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Nick Herbert

seems such an easy solution.

I’ve been spoiled by learning about quantum physics. One of the things that philosophers try and do, is they guess what all the possibilities are for human thought. Try and second guess all thinkable things. Philosophers worry about different categories of mind, monism and dualism, and varieties of that, all the possible ways something could be. People have been doing that for a long time, but they never came up with something as weird as quantum theory. Physicists didn’t like quantum theory at first either. We were forced into this strange way of thinking about the universe by the facts, into a way that had not been anticipated by the philosophers. Quantum theory is a strange mixture of waveness and particleness that no one had ever anticipated, and that we still do not completely comprehend.

DJB: Isn’t it similar to what Eastern philosophies have to say about the world?

NICK: Oh, in some sense, but not in particulars. There’s a vague similarity to Eastern philosophy, more than to Western philosophy, that’s true. But this notion of probabilistic waves changing into actual particles has never been present in any Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy talks about connectedness, everything being connected. It talks about the Tao, that’s unspeakable, wholeness that envelops everything, and the flavor of that is like quantum theory. There’s no doubt about that. More so than a mechanistic clock-work universe. But the details-no one ever anticipated that kind of universe. So, my guess is that, when we get a fuller picture of the world, it will be equally unguessable. It would not have been anticipated, and quantum mechanics was just a kindergarten lesson for how we’re going to have to change our minds to make the next step.

DJB: It wouldn’t be fun without surprises.

NICK: Well, yeah, not only surprises, but that all our guesses have got to be, and are always going to be, too timid. Nature is going to overwhelm us, and surprise us with the next step. Nothing we could imagine will be as amazing as what’s actually there. So whenever someone comes up with a simple solution like there’s a divine providence underneath it all, it’s too simple. Try and imagine something more complex and marvelous than that, please.

DJB: Nick, one of my favorite ideas in your book Faster Than Light was the notion that time travel may only be possible into the future and back into the past, only so far as to the development of the first time machine. If we were to take a leap of faith, and imagine this scenario to actualize itself, how do you envision that monumental day to occur, when the first time machine is invented, and everyone from the far future comes back to visit the historic day?

NICK: Big party. Sure, that’s what it would be like. It would be very crowded that particular day. From that point on, life would be very confusing, when all of space-time is open to our view.

DJB: What would that do to human consciousness? How would the progression of events occur? How could people keep track of things?

NICK: I don’t know. I think it would be very confusing. Much more confusing than it is now. We’d ]earn to live with it, though. What it would be like, partly, is that time would just be another kind of space, if you can imagine that. We don’t think that traveling back and forth in space is so strange. We have this prejudice that we shouldn’t be able to do that in time. So if time becomes another kind of space, what are the consequences of that? I don’t know. It’s really hard to think about. I have to pass on that one. Another problem related to that is when you go faster than light, time and space, in the equations, they reverse. The roles of time and space reverse when you go faster than light. I don’t know what that means. This reversal happens in the math but what would happen in the world? This same time/space reversal happens, by the way, in the vicinity of black holes.

RMN: What about time travel paradoxes? Like the case of being able to travel backwards through time to kill your grandmother. The parallel universe theory seems to resolve this, but what are your views on this?

NICK: Yes, the easiest way to resolve that would be to have a parallel universe, where you kill your grandmother, but she’s not your grandmother, she’s the grandmother of somebody else, who would have looked very much like you, who doesn’t get born in that parallel universe. Another way of resolving that paradox, is this notion I mentioned before about there being fixed things and soft things in the past, and you can only change the soft things. So that things that are fixed like your grandmother’s existence, you’d find that you couldn’t change. My guess is that when you went back in time, it would be like in a dream, where there were certain things you could do. If you tried to do something that would change the past, you couldn’t move that way. You could only make certain moves. It would be like

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