Falling Backward; Tripping Forward
The concept of the ‘arrow of time’ or ‘time’s arrow’ proposed by Arthur Eddington in 1927 is not a familiar concept to most. The general idea, however, surely is: time is, macroscopically, a linear phenomenon that starts at one point (some think at the Big Bang, others think when you were born) and ends at one point in the future (when the universe dies or you die). The idea of Eddington’s ‘arrow of time’ brings up the issue that time on microscopic levels is not necessary linear; changes in entropy cannot be reversed as time is reversed, making time on these levels asymmetric while linear, macroscopic time is symmetric.
The counterpart to the ‘arrow of time’ is the so-called ‘wheel of time’, which is a common belief that time is cyclical and repeats infinitely. This belief is held by religions of Indian descent, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, and Native American descent, such as the Q’ero Indians in Peru and the Hopi Indians in Arizona. The idea of cyclic time and events repeating is hard to grasp for those raised on ideas of linear time. Scientifically we are not quite at the level of accepting cyclic time, but concepts like deaths and births of universe through collisions of other dimensions and proven violations of time symmetry on some levels at least make us skeptical of the view of linear time.
The idea has been repeating in my head recently in light of reading about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 amid the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The similarities in response and levels of devastation give credence to the idea that some things repeat. In 1918 we did not know what the virus looked like microscopically, nor did we have the knowledge of modern medicine and public health to combat the disease. Current fear, anger, and ignorance of the virus is an eerie echo of that past. The quote ‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it’ holds more true with every passing moment.
A more personal experience of history repeating is the ups and downs of emotions, success, and failure. An important trick often used to wade through tragic life events is to hold dear the idea that good days will come once more. Another tool is to be cautious when things are going well as there is always ‘calm before the storm’. These ideas call to mind the idea that things in our lives have cycles. Success and failure in our careers. Looking on the troubles of others raising children and remembering the woes that you went through with your children. The gaining of weight and the losing of weight with age.
What always seems to throw a wrench in the idea of cyclic events is that some events do not seem cyclic. Some individuals are alone for many years, and, according to the idea of cyclic time, the same individuals should be with someone for many years following this dry spell. This is often not the case and they die alone. For others, the bad times never cease, and they pass away before they can see the good times. A way to reconcile this is that some events must have different frequencies in which they repeat; some might never see the second half of a cycle because if occurs after they pass away. If individuals lived forever, they might fully see the cycles of all things; of nature coming back and filling the earth with green grasses and plants, of humans facing mass extinction like many other species through time only to come back, of the turning away from those lonely, sad days to happy times with ones you love.
There seems to be nothing more tragic than not being able to see a full cycle. I suppose all we can do is try our best to complete the cycle for ourselves and others before we pass on. To make someone who has only seen darkness see the light, to push ourselves out of comfort into discomfort, to reverse trends that long seemed etched in the fabric of time. To clumsily fall background, and, eventually, trip forward. To trace the cycles of reality over, and over, and over again.