grok that mindset any more than a sea cucumber can channel the thoughts of a Saguaro cactus.

Others, like me, believe it is one of the most poignant and heart-breakingly-beautiful stories ever told. The tale of Gummitch-kitten is posted here, if you’d like to read it for yourself and make your own decision.

Another story with near-perfect craft and construction is, “Who’s There?” by Arthur C. Clarke.  Yes, one of the main characters, the essential supporting character, is a cat. So? What’s your point?

 

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Lost in Space: The Unconsidered Hazards of Time Travel

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Little Loki is fascinated with the theory of time travel.

 

Hulu and Netflix make it way too easy for me to feed my time travel addiction.  Dr. Who, Time After Time, Quantum Leap, D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Continuum, Primeval–SF binge-watching has never been more fun.

The different time travel theories proposed by each show and the screenwriters’ various answers to the insidious paradox problem fascinate (and sometimes infuriate) me. My favorite theory so far was advanced by the character Fitz in Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; he insists that if a psychic truly saw the future, then of course that future can’t be changed. If anyone could change the future by their action or inaction, then the psychic wouldn’t have the ability to see the actual future, now would she, because what she saw was only a potential future. If she can view the future, then it will be as fixed and unchangeable as the past. Viewing the future collapses the waveform! I love it!

One thing everyone seems to ignore, though, is the critical “moving through space” part of time travel. If I went back in time an hour or so, my main problem wouldn’t be avoiding myself so as not to create a paradox; my problem would be my inability to breathe or maintain internal temperature and pressure in the vacuum of space.

Earth is rotating at 1000 miles an hour; it is rocketing around the Sun at a speed of 66,000 miles an hour; the sun is moving at a pretty fair turn of speed around the galaxy at 483,000 miles an hour, and the galaxy is streaking through space at 1.3  million miles an hour! (1)

Celestial motion won’t stop in deference to my little time-travel jaunt.

What makes my time-travel journey so exciting (and lethal) is the fact that we don’t have absolute reference points to quantify all this motion. We don’t know the precise location of the Big Bang, or the exact distance traveled so far, and we don’t know our precise speed, either.  Mathematicians are amazing people, and if they had absolute reference points I’ve no doubt they could calculate exactly where we are now and exactly where we were an hour ago. They could make my trip nonlethal–if we weren’t lost out here in space. We don’t know where we started and we don’t know where we are and we don’t know where we are going, either.

One popular way Hollywood ignores the whole “lost in space” problem: semi-sentient, gigantic wormholes are eager to assist time travelers. These wormholes magically know when and where they are going and how to expand to an improbable size and safely convey travelers to their destinations in one piece. Characters use mystical phrases like “quantum entanglement,” “negative longitude” and “Einstein-Rosen Bridge” in haphazard ways, but nobody does any math, and the mystical wormholes are in charge of celestial navigation.

Math is the antithesis of magic. Math requires a lot of hard work, and relies on facts, theories and formulas. It only looks magical from the outside.

Mastery of movement in time is only half the problem; quantifying travel in space is equally challenging. Still, I guess it’s just as well screenwriters cheat and pretend wormholes (or the machines traveling through them) can solve complex math problems and calculate the precise location of our tiny ball of rock as it hurtles through the universe. If they didn’t, those shows I love to watch would be awfully short.

(1) ASP: How Fast Are You Moving When You’re Sitting Still?

 

My Cat Groks Spacetime

Thanks to Michio Kaku’s book, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension, I finally know what’s been troubling our cat, Tuesday. She’s been trying to teach me theoretical physics!

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Tuesday: “How many dimensions would our world have if you could trap me by drawing a line around me?”

Thanks to Michio Kaku’s book, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension, I finally know what’s been troubling our cat, Tuesday. She’s been trying to teach me theoretical physics! Michio Kaku is one of those rare geniuses who is so smart he can not only understand theoretical physics, but also explain it so clearly that his non-physicist readers imagine they understand it, too. To help us ordinary folks make sense of dimensions beyond our own, he asks us to imagine what it would be like to live in a two-dimensional world.
The denizens of this world, the Flatlanders, are incapable of visualizing three dimensions, and can only interpret what they see based on their own world-view. A Flatlander prison, for example, would be a cinch to create. To imprison a Flatlander, all you have to do is draw a line around him. There he’ll stay, unable to escape.

My cat has demonstrated this principle by pretending to be a Flatlander. If I make a circle of yarn or string on the floor, she’ll sit down in it and give me a penetrating stare. See, human? Now I’m trapped! 

Liminal space also fascinates my cat; she uses it to tutor me in the theory of the multiverse. She’ll pause half-in, half-out of the doorway, look up at me, and mew. Obviously, she’s trying to explain that until she makes a decision, the waveform of potentiality remains intact. She’ll walk through the doorway, then direct my attention to the fact that the waveform is now collapsed for that particular decision. Immediately she’ll reverse directions and face the doorway again, or take a few steps backwards, or bound back through the doorway to demonstrate the infinite number of potentialities possible in each simple decision.

The concept of “now,” or the rate of time, is another subject dear to our kitty’s heart. The perception of “now,” as explained by Richard A. Muller in Now: The Physics of Time, is the number of milliseconds it takes to send a signal from our senses to the brain, plus the time it takes the brain to process, record and remember the signal. “In humans,” Muller explains, “that’s a few tenths of a second; for a fly, a few thousandths of a second. That’s why it is hard for a human to catch a fly…your threatening hand approaches in slow motion…”

Tuesday has shown me time and time again that she can catch a fly in midair; her quicker, more sensitive brain is capable of processing much faster than mine. The flow of time I perceive is much slower than the flow of time she perceives; therefore, when she requests her dinner a half hour in advance, her expectation is realistic based on her own perception of time. Einstein’s twin paradox is fully comprehended by our cat. She isn’t asking for dinner early, we are providing it late. It isn’t her fault we are stuck in a slow, sludgy flow of time and never make allowances for general relativity.