stretches out before us, going ever-forward
is ever yet to be arrived at. The past
is past, never to be revisited. Or is it? We look at time and we see, we experience
, we live
. But what if that is solely a matter of our breadth of perspective
? What if we perceive time as linear as an ant
at the center of a basketball court perceives the world as flat?
Picture the ant. Not even one of the especially big ones, but the tiny kind you might not even bother to assault
if you saw it carrying a grain of sugar
across your kitchen
floor. Now picture that ant at the center of a basketball court
. Not a small one, either, not a pewee league structure in a middle school gym, but a nice, large, professional basketball court, one carefully set with the smoothest of woods and meticulously polished to even greater smoothness and consistent levelness. To the ant, this essentially becomes its entire Universe
. Most ants have a visual range of no more than a foot or two at the most, so everything beyond that would then become a uniform blur of endless flatness. This ant's world is flat; and the flat goes on forever
We may scoff at the little insect
's limited ability to perceive the world. It cannot possibly conceptualize a spherical earth, for it is neither perceptionally equipped to decipher such a thing, nor has it the cognitive capacity to comprehend the core concept of a sphere which generates its own mass. Not that the presence of gravity
would do much to inform it. Were this tiny ant instead on a basketball
suspended in the air over the court, it would then be able to see the roundness
of its host, but could walk over every point on the ball's circumference
without pausing to wonder what held it to the bottom of the ball as it traversed that lowest point. For humans, this can be so startling a concept that some still insist to this day upon a flat Earth
, where gravity is a one-way operator.
And yet, that ant differs from us only by a few paltry orders of magnitude, fewer than we might like to admit on the grand scale of things. We are, most of us, aware on an educational level of the roundness of the earth, but we project from that that everything else in space
, in our Universe
both immediately around us and as far as can be imagined to go, functions the same as the physical parameters of our daily lives. Essentially we assume our world to be the only world worth operating in, and our norms to be the absolutes. We don't walk around, from moment to moment, thinking of Einstein
's formulations of the curvability of time at high acceleration
. Like the ant with its two-foot range of vision seeing a flatly flat world, we see the little bit of time stretched out before and behind us, in a neat and constant line, and dare not dream anything else to be possible.
But one other thing we have in common with the ant is this: we move. Not all the time, and often in fits and starts, but if we keep moving outward from our shell, with purpose and determination, we might one day look back and see that we've moved across time not in a line but along a curve. We might need precise instrumentation to confirm this -- just as a person driving from Boston
to San Diego
would not feel the curve of the Earth as they went, but could confirm that a straight line between the two would pass several miles below the ground, where the midpoint of that trip had been by land
. But not only might we be able to confirm this, we might be able to use
this curvature to alter the time of our arrival at our destination to a point earlier than the time spent travelling.
And as for the ants, well one might set out across its inarguably flat environment, and proceed inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile -- and this might need to go on for several generations, but -- in the end some great-great-grand-descendant ant could find that going over something more than one and a half billion of those inches has brought it, in a straight line, right back to the center of the basketball court from which the journey began. And if that is possible, then just maybe, when humankind travels far enough into our future, we'll find ourselves at the beginning of our time, instead of the end of it.