The Time Machine was released sixty years ago today and I went to review the film upon its premiere on 22 July 1960 in Chicago, US. It also gave me an opportunity to observe at first hand a famous US Class 1 Transcontinental railroad – which would within a couple of decades or so become a fallen flag. Don’t ask me how I managed to perform the feat of doing these. I of course tied up the sixties with the year 2020, which is where the collaborations from sixty years ago ultimately ended up! Else I could have not written this post.
Of course they way they wrote those film reviews at that time is so very different from what we write today. They didn’t have blogs then. Yet we are lucky to have survived the onward march of time and seen technology develop in such a way that we can pull our research and images from different sources without so much as having to get up and go and find it, like they had to back then. I mean people had to use trains, cars, to reach The Time Machine premiere at Loew’s in Chicago, whereas I merely used, erm, let’s say, a time machine!
I wonder how they will do it in the distant future. What sort of technology will enable people to write their thoughts or reviews? One thing is obvious the keyboard wont exist and any ‘typing’ will be effected by electrical brain waves, which essentially means it will be something rather like androids dreaming of electric sheep. No wonder ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously!’
And Wells’ The Time Machine? This is where HG takes the great leap forward. That other master of Science Fiction, Jules Verne, wrote about everything except time travel. You see, in Verne’s era time had only just become something important. It was something that had to be shown, synchronised and resolutely kept to, thanks to the burgeoning railways. Without time society would collapse because by then many things depended on efficiency.
The question of time (as in quantum mechanics or in time travel) wasn’t even a thing then. Thus it can be seen Verne’s stories were tied in by the then current consciousness of time. It was a simplistic tool for keeping things in a certain order and enabling people to arrange perfectly executed meetings on a specific date and time in the future. Nevertheless Verne knew there were some problems with time because in his famous 1872 story Phileas Fogg in fact nearly got caught out by how time ‘flows’ around the world – but by way of quickly showing his bettors how it in fact worked, his bid to get Around The World in Eighty Days was easily won.
And its things like this that do show us that time is indeed a human construct. One that has caught, snared, trapped us and possibly made our lives better – and worst – at the same time. Its a treadmill. This is where Wells came in. His Time Machine was a treatise – of sorts – on the treacheries of humanity. The first being the imposition of the new thing called time and the late 19th Century desire to conquest it (both in terms of sci-fi and in physics.) And the relevant progress afterwards – depicting almost the end of the human race – when our time traveller discovers a post apocalyptic world.
Wells had a different view of science to that of Verne. Source: Twitter
In that sense Verne showed us the sheer criticality of time and an ability to gain the upper hand against others. In due course we would have Fordism and Taylorism, those excellent human manipulation systems where people would be encouraged to maximise their work output in far less time. In other words, more slog for the same wage. And if workers were not using time that well, it was then an excuse for bosses to castigate or even sack people. We can blame all that on the advent of time and many things in modern society, both beneficial and disadvantageous, are largely a product of time. But one thing not yet produced is time travel itself!
In a way it can be said people began to see time as a threat. The acceleration of synchronised co-operation to maximise output. It wasn’t a means of freedom, far from it, it was rather more a means of enslaving people. Karl Marx was one of the first to see how people would be enslaved by their bosses and of course the new novelty of time was an important part of the dialectical analysis by Marx and Engels.
Wells of course spotted that time wasn’t just a tool but a means of negotiating the universe, of perhaps acquiring a freedom the current concepts of time did not yet offer. Was Well’s book some sort of subconscious desire to get away from the onward tyranny we call the march of time? That very thing we sometimes call ashes to ashes, dust to dust?
People point out the fact Wells wrote his story some ten years before Einstein’s famous theory of special relativity – though again I wonder what influence that would have had exactly as ‘time machining’ and time travel (as per relativity) are two quite completely different phenomenon – as I will discuss later.
The other problem with the consciousness of time as a reversal procedure was Wells hadn’t even secured first place in terms of a race to the future. Strangely enough he had explored the idea in an earlier work called The Chronic Argonauts (1888), but that was not even a first either. Another story – The Clock That Went Backwards – is quite unquestionably the first written in English, it was published in The Sun on September 18th 1881 and that was the one and only time it received any sort of airing in those days, thus it was easily forgotten.
El Anacronópete (The one who flies against time) is another which was written by the Spaniard Gaspar y Rimbau and published in 1887 – a year before Wells’ earlier work. Rimbau’s story was the first to describe a mechanised (electro-pneumatic) machine that would transport people in time. However an English translation of this has not been available until recently which, along with the brief exposure The Clock That Went Backwards had, ensured Wells was invariably in the forefront in terms of having produced work which described travel in time. Not only that because of his reputation and fame (such as War of the Worlds) like Verne he too had the upper hand.
Great picture of Rod Taylor as H. George Wells. Source: Twitter
The film opened to great accolade in 1960, and I remember that I did not see it as my true dimensional self in 1960 during the normal process of time, because I would have been too small even to travel to the US and write about it. That is why, as a gregarious seventy year old, I chose to employ the technique of travelling back in time in order to achieve that very possibility!
In terms of time’s great onward march, I remember being fascinated by the film when it was first shown on TV and watched it a number of times after, including in 1970 when we had a colour TV for the first time and I was able to enjoy the film even more. After all, colour did so much more, it conveyed far more sense of drama for the actual time travelling parts of the film that it ever could have done in black and white!
Despite the movie’s great merits in many ways it has now dated quite considerably, but it should at least be applauded for bringing the notion of time travel right into the public sphere. After all despite the concept by then having been written about quite a lot, putting the idea onto celluloid was still a rarity and this is why George Pal’s movie captured the imagination. Forbidden Planet elevated the status of space travel in film (just as 2001 would then take this to the next level) The Time Traveller did so too for its category. There have of course been other time travel films but the concept was merely one of where people were involuntarily transported back or forth in time, either by dreaming or by some quirk of nature. The Time Traveller took it further by trying to show how the mechanisation of it and the experience of the effects would work.
1960 was ironically the subject of another time travel film, Beyond the Time Barrier. This was released just a month after George Pal’s film. However this new entry, produced by Robert Clarke, was simply a case of a fighter pilot encountering a time warp, and again, like all the other films before it, not actually a work which tries to show the efforts of building a machine and then using that to voluntarily travel through time.
In terms of Wells’ story and its 1960 film version, Australian Rod Taylor was the main star and of course the one and only time traveller in the whole cast. Quite interesting he was cast as H.G. Wells (or as the film would have it, H. George Wells.) In Wells’ book the person is simply known as the Time Traveller, something the 1949 BBC production honoured. The 2002 movie version’s main lead was known as Dr. Alexander Hartdegen.
One of the most iconic parts of the 1960s version is the mannequin in the shop window. Our hero liked to keep an eye on it and see how things was progressing – quite an amazing thing actually because the mannequin survived all of sixty six years in exactly the same position (1900 to 1966.) An incredible feat! If one looks at the final scenes involving this it will be seen that our hero walks past the mannequin and then is distracted by some display on the pavement, but in doing so he misses out on what appears to be a depiction of a huge flat screen television! Was the film predicting such things would eventually be possible? You never know but as time has shown, we do now have these things!
Poster for the film. Source: Twitter
Its interesting The Time Machine heralded the first half of the very decade when science fantasy on television would take off. Doctor Who, The Outer Limits, Star Trek and so on. Some might say Star Trek was not a product from the first half of the sixties however it was actually conceived early in that decade and its first pilot show, The Cage, was made in 1964. The Doctor, first broadcast in 1963 and another British invention, would no doubt be the closest successor to the Time Machine but would go several times better because the 1960’s film merely explored Earth to the distant future whereas Doctor Who explored both time and space. That’s a big difference!
One of the biggest questions – since a certain guy by the name of Albert dreamed of riding a rocket during his menial work in a Bern patents office – has of course been that of time. Albert proved that time does flex somewhat – it is not the same for every observer – therefore its not a fixed and immutable property of the universe (even though there’s the speed of light itself which ultimately determines the cut-off as to how time actually works.)
In terms of Einstein’s theories, the question is whether time travel is indeed possible. H.G. Wells obviously thought it was (although again he points out his time traveller was such a good guy at telling tales that it would be difficult to determine if he was telling the truth or not – which again, I suppose could mean we should also take Wells’ stories with perhaps a pinch of salt!)
The concept of time is a good one but its also a contrived one. That’s because there’s several problems with it. To start with, in the act of writing these two sentences I actually travelled in time. I travelled several seconds into the future – so yes time travel is indeed possible because we are doing it all the time. But as I will show below, there are many problems with this.
The time travelling we do isn’t controllable. Well not to any great extent – save for popping off on a tour around the universe at near the speed of light and returning to find oneself most definitely in the distant future. The fact is we still don’t know exactly what time travel entails. In The Time Machine one sees the building about our hero change, morph, crumble, showing the relentless march of time. In other films it might simply be a blur or in the case of Doctor Who it might be a trip down a wormhole or something of the sort.
The current iteration of Doctor Who – Jodie Whittaker. Source: Twitter
Again its all relative. Speed at 1000 mph across the surface of the planet and one would certainly thing that was fast, but skimming the earth atmosphere at that speed, well it looks slow. But neither of these really tell us what time travel actually is like. And when it comes to Albert Einstein, time once again turns out to be something else.
The other danger to be honest is, if we really did attempt a time machine and set off to explore the future, would our atoms, particles, molecules, the very things that constitute and hold our bodies together, disintegrate? No-one knows. Could our bodies survive a trip millions of years into the future? What about quantum entanglement (spooky action at a distance?) Do we leave the entangled particles our bodies are associated with in the past or do we take those forward into the future too? And what are the effects of leaving entanglement behind? There’s so many questions one does not know where to begin.
If we really think about it, time didn’t exist in any strong sense until the 19th century. In many ways its a constructed reality (like a lot of other things in human society) thereby the problem for us happens to be whether time is a real thing or a thing made by us. The answer to that I do not know, I mean we have atomic clocks and its been pointed out atomic clocks can be found in nature (the quantum world) but what use would have atomic clocks been to say, those like Descartes or Rousseau? Again it shows us we have a problem with linearity – the ability to show where reality ends and human constructs begin.
That alone tells us Einstein had indeed found the answers to what is basically a human construct. He in fact reverse engineered time in order to make it work within the general sense of the universe. There’s nothing wrong with that, General and Special Relativity are brilliant and they have been proved to work – which does tell us there is something called ‘time’ out there – but again I don’t think its exactly what physicists deem it to be.
On the other hand it has been said the universe is simply a product that can be changed, enhanced, manipulated. In other words what we think about the universe, it can be said to collapse into that mode of thinking which in some ways means the universe is shape-shifting to suit our particular interpretations of it. If that really is the case then the question of time, and even time travel, are far bigger problems than we thought because its our consciousness doing the bidding!
The huge popularity with time travel is it evokes images of doing something we do not seem to be able to do – not yet anyway – except in terms of application at the nano-scale end of things, such as the differential in time on earth and in satellites, which is in fact something that’s actually benefited from Einstein’s theories.
Albert Einstein – whose theories describe a time travel of sorts. Source: Twitter
Let me point out that even Einstein himself didn’t say we could actually travel in time. He didn’t say we could push a button and be off somewhere different back or forth in time. He just pointed out that due to a quirk of nature someone could transcend the nature of time (speeding along in a rocket near to the speed of light for example) but by doing that we lose a huge slice of our lives – those we knew will have died and the world will be a totally different place to what it was. What he was saying is for some time passes slower and for others it is faster. That sort of time travel still entails factors that are well beyond our control – and the crux of Einstein’s relativity is that it is not pure time travel.
What Wells was trying to do was to imply it was possible to control time wit the flick of a switch, and go forth, or back, in time, see what’s there and then come back to one’s own starting point. Einstein’s version of time travel however shows one could pass into the future but then they’re bloody well stuck there! Its this demarcation between what is essentially two different concepts of time travel that is a huge one to tackle – let alone the concept of time itself.
Even to this day there’s still a lot of argument whether this can happen, this being that things could either go forth or back in time. Most recently it was shown particles could pop forward in time or back in time but that is on a quantum scale, a tiny fraction of an instant. Its no sort of classical scale stuff where for example someone would be able to discern definite shifts in time to, say, five minutes either side of the clock which struck at noon.
It seems currently we need a huge machine or some huge understanding that we just haven’t got, in order to fathom how we could possibly jump back in time or forward. The big problem is five minutes into the future doesn’t exist just as five minutes in the past doesn’t exist either. The actual amount of time ahead of us, or behind us is no more than an instant.
Oops! We’ve reached the end of time! Its the end of the universe where things go horribly right – for once! Source: IMDb
And therein lies the paradox. Time travelling isn’t what the term makes it out to be. Yes its ‘time travel’ but it not what we think it is. If anyone travelled into the future or into the past they will of course have travelled to an instant in the future or the past. So they’re not really time travelling but sort of hopping about. Sort of like standing and poised to take a great leap forward, and when one does actually make that jump, they have leapt from the past to the future, or as it actually is, from the past now to the future now.
One could sort of sense that they had actually jumped into the future but the problem is then, how does one determine this is the future? It doesn’t even look any different to the moment one began their leap forward across the floor. Indeed. Take a jump across the floor at home or at work and what do you feel? Is it the future? Or is it the same now? I mean if I move my finger slightly have I merely moved it or have I moved it into the future? Questions like this shows the answers are quite immutable – its very difficult to give any sort of answer in fact.
What this means in my view (this is my own reasoning) is we have a major problem with the cognition of time. Until we can sort out that, I do not think we are going see any real progress in any way or any form in terms of acquiring time travel. Its rather like our 3D existence. We cant see anymore dimensions than that – not under normal circumstances. It too follows that we have such a fixed sense about time that perhaps we will not be able to sense major changes in it too. Remember we don’t go to bed and then wake up the next morning and say ‘Gawd I just time travelled an entire night!’
Clearly technology is something we don’t understand nor know how to use properly. Our fullest understanding of technology essentially ended at the dawn of mass computing. The knowledge needed to keep up with the process of technology is slipping behind badly and we are more and more becoming its victims rather than the benefactors we had thought we would be. And instead of being able to control time, it is instead controlling us.
Book on the story as a tie-in with the 1960 film. Source: Twitter
Its the same with lots of other things, we are fixed in our concepts and fixed in how we can use our bodies and senses and develop higher levels of awareness. We sort of deceive ourselves when we think we are making this sort of progress. And its this mass deception we have to overcome if we are to make any reasonable sort of progress in the future, let alone any hope of transcending the nature of time itself.
At best what we can hope for is a more regular diet of technological fantasy, sort of like allowing it to blind us rather than advance us – and thus comfort ourselves quite frivolously that we are indeed ‘getting there.’ Thereby its quite appropriate to recall Wittgenstein’s famous words – ‘Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.’
I think in a way this is what Wells was expressing in his original manuscript. How do we know when something is real and not deception? Yes he was postulating the concept of time but he was also rather subtly warning against being suckered completely into a thing that essentially didn’t have much hope of happening.
This in fact is what was being said in the original introduction to Wells’ manuscript. And that, shown below, is what we will look at next.
Wells’ original manuscript for The Time Machine. Written out in full below. Source: Twitter
“It is of course possible that this is simply the story of a hoax. Yet a man must be informed with a singular passion for deception to go to the pains the Time Traveller took to perfect his story, if it was only a story, and to abandon his exceedingly comfortable position to confirm it. For my own part I believe that things happened as he describes them; that the machine he shows us was what he declared is to be, that he did actually stand under the black skies of the Last Days & witness the dark eclipse of the dying sun. At the risk of becoming a by-word for credulity, I await this. The things he told us were no doubt almost incredible, but if he was not sincere in the telling of them, then I have never seen sincerity. I who heard the story and saw the machine, believe.“
As this tweet shows 2020 is in fact the 125th anniversary (in human constructed time) of Wells’ book!