December 12, 2014

Rationalist Back to the Future: "It's About Time."

Anxiety welled up deep within me, not knowing the sort of world we lived in.

It's tough when the world as you know it explodes in a flash of sparking light and flaming tire trails.  

Now... (whatever THAT word meant)... *Now*, I didn't know whether or not the very fabric of the universe would unravel with an accidental bootstep unto the wrong butterfly.  I had read about that in a Ray Bradbury novel.  It disturbed me greatly that such an event could actually come to pass.

Did my personal curiosity and gnawing hunger outweigh the threat I posed to ALL OF EXISTENCE?  Surely not.  Yet I couldn't live in an undeveloped neighborhood that wouldn't be built in the next five to ten years.  I didn't want to starve to death because I was too afraid to walk into Lou's Cafe and order a Pepsi Free.  I needed safe harbor.  And if I was going to find a quiet haven where I could make the least impact on history, it would be here.

I checked the address again: 1640 Riverside Drive, Hill Valley.
I didn't bother to check the time on my watch.  Time was irrelevant, irrevocably broken.  Oops.


I took my hands out of the pockets of my vest and flexed them several times.  They were stiff and bone-white.  Ever since I realized it was November 5th, in the year 1955, my hands were clenched tightly to minimize contact with the outside world.  Now, I wiped them nervously on my jeans and walked up the dark driveway.

Hesitating briefly, I rapped the door and stepped back, not knowing who or what to expect. The door flew open with such frenetic gusto that I knew even before laying eyes on him, that it was the Doc himself.  

"Listen, Doc..."
"Don't... say... a word!" His eyes darted around his front lawn and he dramatically yanked me into his living room.  Normal Doctors of Experimental Tinkering and Science wore starched white lab coats.  Doc Brown on the other hand -- he wore a silvery nightgown.  His frizzled white hair was barely contained within a device that could best be described as an inverted colander with colorful lights dancing along a geodesic framework of electrical wires extruding from various contact points.

"I don't want to know your name, I don't want to know anything about you!"  I knew better than to interrupt the Doc when he was in one of his moods.  The wild look in his eyes sparkled with the manic light of someone who hadn't slept in a week.  The best you could do was hang on and play along.

He licked a suction cup and without my consent, he slapped it against my forehead.

"I'm going to read your thoughts," he announced with bravura, as he fussed with some dials on an electrical monstrosity that sparked and smoked in equal measure.  This device was apparently supposed to be an electroencephalogram.

"Let's see now, you've come here from a great distance?" He grasped at his metallic helmet for cognitive support.
"Even if you're only trying to pull more information out of me through cold reading, grasping at the high-probability straws, you're correct."
"Quiet! Don't tell me anything."  His brow furrowed in a mockery of concentration.  "You want me to buy a subscription for the Saturday Evening Post?"
"You were on such a roll! Just stay evasively general and reinforce chance guesses."
"Not a word, not a word, quiet now!"  Irritation curled his lips and his fingers as he waved me off.  "Uh... umm... Donations!  You want me to make a donation to the Coast Guard Youth Auxillary!"

"Your persistence in highly specific statements are not serving you well." I pinched the bridge of my nose.  "Moreover, let's talk about your mind reading device.  Have you ever heard of Dr Hans Berger?  In 1924, he recorded brain waves in an attempt to discover the powers of telepathy.  He ALREADY INVENTED YOUR... WEIRD DEVICE.  Now, neurologists use EEGs to detect sleep wave patterns and epileptic foci.  But they have NEVER been able to detect surface thoughts.  Especially not by using a small rubber suction cup and an electrical device more likely to trigger a seizure in your brain than it will read mine!"

It shocked me.  Was this really the Doc? Could he possibly be the brilliant mind that taught me the rules of rationality and the methods of scientific inquiry?  How could this silly 'scientist' become the man who would break the fourth dimension with backyard materials, Christmas lights, a DeLorean and a nugget of Plutonium?  I was appalled, to say the least.

I decided to end this farce of science.  "Doc... I'm from the Future..." I announced, as I yanked off the suction cup.

"I'm from the Future ... Scientists Youth Auxillary!" I amended, seeing his face starting to turn crestfallen.  I was not lying per se.  After all, I was his lab assistant in the year 1985.  Or yesterday, by my biological clock.
"Your device TOTALLY works and it TOTALLY won't give you a seizure."  His goofy grin didn't waver against the face of sarcasm.
"And I have a brief survey for my school project that I have been asking all of the Doctors of Experimental Tinkering and Science."
"It's about time!" he said triumphantly.  "I knew you would come."

"You're right... it IS about time," I said slowly.  I guided him towards his garage with blueprint plans in hand.  "But not quite in the way you're thinking about.  You won't get the recognition you deserve -- not for another 30 years or so, I'm guessing..."


Together, we could discover whether or not I was a creature displaced from my time-stream in an alternate universe off-set by thirty years.  Perhaps I was a fifth dimensional being with powers to see time in a non-linear fashion now that the illusion of causal time-event occurrences had been cast away from my reality.  Perhaps the changes I made here in 1955 would be reflected further down my time-stream in 1985 in ways I would become aware of through some sort of memory-altering sequence.  Perhaps time existed only as a mathematical unit and I had only "rewound the clock" backward to a point in a static time-cone that projected both forwards and backwards in a timeless physics model of reality.

There was one thing I was certain of.  Doc Brown's inspired hand was guided by rational mind at odds with his own irrational behavior.  I often wondered why he picked me to be his apprentice -- if it weren't for his guidance, I'm pretty sure I would have been like all of the other high schoolers who enjoyed skateboards and cars.  He would occasionally have me read very specific books, like the "Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury or neurology texts on EEGs that... that were hints, telling me he knew who I would become!

Doc Brown was not the brilliant mind that had been grooming me to become a future scientist.  I was grooming myself.  It was future-me, in the past, directing him behind the curtain.  A ruse, a long-con, preparing me for this very moment of realization.  It would be a very long road until I could safely test my theories on time and avoid paradox.

I had twenty five years to break the news to the Doc that I was an accidental time-traveller.

I had thirty years to save the Doc's life.

In the meantime, I would avoid destroying the universe. Great Scott... that's heavy.

[My take on this scene if Marty were given a chance to teach himself everything he needed to know about time-travel... through Doc Brown.]

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