SINCE THE TIME I first discovered one of Robert A. Heinlein’s novels on a bookmobile, I have been fascinated with time. I’m not giving anything away to say that’s been, well, quite a long time. Perhaps, mention of a bookmobile or the fact the novel had just made its way to bookstores is a clue.
Time is a human Thing
The pursuit of understanding time is a uniquely human endeavor. Though like my grandchildren, my dog, Auggie, is the smartest of his kind in the history of man, he nevertheless does not process time in the same way we humans do. Adam Mann explains:
There’s implicit memory, an unconscious muscle memory that we use to perform tasks we have learned and repeated many times in the past, like tying a shoelace or riding a bike. And there’s declarative memory, where we store the personal experiences and factual information that make up the story of our lives. What’s Up With That: Why Does Your Dog Seem to Know What Time It Is? ~ Wired
Every athlete, soldier, and musician is well acquainted with the part of us we share with our canine friends. Muscle memory comes from repetitive use. Odel Bekham Jr. can instinctively make that one-handed reception because of sheer athletic ability and doing the same thing a thousand times over in practice. My youngest son, the solider, can tear his weapon down, and put it back together in the dark after having been awake for 48 hours because of muscle memory. The same goes for the concert pianist, whose fingers seem to magically know where to go.
But human beings exist in another dimension that my world’s smartest dog probably is unaware of. Declarative Memory is that part of the athlete that says, I just made a catch like my football hero from fifty years ago did – the reason my son is quick to tell you the 10th Mountain Division has its roots in World War II and is the most deployed division in the Army – the pianist recalls Beethoven’s inability to perform his own symphony because of deafness.
Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache. ~ Katherine Janeway.
Time travel into the past
From right to left are my mother, sister, grandmother, and great-grandmother. My mother is 91, my sister is 70, my grandmother died when I was a young adult and my great-grandmother long before I was born. But I know Granny Tucker as though I was present when this photograph was taken. I know her through Declarative Memory.
She is a part of the story of my life: her Cherokee heritage, her trials as her husband deserted her when he followed many a man to the oil and cotton fields of Texas, and her tenacious protection of the little piece of land he left behind. That photograph comprises part of my Declarative Memory – time-travel into the past.
Musing about time travel to the future is entertaining but the past is part of the fabric of life. George Orwell noted, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” To rob a people of their past is to deny them the only certain means of time travel at their disposal.
What if a people had no sense of time. That everything just – is? What if for them there was no sense of before or after? That thought hit me about half way through writing my second installment of Echoes of the Before Time, Into the Forbidden. This set the stage for where the story had to end – a few realizing more existed than in the now. And, if something was before then, there must be something beyond.
This sense of time is inevitable for humankind. Dr Maneesh Sahani, of the University College London Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, admits that science does not truly understand where such a sense of time originates.
“There are many proposals for how an internal clock might work, but no one has found a single part of the brain that keeps track of time. It may be that there is no such place, that our perception of time is distributed across the brain and makes use of whatever information is available.”
Could it be this declarative memory – our sense of place in time cannot be pinpointed by an MRI or some other scientific test? Perhaps, just perhaps, the ancient writer had it right – “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart …”