The practice of time travel, and its existence – or lack thereof – is a phenomenon that human beings constantly work with and practice far more than they realize. Through social attitudes that back the practice of scientific skepticism, one might dismiss the concept of “time travel” as merely fantasy or fiction. However, the ineffable nature of time, when studied through the lens of the human experience, is far more than what social attitudes reflect it to be.
The purpose of this essay is to show how “time” as humans experience it, is marked almost entirely by and through human experience. As such, “time” is not a tangible part of reality, but moreso a constant state of being that is almost completely controlled by the perspective of the individual (and what that individual absorbs according to the social climate in their community spaces). In this way, time travel is a mindset and in reality, is a continuous and frequent activity. Human beings are central to time travel, and the markers that have been used to record the passing of time. This activity is produced constantly, at a personal and as well as a community level. This essay will also explain the ways in which human documentation and markers of time contribute to the innate ability to go forward and backwards in time whenever they please.
The intent here is not to disregard the history of “time”, and the ways that it has scientifically been conceptualized, but to look at the concept of time from a social as well as a literal lens. While one might understand time to be the passing of seasons and the revolution of planets, it can also be looked at as the passing of knowledge and customs of human beings as they live from generation to generation. In this way certain “markers” have been left behind, both of physical and intellectual properties. These markers will be identified, and studied in their relationship – and juxtaposition to traditional definitions of time.
To begin, an obvious question one might pose to set the base of this argument might be: what exactly is time? According to the Oxford English Dictionary “time” can be defined as: “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”. By this definition, one may look at the specificities of time and what it encapsulates. Existence, in its vast definition may cover the life and death of every being to exist on this planet, as history has known it. For the purpose of this essay, when discussing time, it is through the lens of human existence, and the activities procured therein. In Algis Mickūnas’ Philosophy and Time Travel, the concept of “horizon theory” is used to set up a base of ontological temporal understanding. “Horizon [theory] suggests that every perceived thing, a quality of thing, or a mode of perception, is open to further possible perceptions” (Mickūnas, 82). By this definition, there may be multiple perceptions of time, each taking on similarly antiphonic properties, which will be discussed throughout the course of this paper.
Through the lens of horizon theory, one may begin to look at time travel in a different light than before. The basic definition of time travel can be defined as the act of travelling through time into the past or the future, from the present. Now, in metaphysical and scientific terms, the ‘present’ is essentially the only things currently living human beings will ever have. That is, the past can never or will never happen again, and the future is a mere projection of the “now”. In Philosophy and Time Travel, the concept of the “living now” is explained in similar ways. “The living present is the opening up of awareness to the perceptual world prior to any question of time or space or positional individual Ego” (Mickūnas, 84). It goes on to explain how “… the primal living now does not exhibit any temporal characteristics” (Mickūnas, 84), and that “…the present is an open and indefinite horizons, and fits precisely our position of not having any particular future result” (Mickūnas, 83). All these definitions of the living now, seem to point to a necessary detachment from temporality. While this may initially seem absurd, the text seems to be alluding to the fact that the present, living now need not be bound by temporal definitions, as it is ever flowing and continuous. In this regard, it transcends human concepts of time, and instead exists as an open, living phenomenon that has always been and always will be – regardless of human awareness or classification. In Heidrun Friese’s Times, Histories and Discourse he backs this by giving insight to “… philosophical accounts [that] ontologize ‘time’ and regard it either as the objective structure of the world or as [a]… form of perception – which exceeds human experience as its precondition and is anchored in transcendental consciousness” (Friese, 408). In the same vein, Human Time Perception and Its Illusions asserts that “[Human] time perception is surprisingly prone to measurable distortions and illusions” (Eagleman, 131). What both of these ideas encapsulate is that the nature of time is one that is not as easily understood or limited to human experience as one may think.
That, however, is a definition of time most commonly supported by philosophic thinking. In more literal terms, the history of time and the measurement thereof can be found in many disciplines. In Time Perspectives, Palimpsests and the Archaeology of Time, author Geoff Bailey informs readers that: “…time depth is what gives archaeology its distinctiveness as an intellectual discipline. For [some], it is the emphasis on the materiality of human existence, once derided as a second-hand method of studying human activities” (Bailey, 198). Archaeology, or the study of human history through the analysis of artifacts, is heavily based on time, and the human markers thereof. In the aforementioned article, it notes the importance of the proof of human existence that is found in this type of study. In this way, time is can be marked through physical human artifacts, and used as a marker of time. As such, this centers human beings to the concept of time, as these physical markers tie humans to certain eras of time, thus marking and identifying past human experiences and life.
Another discipline that has roots in time and time travel is English. In Philosphy and Time Travel, it is posed that “Taking on a task of writing an essay… offers a flood rushing to fill the horizon with options to speak with Plato, John Locke … Aristotle, till some recede and others become a primal dialogical partners in composition of the essay” (Mickūnas, 84). On people who identify this particular type of time travel, Mickūnas writes: “He is a time traveler who, without asking how this is possible, places himself in the horizons of two centuries” (Mickūnas, 80). By these accounts, the act of “time travelling” is an entirely mental process, whereby the era in which to travel to is the hardest part of the process. The assertion here, is just by calling to mind that era (or the specific things one might wish the recall), the time travelling process has already been completed. In the example of the essay writer, they are obviously not really having conversations with Aristotle and Plato to help them with their essay, but rather they are time travelling – by way of reading and research – to retrieve the doctrines of said individuals, and in that way enters a sort of dialogue with them, that transcends the physical limitations of time. In other words, the works that were left behind (physical markers, such as texts and teachings) were used as a medium in which to travel through time and thus participate and analyze teachings from that period, while also incorporating its core values into modern ways of thinking and nuanced ideas.
The earliest known fictionalization of time travel first appeared in H.G Well’s science fiction novella, Time Machine. In this work, Wells creates a main character who uses a machine that can travel forward and backwards in time – therein coining the term “time machine”. The novella begins with the character, known only as the Time Traveler, as he speaks to his guests in his home. While speaking, one of his friends, a philosopher posits that “There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth Time” (Wells, 7). He continues to explain that this fourth dimension “… is only another way of looking at Time. There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it” (Wells, 8). This is somewhat controversial as it challenges reader to think beyond the physical, which requires a level of understanding of metaphysics. It is through this conception of the Fourth Dimension, that the Time Traveler claims to be able to move about, just like in the other three. While surely dismissed as science fiction, Wells definitely was not the only person to believe in dimensions of time and space that exist beyond the physical realm that human beings inhabit and live in. It is also through this through that opened up a new window, artistically, for writers to come.
The 12-hour clock, as we know it now, can be traced back to having roots in Mesopotamia and also Ancient Egypt. Methods of timekeeping included sundials and water clocks, which according to The History of Clocks would eventually lead to the creations of mechanical clocks in the 14th century. Ancient Egypt’s relationship to time, however, does not stop there. The ancient pyramid of Cheops, built in 2600BC, when viewed from its location on a map, shows it to be placed at the exact geographical center of the land surface of Earth. While looking at the location of the pyramids built, it can also be seen that it forms a belt around the world – the very one which also connects the infamous Bermuda Triangle (Boros). Putting aside the incredible fact that this was far too precise to be a coincidence, which leads to the belief that Ancient Egyptians somehow had an impeccable knowledge of astrology, the field of tectono-magnetism – or study of Earths techonomic plates – also holds the belief that the Earth is held together by triangle-pyramid shaped energy. What is even more incredible is that the pyramids so happen to be located on a belt where this energy is believed to have contact with Earth (Boros). Through this knowledge, it can be deduced that the formation and building of the pyramids (which spanned 20 years, and generations of workers) may have indicated a gateway for space and time.
The building, and subsequent study and hailing of the Pyramids as one of the wonders of the world can also be seen as a type of physical time marking as well. Through anthropological study, the building of the pyramids allowed historians and scientists to confirm human existence thousands of years prior. In this way the construction of the Pyramids – although originally meant to be grave sites – can be seen as a way in which to mark time through human structural creation.
For similar purposes, the importance of artistic/educational institutions such as libraries and art galleries can be discussed and analyzed as well. Both of these structures, and the mediums held within have been used as markers of time, and therefore tools in which to time travel. Wilson Casey’s Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World informs readers that the first public library, held within it writing dating from 2285 B.C – although it was not discovered until 1933 at the site of an ancient Mesopotamian city (Casey, 162). The first public exhibition of art was documented to be April 1667 in Paris, France. These exhibitions grew very popular and would eventually be held in the infamous Louvre – the world’s largest art museum.
All of these institutions carry with them a respect for earlier works and artifacts, and a preserving habitat for these works to continue to exist and be studied today. From an academic standpoint, these places allow a rich source of information and artifacts from an earlier period, but can also be shown as markers of time, and thus mediums and ways of travelling to different time periods. Following the earlier noted notion of time travel as a mental process, by this logic one can see how this process would apply to reading old texts, or visiting ancient works of art as a form of time travel into those periods. This is echoed in Philosophy and Time Travel, where the author asserts that “…when someone reads messages, that someone does not question the presence of such messages, despite the empirical fact that those messages originated three thousand years ago… Through the monuments, hieroglyphs, marks on stones, one reads significations at first as temporally and spatially indifferent” (Mickūnas, 88). By this meaning, when someone reads a text or sees a hieroglyph, regardless of the time in which it was originally conceived in can still understand it in their current reality, and in that way these symbols transcend time, and can facilitate time travel back into their original time period.
As briefly touched upon earlier, it can be argued that human beings time travel on both an individual and community level. Community level time travel can be seen in public spaces where groups may travel in time together. This can include many public spaces such as museums and art galleries. Here, by immersing oneself in the cultures, attitude as well as physical and intellectual markers of that time period, humans experience time travel without even realizing it. Time’s elusive nature allows it to slip between the grasp of complete human understand and frameworks, and therefore becomes an entirely mental state. By this logic travelling back to Ancient Egypt or prehistoric times is a simple and frequent activity. Community time travel can also be seen through the arts. Large scale projects such as movies or books have the ability to transport large masses of people to time travel together, despite physical geographical location. This can be exemplified in a movie depicting the life and times of an African-American during the slave trade, or a novel set in the 1800’s. In both cases visual and descriptive stimuli are used to create mental projections into a specific time period wherein these works of art transport masses of people back and forth in time – even temporarily.
On an individual level, time travel can be seen almost entirely through the practice of memory recall. For this reason, depending on the individual and their mental health, mental time travel is also a possibility, and may affect those with skewed perceptions of their current reality, such as individuals experiencing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Memory recall – that being short term, long term, or spatial, is works within a part of the human brain called the hippocampus, which is necessary in the consolidation of information and memory (Bergland). In his article for Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland explains that “When retrieving an old memory, neocortical activity occurs in areas linked to all the separate elements that create the memory. The degree to which someone can vividly remember a past memory correlates directly with the level of hippocampal activity” (Bergland). This provides a scientific explanation wherein the retrieval, and ability to return to past memories is an entirely cognitive function done through the brain. This then reinforces the connection between personal time travel and human memory.
Another viewpoint of this argument is to exam what happens when the brain is no longer able to retrieve certain memories, or when the temporal reality that one is currently living in, is not reflective of their actual lived reality as experienced by the rest of the world. In Prospective and Retrospective Time Perception are Related to Mental Time Travel: Evidence from Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers tell readers that “Patients with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit great deviations from true clock time, as they tend to show significant alterations in the judgement of time intervals” (El Haj, Moroni, Samson, Fasotti & Allain, 45). Through this study, it was also concluded that “Time estimation, especially retrospective estimation was significantly correlated with the ‘Remember’ responses or the ability to mentally project oneself to relive past events” (El Haj et al., 49). This definition of time travel aligns to previously mentioned notions of time travel, as being an entirely mental process. By studying the ability to recall or retrieve past memories, researchers in this study were able to confirm the existence of time travel as a normal human function. In their study on Alzheimer’s, neurological researchers found that “…patients with mild cognitive impairment with positive results for hippocampal atrophy… invariably developed dementia” (Scheltens, Blennow, Breteler, de Strooper, Frisoni, Salloway & Van der Flier, 511). This shows how atrophy or damage done to the hippocampus can be indicative of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, both of which have symptoms relating to loss or inability to connect to the current time period. In this way, it can be argued that an individual experiencing one of these diseases, may also be experiencing time travel, by the earlier noted definition of mental projection into different stages or past recall as such.
Another way that humans time travel on an individual basis would be physical markers of individual or familial time travel. Think of new parents and their fixation on documenting their child’s physical development. The sentimentality here, is the identification that time has passed – that their child has grown up. Holding onto markers of this time (i.e: keeping growth charts, photographs, baby clothed and even teeth) signify an acute awareness that time has been passing. Time travel at this level may look like the aforementioned physical aids in memory and past recall. Parents time travel on a continuous basis in this way, even for brief periods of time as they recall their child’s earlier years. On a more philosophical vein, it can be asserted that parents get so emotional regarding their children growing up as it is physical proof and indicator that time has passed, thus reminding them of the inescapability of time and the briefness of human life. These marker of time may signify that one’s own life is coming to an end.
Physical externalizations of metaphysical feelings and breakthroughs are actualized into the world in the form of artistic and non-artistic creations. Non-artistic manifestations can be seen as practical devices and inventions that help humans navigate everyday life. Although same may argue that every organic invention which has a creator, therefore is a creation and can be seen as artistic, whether or not it is intrinsically rooted in the arts. Within artistic creations, one might call to mind paintings and cinema. Regardless of the discipline, all creations came from the source of an individual or collective creation, first actualized in the mind and then manifested into in physical reality. Time travel has a role in this, as the process of actualizing something from the thoughts into the physical requires planning and visualization – both language indicative of future, and therefore allows a fluid transition between the now as the creator experiences it in the moment, and the end goal of having their creation as a real physical reality: the future. As discussed before the ‘future’ is really just an extension of the now, due to its infinite vastness and nature; however visiting the future is entirely possible by projecting oneself into an imagined reality based on the decisions and actions they are making in the present to be able to pull their future into their reality.
Another way that humans travel is through the act of daydreaming, or dreaming in a waking state. First discussed by Freud in his informal talk Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming, it was asserted that the daydreams that arose initially in childhood are still present in adult life, but are mostly representative of repression. In this case terms such as “subconscious” can be looked as tools of time travel, as these daydreams can have roots in either the past or the present, and exists as a vehicle in which to go back in forth in multiple temporal realities – all while remaining bodily present in the current physical one.
A human being’s drive to create something outside of themselves (even if this creation is another individual) can be linked to the common goal and desire to have a legacy to live on beyond physical mortal life. This need to be remembered or to leave something behind has roots in wanting to claim a portion of time after death. As discussed throughout the course of the paper, humans have left behind many markers of time – which simplified can be identified as their intellectual or physical creations that are still linked to them and talked about even posthumously. In this way, humans are aware that time is the great divider, and transcends human life itself. By claiming a stake in time, this allows time travel for the creator’s predecessors to revisit and therefore immortalize their lived experiences.
The Western Canon refers to bodies of work, art, literature and creation that has been deemed as extremely crucial and important in shaping Western culture. This canon and the works within, allows humans to time travel constantly as a source of deeper knowledge, understanding and culture. The select group of these creators have contributed works and creations that are central to Western society and thought, and are preserved in time in that way. On an educational level, time travel is done through almost every single subject. Everything that is known and continues to be learned in present day is based on history and previous teachings and discoveries in their respective disciplines. In that regard, a lot of subjects dip back and forth in time in their teachings. Human beings have diligently studied their predecessors which have led to things such as literary, scientific, algebraic, geographic (and many more) breakthroughs that have since been absorbed and dissolved within the curriculum of common Western knowledge. Markers of time exists in Pythagorean theory, fossils chemicals and so forth.
Human success is marked on the surface by the acquisition of wealth, but when examined deeper, can be seen to be found in genuine health and alignment in all areas of life. Many people attribute their success to a metaphysical phenomenon known as the Law of Attraction. Social scientist Ingrid Hansen Smythe defines the law by explaining that it “…asserts [that] what you think creates what you feel, and these feelings flow from your body as magnetic energy… which then causes the universe to vibrate at the same level as your feelings” (Smythe, 8). In this way, like attracts like – both negative and positive. This belief – held by many successful and wealthy individuals has its roots in the practice of time travel, due to the power and vibrational energy of visualization and thought. By projecting the reality that one might want to be apart of (see travelling to the future) the law states that this will attract it, as the Universe becomes in tune with the vibrational energy of the individual.
To conclude, there are very many things that humans do not know about time, space and the Universe. Among this trifecta, time has shown itself to be elusive, ever expanding, and at times difficult to grasp and conceptualize within mere human understanding. In a world that is so focused on proving things to be true when only physically presented and tested, concepts such as time travel are often dismissed or scoffed at to be mere science fiction. As seen in its original context, time travel does have its roots in fiction, however it was conceptualized – just like the very experience of time and subsequent travel – through the human mind. However, through deeper metaphysical understandings and points of view, one may understand time travel to be a normal and frequent part of everyday life.