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A TARDIS for Time?

David Cowles

Feb 27, 2024

“TARDIS is an old fashioned phone booth (or ‘box’) with one very unusual feature: its interior is much larger than its exterior.”

Who doesn’t know Doctor Who, the 60 year old BBC sci-fi franchise? The Doctor’s universe is different from ours primarily because it supports something called a TARDIS. For the uninitiated, a TARDIS is an old fashioned phone booth (or ‘box’) with one very unusual feature: its interior is much larger than its exterior.

When we were in school, we complained about having to learn arithmetic. Instead, we should have been grateful that we were ‘thrown’ (Heidegger) into a universe where arithmetic works, more or less (lie quiet, Zeno). Measure the booth’s outside height, length, and width; multiply them together and eureka, you have its volume.

This implies an important corollary: The volume of the box measured according to its inside dimensions cannot exceed the volume of the box measured by its outside dimensions. We take that for granted. Of course it’s true; it has to be that way, doesn’t it?

Decidedly not! Our everyday world is an Alexandrov (Euclidean) Space; but it doesn’t have to be. In Hyperbolic Space, for example, the interior volume of a cuboid is always greater than its exterior volume. All negatively curved spaces are hyperbolic; only one space, flat space, is Euclidean…we just happen to live in that space. E pluribus unum

The contingency (vs. necessity) of Euclidean Space was brought home to me recently when I watched an episode of Doctor Who with a particularly precocious 8 year old. I hazarded a comment: “Isn’t it odd the way the inside of the box is bigger than the outside?” My question was unexpectedly met with a blank stare, followed by: “Why would that be odd?”

Bingo! So Euclidean geometry is something we learn, not something we intuit. Our brain could function just as well in a Hyperbolic world.

So I’m thinking…what if we applied the TARDIS transform to time? Doctor Who ‘proved’ that you could embed larger spatial volumes inside smaller ones; could we also embed longer time frames inside shorter ones? And if we could, what would it feel like?  

Well, imagine you’ve just left work on a Friday, and you have to be back at your desk first thing Monday AM; but you’d really like to go on a two week safari in Kenya. A ‘Time-TARDIS’ would permit you to do just that. In fact, you could turn every weekend into an extended vacation.

Thought experiment: You’re down on your luck. Can’t find meaningful work, can’t make ends meet, and then you see an odd ad in the Help Wanted offering $1,000,000 for 5 days’ work. Intrigued, you call for more information.

“Here’s the deal,” I explain. “Every morning you will be placed in a special pod where your brain will be hooked up to a massive supercomputer incorporating the latest AI and VR technology. For 20 minutes your carbon brain and the computer’s silicon brain will act in concert. We’ve tested it and as far as anyone can tell it’s completely safe.

"When you ‘awake’ you’ll retain all your original brain power and memories, but you will also remember everything you experienced while you were in the pod. After each 20 minute session, you will meet with our research team, tell them what you experienced while you were in the pod, and answer their questions. Next day, you’ll repeat the process. You’re free to quit at any time; you’ll receive $100,000 at the end of each full day. But if you complete all 5 days, you’ll also receive a $500,000 bonus.”

“So, what’s the catch? During the 20 minutes you’re in the pod, you’ll experience an entire lifetime. We’ve set the program to run for 80 years, and it will feel like 80 years to you. You’ll experience being a baby, growing up, working, perhaps having a family, etc. You’ll have illnesses and accidents just like in real life; but you’ll survive them; your physical body cannot be harmed in any way.

“You might be wondering what we get for our $1,000,000. We’re interested to learn how your ‘virtual lives’ compare with one another…and with your ‘real life’. We have set the initial conditions to duplicate as closely as possible the actual conditions operative at your birth and during your lifetime. 

“Will each virtual life be a carbon copy of the one before it or will each one be different? How will your virtual lives differ from your real life? We hope to learn: (1) What is the role, if any, of free will and chance (vs. initial conditions) in determining life experience, and (2) How close can we come to mimicking real world initial conditions in a virtual environment?  

“What’s in it for you – besides $1,000,000? You’ll be getting a chance to do what no one has ever done before – live 5 lifetimes in addition to your current life. What would an average person pay to be able to go back and start life all over again?

“On the other hand, no one’s ever done this before so there may be risks; you’ll need to sign a liability waiver. The pod’s program is set to run for 20 minutes (80 years); but we’ll be monitoring your brain waves and vital signs every step of the way. If anything appears out of whack, we’ll abort the exercise immediately and, of course, you’ll still get paid.

“When we wake you up at the end of each 20 minute session, there may be a moment’s disorientation. After all, you’ve been somewhere else for 80 years. But you’ll readjust and quickly realize that only 20 minutes have passed IRL. We expect you’ll pick up your life right where you left off…$1,000,000 richer.

“So what do you say? Start tomorrow?” 

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