Venus in transit against the Sun (Illustration: Mayank Chhaya)
Does it strike you that everything in the universe is always communicating through its past and never its present? All phenomena that we experience are dated.
There is no real real time contact among objects considering that the time lag between any two object is considerable. Take for example, an object so predominant in our daily experience as the Sun. Considering that light from the Sun takes eight minutes to reach us here on the Earth, it means it is already dated information even if it so by just eight minutes.
As you begin to look beyond the interplanetary and into the intergalactic the distances become so vast that they no longer make sense on the human scale. If you don’t believe me check this out. At its closest the Venus is about 40 million kilometers from the Earth. Because of the elliptical orbits of the planets interplanetary distances vary extraordinarily. For instance, at its farthest the Venus is 261 million kilometers.Other than saying that it is extremely far, we cannot really sensibly comprehend how far.
Now consider Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to us. It is 40 trillion kilometers fro us. To give you some measure of how far that is 40 trillion kilometers is 40 million million kilometers. Not that we can realistically grasp that either. So the nearest planet and the nearest star are separated from us by an incomprehensible magnitude.
It takes light, therefore information and data, 4.24 years to reach us from Proxima Centauri. That would be light traveling for over four years at the speed of 300,000 kilometers a second to arrive here. In other words, the information reaching us is nearly four and a quarter years old, even from the nearest star. Therefore, what we are looking at is Proxima Centauri as it was that long ago. If we want to know whether in the interregnum it got married, divorced, underwent a tummy tuck, won an Oscar, or simply turned into a red dwarf we have to wait nearly four and quarter years. What this means is that we are forever trapped in our universe’s past exchanging stale information.
One way to get around this problem of enormous datedness is to collectively agree that our past is in fact jointly our present and our present will be our joint future. I use our in a cosmic and not an earthly sense. All that we can do is together decide that the present is when we see it and not when it might have actually happened in relation to a particular event or an object.
Of course, we can also resign to the fact that there is no real present but perpetual past and there is no real future but nascent present. Moments are taking birth and perishing all the time. Our immediate anthropic present will never reconcile or converge with that of even our nearest planetary neighbor, the moon because of the time lag, albeit miniscule in this particular case.
For all practical purposes it does not really matter that we are never up-to-date about the universe because we have to live with what appears before us. If Proxima Centauri was atomized at this present Earth moment, what material difference would it make to us in the way we process that information four and a quarter years into the future? For you and I Proxima Centauri will appear to have disintegrated only in June of 2017. It will be real present for us when we experience it then even though for the star it would be its past.
There are two kinds of present, one that is real present as experienced by the object in question and the other as experienced by those away from it. This time lag exists even on our own planet but it is so small that as human we cannot perceive it.
One way to respond to the post today is to ask me if I forgot to take my medicine. The more mature way would be to ponder yourself. It is not my intention to freak you out but to merely remind you that the concept of past, present and future is so strange at the scale of the universe. Perhaps the idea of a multiverse is supposed to mean that every object in the universe is a multiverse in and of itself in so much as their timelines never really converge.
So next time you have an argument with someone simply say this: “Let’s just say that we are on different timelines. Our present do not seem to converge.” Or try saying, “Your light has not yet reached me. It is the time lag and not us.”
When it comes to anyone other than oneself, we can all only hope for the bare minimum timeline convergence.Friendships and romances develop during that timeline convergence.
Is it any wonder then that only you genuinely know and converge with yourself? This is what Oscar Wilde called a lifelong romance.
Note to self: Call Walgreens for your prescription.