Echoes of Time Past

Recently I went through all VHS tapes and audio cassettes to decide which ones warranted being converted to DVDs and CDs. One revelation was just how horrible a photographer I had been over the years, but a far more important revelation had to do with the nature of the material. I found an old tape that had been created from even older family movies.

I saw myself at thirteen in a scene with my parents that I distinctly remembered. Here was a tape version of reality coexisting with my very sharp picture in my head despite the fact that my memory was over fifty years old. I also found an old audio tape of my son reciting the ABCs at the age of two or three with the voices of myself and my wife in the background. Once again, I had remembered the scene and here was audio tape proof of the event.

What struck me was that writers and scientists are getting much closer to agreeing on the nature of time. At one time scientists subscribed to a strictly linear theory of time; things happened and then new things happened, never to repeat again. Writers, on the other hand, long have been known to write novels where characters jump back and forth in time, depending on their thoughts. To the reader, these events sometimes seem to all coexist.

Today scientists are moving toward the view that our minds make sense of time by viewing it chronologically, but that in reality young Stan, older Stan and currently aged Stan all exist simultaneously with no one period more real than the other. Think for a moment what happens when you view your spouse or your child. You often see a face and then watch it morph as your memories project what that face looked like at various ages. See your wife of thirty years? You might look at her and instantly see the girl you dated, the girl you married, and various other iterations of her over the years. Who is to say that one version is more real than the others?

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. described a similar version of time in his bestseller, Slaughterhouse Five. Proust and Joyce were preoccupied with characters’ memories. Perhaps we don’t have to invent a time machine because all reality is there despite the fact that we only view a small slice of it at a time.

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