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time-travel

We need time travel.

I have read in several places that before H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine no one had considered time travel. Unless you’re talking just about literature, I find that hard to believe. Does that mean that no one thought about the “what if” of being able to go back and undo or redo something? No one considered the advantage of being able to shoot ahead in time to see what was to become in order to prepare for it or prevent it?

It’s common today for literature and film to use time travel for all the reasons that any of us consider its possibilities. We want to see history. Nostalgia. We want to change history. We want to see the future. Perhaps, the future will give us hope. It may make us fearful and we will want to change the future. Time is a mystery.

If Wells invented time travel in 1895, he preceded Albert Einstein’s work by a few years. I’d love it if someone found evidence that Einstein read The Time Machine. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity allows for time travel, though not in a very satisfying way.

Space and time are really aspects of the same thing—space-time. There’s a speed limit of 300,000 kilometers per second (or 186,000 miles per second) for anything that travels through space-time, and light always travels the speed limit through empty space.

If  you could move through space-time and your speed relative to other objects is close to the speed of light, then time goes slower for you than for the people you left behind. Not exactly what most of us think of when you say “time travel.” You won’t notice this effect until you return to those people who were not traveling with you.

This kind of time travel was part of the movie Interstellar. Suppose you were able to travel at the speed of light. They put you on this spacecraft when you are 15 years old and you leave your life on Earth. You travel for five years and at age 20 you come back to Earth. Those kids you left in high school are now 65 years old. You missed the prom and a whole lot more from the past 50 years.

Did you time travel to the future? You seem closer to being Rip Van Winkle than a spaceman. In Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle” he does the same thing. No time machine or speed needed. He drinks some strange liquor owned by the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew and it knocks him out for about 20 years. He returns home and his now-grown daughter takes him in. Oddly, he seems little changed by the experience.

It happens that way to Woody Allen’s character in Sleeper and to the astronaut in Planet of the Apes.

He resumes his usual idleness, and his strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers.

traces the invention of the notion of time travel to H.G. Wells’s 1895 masterpiece The Time Machine. Although Wells — like Gleick, like any reputable physicist — knew that time travel was a scientific impossibility, he created an aesthetic of thought which never previously existed and which has since shaped the modern consciousness. Gleick argues that the art this aesthetic produced — an entire canon of time travel literature and film — not only permeated popular culture but even influenced some of the greatest

Time travel helps us cope with a varity of anxieties. Science historian James Gleick explores wrote Time Travel: A History which is part history and part Einstein thought experiment mixing physics, literature and philosophy.

Isn’t it strange that H.G. Wells, who was so interested in history, only had his time machine travel to the future? Did he give thought to the looping paradoxes of traveling back and changing the past so that you didn’t exist in the future and therefore couldn’t have traveled back and changed things?

Do you ever have the feeling that you’re stuck in a time loop? I’ve written before about my love for the film Groundhog Day. First you feel bad for Bill Murray’s character and he lopps through the same day over and over. But eventually he gets things to work “correctly” and is able to move on.

If all that is too frivolous, then move on to Stephen Hawking. He once, quite unscientifically, hosted a party for time travelers. No one showed up. Where are those people from the future? maybe they are here but are being very careful not to change anything and so are being very, very covert.

John Archibald Wheeler popularized the term “black hole” and coined “wormhole” and gave new hope to time travel literature and Dr. Who.

The wonderful podcast, To the Best of Our Knowledge, has done a bunch of stories on time travel. In one segment, they talked with someone who dreamed about creating a time machine as a child. His intent was to go back and save someone he lost. That child became a theoretical physicist and has spent a lot of his career studying time.

Currently, my time travel is limited to memory, photo albums and video excursions into the past. Nothing in the future so far. I was more in favor of time traveling as described in stories like Time and Again that didn’t require any machines.

When I first read about Einstein’s theories, I was disappointed. I imagined that my 19 year old self might travel back to when I was 9 years old and so have no memory of my present that had become the “future.” I would be trapped in a loop of growing up to 19, getting in the time machine, going back to age 9 and doing it over and over for eternity. I wouldn’t even remember that I had ever done it before. Or maybe I do remember some things. That would explain déjà vu.

Maybe we haven’t met any time travelers because we are all time travelers. We were sent back from some disastrous future and are reliving history over and over again in the hope that we can somehow change things and negate that disastrous future. The hope of time travel.

Here is an odd, and kind of Romantic with a capital R, tale. A homemade houseboat washed up this month on an Irish beach. It look well-traveled, but in good shape. No one was on board.

The local coast guard boards it and finds a note.

note

“I, Rick Small, donate this structure to a homeless youth to give them a better life that Newfoundlanders choose not to do! No rent, no mortgage, no hydro”.

Rick Small is an “environmentalist/eco-adventurer” from Thunder Bay, Canada, which would suggest that this houseboat survived a 1,900 mile, two month journey across the Atlantic. It had been sighted in September off Newfoundland.

Rick Small had previously gained attention with a three-wheeled bike fitted with solar panels, which powered him across 7,000 km of Canada.

The boat still contained some of Small’s personal items. It is equipped with an electric motor powered by the solar panels, and only a piece of plywood bolted to a PVC pipe for steering.

ballyglass-coast-guard

More: upi.com/Odd_News/

Photos: Ballyglass Coast Guard, County Mayo, Ireland

What might be considered the oldest government computer is more than 12 billion miles from Earth.

There were two Voyager probes launched in 1977. They both have 69.63 kilobytes of total computer memory on board. That is almost exactly equal to the memory required for the illustration of Voyager in this post. They still work because were set to overwrite old data once it has been sent to Earth.

Artist's Concept of Voyager

Artist’s impression of Voyager 1  – image via WikiMedia Commons

The Voyager program was to study the outer Solar System. Oddly, Voyager 1 launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. It has been sending data for 39 years. It still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data.

It was 135 AU (2.02×1010 km) from the Sun as of June 2016, making it the farthest spacecraft from Earth.

Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn before a flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan set it on a trajectory out of the solar system. Voyager 2 also visited those planets before heading to Uranus and Neptune. It is currently in the Heliosheath, a zone in the outer limits of the Sun’s magnetic field.

You may remember Voyager because each probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems. I wrote about the discs in my “Hello Aliens!” post. The “records” have photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, scientific information, spoken greetings from Earthlings, “Sounds of Earth” audio with whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and music (including works by Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Valya Balkanska, Eastern and Western classics and indigenous music from around the world.   It also has a greeting to the aliens in 55 different languages.

record_is_attached_to_voyager_1

gold-plated disc being attached to Voyager 1

The Voyager probes are not the only artificial objects we have launched that are leaving the Solar System. There is a pretty large list of space probes and their upper stages launched by NASA the aliens might come across out there. And we have others closer to home that are in orbit around planets or around the Sun.

More at wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1

Tonight and tomorrow night (October 5 and 6, 2016) if you look at the waxing crescent moon, the brightest starlike object near the moon will be Saturn. Looking golden to the eye, Saturn looks very cool through a telescope. I only use a good binocular to bring it in closer, but all you need are your eyes to spot it.

You should look as soon as the sun sets, find the moon in that same general direction of sunset and Saturn will below and a bit to the left (tonight) or right (tomorrow).

Below Saturn, the other bright point is a star – the reddish Antares. It’s the “heart” of the constellation Scorpius.  Stars “twinkle” but planets show steady light.

By October 7, the moon will be near Mars.

Yes, everything is always moving.

A cool place to check online is the U.S. Naval Observatory site. Want to see what our Moon looks like today? Click over to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/imagery/moon

Saturn seen during equinox

Saturn seen during equinox

The sixth planet outward from the sun, Saturn is the most distant world that you can easily see with the unaided eye.

Before darkness falls, in that first hour after sunset, you can also see our brightest planet, Venus, near the sunset point on the horizon.

rainy

The Chipmunk

Stock-still I stand,
And him I see
Prying, peeping
From Beech-tree;
Crickling, crackling
Gleefully!

I don’t think most people would associate this short, light poem with the novelist Herman Melville, its author. I like Melville’s writing. A lot of people don’t. Generally, he is not an easy read. He gets praise for Moby Dick, but even that novel was a commercial failure in his time.

He had some early success with his tales of sailing and exotic natives on distant islands. But every succeeding book seemed to sell less and finally with the publication of the satiric Pierre in 1852, it must have seemed like the end for him. The fame would come after his death.

melville-stampHe never stopped writing. He still got published – a Revolutionary War novel, Israel Potter,  a few years later and stories in magazines. Some of those late stories are still read today (“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” “The Encantadas,” and “Benito Cereno.” These and three other stories were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. sales were poor.

He had been friends with fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne when moved his family to Arrowhead, a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1850. My reading of that relationship is that Melville considered Hawthorne a close friend, but Hawthorne didn’t see it as being very close. He dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne They met up again in 1857 when he was in England.

Melville made a tour of the Near East. He had The Confidence-Man, a novel I like, published in 1857, and that was the last prose work he published during his lifetime.

He moved to New York. He took a regular job as a Customs Inspector. He wrote poetry. A few books of it were published. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War was about the morality of war, particularly the Civil War, and his trip to the Holy Land inspired the poems in Clarel. The latter was a metaphysical epic. I find most of the poetry impenetrable and not enjoyable – and I am not the average reader because I actually read books of poetry.

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme,” Melville, Moby-Dick

When Herman Melville died, on September 28th, 1891, he was working on that small chipmunk poem above. He had spent the last 25 years being a private citizen. And he wrote poems. But he was a commercial failure as a poet.

As he got older, he went from mighty themes and grand language to simplicity.

Through an orchard I follow
Two children in glee.
From an apple-tree’s hollow
They startle the bee.

Melville was 72 and pretty much anonymous when he died in Manhattan. But I would like to believe that in his simple poems in the last years, he found some peace. No need to publish. No big themes.

Six days a week, he walked west across lower Manhattan to his job along the Hudson River (then known as the North River) to earn a fixed salary of four dollars a day. He walked home in the evening, and after dinner, wrote poems.

Soft as the morning
When South winds blow,
Sweet as peach-orchards
When blossoms are seen,
Pure as a fresco
Of roses and snow,
Or an opal serene.

On a chilly, rainy, autumn day like today in 2001, I tried walking Melville’s New York City.  I was going through a pretty bad depression. Unfortunately, in that state of mind, people often drag themselves deeper. I don’t know why I thought that walking by the bay at the Battery I might commune with the spirits of Melville or Walt Whitman and that would somehow make things better.

I stopped at Trinity Church in the neighborhood of Bartleby’s Wall Street. It was empty and cold.

I walked past 97 Nassau Street where Melville had frequented Gowan’s Antiquarian Bookstore. It is supposed that he “probably exchanged pleasantries with Edgar Allan Poe, whom he had met through their mutual editor. On one visit, Melville bought an edition of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy which, he discovered at a later time, had once belonged to his father’s library.”

Melancholy – that feeling of pensive sadness, with no obvious cause.  Melville knew it too. He may have written through it sometimes.

Ah, Love, when life closes,
Dying the death of the just,
May we vie with Hearth-Roses,
Smelling sweet in our dust.

When he died, there were several dozen unpublished poems on his desk. They are about roses and irises, bluebirds and chipmunks, the Berkshires and dreams.They have been published as Weeds and Wildings, with a Rose or Two.

I suspect critics would not think much of these last poems. I suspect that Melville didn’t care.

dead-rose

modelTford

The Ford Model T was the first affordable automobile. Known as the “Tin Lizzie,” it changed the way Americans live, work and travel.

Henry Ford’s revolutionary advancements in assembly-line automobile manufacturing is what made the Model T the first car to be affordable for a majority of Americans. Car ownership became a reality for average American workers, not just the wealthy.

More than 15 million Model Ts were built in Detroit and Highland Park, Michigan. They were also assembled at a Ford plant in Manchester, England, and at plants in continental Europe.

It had a 2.9-liter, 20-horsepower engine and could travel at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. It had a 10-gallon fuel tank and could run on kerosene, petrol/gasoline, or ethanol.

But the thing I only learned recently is that it couldn’t drive uphill if the tank was low on fuel. Why? Because there was no fuel pump. The workaround in this design flaw was that people would drive uphill in reverse, thereby using gravity to get the fuel to the engine. I imagine lines of cars at hills going in reverse. That would certainly be a strange – and dangerous – sight to see today. But I like their ingenuity.

modelT-hill

The Model T cost $850 in 1909, and as efficiency in production increased, the price dropped, so that by 1927, you could get one for $290. The last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927.

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