A heartbreaking book about time travel
Given how fundamentalist some people are--including the more bigoted sort of Labour functionary appointed by a party list--about science, it is odd to read a book about time travel which is almost religious in the feelings it evokes.
I don't refer to the almost faith-based belief in the multiple worlds hypothesis which many physicists now have, so much as the human determination that underpins Ronald Mallett's beautiful book. I got it from my public library on a whim. It is a slim tome, condensing the reasons for Mallet's determination to build a time machine, and it made me cry and walk for over ten kilometres at a go on the treadmill just to get through it at the gym last week.
Mallet is Professor of Physics at the University of Connecticut. He was born to the black working class in Pennsylvania, and grew up in the Bronx. His father was bigger and nobler than anyone in the world to him, as mine was to me, though Ronald's dreaming dad took at one point to retreating to quiet places with a book and a recording device and taping his recitation of poetry, such as that of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Like my father, Ronald's dad died (his heart gave way), and he spent his youth troubled.
Physics and the discovery of new fathers to his mind in HG Wells and Einstein saved him, and Ronald saved himself from his truancy and the impatience of his numbness by resolving to solve the mysteries of time. In retrospect, my obsession with history and, when a boy, with the Doctor Who books to which my father and the public library introduced me was a less productive analogy of that.
Ronald Mallett joined the air force and served his country, after his grandmother lost her memories and he wished to escape his of his surroundings. By night in a racist state, he sat and read, and then moved around the country to monitor networks of threatened destruction that he had to keep in check with wires and lights. Then the air force paid for his education.
Time and its mysteries, from the beauty of Lorenz transformations to the probabilistic surrealism of the quantum, washed him rounds the nights and days of the academic ladder, and beautiful women too. Eventually, he came up with a design for a gravity-bending laser device which intrigues finer minds than mine, as well as the usual John Titor crowd of hoaxers. I loved his book.
The romance of science when tied to such a story is a beautiful one. It lifts us simultaneously beyond ourselves and reminds me of the pain and memory of love at the heart of our spirit. It puts the silliness of certainty into perspective. Like most radical things, it is of course almost unwelcome to 'professional' scientists, who these days are administrators and lobbyists for funds as often as they ever were the holders of whatever received opinion gets one through the night. Things in particle physics are still full of the spirit of the frontier, however, and the large Hadron Collider at CERN is about to be switched on, leading perhaps to time-travelling electrons that can never return to their future. You can almost hear the 'yee haws' and bucking horses, and the contempt for health and safety silliness. What's health and safety when one might be about to create a black hole?
Ronald Mallet stands out amongst the dreaming genii. His book is a joy to read, and I recommend it to you, equations and all! Here is a video from Mallett's speaker agency about his doings, which I have also reproduced below....