Or, What I Learned By Building an Award-Winning Time Machine

A lightbox asks if you wanna be a time machine
A lightbox asks if you wanna be a time machine
You really don’t have a choice

This is the final installment of the Who, What, When, Where, Why of Existence series we began in 2019.

“History is written by the victors,” they tell us. We give Winston Churchill credit for the quote. He didn’t say it first. But he was a victor, so there you have it.

As for the rest of us — we edit history. Annalee Newitz takes that notion to its logical extreme in their latest novel, The Future of Another Timeline. They build a clear, compelling fictional world quickly and deftly. Within it, the characters who travel through time are Geologists, tweaking history with edits that hopefully fly under the radar — no tropes where protagonists go back to indiscriminately kill history’s worst humans before they do too much damage. …


On seeing Sleater-Kinney, the Library of Babel and the Milky Way this month

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A billboard I drive past every day on Silver Spring, in Milwaukee

The fourth in a series of essays, following who, what and when. Those were apparently behind a paywall, which I took down. So feel free to catch up if you’d like, though it’s not necessary — I’ll be grateful if you spend some time with this one.

Long ago I got claustrophobic in the infinity room at the art museum. It had rules — one at a time, special footwear, no food or drink, no touching. There was a time limit for being in the infinity room. You had to take the infinity room in quick. …


Paul Celan, Basho, a funeral and a talk on quantum gravity

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Where: nearby, when: always

Part 3 in a series: when, which follows who and what.

We reach when we’re young. Overly aspirational, take on what we’re not ready for. We grow older and grow and try to re-live the back then of us. They collide like today.

We wonder about the appropriate response. Then the casket’s open and the present of her becomes past tense and we remember the used-to-be before any of this of her.

The her we didn’t know wasn’t our her, only imagined and picked up in pieces given to us with second hands. The her of then is more real now. …


Toni Morrison, David Berman, Hugh Everett, and the dangers of focusing on the what about us

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You Know You Are But Who Am I: The Known Unknowns Start Here

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Last week I sat in a meeting with our marketing team and realized I’d just said — helpfully and without thinking, “Don’t tell me how the sausage is made, just tell me if it tastes good.” People nodded and my boss replied, “Exactly.”

Colorful phrases that were weird to me when I started in the industry over a decade ago are mundane idioms now. Occasionally those expressions stick with me beyond what they’re intended to convey, though. …


Knowing for sure we’ll never know anything for sure

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Kurt Gödel

If you were in the Milwaukee area Saturday, here’s hoping you were outside. Weather is subjective, but it was objectively beautiful. Happy to report I was outside at a park, sitting at a picnic table, reading about Kurt Gödel, a metamathematician living in Vienna in the 1930s. Hashtag spring!

This was not the other Gödel tome that’s been on my bookshelf intimidating me since the ‘90s, Kurt Hofstadter’s highly regarded Gödel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid. That’s next, I promise. Maybe. We’ll see how this goes. Because I’m more than halfway through Rebecca Goldstein’s brilliant Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, using the dust jacket’s back-flap for a bookmark instead of its front. So, yeah. Deep enough into the cavern to have learned a lot, but probably having missed more than I should along the way. Enough to blog about it, in any case. …


Accepting and resisting, aspiring and building

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With Stephen Hawking’s death comes a great temptation to recap and explore in depth some of his more important contributions to human history. I’d recommend reading what he has to say on those matters, though. It’s enlightening, exciting, frustrating, confusing, glorious, and profound. And I’m not sure I’m quite qualified to put it in my own words. When a guy has the theoretical radiation emanating from black holes named after him, I’m not convinced that Physics 101 class equipped me to succinctly summarize the words of perhaps the smartest human ever.

For one writer at The Atlantic, though, such a task is effortlessly sublime. In her piece memorializing Hawking this week, Amanda Gefter begins speaking personally before expanding into concepts that might be beyond comprehension if not for her brilliance. Give it a read. My big takeaway: Hawking proved mathematically that particles don’t exist. …


Life lessons found in questioning the Fermi Paradox

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The Fermi Paradox is a fun way to fill awkward breaks in conversation on a first date with someone you never plan on seeing again. Basically it comes down to, physicist Enrico Fermi did some math and decided that space is really big and the universe is really old — so how come we haven’t met up with any extraterrestrials? TL;DR: the numbers say we probably should have crossed paths with tall, skinny grey beings by now. It’s definitely, totally a paradoxical thingy. …


Nurturing trust without getting bogged down in semantics

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About

Brent Gohde

Adventures in reading and writing. Making sense of what’s new in science, sci-fi, philosophy, culture, and creativity. And basketball.

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