Time’s How You Look at It

Young lady with pocket watch.
Lady Time is one of the Fates.

When I lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania, I had a next door neighbor who preferred to remain anonymous. Lindsey claimed her husband had been murdered by a conspiracy of unscrupulous investors who aimed to restrict a patented technology her husband had developed. He had produced a device that enabled rapid aging of organic and inorganic compounds. She was secretive about the identity of the investors except for a reference to persons in the oil industry. She feared for her life. The device has some obvious commercial applications, such as hastening the maturity of cheeses and alcoholic beverages, the curing of leathers, and perhaps the production of ersatz antiques.

Until now I considered such a device of somewhat marginal utility, until now, because I realized that such a device operated as a universal catalyst, and a universal catalyst would be a technology of inestimable value. Viewed from a commercial point of view, any chemical reaction takes place in real time. If a chemical process, such as the production of some synthetic fiber, could be increased by a factor of two, then the through-put of a factory might be doubled. Perhaps the shady characters to which Lindsey referred had found a method to convert organic waste to oil without the intermediary of several millions of years. Under some circumstances, aging has commercial value.

Within its area of action, a universal catalyst speeds time. In a relative sense, outside the area of action, time is slowed. A universal catalyst entails the same consequences and paradoxes as the implications of Relativity theory for time.

In Einstein’s discourse about time, as an object approaches the speed of light, time slows, until at the speed of light, time stands still. Were an astronaut to travel in a spaceship near the speed of light for what to him might seem a year, when he returned his starting place, he would find that many hundreds, thousands, or millions of years may have transpired. During his trip, the astronaut, himself, would have experienced time in the same way as he would if his ship were motionless relative to his starting place.

If an observer were able to stand outside the universe, the universe itself might be traveling near the speed of light, and so a million years might transpire for the observer in a day on earth. And contrariwise, the observer, himself, might be traveling near the speed of light, and so a million years might transpire on earth for a day of his time. And if the observer had the properties of light, then for the observer, all time would be telescoped into an eternal present.

A universal catalyst is an alchemical device. The device speeds time, so, like the hypothetical astronaut, an observer may conjure an illusion of being outside of time. No wonder someone might kill. Commercial application is the display of a god-like power.

Cut-loose from human megalomania, experienced time is not so easily contained. It encompasses properties of extremes. Children experience days as weeks, and weeks as months; old persons experience Christmas three times a year. Life speeds up, or is it, we speed up? Blake in his Songs of Innocence avers “To see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower/ To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”