Was ‘Doctor Who’ Right About Time?
I’m not going to even pretend to understand 80 percent of the Scientific American article I was recently sent with the title "Does Time Run Backward in Other Universes?" The 20 percent I can make sense of, however, seems to fall right in line with the subject line that accompanied it: "Maybe Doctor Who Was Right"
To the best of my summation, the article describes physicists’ investigation of the potential "timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly" nature of the fourth dimension, and the likelihood that time might not always be a one-way street. Of course, this is all old hat to fans of the relaunched BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who, who were told something similar by The Doctor in last season’s award-winning (and terrifying) episode titled "Blink."
If the observable universe were all that existed, it would be nearly impossible to account for the arrow of time in a natural way. But if the universe around us is a tiny piece of a much larger picture, new possibilities present themselves. We can conceive of our bit of universe as just one piece of the puzzle, part of the tendency of the larger system to increase its entropy without limit in the very far past and the very far future. To paraphrase physicist Edward Tryon, the big bang is easier to understand if it is not the beginning of everything but just one of those things that happens from time to time.
While I’m always interested in the ways life (or science, in this case) matches up with my favorite television series, I’m not so keen on the idea of stone statues attacking me whenever I turn my back (the other element of "Blink" worth noting). Even if you’re not a fan of Doctor Who, the SciAm article provides science-fiction fans some food for thought… and who knows, it might be just the impetus you need to brush up on your theoretical physics.