One way a change in our neurochemistry could allow us to travel back in time
How an enhancement to our dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex might allow a person to bypass the laws of physics, go back in time and change the entire universe, for everyone
Can we travel back in time?
Short answer: the laws of physics seem to suggest the answer is no.
In this essay however, we won’t deal with the observable laws of physics — at least not directly.
Instead, we’ll examine our powers of perception, explore how enormous those powers are, and then — through a hypothetical possibility — leverage those powers with a neurological enhancement.
And then we will travel back in time, and not only change the universe as we see it — but change the universe for everyone.
We’ll split this essay into three parts:
- Defining time travel, both forwards and backwards
- Defining the concept of perception, and exploring the enormous power it holds
- Examining our dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex, and considering how an augmentation to that part of our mind might expand our powers of perception to allow us to go backwards in time
All right, let’s begin.
Part 1 — Defining time travel, both forwards and backwards
What is time travel?
The first definition that comes to our minds might be time travel is traveling through time.
And if that is the definition, well — you are achieving time travel right now as you read this.
You are traveling through time, one second at a time.
OK, let’s go one step further. Perhaps:
Time travel is being able to travel through time at a rate other than one second at a time.
That is a bit more difficult for the average human, but we can at least scratch its surface.
And we can do this with nothing more than a bit of speed.
Going faster allows you to move forward in time
If you increase your speed, even by running, you will experience a time dilation compared to those standing still around you, albeit an immeasurably small time dilation.
Move a little faster, for a longer time — and we begin to see some measurements.
Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 520 days in space, and with an orbit of 17,500 miles per hour, at the end of those 520 days, he returned to earth an additional 5 milliseconds older than his younger twin brother.
A time dilation of 5 milliseconds after more than a year is not that much, but it is time travel, or rather moving through time at a different relative rate.
And we don’t need to rely on time dilation to move forward in time — we could go quite far just by unlocking the relatively mundane secrets of our own biology.
If we ever figure out how to allow a human to enter a truly suspended state of being, this dormancy would allow a person to enter a stasis pod, and then emerge 1, 10, or even 10,000 years in the future.
In short, time travel forward is eminently possible — provided it is a one way ticket.
But what about going backwards in time?
Going backwards in time is a bit tricky.
We can’t break the speed of light, and even if we could — which we can’t — it might not mean time would become so dilated that it would reverse.
There are also paradoxes involved with going back in time, and of course positioning problems.
The earth’s movement due to the galaxy’s rotation is 490,000 miles per hour, and it is moving even faster as it expands with the universe outwards.
In short, if you could legitimately move backwards one second, you would rematerialize hundreds of miles in the sky, if not deep within the earth’s crust.
But let’s not think of the pragmatics, and instead — see the universe through a model of a book that writes itself.
To paraphrase the author Douglas E. Richards, think of the universe as a book that writes itself.
This universe is writing itself one second/word/page at a time.
We are all helping write it with our every action.
And if we time traveled forward, it would not be an issue.
We could theoretically jump forward a few pages, and rejoin the writing there.
The astronaut Scott Kelly effectively moved just a bit forward — 5 milliseconds, to be precise — and rejoined the tale without any problem.
If someone entered a period of prolonged stasis, they could emerge in another chapter and again — there would not be an issue.
But if we go backwards and change a character or two, or even a single word — suddenly, the entire book is problematic.
George RR Martin could write a book set 100 years after The Winds of Winter, and it would be fine, but if he went back to Game of Thrones and had Ned Stark stay in the North instead of visiting the Lannisters, that would change things.
Even if it was a small change — George RR Martin renaming Ned as Nod, and doing this only once, there would still be a problem — at least to the world of Westeros.
OK, so moving backwards in time is impossible?
Not necessarily. The universe does not seem to want this, and seems to set up rules to preclude it.
Or so it seems.
Let’s explore how we might be able to go backwards in time, but not through the conventional means of surpassing the speed of light, entering a black hole or anything involving physical movement.
Let’s see if we can go back in time with the power of our minds, and in particular one part, the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex.
Let’s see if we can go back in time by enhancing our dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex.
But to lay the groundwork for this, let’s first explore the concept of perception, and the enormous power that perception holds.
Part 2 — Defining the concept of perception, and exploring the enormous power perception holds
Our powers of perception are both extremely limited and indescribably extraordinary, and we tend not to see either extremes.
The limits of our perception
Our perception is limited.
Take sight, for example. We might see items all around us, but we can only see .0035 percent of the spectrum of light.
That means we can only see 1/30,000th of what is around us, all the time.
And this might not be a bad thing, because the universe is throwing a lot at us, all the time.
Despite the limits of the visible spectrum, your body still perceives 11 million bits of information every second, and your mind filters that down so that it processes only 50 bits.
That’s a lot of information, and a lot of filtering.
But we take in what the universe gives us, and then we filter it into something of meaning.
And we can do this due to our powers of perception, and this perception gives meaning to what the universe sends our way.
In fact, our perception brings the universe into existence.
Wait, the universe exists because we can perceive it?
Yes, though to be accurate — the world universe because something perceives it.
And you are one of the beings helping the universe exist with your perception.
There are surely countless worlds of perceptive beings within this universe, and each world surely contains countless species, each of which can perceive the universe in a unique way.
But you are one of them, and your perception holds tremendous power.
All right we’re getting a bit abstract, so let’s not think of the myriad of other perceptive beings in this universe.
Let’s think about you, and maybe a friend or two, and examine the powers of perception with a few analogies.
Exploring the enormous power of perception through the analogy of a universe that disappears and then reassembles itself
Think of yourself, and maybe a friend or two.
Imagine that without warning, the universe disappears for 5 minutes, and then reassembles itself completely, with you and your friends’ original consciousnesses intact.
Did the universe really disappear for 5 minutes?
Effectively, it didn’t, because no one was there to perceive it.
For all we know this is happening between every moment.
Perhaps just now, the universe just disappeared for 5 minutes, or 5 years, and then reassembled itself before the next moment.
Don’t worry about that — if no one was there to observe it, it didn’t happen.
But now imagine someone did observe it. We’ll make that someone you, and for the sake of this argument, let’s say you were able to wear a space suit during the disappearance.
Because of you observing what had happened, it happened.
The universe did disappear for 5 minutes, before reassembling itself completely.
Now let’s add a wrinkle into this — an incomplete reconstruction leading to a different observation
Imagine the universe disappears completely with no one there to observe its disappearance, and then the universe reassembles itself almost completely.
The reconstruction is almost complete, but the universe doesn’t bring back one part of a wall.
Neither you nor your friends were there to observe the disappearance of the universe — for everyone, time was continuous.
But you and your friends were able to observe part of the wall suddenly disappearing.
And because they observed this, this is what happened.
The universe did not disappear, let alone reconstruct itself.
Part of a wall disappeared.
That is what happened.
Suddenly, without warning or explanation, part of a wall disappeared.
That is what a few people observed, so that is what happened.
If no one had been there — and there had been no surveillance footage, and no one with enough memory to ask what happened to this wall? — it might not have happened either.
Another thought experiment — the empty universe alongside ours
Consider this scenario:
Let’s say there was a universe adjacent to ours that lasted for 15 billion years, but it was devoid of life, and after 15 billion years it disappeared, leaving no trace of its existence —
Would it have existed at all?
One could say no.
That empty universe effectively — with emphasis on effectively — never existed.
A final thought experiment — a tree falls in the forest
There is an age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The answer is actually straightforward: No, it does not make a sound. The falling tree lets out a vibration of molecules, which leads to a pressure wave through the molecules around it, and that is it.
There is no sound, per se.
If we are around, our ears might perceive this pressure wave, and then our mind might make an arbitrary assignation of a sound to it.
If no one was around to hear the falling tree, it never made a sound.
And one could argue that if it fell around us, it still wouldn’t make a sound.
The falling tree let off a vibration of molecules.
We made the sound out of the vibration.
We brought the sound into being with our perception.
In short, perception is powerful
There is a lot to think about here, so for now — just consider the sentiment that perception is powerful, even at a universal scale.
And in the next sections, we will argue that perception is so powerful, that it one day might allow us to travel through time, even backwards.
Part 3 — Examining our dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex, and considering how an augmentation to that part of our mind might expand our powers of perception to allow us to go backwards in time
All right, we’ve laid out the foundation of time travel and perception.
And now we’re at the denouement, where we show how we might one day be able to travel back in time, through a neurochemically-enhanced sense of perception.
We can perceive light, and sound, and quite a few other things.
And this perception gives the universe meaning.
What about perceiving time, though?
Humans do perceive time, and we understand — to some degree, because it is still the inscrutable field of our own neurology — where we perceive time.
Humans sense time through the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex
We understand in humans that the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex is quite instrumental in determining our time perception.
A human’s sense of time perception might be altered with an injury to that part of the cortex, or perhaps by an alteration, such as time spent in a dream.
Admittedly, it is a bit pat to just say time flows through one specific part of the human mind.
We don’t understand our own neurology completely, and we might never be able to understand it.
And it is most likely naïve to say humans experience time through the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex, and nowhere else.
But let’s employ that area of the mind as a paradigm of perception, and then consider what might happen if we augmented its neurochemistry.
But before we do that, let’s take a step back and consider time itself — and then think about how it might not be as linear as we are currently able to perceive it to be.
Is time inherently linear? We perceive it as linear, but is time linear?
There’s a theory, expressed by authors and thinkers like Blake Crouch and others, that time might not be as straightforward as we perceive it to be.
It’s an abstract theory, so abstract that we might not even be able to call it a theory — perhaps it’s a hypothetical, or even a possibility.
In any case, in this hypothetical possibility, time, at its very nature, does not move forward one second at a time.
Time is more analogous to speed, or even direction.
In this hypothetical possibility, time can slow, speed up, or even reverse its course altogether.
Think of a rock floating through space.
This rock most likely has a certain velocity, and would most likely keep that velocity ad infinitum if nothing else would act upon it.
But something can act upon it.
The rock’s direction could be shifted by the gravitational pull of a planet, or perhaps reversed if it were to enter an orbit and then become slingshotted the other way.
Humans could blast the rock with a missile and alter its trajectory.
The latter event might warrant an article or two, but the fact that this rock changed its course after a missile impact wouldn’t be that extraordinary from the perspective of the universe.
Consider this statement:
Pieces of matter in the universe can have their own speeds and directions, and those speeds and directions can change.
The statement is not that extraordinary.
Let’s replace the term pieces of matter, with the term time.
Time in the universe can have its own speed and direction, and that speed and direction can change.
Now we are getting somewhere.
Perhaps time only appears to move forward one second at a time, because that is the only way we can perceive it
Time might not appear that malleable to us, but perhaps that is only because we are not designed to perceive it as malleable.
We can easily perceive speed and direction of matter, and we can perceive it so easily that we can often choose to change the speed and direction of certain pieces of matter that are around us.
Some thinkers like Blake Crouch and others have posited the hypothetical possibility that if we were able to enhance our perception of time, we could perceive it to be what it really was — a malleable entity, one that can not only change speed, but also direction.
So if our perception of time was augmented, would we be able to go back in time?
That’s certainly the question, isn’t it?
We’ve established that the concept of perception gives tremendous value to the universe, and have also isolated the region of the mind that perceives time.
But there’s quite a few ifs between enhancing perception of time and being able to alter it.
But if we were able to see time as truly malleable, perhaps moving backwards in time would be just as straightforward as listening to molecular vibrations from a falling tree, and then assigning a sound to them.
Perhaps it would difficult, but doable — like altering the velocity of an asteroid.
It’s hard to understand what the true perception of time would be like, but perhaps the view would be so robust that it wouldn’t be that hard to change directions.
How do we get there, though?
Now we’re into the hypothetical possibilities of a hypothetical possibility of course, but that’s what we humans are good at: speculation.
Let’s speculate a few ways we could enhance our perception of time, so much so that we could alter it.
Enhancing the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex and beyond
Here is a quick list of ways we could perceive time in a different way, and possibly go back in time:
- A neurochemical enhancement through some sort of drug, from psychedelics on up
- Genetic enhancements to provide a new neurochemistry altogether
- Combining our intelligence with that of a robot’s
- Moving beyond our intelligence altogether, and building a perception machine
Could you imagine that? A perception machine?
What that would mean would be another column altogether, but for now, let’s just say that if time is indeed malleable, there could be many ways to explore its malleability through some sort of augmented perception.
Admittedly, there are quite a few ifs here
And even if this would be possible, then there would be the paradoxes.
But there is the possibility, there is the suggestion, and enhancing our perception of time in order to alter it is certainly something to consider.
But there is one thing we know for sure: we the living, and in particular we the humans, wield enormous powers of perception.
And if those powers were enhanced, they might even be felt by the universe itself.
Jonathan Maas is a Radical Centrist and has a few books available on Amazon. He recommends his read-in-one-sitting tale Time Capsel for further exploration of this topic, and also recommends Recursion by Blake Crouch, and also Split Second by Douglas E. Richards.