Reflecting about time

(Originally written for “Timewarp” magazine, from the Quantum Time Travel Institute in 2015.)

Mirrors and monkeys

When we see a reflection in a mirror our brains are tricking us with their preconception that light travels in a straight line. In reality, the ray of light has traveled in several straight lines, i.e. from our face to the mirror, then reversing in direction from the mirror back to our eyes. Our eyes assume that the ray of light has traveled in one straight line and our brain extrapolates the image along our straight line of sight so we see our reflection behind the mirror.

We know that this isn’t true – how can material objects be seen behind physical barriers such as mirrors? Perhaps you’ve seen those video clips of monkeys who, when faced with their reflection in a mirror, look behind that mirror expecting to see another monkey. And yet we trust and accept that image with no question.

Monkeys with mirror
Image courtesy:

Reflecting about time and time travel

Just as our minds trick us with lines of light, perhaps they also trick us with time lines. The time line is the linear progression from the past, through the present and into the future. This is the simplest representation of time, and according to the principle of Occam’s Razor (i.e. that the simplest solution to a problem is the most likely to be the correct solution), the time line is the most likely to be the truest model of time.

So now we have a direct analogy between a straight ray of light and the movement of time.

But does Occam’s Razor hold? What if time didn’t move in a straight line in a single thermodynamically bound direction of increasing entropy, but bounced around just as rays of light can and do? If this were the case, time lines would be folding back on themselves, or running adjacent to each other, sometimes parallel, sometimes crossing, sometimes in the same direction, and other times opposed.

Events in what we perceive to be the past, the present or the future, could be happening simultaneously. Or more than once! That’s quite tricky to comprehend, and yet our minds stretch those events out into an ordered sequence…in time.

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Einstein.

Maybe everything does happen at once, and it’s our brains which make sense of it all. This then opens up a new possibility for time travel. Just as we know the reflection isn’t really behind the mirror, we now know that time isn’t necessarily an ordered sequence of events.

If like the monkeys we could find a way to look behind the mirror of time, perhaps we can find a way to jump to another moment in time. To time travel! 🙂


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  1. I enjoy being in the present, glad that the past has happened but don’t want an unknown future to come. When I look behind the mirror of time, I want to stay there and halt time but have to look into the front of the mirror again and see my face in my past’s future. Quite a shocking sight!

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