Excogitation

Excogitate; big word, right?  It means to take something and study it intently, carefully to try and grasp or comprehend something fully, to think something out.  I do that a lot.  I’ve spent a lot more time doing it recently, because, well, I seem to have more time on my hands for pondering things.

night skyWhen I was in Astronomy 101 class in 1982 at the University of New Mexico, I did a lot of excogitation.  One day, out of the blue, Professor Zeilik makes the statement that when you look at the night sky you’re looking at a time machine.  Because of the time it takes for light to travel to earth, what you are in effect seeing is the sky the way it looked millions of years ago.  In fact, he stated, “it’s possible that many of the stars you see are no longer there.”

Now that got me to pondering.  When I look up at the stars, I’m looking at something that is millions of years old, seeing it today, it kind of overwhelms the mind.  You are looking at the past, clearly and without a doubt.  I haven’t looked at the night sky the same since.

Light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second.  If you could travel at the speed of light, you could circumnavigate the globe at the equator 7.5 times every second.  The space shuttle, in comparison, had to maintain a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour to stay in earth orbit.  At that speed, you would circumnavigate the planet at an average altitude of 333.25 kilometers once every hour, 31 minutes and 12 seconds.  The shuttle astronauts saw around 16 sunrises per day.

Take something easy to comprehend, like the sun.  The sun is the closest star to us and it takes 8.3 minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth.  So when you look at the sun, and you’re not supposed to do that, you are seeing the sun 8.3 minutes in the past.  Now if you think about the nearest star after that, it is Proxima Centauri which is 4.3 light years away.  So 4.3 x 186,000 = 799,800 miles distant.  The light reaches earth in 4.3 years.  So when you are looking at Proxima Centauri that is how it appeared 4.3 years ago.  Boggles the mind.  Not sure exactly where you would look to see that star, I only took Astronomy for one semester, but I’m sure it can be figured out.

So if we could travel at the speed of light around the planet could we know what the score of, say, the Redskins and Cowboys game was, travel around the planet in .075 seconds and make a bet before the game begins?  The Super Bowl is played on a Sunday afternoon in February, but in Australia the game is on Monday morning.  Why can’t I know what the final score is on Sunday afternoon, travel to Australia at the speed of light and place a huge bet on the outcome on Monday morning?  Notice how this got around to gambling. 

Jules Verne version of a time machine.

Jules Verne version of a time machine.

Obviously the problem is I can see into the past, but I can’t see into the future. The Super Bowl on Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning is being played at the same time.  I need a time machine.  Something, however fast it goes, but faster than the speed of light probably, that will get me into the future so I know the outcome of the game, and then can travel back in time, before the game begins and make that all important bet.

This all came up in “Back to the Future II.” Biff picks up a copy of “Gray’s Sports Almanac” that Doc had thrown in the trash.  He steals the De Lorean, now knowing that it is a time machine, and goes back to November 12, 1955 to give the almanac to his younger self.  A series of complications with the time paradox, and the younger Biff uses the book to make bets because he now knows the outcome of sporting events, and wins big at the track on his 21st birthday.  He then goes on a winning streak and becomes not only newsworthy as the luckiest man alive, but also as America’s richest and most powerful man.back to the future

So now you can see where I got the idea.   Doesn’t work out for Biff in the end though.  He ends up dead.

At this point I’m starting to excogitate about my selfish and limited use of a time machine.  If you had access to a time machine, shouldn’t you go back in time and stop Booth from shooting Lincoln, or thwart the Lindbergh kidnapper, alert the authorities about Marilyn’s overdose before it happens, surprise Oswald on the sixth floor of the book depository just as he’s taking aim, warn NASA about the O-ring failure before they launch Challenger, and warn the airlines about a terrorist plot to use Boeing 767s as bombs to reduce the World Trade Center to rubble?

What little I know about time travel, (it wasn’t covered in Astronomy 101), it seems there are numerous theories about your inability to change history should you be able to travel back in time.  There has been a lot of excogitating on the subject.  It appears in most cases to be impossible.  The “Novikov self-consistency principle” states that if you travel back in time, anything you do in the past must be part of history all along.  The “Grandfather Paradox” where you go back in time to kill your grandfather, would prevent you from returning because you would no longer exist since you have eliminated one of your parents.  Of course, providing you kill your grandfather before your father or mother is born.  The Novikov principle would make this impossible because you wouldn’t be able to kill your grandfather.  The gun would jam, or you would be unable to go through with it.

And what about time traveling into the future?  Forget about it.  I don’t want to know what the future holds because I might not like it.  Then I would have to travel back to the present and deal with what I know is going to happen.  Although there are probably just as many theories about how I can change the outcome by taking some action now, there are just as many that will argue that it doesn’t matter what I do, the future will be the same.

All I want to do is know the final score of the Super Bowl before it’s played so I can place a huge bet.  No, that won’t be enough.  I need a future copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac so I can use it to win lots of money and become the luckiest man in America and rich beyond my wildest dreams.  WTF.  I think that makes the whole thing unexcogitable.

 

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Excogitation

  1. Shannon

    I loved this one.

    • Thanks, Shannon. I got to thinking, maybe I should use the time machine for the Power ball numbers. But then I got to thinking maybe that wouldn’t work because I can’t change the future, and since I didn’t win in the present … Oh well. Can’t win if you don’t play.

  2. I prefer to stay in this moment–it simplifies things. I’m pretty sure I won’t get a hold of tons of money this way, but there are different ways of defining “rich.” 😉

  3. Anne Edmonson

    Enjoyed this one!

  4. I took Astronomy in college, too. It was extremely dull, which I now realize was unnecessary and completely avoidable. Like making a bad pizza, you almost have to try to make astronomy boring. This post was much more fun.

    • You didn’t have Michael Zeilik teaching Astronomy 101. Although I did fall asleep in class once. .. fell right into the aisle. ..(was working night shift at the Circle K)… but not because it was boring, but because he turned out the lights for a slide presentation. It is hard to make a bad pizza isn’t it?

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