Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Elsewhere

Time. We all want more of it to go around, right? As I go and visit the blogosphere out there I see entries lamenting the passage of time and the search to find more of it to do the things that you want to do. It got me to thinking about what I've come to learn about time and how it's peculiar in so many ways.

So, I thought I'd discuss one aspect of it that most people don't realize.

As fiction writers we all know of past, present, and future. But did you know that there was a fourth aspect of time called the elsewhere?  I'm not making this up.  Allow me to explain beginning with the simple concept of cause and effect.

An understanding of time requires that you know a little about the speed of light (most fundamentally that nothing in the universe travels faster than light). With this in mind, the state of time really depends on your reference point in an existing space.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the time order of events can be different in different reference frames. I know that this seems to wreak havoc with cause and effect. For example, is there some frame of reference in which your death could precede your birth? No, the only events for which the time order can be different are those that occur far enough apart in space that it would be impossible for a light signal to get from one event to the other. Because no information can travel faster than light, such events cannot influence each other and can be neither cause nor effect of the other.  Those events define a new realm of time, called the elsewhere.


Time between any two events depends on the frame of reference from which the events are measured. An event is basically specified by giving both a place and a time. However, the time order of events can differ in different reference frames only if the events are far enough apart in space that not even light travels fast enough to get from one to the other.

PAST: The past consists of those events that can influence the present.

FUTURE: The future consists of events that the present can influence. Events that will happen tomorow on Earth are in the future, and all observers will agree that events on Earth today come before those on Earth tomorrow. However, events that will happen tomorrow at the galactic center of the Milky Way are not in the future of the present moment on Earth, because there is no way we can influence them.

ELSEWHERE: Those events that are neither in the past nor the future are in the elsewhere. They can have no causal relation to the event here and now, and different observers will judge differently whether they occur before, after, or are simultaneous with the here and now. The elsewhere is not some mysterious realm that is forever inaccessible. It's just inacessible to the here and now. Events that are now in your elsewhere will sometime later be in your past and, at some earlier time, they were in your future.  But there's a band of time centered on the present during which events are unrelated to the here and now.

The above illustration is really good at explaining the concept of the Elsewhere. Since it takes 11 minutes for a signal to reach Earth from Mars, an event that takes place on Mars has a 22 minute window of Elsewhere.  It's not in the Past because it hasn't happened yet for us; it's not in the Future because it already did happen but events that are in our present have no ability to influence it.  And it isn't in our present because we cannot detect that anything has happened.  Wierd huh?

I got to thinking about this blog entry based off of my size comparison of stars entry that I put up yesterday.  The largest star ever observed has a diameter so great that it takes light 8-hours to cross its circumference. That was just amazing to me...that something was so huge and massive that it could be one body (and if sentient) would be completely unaware that something happened on one side of it for 8 full hours.

Anyway, Happy Hump Day and I hope that I didn't confuse you with my blog entry today. These are the kinds of things I think about all the time and it creeps into my writing a lot.


  1. Cool concept! It's funny how much we miss when we ride light waves.

  2. Whoa this is very sciency and intriguing.

  3. Love this. I think it was Charles de Lint that first helped me imagine 'elsewhere'. His writing takes you there each and every time. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. This is so intereating. I love alternate views on's the sci-fi geek in me.

    Thanks for your awesome comment on my blog, btw. I really appreciate it.

  5. Whoa, I think I need to read this again to fully grasp the concept. Very interesting. Makes me think of that saying, "Today is tomorrow, yesterday". :)

  6. Aaaargh!!! I think I have it! Although it killed about a million braincells for me to get there.


    Stars are a good example. Some are shining in our skies now even though they died years ago, simply because it took their light years to reach us. So I guess the star's death happened in elsewhere.

  7. Great post Michael. As an interesting sidenote, quantum mechanics totally messes with our understanding of relativity by demonstrating that information can actually travel simultaneously. Isn't the universe a crazy place?!

  8. I thought that the fourth tense was imagination, now I am begining to think that imagination could be fifth.

  9. I watched this British movie called "Cashback" last night where an art student figured out how he could stop time--and then used it to draw female customers at his supermarket naked. Imagine how much writing you could be done if you could freeze time! Though first I'd rob a couple of banks so I'd be set for money.

  10. Mutt: I totally would rob a bank if I could stop time. Being set for life as far as money goes would remove a lot of the stress that living induces.

    Munir: I don't think I quite grasp what you are getting at with imagination. However, it sounds intriguing.

    Sierra: I assume you are speaking of Quantum Entanglement. I'm interested in this phenomenon and would love to know more about it. But yeah, it appears that certain particles can transmit information between them at instantaneous speeds as opposed to the traditional "speed of light" no matter how great the distance is between them. The Fringe explored this to greater extent in an episode where an old couple became "entangled" emotionally despite the separation of universes that kept them apart. I thought that episode was fascinating.

    Misha: Exactly. Stars die in the elsewhere.

  11. Yep, I'm a science geek. I love this stuff. Thanks for the post.

  12. Fringe also used entanglement with the typewriter. Anything that happens to one typewriter happens to the other across the void between universes. Very interesting concept that has also leaked into my writing.

  13. Strange. Im not quite sure what else to say here.

  14. Charlie: So when am I going to get to read some of your real writing (not the stuff that you do on your blog)? I mean, it genuinely sounds like something I could really sink my teeth into.

    Luna: LOL :)

    Liz: Science geeks are the coolest to hang out with in my opinion.

  15. I love this. Still, I think I need to bookmark it and read it when I don't have a killer headache. Because headache + time + the elsewhere = brain explosion. :)

  16. I'm a science geek. I really enjoyed this post! :)

  17. Michael, you have made my brain hurt, but in a good way. I'm fairly certain I haven't had to think that hard since doing philosophy at uni. And I'm just as intrigued...and confused as I was then. I would love to say though that whoever called it "the elsewhere" is brilliant. It sounds so mysterious and full of possibilities!

    Possibilites that can't be explored, right, because if you explore something it impacts on you, and then it's not the elsewhere anymore... I think I need a short lie down now.

  18. Very mind-bendy stuff. I think you explained it pretty well, but I'm pretty sure I understand this stuff better after a couple drinks... or maybe I just quit getting caught up in the pieces I don't get and enjoy it philosophically... because this stuff is beyond me as science, but it is SO COOL as philosophy...