I wrote a story in high school called “All of Time at Once” which was about the first large-scale time-travel proof-of-concept project. It involved sending one person back in time two years to meet themselves with minimal exposure to the outside world at large. Additionally, they were not to let on that they were the same person as themselves to themselves in the process so as to keep any sort of psychological break from happening. It was merely a means to show that it could work, that a person could be sent back a reasonable period of time, interfere with someone unimportant enough that it wouldn’t do anything weird, and then, carry on as some sort of amanuensis, living proof that it had worked.
Of course, it didn’t work like that.
The story wasn’t about the technological feat that was involved in sending someone back through time, nor about somehow maintaining the integrity of the timeline, but what it would do for someone to be confronted by someone who was exactly them, how much damage it would cause internally.
The story wasn’t well written - I was 16 or something - and I keep thinking I’ll revise it some day, but I never get around to it, of course. The idea and the title have stuck with me throughout, however.
Particularly because what happens to the main character as they spend two years confronted by exactly themselves in every way except looks (some cosmetic surgery before the experiment being obligatory) and age is that they spend basically two years in a dissociative panic attack. One that is only relieved when they, in turn, travel back to meet themselves at that crucial moment and they finally get to see “all of time at once”.
Shut up, I really liked Heinlein growing up.
I am coming down (I think) from a dissociative panic attack, typing with the aid
of whatever spell check vim has to offer. I spent most of the last
$PERIOD_OF_TIME on a dog walk starting somewhere before the peak of things;
I’d call it maybe halfway up (as compared to my two-thirds of the way down right
now). I spent most of that walk thinking about time, when I was thinking
It seems to me that the problem with losing time during panic is that the further into panic one gets, the smaller a quanta of time gets. It’s as though the amount of cohesive time I can possibly hold in my head is limited to whatever space is left to cognition, and that space diminishes, and then later expands, during a panic attack. By the time words and language started coming back to me around the south-west edge of the lake, I was operating at about one step’s worth of time, and up to about five steps by the time I made the decision to turn right and extend the walk a little further so that I wouldn’t be totally off by the time I got home. At my pace, that’s a little less than a second, and about three seconds respectively, which probably could be extrapolated into blah blah blah.
I’m not done yet. That’s not even what I’m about, dude.
Either way, it made me think back to that story because the ultimate relief for the main character, the ultimate end to all of their panic, was that final experience before they landed somewhere back in the past, where they were allowed, for one brief instant, to experience all of time at once.
That translated, on my walk, to the idea that maybe that’s the type of thing that plays a big role in some of the more contemplative religions and mysticisms out there. The perception of time in such a way as to provide some sort of enlightenment. The idea makes less and less sense to me as time goes on, as such things are wont to do, but the dire import struck me on my walk, as I slowly increased the amount of time that I perceive as a cohesive or coherent “moment”.
Sometimes frameworks help to provide context for the incomprehensible.
Sure, but you realize that he corollary is that there is some ultimate state of panic, some sort of true hell, which involves being simply reduced to some Planck unit of time as one’s cohesive or coherent “moment”.
True hell is a bit dramatic, isn’t it?
But the panic made the whole experience cohesive to you, even if perception of time was not. There was some bit of you that lasted through the experience in order to tie it together into a story after the fact. If there was some bit of you experiencing truly dissociated moments of incomprehensible input reduced to an impossibly short measure of time enough to tie them together into a story…
Pleasant. Okay, I’ll accept hellish.
After all, that’s all you are, anyway. Panic is just recognition of that fact.