Is Time a Goldfish?

The way we think about time travel really depends on the way we think about time.  Right?  And in order to move in the dimension that H.G. Wells called duration we have to be able to have a concept of what time is, don’t we?  And how the heck do we do this?

Tavern ClockSome of the greatest thinkers of all time, as it were, have given this considerable thought, put their finger to their lips, tilted their heads, and finally said, “I dunno.”

A mind no less impressive than Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, put it like this: “What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.”

BLANK STARE … thanks, dude.  That really clears it up.

Once upon a time (pun intended), I asked a good friend of mine what he thought time was.  My friend, Tim, is a practical man.  He said he always thought of time like this: He’d see himself sitting on a rock while a river of time flowed around him. Fair enough.  I asked him if he ever fell in.  He said only when he was out drinking with me.  Again, fair enough.

Does that mean time is a river?  Perhaps, although it makes me wonder why we decided to use a circle to measure time, like the tavern clock in the photograph above.

A river, though, is the most common notion.  But then, are we all sitting on rocks watching the river go by?  Or are we humans the ones who move?  What if the river is still and we’re fish swimming through it, trout on their way to their place of birth?

Most of these ideas stem out of the original idea that time is a dimension.  A kitchen table has length, width, and height.  And if you draw it you draw it using lines.  The same follows for time.  IMG_3159

In Back to the Future, Part II, Doc Brown draws time as a line on an old chalk board.  In his diagram, Marty’s plight is a series of branches with more than one version of 1985.  There are a couple of incidents in 1985 I wish I had a choice about.

But why all this thought about a line?  Does time have to be imagined like this?  Sometime in the early 1970s I saw my first digital clock.  It looked a bit like the one on the right, like you’ll see on microwave ovens and coffeemakers everywhere.  If we changed the way we display time (as a circle), then does that mean we can change the way we perceive time?

And that leads me to my next question.  Why does time have to look like something we draw on a sheet of paper?

What if time is a giant snowstorm, and time travel the melting water during the Spring thaw?


But maybe these are not good comparisons, either.  What if time is actually a lamp, a globe, the distributor cap of a 1957 Chevy, a matryoshka doll, or the fine pen used by a Japanese calligraphy artist?  What if time were simply an oven mitt, a way to keep us from getting burned by the casserole dish of the universe?  If you wanted to write a story or come up with a movie script to rival Back to the Future, how could you use one of these ideas of time?

And then, of course, is my personal favorite: The eponymous goldfish.  This is what time is inside my mind.  Time is a goldfish.  It is a pleasant thing, all shiny, with wavy fins protruding from its scales, that gives a sense of peace and tranquility if you’ll let it.  But if you try to swallow it, like those damn fool frat boys did in the 50s, it’s going to give you heartburn!


So what is your opinion?  Before you write about time travel, you might want to solidify your own idea of what time itself is. It’s certainly something to chew on.  Just make sure you’re not chewing on my fish.

Until next time …

Peace, from Keith

Text and photographs are Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  If you steal my stuff my fanged goldfish will get medieval on you!

4 thoughts on “Is Time a Goldfish?

  1. My Time is what I perceive, not you.
    My Time is mine, not yours.
    Your Time is yours, not mine.
    If your Time is a goldfish, a digital clock, a … something physical in your Universe, so be it.
    My Time is Me.
    I am a Time Traveller.
    I travel Time in my Past, I live Time in my Now, I have Time in my Future.
    I move through Time effortlessly.
    Does my Time have an End?
    I’ll see.

  2. String theory, collapsable universes in quantum physics and Ouspensky’s “Tertium Organum” all seem to describe different parts of the same elephant, to me. I have an ongoing fascination with the structure and perception of time. My book Mainline features an assassin who can move between different versions of “Now” to do her hits. It’s a recurring theme in my writing. Well, time-issues, not assassinations. LOL.
    Happy goldfish to you. :)

    1. Yes, they do indeed, and I was thinking about using “parts of an elephant” in my post (GMTA), but feared it’d run too long. I’d never heard of “Tertium Organum.” That’s exactly the kind of thing I’ll spend the holidays reading, in between “Doctor Who” episodes.

      I’ve always been fascinated by time, too, although I think I’m only just now realizing how strongly I’m drawn toward stories that have time as a central part of the plot, even if they’re not time travel (like Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” or even “Pulp Fiction.”

      In a way, I think this was a post to myself as much as anything, to make sure that *I* think outside the box. Hopefully it’ll give others something to chew on as well.

      Plus, I wanted to see if I could use the word “eponymous” correctly. Not sure whether I did :)

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