bits and pieces of time – with highlighted minor spoilers

I’ve been thinking recently about time and it’s passing, and I know some of the reasons. We’ve come to the end of our academic year, and like with the calendar year, the end of the academic year is a time for reflection of what’s in the past and what lies in the future.

Recent birthdays, mine and others, provoke a similar speculation, and one interesting aspect of this is the number of different annual cycles that we have in our lives: one birthday to the next, a calendar year and an academic year, one anniversary to the next; so perhaps there some thinking to be done on the intersectionality of cycles.

I’ve also recently watched Loki, and here lie some minor spoilers. Loki is a time travel story, with its branching timelines, and I realized something while watching. A lot of our representations of timelines, in Loki and in Avengers: Infinity War as well, we have a very discrete view of how timelines branch.

What I mean here by a discrete view of branching is that the points at which the branching happens don’t pile on top of one another and there are only finitely many different timelines at each branch. While I can understand, from a narrative point of view, that this discrete branching of timelines makes for a more straightforward story, but the universe doesn’t have any need to adhere to what we find narratively convenient.

I’ve done a small bit of reading about the many worlds interpretation of the multiverse, where (loosely) each action at each moment creates a branching across all possibilities, and there are many many possibilities. Here, the different timelines are different forward evolutions of the universe, sitting alongside one another, somehow.

But I’ve become fascinated by this branching, because it brings together two mathematical ideas that I’ve spent some time thinking about. One is that there are many – infinitely many in fact – sizes of infinity, with the necessary recursive issues that come into this contemplation. The other is the notion of a real tree; this is nothing to do with forests, but is a mathematical concept that extrapolates and abstracts a normal backyard tree.

But digging into those two ideas is for another time. The more interesting question is, how to bring those two ideas into the narrative structure of a story, in a way that carries some mathematical fidelity but doesn’t put off the reader and doesn’t wash out the plot and characters from the story itself.

And this is part of a larger challenge. There are some great stories that have a mathematical idea at their core, and creating such a story is something that I’ve always been interesting in working through.

And this cycles back to the start of this post, the cycles of time. I was hit recently by the image of our remaining days as a jar of coins; different coins might have different values, as different days carry their own impact and their own value, and we don’t know how many coins are remaining. And so let’s spend today well.

~ by Jim Anderson on 31 July 2021.

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