Do you ever feel caught out of time?
I had a day recently where I felt I’d skipped out of the time stream followed by the rest of the world. Like the needle on a record player suddenly dislodged backwards, I wound up running eleven minutes behind everyone else. I felt constantly as if I lagged behind some ephemeral constant, and no matter what extreme measures I took, I couldn’t catch up. I was eleven minutes late for every appointment, even when I’d finished the last one earlier than expected—even when I had ample “time” to make the next one. It seemed that I’d been bumped from the main time stream of everyday life into the eddying swirls along the river’s edge, and though I struggled through the sluggish waters, I couldn’t rejoin the main channel.
I wonder sometimes if there really is a time stream we can disconnect from, even if only in short bursts, which somehow gets reset at various times of the day to equalize us all back to the same continuum. Other times I wonder how any of us manage to operate on the same time stream at all, what with the myriad billions of lives splaying hither and yon across each other’s paths, each of us in a sense making our own time with the process of thought itself as we forge our way through life.
There are widely held viewpoints on the concept of time. One idea, posited originally by Sir Isaac Newton and therefore sometimes called Newtonian time, is that time is part of a fundamental cosmic structure, an actual dimension, in which events persist like a film strip spanning the entire line of existence. Time travel would be supported by this theory, since the individual frames (or moments) would persist as part of the universe’s existential fabric. In this view, time and space have relationship, and Einstein’s general theory of relativity draws upon this relationship, pinning gravity, space and time into one interconnected structure.
Another philosophical view, espoused by Immanuel Kant, among others, believes that time is part of a fundamental intellectual structure, which humanity uses as a means of comparing events—essentially, a measurement of the rate of change. In this view, time would not be a thing at all—having neither dimension nor place in space—and time travel as we know it (as often posed by SF writers) would be denied by this idea structure.
What I like about this second theory is the idea that each individual might be creating his own time, within the universe of his own mind. If there is no stream upon which we are all traveling, but rather a number of “times” as vast as there are minds to think and compute, what fodder this provides for a writer’s imagination! If we could all be little black holes, bending space-time within the framework of our individual “universes”… well, it's an intriguing initial concept from which to explore further extrapolations.
When writing science fiction, many authors look to the first view, which supports the idea that time might be bent, skipped or otherwise manipulated. Yet within science fiction, the author is still constricted in his manipulation of time by the existing fundamental concepts supported by our various sciences.
Fantasy is bound by none of these restrictions. The only laws binding the concept of time within a fantasy world are those laws the author himself has created. This makes time an incredibly appealing concept to play with in a fantasy structure, and I’m surprised that more authors don’t include its manipulation as part of their magic systems.
Time plays an integral role in my series, though we will only begin to touch upon this truth in book 3.
Which idea of time do you think is true? Or do you have another that is uniquely your own?