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all the time in the world

The Time Traveler's Life - Part Two

By Allan Eastman

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A Conversation with Science Fiction Master Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman

Pictured above is a portrait of Science Fiction Master Joe Haldeman

ALLAN: Well, let’s start off with an easy one...what is your basic idea, or definition of Time?

JOE: Time? (Laughs) Time, well, it’s basically what keeps everything from happening at once...but I don’t know what it is...it’s half of Space-Time, that’s for sure...

Do you subscribe to Einsteinian Time, Newtonian Time, Julian Barbour Time or some combination of the above?

I’m most comfortable with Einsteinian Time...which devolves to Newtonian in most everyday situations.

I’ve been reading a lot of Julian Barbour’s theories recently and was interested by his objection that both Newtonian and Einsteinian Time theories seem to work equally well in both directions while all of our observations seem to suggest that everything only goes in one direction, forward...


Do you add in String Theory to your ideas about Time – the multidimensional idea – that the mathematics of String Theory only work if in fact there are 10 or 11 dimensions to reality beyond the 3 or 4 that we seem to perceive? Time being or not being one of them...

The thing is I’m not mathematically competent to work in String Theory....all I know are the usual kinds of verbal descriptions of it. I can do the math for General Relativity but that’s about as far as I go...

Wow. Was Mathematics your first Degree?

Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics....but I didn’t get too sophisticated in either Physics or Mathematics. So, I don’t know, the math that you use to accurately describe String Theory is pretty far beyond the things that I did. Its “operator mathematics” and that I can understand but I’ve never used those particular kinds of operators.

Well, string theory is the attempt to unify the contradictory ideas of the Einsteinian theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. Do you think it’s the best idea at the current time?

I don’t even know if it’s the best idea...I sort of take their word for it. And OK, if they’ve done the math right, they’re part of the way to an answer. I just have to be an observer, a spectator...

That’s interesting though because you kind of used a part of that idea, the interaction of four dimensions with multiple dimensions in your novel, The Accidental Time Machine...

Oh, that was a total coincidence... I was about halfway through the book and read an article in New Scientist that discussed a paper about "Closed Timelike Curves in Asymmetrically Warped Brane Universes" which absolutely described the bogus science in my book.

That’s funny – yeah, you said, I think in the notes for your book, A Separate War, that you’ve invented some science as the underpinnings for some of your stories and then later, these ideas were somewhat confirmed by actual Science...that must be a good feeling.

(Laughs) Yeah, the highly scientific explanation, the meta-scientific explanation for it is the Shotgun Theory...you know, you blast away at enough things and sooner or later, you’ll hit one of them...


I often wonder, like what you wrote about in Accidental Time Machine, or like those guys at the Bell Labs who found the background noise of the Big Bang because they were doing their best to get rid of it because it was messing up their experiments – I wonder that the real breakthroughs in Science - maybe Time Travel - will happen, like you write about, through some kind of an accident.

That might happen...I don’t know, when I was an undergraduate, there was a big gravity experiment going on in the Physics department. A Professor named Weber – he was a well known Physicist. He had this 25 ton cylinder of aluminum that was suspended and if it moved, even a tiny micron, bells would go off and it meant something was happening to Space-Time. And by George, it started doing it. In fact, there was this slow oscillation. It had like an almost ten hour period. But actually, it was rush hour on the Washington Beltway outside – the increase in traffic was what was moving the cylinder...

(Laughing) Funny...I was talking to this French Physicist a few years ago that swore that they were actually moving particles forward in Time a few microseconds.

Uh huh. I’ve read a description of that. I can’t say that I’m emotionally convinced...that it is actually real.

Well, as a writer, you’ve considered Time Travel from both scientific and literary points of view. Do you think Time Travel is possible?

Well. (long pause)...I assume not.

Really? Why is that?

There are so many probabilistic things to that that no one has taken care of. Basically, the “Grandfather Paradox.” But also it’s inelegant. There’s a thermodynamic inelegance to it. They just came across this thing and I wish I could give you the exact reference but an explanation of the Grandfather Paradox becomes a kind of a snake eating its own tail. It says for instance that if you were going to go back in time and you had a gun and you were going to shoot yourself with it, it would fail to go off. Why would it fail to go off? Well, it doesn’t make any difference – whether the primer didn’t work or the trigger didn’t work or the bullet itself didn’t work – but it couldn’t work because you’re not allowed to kill yourself...because then you couldn’t make the Time Machine. And so, you get this weird kind of “Well, all right, the meta causality that allows time travel in the first place is more powerful than cause and effect.” And that makes a screwy kind of sense... because cause and effect becomes something that is contained within a larger causality. And I go, “That’s cool” but I really don’t believe it.

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