Can Anyone Tell the Time? by William Alan Rieser

Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it is relevant in ways you might not have suspected. I keep a print of Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” on my wall, the one with the melting clocks, to remind me of its significance and the many questions it poses. The fourth dimension, after all, is the least scientifically understood and may only exist in our minds like mathematics and have nothing at all to do with the universe. It is we that assign temporal adjectives to galactic events, not the other way around. I’m sure you are aware that time is related by physics to other venues, like measurement. For instance, if you keep halving the distance between yourself and a wall, will you ever reach it? Never, obviously, because distance is finite. Or the older chestnut about the tree that falls in the forest. Does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? If you cannot use your senses to examine a door behind you, can you prove it is there?
Time intrinsically asks other questions. Can a being or an object exist in two places at the same moment? Before television, the query was meaningless. Now you can watch yourself hop about on the screen whilst pouring coffee at home. Zworykin’s invention forces time into yet another paradox. You can argue that television A does not possess the identical molecules and atoms of television B and escape the logic that way, but it remains intriguing.

No less paradoxical is the statement that there is only one of everything in the universe, at least from the subatomic perspective. I have examined this reasoning to some extent in my novels, but it is clearly unresolvable. The statement implies that there is nothing everywhere else which automatically suggests ones and zeroes, the binary system by which computers count time as well as addresses. Rather quirky, isn’t it? The ramifications for science are endless and were mostly ignored except for some futuristic engineers. Having been a Manufacturing Engineer for many years, a new truism hit me the same way it has been effecting others.

When the tube was invented by Fleming, it took nearly fifty years before semiconductors arrived to satisfy the demands of America’s military-industrial complex to make it smaller and faster. During that interlude, Alan Turing decoded the German Enigma machine and John Von Neumann calculated how to derive a nuclear explosion, all of which gave us a computer the size of a house. ENIAC needed to be reduced dramatically and it has, though many breakthroughs were needed.

That fifty year interval has been successively reduced with each discovery, starting with the transistor, then the MOSFET, the integrated circuit and so on, until now we can put a CPU, ostensibly thousands of times more powerful than ENIAC into a silicon ship no larger than our pinkie nail with tens of millions of transistors. With concurrent engineering, using the computer’s ability to communicate with video and speech, we have actually gone beyond that in less time than it takes to describe the innovations. We are now involved with technologies that produce molecule sized smart CPUs, biological virus elements biased by photons, processors fortified with AI and imaging networks characterized with discrete, minuscule mirrors for retention. We have made memory very persistent, answering Dali’s question in a way that he didn’t expect.

And lest we forget, SF writers began time speculations long ago, probably beginning with H. G. Wells in his engaging novel, The Time Machine. Now there are so many stories, short and long, radio and video, web based and hard written, that seem to take it all for granted, that we’ve actually conquered this phenomenon, that we understand it and know how to use it benevolently or otherwise. I think not. If it is universal, it is a force against which we must measure ourselves, not the venue. And if it is a purely human expression, one which we have allowed to dominate our lives, we must somehow find a way to control it. The matrix begins at Greenwich and weaves its way into every corner of the earth. If you are a writer, then think about that and come up with something useful, because if you don’t, you’re probably wasting our time.

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Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 William Alan Rieser, All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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