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by Paul Kiser
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Paul Kiser

(Warning: This post contains information that may cause brain damage.)

There is a television commercial where an middle-aged couple is watching their son being inaugurated as President, which is followed by a series of scenes working backwards in time:

  • > The ‘President’ is a young boy playing with his Dad
  • > The ‘President’ being born
  • > His parents in their first house
  • > His parents at their wedding
  • > His parents on their first date
  • > And finally a scene where his Dad first sees his Mom on a train that is about to leave and he and uses his phone to buy a ticket so he can meet her.

Positive Time, No-Brainer
This backward view of a series of related events illustrates the concept of negative time, and while the new theories regarding how our micro, micro, micro world works may not yet directly propose it, there is some evidence that time may work both ways. If true, everything we understand about life would be turned upside down.

Time flows only one-way, right?

We take positive time for granted. It is so automatic in our lives that most people can’t even conceive what the opposite of positive time would be like in our universe. It is so basic to our lives that if I were to ask a lay person to define the term ‘positive time’, they might come up with a reasonable definition, but they probably would have to take a moment or two to construct their explanation. If asked for the a definition of negative time, most people would likely be stumped.

Positive time is relatively simple. In our universe time began at the Big Bang, or Big Pop, as I prefer to call it. Theoretical physicists believe that prior to the Big Pop everything in ‘the universe’ was completely ordered and homogeneous. There was no movement, or action, or decay. In essence, no ‘matter’ or substance in the universe, just energy. Time didn’t exist because you must have something changing to measure time, and there wasn’t anything to measure.

At the Big Pop, matter was created out of energy and put in motion. Matter in motion means that it has a beginning point and a direction of movement and that means it can be measured. The moment of the creation of matter was also the creation of Time. From that moment Time moved in a positive direction, meaning that one second follows the next, but in one direction only. We (in our experience of Time) cannot reverse time and go back to a past moment, nor can we figure out a way to have time run backwards. Since we can only observe Positive Time it has been easy to ignore the question, “Why does time always move in one direction?”

One depiction of how time travel might be possible

Time Travel is not Negative Time
Science fiction has toyed with the idea of time travel, but that is not quite the same as negative time. Jumping from the present to the past or future involves skipping over all those seconds between now and then. To be the opposite of positive time, negative time would have to flow backward from one moment to the next, which is how we experience positive time.

So why care about the concept of negative time when it doesn’t seem to exist? Well, maybe it does.

String Theory Shakes Up Our Idea of Space/Time and Dimensions
For most of human history we have assumed we live in a four-dimensional world (three space dimensions, plus the dimension of positive time.) It is all we can observe; therefore, it is fact. But a new view of the Quantum world of the very, very small, called String Theory, we have tangible evidence that beyond the micro, micro world of electrons, muons, and photons is a micro, micro, micro world of vibrating strings, made not of matter, but of energy. Without getting into all the background of the last 30 years of discoveries and theories, the concept of String Theory offers the best and most rational explanation of the raw materials that create the reality we see, sense, hear, and feel around us.

A simplistic view of the 'strings' in String Theory

Along with String Theory has come an acceptance by many in the field that in addition to the three dimensions we know, there must be at least seven or eight additional dimensions that we can’t observe because they are either too small to be detected, or they just are outside our realm of detection by our senses and/or equipment. It may seem odd to have a concept of something outside of our experience and before we can detect it; however, Albert Einstein is only one example of someone who came up with bizarre ideas that were not proven until years after he gave us the theory. In the case of String Theory, mathematicians have used equations to determine what is and is not possible in the micro, micro, micro world and eleven dimensions makes all the puzzle pieces fall together even though we currently lack the technical capability to observe all but three of them.

The Legacy of a 200 year-old Experiment
Note that String Theory does not propose that time works in two directions. In fact, when theoretical physicists discuss the eleven dimensions they often add, ‘and the dimension of time’ as if to reinforce that time is a singular, one-way aspect of reality. The idea that time might flow two ways is not part of the typical String Theory conversation.

The conflicting waves of the Double Slit Experiment

But there is an interesting experiment discussed in Brian Greene’s book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, which challenges our positive time flow assumptions. The experiment is known a the ‘Double Slit Experiment‘ and it was devised over 200 years ago (1801) by Thomas Young. The experiment uses two slits that light passes through to a film that would record the effect of the slits on the path of the light. If the light creates a cluster of points on the film, it is evidence of particle behavior. If the light creates a banded appearance, it is evidence of wave behavior.

The result seemed to prove that light behaved as a wave pattern and for about 150 years that was the accepted point of view, but in the past fifty years light has been proven to be a particle (known as a photon.) So what’s up with Mr. Young’s experiment?

Without delving into Quantum Theory and the Uncertainty Principle, the belief is that a photon travels every possible theoretical route before it travels the only route it is destined to travel and therefore, it shows up as a wave pattern in the classic Double Slit Experiment, but if the experiment is set up to determine the route of the photon it only detects the route that the photon actually travels and all the potential paths disappear…if you head is starting to hurt, I completely understand. The full discussion of this takes up a sizable portion of Mr. Greene’s book, but for now, I ask you to accept this so I can move on to the next concept.

According to Mr. Greene, the detector that identifies the route of the photon does not interfere with the photon reaching the recording film, but because the photon was being observed before it reached the recording film, its behavior changed at the source. In other words, somehow the light sensed the detector and rather than every possible path being recorded on the film, the only thing recorded was the singular photon.

Again, according to Mr. Greene, this was not a case that the detector changed the behavior of the light, but that the behavior of light changed at the source. There are no rational explanations for why this happens, but one possible idea is that time can flow backward, meaning that the photon’s behavior is shaped, not by positive time flow (photon emitted by source, path observed or not by detector), but by negative time (photon observed or not by detector, photon emitted by source.)

Do Final Events Determine the Events that Preceded It?
The concept of negative time is so bizarre and outside our experience that any rational mind has a hard time accepting the possibility of anything that contradicts a world ruled by positive time. But why should time be limited by what we experience? What if our Positive Time experience consists of the result of future events, not of past events?  What if the previously mentioned television commercial has correctly ordered the events? Maybe the boy who becomes President causes all the preceding events all along the timeline? What if our universe is constructed, not by one event followed by another, but by a final event that then construct all the events that led up to the final event?

By now your head may be pounding from trying to understand a concept that is absolutely alien to what we know, or you may decided to reject the idea as absurd, (which it is when taken in the context of our experience,) but if negative time is real then it means that much of what we see as coincidence is not…. and a self-fulfilling prophesy is not just an amusing idea, but a fact of life in Negative Time. It means that what we do now is guided by what we will do in the future.

The ramifications of Negative Time exceed what we can imagine and challenge our foundations of science, philosophy, religion, business, in fact, all aspects of life as we know it. It is a concept that is a long way from becoming provable in our experience of the universe, but the possibility of Time being a two-way phenomenon is exciting…even if it makes my head hurt.

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