Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Airports and paperbacks

I’m riding a local municipal bus to the airport for a business flight I need to catch. The bus is packed, but I find a seat next to two noisy teenaged girls. They’re flighty and loud - quacking away about mascara and boyfriends and fashion. I settle in to my seat and pull a paperback sci-fi novel from my backpack. The book is entitled, “Other Ways We Go Home.”

One of the girls spots the title on my paperback spine and shouts, “Oh! I LOVE that book! I read it five times! What do YOU think it’s about?”

I fan my fingers through the first thirty or forty pages and say, “Well, I’m just getting started. It’s a big book, but I think I know where we’re going with this. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but my first guess is that every moment in time - every split second, every heartbeat - splinters the universe in to a gazzilion other possible universes, each and every one just as real as the one we think we live in.”

Well, that shuts them up. They stare at me like a couple of stunned hogs at a feed lot.

“It’s a book about time travel,” I continue. “It turns out that time travel in the conventional sense is impossible. You can’t go back in time. Einstein was right about that. He got lots of stuff right, but he missed some crucial principals, ‘cuz he had old data. It wasn’t his fault, he just didn’t know any better. Isaac Newton got the gravity thing sorta right, but he was a prisoner of his moment in time. The limitations of his particular universe, ya know?”

My fellow passengers are unimpressed. They begin to play with their cell phones.

“If we can demonstrate that each universe folds and splits and multiplies, nanosecond by nanosecond, we can learn to find a desired conformation in all those gazzilion times gazzilion possibilities. If we can’t go back in time, we can certainly learn how to step over it... like walking across stepping stones on a fast moving stream.”

The bus drops me off at my stop. It’s a park bench in an urban setting, on a fine warm day. I read my book for a while and eventually remember that I need to catch a plane. The terminal is just a few blocks away. I can see it from here.