Me in my home office in March 2021 with Amelia, the time machine in my closet. Photo by my husband Brooks Palmer.

A playfully serious guide to surviving time travel technology in the coming era

I dreamed I was shown a room with a desk and a chair. A voiceover in the dream calmly told me, “Time is like a room. If you want to avoid bumping into the chair when walking across the room, you can do that — but you have to know that there is a chair and where that chair is in the room.”

After that, I was no longer afraid of nuclear war. The solution was easy. We already knew nuclear war was a risk, we just had to avoid the paths or timelines that would lead to it. Operationalizing the solution was hard, of course, but that’s beside the point.

I asked a graphic artist to show how our perception of events relates to time as a landscape. In this conception the landscape exists, it is our perception of “what is happening” that moves across it. This kind of conception has been used to support the idea that events are predetermined, but this also could be one particular timeline that, while it exists perpetually, is not the only possibility.

My father couldn’t figure it out how ball lightning worked, so he resolved his cognitive dissonance by proclaiming that my mother didn’t actually see it. Like an attempt at retrocausally influencing the past, the theory simply didn’t allow the observation to have occurred in the first place.

If we fast-forward to current-day non-family-argumentation-based scholarship, ball lightning has recently been documented as being observed by “trained professionals” (not “just” mothers) and theories about how it works are being put forward among physicists (not “just” families at the breakfast table). If the history of science is any guide, we now ought to be looking forward to the alternative energy applications that will arise from taking ball lightning seriously.

I saw all my younger past selves lined up in front of me, and all my older future selves were lined up behind me. Their hearts were lit with a powerful glowing light. When I invited them closer, we connected at the level of our hearts and they walked into me. I felt strong, whole, and fully myself, containing my own multitudes.

That dream, as well as my own waking mental connections with mental representations of my future and past selves, confirmed for me the idea that connecting with inner versions yourself over time is a healing, strengthening experience. Twenty-seven years later this dream came back, apparently to support me and my team at TILT in building and clinically testing a “time travel narrative” technology to support hope and resilience among under-resourced people, using one version of what I call mental time travel (see below).

A current-day map of time-travel technologies

I’m going to start this section with a disclaimer that has a risk of making things worse, but I think it is necessary. Without much solid data, I admit that I am fairly convinced that some of what I’ve learned about time travel and how to shepherd it for beneficial use is actually driven by a non-conscious map of the future. Said another way, when my future selves walked into me in that second dream, I have the sense that they did not remain silent observers. In some sense they seem to be always busy, going places in time and doing things as well. What does that even mean in a physical sense? Perhaps nothing. It’s just a feeling.

  • influences the commonly accepted past in a way that is detectable to careful external observers at some point in time, or
  • receives information about the commonly accepted future that cannot be predicted based on data from the commonly accepted past.

Three types of time travel can fulfill these requirements: mental, informational, and physical time travel.

Mental time travel occurs in the mental realm, which does not mean it cannot be used to influence physical reality or receive information about physical realms. The key here is what is “traveling” (if anything really travels) is an aspect of mind. As beautifully described by philosopher Galen Strawson, we are just beginning to understand the relationship between mental things like intention, experience, and ideas and physical reality — so I will be conservative in the sense of not assuming any unproven constraints about the interactions between mental and physical realms.

Figure 1: Results by ACEs scores (blue = adverse childhood experiences or ACEs score < = 2 [n=34]; diagonal stripe = ACEs >= 3 [n=26]). Improvement in physical symptoms of stress, feelings of unconditional love, overall wellness as well as the five factors from the Zimbardo time perspective inventory. Note that for “present fatalistic” the change was negative (less fatalistic) but negligible for the low-ACEs group and positive (more fatalistic) but negligible for the high-ACEs group; here absolute value of the changes are shown. Error bars show +/- 1 standard error of the mean (SEM) within participants. *=p<0.05, **=p<0.01,**=p<0.001 for paired t-tests. Asterisks above each error bar refer to that group alone.

For example, using photons to retrieve information about random future events seconds or minutes before they occur is an example of real informational time travel. That’s where Amelia comes in.

Amelia is the time machine in my closet (pictured at the top of the article). I named her after Amelia Earhart, whom I romanticize as being a pilot ahead of her time. My Amelia doesn’t use the same type of quantum switch used in the experiments referred to above, but she may be using some kind of natural and seemingly retro-causal or retro-correlating quantum switch that becomes available when you do a simple experiment. Don’t ask me how or why this switch becomes available during this experiment — I’m not a theorist. I have some ideas but they’re far from rigorous; more like intuitions.

Figure 2. Baselined data from 3 combined experiments with error bars (+/- 1 S.E.M.). Purple = 0 observations post-decision, blue = 20 observations post-decision, green = 30 observations post-decision, orange = 60 observations post-decision. Each observation was 11 seconds long. Note that the decision about the ongoing duration of each run was made after the first 30 seconds, but the mean number of photons for the longest duration experimental run is significantly higher than the others throughout the pre- and post-decision period, even though there is no clear way that the photon detector can “know” about the duration of the the run until it is turned off.

I’m not a physicist — my background is in cognitive neuroscience — so I think about these things rather like a trained musician trying to paint.

In any case, this “future photon” idea seems to also include an aspect of physical time travel, in that may be that the photon itself is “traveling” along with the information. So let’s move onto learning more about that.

The past recipients of a message or resource sent from the future via mental, informational, and/or physical time travel have to believe it was sent:

1. by those who have our best interests at heart, and

2. with knowledge of our current situation.

Otherwise, the message fails. That’s the critical juncture where the time wars come in — or not.

A visualization of a photon spread through time , which conveniently doubles as a visualization of unconditional love. Painting by Brooks Palmer.

How to avoid the time wars

There’s a wonderful novel written by two great authors, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone — This is How You Lose the Time War. In their story (spoiler alert!) two time travelers are supposed to be rivals; they continually foil each others’ spacetime tweaks to try to create two different outcomes down the timelines. It’s an enlightening read. But I’m not interested in losing time wars, or winning them. In real life, I think it’s a great idea to avoid them entirely. We need to be thinking about time wars as chairs in a room that we can choose to avoid stumbling over, if we just admit the possibilities are there and so are ways to avoid these possibilities.

Here’s the proposal I’m offering in all seriousness. We avoid the time wars by accessing unconditional love on a global scale.

If you’ve gotten this far in this article, you’re definitely open to wild moonshot-like ideas. So you’re probably not going to balk at this one. I just want to explain how unconditional love helps us avoid the time wars, so you can see the value here. The idea is based on the profound experiences shared by the participants in the time travel narrative technology study (quantitative data in Figure 1). Here’s an example from one participant at the end of the 26-day study.

In this way, discerning what it feels like when a message or resource is wrapped in unconditional love becomes a built-in self-correcting process; the key to avoiding time wars. Coincidentally, it’s probably the key to avoiding all other types of wars too, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

If this unconditional-love-as-time-travel-medium approach is correct, then the current-day problem becomes not how to solve time travel technically, but how to understand the mechanics of unconditional love so it can be generated at will and scaled worldwide within the context of what will eventually be scalable time travel.

Affiliate Prof., Dept. of Physics and Biophysics at U. San Diego; Founder, The Institute for Love and Time (TILT); Fellow, Institute of Noetic Sciences

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