Time: A Traveler's Guide

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Overview

"Bucky Fuller thought big," Wired magazine recently noted, "Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both." And now, in his newest book, Cliff Pickover outdoes even himself, probing a mystery that has baffled mystics, philosophers, and scientists throughout history—What is the nature of time?
In Time: A Traveler's Guide, Pickover takes readers to the forefront of science as he illuminates the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe—time itself. Is time travel possible? Is time real? Does it flow in one direction only? Does it have a beginning and an end? What is eternity? These are questions that Pickover tackles in this stimulating blend of Chopin, philosophy, Einstein, and modern physics, spiced with diverting side-trips to such topics as the history of clocks, the nature of free will, and the reason gold glitters. Pickover includes numerous diagrams so readers have no trouble following along, computer code that lets us write simulations for various aspects of time travel, and an on-going science fiction tale featuring quirky characters who yearn to travel back in time to hear Chopin play in person. By the time we finish this book, we understand such seemingly arcane concepts as space-time diagrams, light cones, cosmic moment lines, transcendent infinite speeds, Lorentz transformations, superluminal and ultraluminal motions, ninkowskian space-times, Godel universes, closed timelike curves, and Tipler cylinders.
And most important, we will understand that time travel need not be confined to myth, science fiction, Hollywood fantasies, or scientific speculation. Time travel, we will realize, is possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Ian Stewart
Now the irrepressible and prolific Clifford Pickover gives us Time: A Traveler's Guide. He romps joyously through at least four perfectly respectable scientific routes to time travel: relativity, particle physics, quantum mechanics and psychology.
New Scientis
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If you thought time travel was just for science fiction nuts, think again. As Pickover (Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide) demonstrates, time travel is not the stuff of Asimovian dreams, it being theoretically possible. Of course, how to travel through time is no simple matter, nor is explaining it, but Pickover rises to the challenge in many ways. Witty and profound quotations from Einstein to Woody Allen about time and our relationship to it are liberally scattered throughout. Pickover's masterstroke, however, is to divide each chapter into two sections. The first is a second-person narration recording the impromptu discussions about time-travel of a Chopin-obsessed curator from a Museum of Music with his assistant, "a Zetamorph, a member of a race of philosophers from a subterranean air pocket on Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter" and with a female earthling student. The second section, dutifully labeled "The Science behind the Science Fiction," is a sober essayistic review of topics addressed in the narrative half. Despite the popular tone, Pickover does not shy away from the mathematics of time travel. (He even includes an appendix of programmable algorithms.) A careful reader with some basic science should be able to follow Pickover chapter by chapter (and truthfully, some of the formulas can be skimmed). The imaginative and humorous approach makes a difficult subject palatable and gives a plug for Chopin at the same time.
Karl Giberson
What the book is really about is Einstein's theory of relativity, particularly those aspects that touch on time....only the latest in a long series of attempts to explain relativity to nonscientists. -- Books & Cuture: A Christian Review
Wired
Bucky Fuller thought big. Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both.
Kirkus Reviews
A playful introduction to modern physics from a Discovery magazine columnist. Pickover frames his discussion of time in a didactic science-fictional tale (told somewhat clumsily in the second person) set a few decades in the future and featuring an alien philosopher named Mr. Veil, who is your assistant at the Museum of Music. In order to travel backward in time to enjoy the piano playing of Chopin (whose music functions as a leitmotif here), you must instruct Veil in the nature of time and space, particularly Einstein's Relativity Theory. Veil performs simple experiments using futuristic hardware to demonstrate the key issues: the subjective nature of "now," the flexibility of time and space in systems in motion relative to one another, and the speed of light as an invariable. After each brief chunk of story, the text steps back to examine "the science behind the science fiction" in a more straightforwardly didactic manner. Pickover encourages the reader to approach the material in an interactive way, offering computer programs (in BASIC) to calculate some of the quantities discussed. Frequent references to popular sci-fi movies and stories make the concepts even more accessible to readers. After the by-now well-worn subject of relativity is sufficiently explained, the latter chapters discuss the possibility of real time travel, using such speculative techniques as wormholes (caused by the enormous gravitation of black holes) and giant rotating cylinders. Along the way, Pickover looks at the broader philosophical implications of time travel, especially in relation to the paradoxes involving causality and the immutability of the past. While much of this is familiar to sci-fifans and followers of popular science, the basic principles are clearly explained, and the shift from the framing story to straight exposition is not too abrupt. In spite of the overly cute narrative form, this could serve as an entertaining introduction to modern scientific principles for bright students as well as adults.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195130966
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifford A. Pickover is Research Staff Member at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. The lead writer for the brain-boggler column in Discover magazine, Pickover is the author of many bestselling books on popular science topics. He lives in Yorktown Heights, New York.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Prelude 2
1 The Relativity of Simultaneity 6
2 Building an Einstein-Langevin Clock 12
3 The Lorentz Transformation 24
4 The Brain's Time Machine 46
5 Here-Now and Elsewhere in Spacetime 62
6 Three Important Rules for Time Travelers 88
7 Your Space or Mine? 96
8 How to Time Travel into the Future 106
9 Future Shock 122
10 Gravitational Time Dilation 130
11 Tachyons, Cosmic Moment Lines, Transcendent Infinite Speeds 138
12 Time Travel by Balloons and Strings 160
13 Can John F. Kennedy Be Saved? 172
14 Closed Timelike Curves in a Godelian Universe 182
15 Wormhole Time Machine 192
16 Adventures with Time 204
17 Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation 220
18 Some Concluding Musings and Thoughts 244
Notes 251
References 261
Appendix 1 The Grand Internet Time-Travel Survey 265
Appendix 2 Smorgasbord for Computer Junkies 275
About the Author 281
Index 283
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
In his song "Farmer's Almanac," Johnny Cash sings these beautiful words: "God gave us the darkness so we could see the stars." I kept repeating Cash's verse on stars as I wrote The Stars of Heaven. As with many of my books, The Stars of Heaven is meant to stretch your imagination and touch on subjects on the edges of science, art, and even religion. Let me tell you how the book started...

A few years ago I was walking in a field when I came upon a large skull. It was probably from a bear, although I like to imagine it was part of the remains of a prehistoric mammal that once roamed Westchester County, New York. I'm a collector of prehistoric skulls. In my office, I have a skull of a saber-toothed tiger. This killing machine had huge, daggerlike canine teeth and a mouth that could open 90 degrees to clear the sabers for their killing bite.

When I run my fingers lingeringly over the skulls, I am sometimes reminded of stars in the heavens. Without stars, there could be no skulls. The elements in bone, like calcium, were first created in the hot stellar furnaces and then blown into space when the stars died. Without stars there would be no elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, and, therefore, life would never have evolved. There would be no planets, no microbes, no plants, no tigers, no humans.

In my book, you'll do a little armchair space travel, rub elbows with alien life forms, and glimpse the furthest corners of our uncharted universe. Stars have fascinated humankind since the dawn of history and have allowed us to transcend ordinary lives in our literature, art, and religion. Where did we come from? What is the universe's ultimate fate? Are there other universes we can never see? Was our universe designed by a god?

In about 5 billion years, the hydrogen fuel in our sun will be exhausted in its core, and the sun will begin to die and dramatically expand, becoming a red giant. At some point, our oceans will boil away. As Freeman Dyson once said, "No matter how deep we burrow into the Earth...we can only postpone by a few million years our miserable end." Where will humans be, a few billion years from now, at the end of the world? It seems so sad. However, I don't think we have to mourn for humanity. In a few billion years, humans will probably have downloaded their minds to computers, left the solar system in some great diaspora, and sought their salvation in the stars.

You can tell that my book is an amalgam of science fiction, science fact, religion, art and science. It's also a serious astronomy primer covering all the basics of stellar structure and evolution and also on creative theories about our place in this grand universe. I've touched on similar cosmic topics on the borderlands of science before, and I hope you'll take a look at some of my other books, for example: Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide, Time: A Traveler's Guide, Surfing Through Hyperspace, The Science of Aliens, and The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience. Please visit my web page, Pickover.com, and join our discussions on The Stars of Heaven and all my other books. I leave you with an appropriate Serbian proverb to get your mind in gear: "Be humble for you are made of dung. Be noble for you are made of stars." (Clifford Pickover)

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