An Experiment with Time

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An Experiment with Time
An Experiment with Time book cover.jpg
Author J. W. Dunne
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher A. & C. Black
Faber & Faber
Publication date
1927
Pages 208pp
ISBN 1-57174-234-4
OCLC 46396413
LC Class MLCM 2004/02936 (B)

An Experiment with Time is a long essay by the Irish aeronautical engineer J. W. Dunne (1875 — 1949) on the subjects of precognition and the human experience of time. First published in March 1927, it was very widely read, and his ideas promoted by several other authors, in particular by J. B. Priestley. Other books by J. W. Dunne are The Serial Universe, The New Immortality, and Nothing Dies.

Contents[edit]

  • I. Definitions
  • II. The Puzzle
  • III. The Experiment
  • IV. Temporal Endurance and Temporal Flow
  • V. Serial Time
  • VI. Replies to Critics

Appendix to the third edition:

Index

Basic concepts[edit]

Dunne's theory is, simply put, that all moments in time are taking place at once, at the same time. For example, if a cat were to spend its whole entire life living in a box, anyone looking into the box could see the cat's birth, life and death in the same instant - were it not for the human consciousness, which means that we perceive at a fixed rate.

According to Dunne, whilst human consciousness prevents us from seeing outside of the part of time we are "meant" to look at, whilst we are dreaming we have the ability to traverse all of time without the restriction of consciousness, leading to pre-cognitive dreams, resulting in the phenomenon known as Deja vu. Henceforth, Dunne believes that we are existing in two parallel states, which requires a complete rethink of the way that we understand time.

Dunne's experiment[edit]

In An Experiment with Time, Dunne discusses how a theoretical ability to perceive events outside the normal observer's stream of consciousness might be proved to exist. He also discusses some of the possible other explanations of this effect, such as déjà vu.

He proposes that observers should place themselves in environments where consciousness might best be freed and then, immediately upon their waking, note down the memories of what had been dreamed, together with the date. Later, these notes should be scanned, with possible connections drawn between them and real life events that occurred after the notes had been written.

While the first half of the book is an explanation of the theory, the latter part comprises examples of notes and later interpretations of them as possible predictions. Statistical analysis was at that time in its infancy, and no calculation of the significance of the events reported was able to be made.

Parallels with other scientific and metaphysical systems[edit]

Dunne's theory of time has parallels in many other scientific and metaphysical theories. The Aboriginal people of Australia, for example, believe that the Dreamtime exists simultaneously in the present, past and future, and that this is the objective truth of time, linear time being a creation of human consciousness and therefore subjective. Kabbalah, Taoism and indeed most mystical traditions have always posited that waking consciousness allows awareness of reality and time in only a limited way and that it is in the sleeping state that the mind can go free into the multi-dimensional reality of time and space (examples: "Dreams are the wandering of the spirit through all nine heavens and nine earths," The Secret of the Golden Flower, trans. Richard Wilhelm). Similarly, all mystery traditions speak of the immortal and temporal selves which exist simultaneously both within time and space and without.

There are also parallels with classical relativity theory, in which time and space are merged into "spacetime", and time is not absolute and independent but is dependent upon the motion of the observer.

Scientific reception[edit]

In 1928, Sir Arthur Eddington wrote a letter to Dunne, a portion of which was reprinted in the 1929 and later editions of An Experiment With Time, in which he said:

I agree with you about 'serialism'; the 'going on of time' is not in Minkowski's world as it stands. My own feeling is that the 'becoming' is really there in the physical world, but is not formulated in the description of it in classical physics (and is, in fact, useless to a scheme of laws which is fully deterministic).[1]

Some psychical researchers such as George N. M. Tyrrell and C. D. Broad have pointed out problems with Dunne's theory of time. As Tyrell explained:

Mr. J. W. Dunne, in his book, An Experiment with Time, introduces a multidimensional scheme in an attempt to explain precognition and he has further developed this scheme in later publications. But, as Professor Broad has shown, these unlimited dimensions are unnecessary, and unless I have misunderstood Mr. Dunne's argument, they resolve themselves into space-dimensions, and the true problem of time — the problem of becoming, or the passage of events from future through present to past, is not explained by them but is still left on the author's hands at the end.[2]

In an article in the New Scientist in 1983 it was reported that Dunne had written a book just before his death admitting that he was a medium and a believer in spiritualism, the article reports that Dunne had deliberately chosen to leave this out of his An Experiment with Time book as he judged that it would have affected the reception of his theory.[3]

In a review for the New Scientist John Gribbin described An Experiment with Time as a "definitive classic".[4] Paul Davies in his book About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (2006) wrote that Dunne was an entertaining writer but there is no scientific evidence for more than one time and that Dunne's argument seems ad hoc.[5]

In his book Is There Life After Death? (2006), British writer Anthony Peake wrote that some of Dunne's ideas are valid and attempts to update the ideas of Dunne in the light of the latest theories of quantum physics, neurology and consciousness studies.[6]

Popular culture[edit]

In literature, interest in Dunne's theory may be reflected in T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton, from Four Quartets, which opens with the lines:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.[7][8]

J. B. Priestley used Dunne's theory directly in his play Time and the Conways, professing in his introduction that he believed the theory to be true. Other writers contemporaneous to Dunne who expressed enthusiasm for his ideas included Aldous Huxley, who was also interested in the expansion of human consciousness to experience time, and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who mentioned this book in the introduction to his novel The Dream of Heroes (1954).

Charles Chilton used Dunne's analogy of time as a book to explain time travel in his radio play Journey Into Space. Philippa Pearce's childhood fantasy Tom's Midnight Garden also makes use of Dunne's ideas.[citation needed]

The book is instrumental in Dr Philip Raven's production of his future history as 'edited' by H G Wells in his 1933 work The Shape of Things to Come.

In the 1970 children's TV series, Timeslip, a time bubble allows two children to travel between past, present and future. Much of the show's time travel concepts were based on An Experiment with Time.[9]

An Experiment with Time is referenced in the book Sidetripping by William S. Burroughs and Charles Gatewood.

It is also mentioned in the book "Last Men In London" by Olaf Stapledon (1932) and in Bid Time Return, a 1975 novel by Richard Matheson.

It is also mentioned in the story "Murder in the Gunroom" by H. Beam Piper, and in "Elsewhen" by Robert A. Heinlein.

The ideas of Dunne also form the basis for "The Dark Tower" a short story by C. S. Lewis, and the unpublished novel, "The Notion Club Papers" by J. R. R. Tolkien. Both Tolkien and Lewis were members of the Inklings.

In the 2002 French movie Irréversible, one of the characters is seen reading the book by Dunne. The movie also investigates the aspects of the book through the style of filming, in that the story is told backwards, with each beginning sequence beginning either minutes or hours prior to the one which preceded it in the narrative. Also, the tagline is Le temps détruit tout meaning "Time destroys everything" – it is the first phrase spoken and the last phrase written.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://home.us.archive.org/stream/AnExperimentWithTime/Dunne-AnExperimentWithTime_djvu.txt
  2. ^ George Nugent Merle Tyrrell Science and psychical phenomena 1938, p. 135
  3. ^ Ruth Brandon Scientists and the supernormal New Scientist 16 June 1983 p. 786
  4. ^ John Gribbin Book Review of An Experiment with Time New Scientist 27 Aug 1981, p. 548
  5. ^ Paul Davies About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution
  6. ^ Anthony Peake Is There Life After Death? The Extraordinary Science Of What Happens When We Die 2006
  7. ^ Verlyn Flieger, "Time in the Stone of Suleiman," in The Rhetoric of Vision: Essays on Charles Williams, by Charles Adolph Huttar & Peter J. Schakel (Bucknell University Press, 1996), p. 82 Retrieved 2007-09-15.
  8. ^ T. S. Eliot and the Use of Memory, by Grover Cleveland Smith (Bucknell University Press, 1996), p. 96 Retrieved 2007-09-15.
  9. ^ Thompson, Andy. (2004). Introduction to Timeslip, p. 2. [Timeslip DVD Special Feature]. London: Carlton Visual Entertainment. 37115 06243.

External links[edit]