From Chapter 5 of Future Rising: A Journey from the Past to the Edge of Tomorrow
In 1988, the late British scientist Stephen Hawking published what is possibly the most successful book never to be read. Although A Brief History of Time sold like hotcakes, it’s tough going for most readers. Yet the book tapped into our near-insatiable fascination with time, and how it both constrains our lives and opens up new possibilities.
Time dominates our lives. With very few exceptions, we are deeply aware of its passing, and the ways that it guides and molds us. The Earth marks out time in its orbit around the sun with every passing day and year. We wake, work, and sleep to a given rhythm of time. We’re obsessed with what we did with our time in the past, and what we’re going to do with it in the future. We celebrate birth as a new chapter in our time-driven lives. We worry about death as the end of a chapter, along with what—if anything—comes next. And we surround ourselves with devices that remind us of the inexorable passing of time, from our watches and clocks, to our phones, laptops, fitness trackers, and every conceivable manner of internet-connected device.
We are, at every level, creatures of time, immersed in it, obsessed by it, yet unable to control it.
This, not surprisingly, deeply colors our visions of the future. How we experience time allows us to imagine what the future might be like. But it also throws up an opaque veil between us and the future. It offers us tantalizing glimpses of what might occur in the future, while holding us back from experiencing it until we get there.
Unlike the many time-related fantasies explored in science fiction, we sadly cannot move back and forth in time, beyond the second-by-second movement forward to which everyone is subject.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and the exception here is that, at near-light speeds and in the presence of massive gravitational fields (a black hole for instance), time no longer ticks along at the same rate. But for the vast majority of us, we’re stuck on a one-way trip into the future, with all of us on the same track.
And yet, the same science that prevents us from flitting back and forth through time occasionally allows us to see—albeit darkly—what might potentially occur in the future. This has nothing to do with us mystically overcoming the shackles of time. Rather, it’s based on how the laws of physics allow us to predict what’s likely to happen, based on what’s occurred in the past.
And one of the more intriguing of these predictions involves how the passage of time is causing the universe and everything in it to slowly run down, through the accumulation of “entropy.”