I’M ON A TRAIN. It’s late at night. Or perhaps it’s midday and the train is an underground train. Sometimes, in dreams, you can never tell.
“Look at our friend over there,” I say to someone, who suddenly appears at my side, while pointing to a drunk talking to himself further up the train, “I think he’s had a couple too many, like us.” The someone is someone I seem to know. He might be my father. He inclines his head towards mine.
“Maybe he has,” he says, “But then again, maybe you’ve had even more to drink, and I’m not here. And you’re talking to yourself as well.”
“Why are you arguing with me? You’re just a character in my dream? I can make you disappear just like that.”
“Then why don’t you? I mean, am I a character in your dream? Or are you a character in mine? For if you’re a character in mine, when I stop dreaming, you’ll no longer exist.”
“But I know I exist, so you must be a character in my dream.”
“Except I know I exist as well, so perhaps it depends on who wakes up first, as to who exists or not.”
It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m stretched out on Dr Finkel’s grey leather couch again. I feel like I’m in his movie.
“What does the clock say?” I ask for need of something to talk about. Something other than the mad thoughts bubbling inside my head.
Doctor Finkel resists a strong temptation to put a little finger up his nose. Ever since his fiftieth birthday he’d become oversensitive to the hairs inside his left nostril. It happened for the very first time on that day. His wife had just bought another very expensive Schiaparelli dress at auction, to add to her collection, when it started. Why the left nostril rather than the right was a puzzle that bothered him. Even more now he could see he wasn’t going to get time to ponder the anomaly, or satisfy the urge to pick away at it till it stopped.
“Ah, I remember this one. I tell you what time it is, then you tell me your question was more to do with the nature of time itself,” he said. “Do you know what I fancy? A nice bagel. How about you?”
“No, thanks, I’ve got past that. I don’t mean bagels, but the nature of time. I just want to know how much longer I’ve got on this couch so I can try to gauge from that how time works. You see, I’ve come to the conclusion it doesn’t exist in the way we think it does. If it exists at all. Einstein got it wrong.”
“Albert Einstein? He was a bagel man.”
I knew he was being facetious, but continued going insane.
“If you want to know about time you have to start from the premise there isn’t nearly enough of it to be shared equally around. Or it only exists in your head. To give you an example. Think of this: the hands of a clock hardly seem to move, when you’ve been sitting about waiting for a train for hours, compared with how they race round like crazy when you’re running for one just about to leave.
“That shows time is … doesn’t come in consistent quantities. Sometimes there’s more of it than we need, whereas other times there’s far less of it than we want. It speeds up, and it slows down. Now how can that be? Easy, however hard we try to get out of it by running or standing still, we’re actually always in the middle of an everchanging now. Time is subjective. It’s not just our perceptions that change it, for it never has been the constant we assume it to be. Try thinking of it, and it’s value, in the same way we think of gold and its value, and you’ll understand what I mean. Gold is valued by its limited availabilty. The less gold available, the more valuable it becomes.” Glancing at his expression, I could see I’d lost him before getting into my stride. Nevertheless, I ploughed on. He was getting paid by the state to suffer my madness, so I’d make sure the state got its money’s worth.
“You know, the old don’t just send send the young off to fight their wars because they’re stronger and fitter, but because they don’t value their time nearly so much. They have so much of the stuff before them. The old would never think of going to war because they believe have so little time left to waste on such frivolous activity. Their time has become far more valuable than the time of the young, subjectively speaking, because they have such a shortage.
“But if you go further, and think about it hard enough, you begin to realise only now exists. The present. Eternally sandwiched between a constantly expanding past and an unknown, evershrinking future. Trying to predict it is like unravelling string: untying one knot only seems to produce another. I must use that irrelevant observation when I get round to writing my novel.
“If you go any further, you’ll drive me insane, and I’ll be lying on the couch.” Dr Finkel said. “Sure you don’t want a bagel? It’s just as easy to buy two as one.” I shake my head.
Giving in to irrestitible temptation Dr Finkel poked the tip of an exploratory finger into his left nostril while he thought I wasn’t paying attention. I was, but went on regardless.
“We can compare now with living on the surface of a balloon inflating. The past is the air constantly filling the balloon and the future is the air outside the balloon. As the air of the future outside is pumped into the balloon it converts into the past. The balloon is totally dependent on the pressures of the two opposing forces for its existence. Though now, or the surface, appears to expand, the mass of material composing that surface remains the same. It only appears bigger because it’s being stretched. The air outside the balloon, the future, is being pumped into the interior, the past. As physical beings we are unable to live inside the balloon, or outside, for we are also the material of the surface of the balloon. We are restricted to the present, the now. If we walk in a straight line in any direction we will always end up at the point we began. In other words we are confined to the balloon’s spherical surface, which is the present. Once the sphere becomes filled with too much of the air of the future to become the past it reaches the critical point where it tears itself apart in one loud burst. You can guess the rest: the past mingles with the future again and nothing exists, so to speak. In other words we are dead. That’s just about as far as I’ve got with my theory. Then again, I suppose, being dead is as far as one can go. How’s it sounding?”
Dr Finkel was gazing down onto Bygdøy alle at the bakery on the other side of the street. They had great bagels. Pulling out his pocket watch he flipped it open. These days time was something he didn’t seem to have much of. Too much of it was being wasted on the clinically insane.
“What about the crumpled bit of tired rubber on the floor left behind,” he said. “Look, they usually run out of bagels by three. How about you just lying here and talking to yourself for a few moments, while I nip across the road for my bagel?”
“Yes, I suppose I could. But what about my hypothesis? Rather interesting, don’t you think?” I said. But the doctor was more interested in the bakery. Bags of bagels could be flying out. “On the other hand, we could view the world as an onion.” I tried, hoping to stir him out of his apparent resistence to my theory. “The present being the outermost skin, which is, of course the opposite state of a real onion, where the innermost layer is the most recent. But for the purposes of this particular hypothesis we have to reverse the future into the past and the past into the future, which is exactly how time travel could occur.”
“But how can you travel through time when you say it doesn’t exist?” I smiled at his sudden interest. He’d been listening after all.
“Not the way you think it does. Your present, or your now, doesn’t necessarily preclude the existence of other people having their very own presents, or nows, as my example of the difference between waiting for a train, and running for a train, demonstrates more than amply.
“Parallel dimensions can just as easily coincide when two versions of the present meet on the station platform, even if they take the form of one person watching the train, he has missed, depart from the platform, while the other watches the platform slip by the window of the train he has waited for and caught. Naturally, the positions can be reversed at any given point. The person waiting for the train could become…”
“Yes, yes, I get the point. Sounds like a load of crap to me. All you need is a current timetable and a good watch. I can’t stand people who leave everything until the last moment. And if I don’t get my bagel soon, they’ll run out. Can’t I tempt you to one?”
“I don’t think you’re getting my point. Forget the train, let’s go back to the onion. You look like a man who knows his onions. Each onion layer represents the past, the past present of the previous moment, to which we cannot go back, but neither can we go forward to the next skin because it doesn’t exist. However many skins the onion grows, We will always be on the outer one, no matter how many skins precede it. In some ways this indicates multiverses occupying the same space in parallel dimensions we cannot fully percieve even if we may experience them every day. This points to there being no future or past at the point of existence, just the eternal present. Even you must be able to see this questions the very existence of time.” I was no longer sure who I was confusing most: my psychiatrist or myself.
“Of course, you have to embrace the theory of multidimensional multiverses in order to try to understand it. If there weren’t an infinite number of dimensions then there couldn’t be an infinite number of multiverses. Both hypotheses suggest time travel to be impossible simply because of the non-existence of time.
“To understand it more fully we have to try to think of multiverses from the perception of the confinement of our physical beings. For instance, we can present a view of our three dimensional world in two dimensional form by drawing what we see in front of us on a piece of paper. We can even present it in four dimensional form if we render an object in linear form describing what lies on the other planes. For this we have to make it transparent. Scientists do it with computers all the time. Denitsts and doctors do it partly through the use of X-rays too, as well as sonar images. They reveal inner worlds at the same time as being able to look at the outer world. Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist.
“Yet, thinking about it, I would hate the Pope to use such an argument to claim it as proof God exists, which popes have done repeatedly through the ages. But that aside, if physicists tell us complex algebraic equations suggest the existence of multiverses, we cannot assume they will be able to draw diagrams of them, which is what they try to do for our miserable minds to understand in series of brightly coloured spheres, each representing a universe. Rather than seeing them standing neatly side by side, we have to consider that they might be occupying exactly the same space as our universe, or portion of multiverse, which is the one we can perceive around us. The fact we can’t perceive the others is not proof they don’t exist. Presumably you’re familiar with the theory of biocentrism?”
Doctor Finkel’s brow wrinkled.
“I’ve heard about it,” he said rather unconvincingly.
“In biocentrism an American professor, Professor Robert Lanza, proposes that there is life after death. He says the evidence lies in the idea that the concept of death is a mere figment of our consciousness. He goes on the universe only exists because of an individual’s consciousness of it. By that he means that essentially life and biology are central to reality, which in turn creates the universe; the universe itself does not create life. The same applies to the concepts of space and time, which Professor Lanza describes as “simply tools of the mind”. But that’s not all,”
“I thought it might not be.”
“He goes on to suggest biocentrism is like parallel universes. In much the same way as everything that could possibly happen is speculated to be occurring all at once across multiple universes, he says that once we begin to question our preconceived concepts of time and consciousness, the alternatives are huge.
“And then he uses the double-slit experiment as proof that the behaviour of a particle can be altered by a person’s perception of it. In the double-slit experiment, when scientists watch a particle pass through a multi-holed barrier, the particle acts like a bullet travelling through a single slit. When the article is not watched, however, the particle moves through the holes like a wave.
“Scientists argue that the double-slit experiment proves that particles can act as two separate entities at the same time, challenging long-established ideas of time and perception. So what do you think of that?”
“I think I’d like a bagel. How about you?” He looked at me with a worried expression on his face. “Well, I suppose I can wait a bit longer. But not too long. Let’s wind up with something else. Don’t you have any ambitions? Tell me about them.”
“Yes, but you’ll only think I’m stupid, or mad.”
“Trust me, I already do. I’m your psychiatrist, that’s why you’re here. So tell me what your ambitions are.”
“Okay. I want to become invisible. Oh, yes, and be able to fly. I want to be able to fly.”
“Don’t you think that’s being rather unrealistic? And a little over-ambitious, maybe? A pilot’s licence isn’t so easy to get, and lessons can be rather expensive. I’m mean, I’m not so sure I’d be able to recommend it. In your position, you might want to aim a bit a bit lower. How about looking for a job in a factory, or warehouse, and somewhere of you own to live? Perhaps, you could work in a bagel factory.”
“No, I don’t want to learn to fly a plane, I just want to be able to fly without one. And if I were invisible, I could live anywhere and nobody would notice. I wouldn’t constantly be worrying about paying rent.”
“Yes, but as the chances of becoming invisible are so slim as to amount to zero – you know, not a chance in hell – that sort of zero. What else comes to mind?”
“You have to think more positively, Dr Finkel,”
“Positively!” he exploded, “Positive! What is it with this magical word positive everybody uses today? Have you been reading one of those ridiculous life skills books? Think more positively, why? What is there for me to be positive about when my consulting room is constantly filled with lunatics?”
“We all have to be positive.”
“Oh yes, that’s going to change things all right, being positive. Taken to its extreme it’s some sort of religious mantra. It’s the type of advice people with no problems give to people with plenty. Why don’t you nip off to Iraq, where it’s impossible to get clean water, there are no drugs in the hospitals, no work, and no food. Where people run about slaughtering one another all day long. Go and tell them to be positive. They’ll thank you for it, I’m sure it’s just what they need. The last thing anyone with real problems wants to hear is to be positive. It’s just the sort of helpful advice offered by those with no helpful advice to offer. You don’t tell people to be positive, you show people how to be positive by doing something helpful.”
“Hm, I expect you’re right. You do realise modern psychiatry now holds psychiatrists are no longer asked to decide whether the patient has a false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary? What are you thoughts about that?”
“No, I don’t, or maybe I do. I’d ask you to repeat the question if I could be sure it was a question. Now, I think I’ll get a bagel. I’ll get one for you just in case you change your mind. Yes, I’ll definitely go and get some bagels. If they’ve not run out.” He started making his way to the door.
“Don’t forget to think positively, and I’m sure you’ll find they still have bagels left.” I said.
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming