Time is a Long, Long Ladder

TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE

At some time in your life, you’re going to begin questioning why you exist. You’ll take a look at the length of your history, at your stories, your accomplishments, your failures. You’ll think of your present, of the beliefs you cling to and those you’ve allowed to slip away. And the future? An indecipherable mass of uncertainty. You can’t know.

Time only travels in one direction, even though one’s memory is not linear. But what if your life was more like a space elevator? A space elevator that runs along a ribbon-like track made of carbon nanotube fiber. Carbon nanotubes have enormous tensile strength. They can be woven together to form a very thin ribbon or cable of immense strength. The ribbon is cemented into the ocean floor at the equator, and a length over 22,000 miles long launched into space. It rises up to orbit with the earth, held in place by centrifugal force. That force at the top of the ladder is stronger than gravity. The ladder will seem stationary at its base on the surface of the earth, while its top will be spinning through time and space.

Now add an elevator that can climb the carbon ladder and deliver you right up to the top of the world, more than 22,000 miles up. And what’s at the top? A hotel for space tourists, of course. A real destination that you can visit as many times as you wish, vacation time permitting.

If you compare the ladder to your life, the base cemented into the ocean is your past. The cement, your family; the ocean, your friends. This is your watery world. Now step into the elevator cabin and thrill as you climb the carbon ribbon toward the sun. This remarkable journey is your present. You’ve got to shield yourself from the radiation all around you. And protect yourself from electrical storms. Those are the challenges your life brings your way. At the top is your future, that space hotel in the sky with every amenity available in the universe. What a vacation! You can’t imagine that future, you simply have to experience it. It’s the enormity of space: who can know what it will bring? Since it will take many days to reach the top, you’ll need a few months of time to fully enjoy your space hotel.

But then, probably too soon, your vacation is over and you must descend. Your past becomes your future, your return to your beginnings. The journey is still pleasant, though your ears may pop. But unlike the space hotel orbiting the earth, your final destination is known. Your future is no long a mystery. You’re going back. You’re going home. Your future becomes your past. Your present repeats, though in reverse.

How is it possible to know your future? How can you choose a future, when only the present is real? Maybe we live in parallel universes, where at any given time, what’s real can vary. I wonder if the only way to figure out why you exist is to take that carbon nanotube ribbon of a space elevator into the sky. Up through the clouds, up past the atmosphere, up into the coldness of space, up where the earth holds us but still allows us to spin freely in time, in utter darkness and emptiness. Time is a long, long ladder. But I wonder which way to travel on it. Which way is real. Which way?

PS Space elevators and carbon nanotube space ladders are real concepts originating in science fiction, but currently being designed and developed. Someday, you’ll be able to take your vacation up a very thin ladder to a space hotel in the sky.

 

 

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