The T-Shirt from the Future: A Short Short Story

Time travel cube

Someone nudged my shoulder, stirring me from deep sleep. “Wake up, grandpa,” said an unfamiliar voice. Grandpa? Who’s that? I opened my eyes to see a young woman, dressed in black, looking back at me. Her face was brown, and her eyes looked like deep pools of water.

She smiled. Nothing in twenty-plus years of teaching could have prepared me for this, I thought. I looked around, trying to find my cell phone, without success. Nothing here was like anything I’d seen before. Small lights, like fireflies, circled us in the darkness.

“I know it’s confusing to be called ‘grandpa,'” she said, answering a question I had not yet had the chance to ask. “This is, well, complicated.” Her voice sounded excited, even though she was speaking softly. She reminded me of teachers new to the profession, positively bursting with new ideas, and looking forward, enthusiastically, to the new school year ahead. 

“It would have to be complicated,” I mumbled. Sleep was fading as I rubbed my eyes, trying to see where I was. A light came on, but it was unclear where the lightbulbs were. We were alone, inside a blue and white cube. The cube slowly moved, but its direction kept changing. “What am I doing here? Where’s my wife? Where am I, and who are you?”

“So many questions! I expected that, though. I will explain what I can.”

“That’s good, because . . . .”

“Please don’t interrupt,” she said. I stopped talking, but did not stop thinking. It appeared to be time to listen, not talk. “Thank you,” my alleged granddaughter continued. “In order, here are the answers to your questions. First, you are here for an important conversation. Second, your wife is peacefully sleeping. Third and fourth, you’re in my time-travel cube, and my name is Xiahong Al-Nasr. Technically, you’re my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but . . . .” I raised my hand to ask a question, as if I were in class myself. She shook her head, and continued, “. . . I’ve always thought of you as, simply, ‘grandpa.’ It’s a time-saver. May I continue explaining why we are here, or can your question wait?”

I thought fast. What should I say next? There was only one logical response. “I’ll listen,” I replied, and put my hand back down.

“You’re about to go back to school,” she said, “and you’re the teacher. It’s important that you understand why you are doing what you do, this year, above all others.” This reminded me of advice I’d heard before, but this time I was listening as if I were hearing for the first time.

This woman’s name, Xiaohong Al-Nasr, combined a Chinese given name with an Arabic surname. I hoped she would explain how that had happened.

“You’re wondering about my name,” she said. I swallowed, and nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak. “I’m from the 23rd Century,” she continued. “Nearly everyone where I work and learn, including me, has DNA from every continent on Earth. I’ve also got a little from off-world colonies, but I’m 100% human, just as you are. I was given my name by all of my parents.” She paused. Her gaze was locked to my own. “I’ve been authorized to tell you that much, but I have to be careful about revealing more, to prevent altering the timestream. Do you believe me?”

“If you know anything about me, you know that I teach science, as well as other subjects.” It was a relief to finally have my turn to speak. My alleged descendant, Xiaohong, was listening to me now. Finally! “You’ve either studied me, somehow, or you’re reading my mind, or it’s something else even more complicated, but you seem to know what I know. You must know, then, that scientists are trained to be skeptical. Everything has to have evidence to support it. In science, there is no higher authority than experiment.”

“I understand that, grandpa. We knew you would need evidence, so I do have a gift for you. It’s a t-shirt. You like t-shirts, after all.” Xiaohong smiled, and removed a small capsule from her pocket, no larger than a quarter. She opened it, and — somehow — pulled a full-size t-shirt from that impossibly small place.

t-shirt

I took the t-shirt from my descendant. Touching it was, well, real! I turned it over. It said “Go Bears!” on the back. Even if I believed her, though, I knew I would need more than just a t-shirt to convince anyone else. After all, time travel to the past was considered impossible by every scientist I had studied. Quickly, I did the arithmetic, using the year on the shirt. “That’s the year I would turn 300 years old, if I could live that long!” I was now catching Xiaohong’s excitement. “Clearly, Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws apply here, as does the Sagan Standard, Feynman’s First Principle, the grandfather paradox, and — and — and — the entire scientific method!”

“You’re absolutely correct, and it will be important for your students to understand all those things as well.” She was right; these are all things I talked about in science class, every year. This year, though, I can try to explain them differently, or perhaps have my students research them, and then have the students explain them to my class. Correction: my classes. My students. All of them.

Something fell into place in my mind at that moment, and I finally understood what was going on. It wasn’t my own accomplishments that had brought my descendant back in time to visit me, but the unknown creations of a student of mine — from the school year about to begin. Xiaohong smiled.

“You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?” She was asking a question, and, this time, I had the answer.

“Yes. You came back through time to refocus my attention to my own true purpose in the classroom. My job is to help my students learn to do great things. It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Xiaohong’s smile grew larger. I continued. “This school year is critical. This is true of all school years, in fact. Each year is both important, and urgent. In every school, and for every student, we must always do our best to learn — together.”

Xiaohong extended her hand, and received a firm handshake from me. “Now that you know the truth, grandpa, our work here is finished. You’ll wake up in the morning, in bed with your sleeping wife, and after that, you’ll find your t-shirt, in the dryer, at home. I have to go, though; I’m needed back in the 23rd Century. After all, I have my own classes to teach, quite soon, at our Time Travel Academy, where I got your t-shirt. Goodbye, and have a great school year! I know I will, as I continue my training to become a teacher myself.”

“I will do that,” I replied. “Thank you so much! As for this evidence you’ve given me, I know how I’ll handle that. I will let the students evaluate it, with help from me, on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

“Exactly,” Xiaohong said, and then she spoke to the ceiling of her time travel cube. “Send us both back to where we were — now.” A humming sound started, then became louder. The lights began to dim. After a few minutes, everything faded to darkness, and silence, once more.

When I awoke, home again, I checked the dryer, and found it — my t-shirt from the future — waiting for me. This school year will be amazing!

Speculation Regarding Future Human Speciation, Part II

tree

[My first post on this subject appeared here.]

In the future, the human race, homo sapiens, will do what all living organisms do when circumstances change, as they always do, sooner or later. We will adapt, migrate, and/or die. Since this is a post about speciation, I’m mentally setting that part of my brain which worries about extinction happening relatively soon to “hopeful,” for the duration of writing this post.

For speciation to happen, two things must happen first: reproductive isolation, and the passage of a lot of time. Migration (to off-earth colonies, for example) can produce reproductive isolation, but so can other things. As for adaptation, this is done in many ways by our species, consciously, as well as unconsciously. Evolution is always happening, but it is the slowest of all human adaptive processes. It is estimated that it has taken us (and everything else) 3.85 billion years to evolve, after all, and that’s roughly the most recent third of the time since the Big Bang.

Extra-terrestrial colonies would definitely be a huge “push” toward speciation, especially colonies with low gravity, relative to that experienced by other people. As well-described in Robert Heinlein’s novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, return to a high-gravity environment, after many years in a low-gravity environment, would carry significant health effects, with serious risks of sever complications, up to, and including, death. If we ever establish colonies outside the solar system, this isolation will become even more extreme, simply due to the enormous distances and travel-times involved.

However, we will speciate, as will all other species, if we stay alive long enough, even if no more of us leave low-Earth orbit.

In my previous post on this subject, I speculated about the emergence of fully-speciated homo lunaris,  homo literaticus, homo illiteraticus, artificially-genetically-modified humans (whom I did not name then, but homo techogeneticus would do nicely), and homo cyberneticus. An increase in the number of infertile offspring between two groups, combined with a falling birthrate between them, persisting over millennia, would be an early warning signal that speciation might be happening — that’s how long this evolutionary process takes.

Given enough time, and increased reproductive isolation from non-“Aspies,” another group which could speciate is the population with Asperger’s, to form homo aspergerus, primarily because of the difficulties each group of people have communicating with the other group. However, I’ve written several posts already which seek to help Aspies and non-Aspies understand, and bridge, the communication-gap. What’s going on here? Simple: evolution is simply a process which happens. It has no ethics. It is neither good nor evil. More to the point, just because I can discern a possible future does not mean I want that possibility to become real.

In what other ways could speciation happen? A widenining gap between the rich and poor certainly seems possible as a “push” towards speciation, at least currently, which could create homo plutocraticus and homo povertus. It is easily possible to imagine this happening along with the emergence of homo cyberneticus.

Another interesting possibility would occur if humanity survived in the North and Southern hemispheres, near the poles, but extreme global warming made tropical regions uninhabitable, and the equator untraversable, or at least very rarely crossed. In this case, it is hard to imagine what direction the changes would take, for they could go in many directions. Names for such Northern and Southern humans could be homo borealis and homo australis, from our point of view. In theirs, of course, as in many of these scenarios, the likely terms each group will use for the other will translate, roughly, as “us” and “them,” unless they somehow manage to shed the primate characteristic of forming rival groups, one which long predates humanity.

How could the maximum number of new species emerge in the least time possible?  This is known: a mass extinction would be needed, one which leaves a small (but large enough) percentage of humanity alive, and fertile. This would open numerous ecological niches which we, and other extant species, would rapidly fill, by rapid speciation, into an amazing variety of forms. Again, this simply happens — that does not mean it is to be desired, and I am certainly not hoping for it to happen soon. I simply realize that it has happened before, and we have no reason to think it will not happen again.

An Image, from Outside All of the Numerous Event Horizons Inside the Universe, During the Early Black Hole Era

late universe

This image shows exactly what most of the universe will look like — on a 1:1 scale, or many other scales — as soon as the long Black Hole Era has begun, so this is the view, sometime after 1040 years have passed since the Big Bang. This is such a long time that it means essentially the same thing as “1040 years from now,” the mere ~1010 years between the beginning of time, and now, fading into insignificance by comparison, not even close to a visible slice of a city-wide pie chart.

This isn’t just after the last star has stopped burning, but also after the last stellar remnant (such as white dwarfs and neutron stars), other than black holes, is gone, which takes many orders of magnitude more time. What is left, in the dark, by this point? A few photons (mostly radio waves), as well as some electrons and positrons — and lots — lots — of neutrinos and antineutrinos. There are also absurd numbers of black holes; their mass dominates the mass of the universe during this time, but slowly diminishes via Hawking radiation, with this decay happening glacially for large black holes, and rapidly for small ones, culminating in a micro-black-hole’s final explosion. Will there be any baryonic matter at all? The unanswered question of the long-term stability of the proton creates uncertainty here, but there will, at minimum, be at least be some protons and neutrons generated, each time a micro-black-hole explodes itself away.

Things stay like this until the last black hole in the cosmos finally evaporates away, perhaps a googol years from now. That isn’t the end of time, but it does make things less interesting, subtracting black holes, and their Hawking radiation, from the mix. It’s still dark, but now even the last of the flashes from a tiny, evaporating black hole has stopped interrupting the darkness, so then, after that . . . nothing does. The universe continues to expand, forever, but the bigger it becomes, the less likely anything complex, and therefore interesting, could possibly have survived the eons intact.

For more on the late stages of the universe, please visit this Wikipedea article, upon which some of the above draws, and the sources cited there.

Firstflight, Lastflight (an illustrated short story)

Making show never did prize me when soberfied, but that undescribed me that day, and, for that mistake, payment was failsafely, fullwise, and painly made. Tranqued with Euphenol, selfbought at the official dispensing-machine on Convenience Corner, right after worktime, methought melooked mighty brave strolling wrongway homewise on my hands, feet toepointed at the otherseyes, down a steel walkway crowded with those farmore sensehaving, so neither of my LifeLine© MagnetShoes touched metal, but as soon as Unitility’s gravsynths fritzed surprising, I felt notimpressive, floating rapidly away from the crowd.

Weightlessness bit me mid-handspring, and sent me flying, but I was too headspun to realize predicamental situation until my homehalf of our Megalopolis already could be seen in entireness, several deathfalls away. Soon my home fragment of ShatteredEarth looked only littlemuch bigger than neighbor skyrocks, and the cities otherfolk in othercities had built on them, as our own beforefolk had built Megalopolis. Wheezing suddenly brought meself realizing: the thinning air would set me freesome if Unitility’s repairs took much longer. Time passed, and bleakness grew as hope thinned. I watched Megalopolis, overcrowded skyrock of ours, rotate in the . . . or was it me rotating? I couldn’t figure out how to tell, and this added “headache” to growing problemlist.

Augmented Convex hull

My bubble of air biggifying as it bled away spacewise I could see, for this bubble was debrislittered, spaced evenish out here, but more crowded nearer our skyrock — paper, waterblobs, cloudpuffs, disoriented pigeons, half-eaten McFood left behind — but no other people out in the thinning bubble, just my sad self, now far away from safeness anykind. Apparently Euphenol overleaped me earlier, and, thus obliviated, I ended up the only fool I could see with sufficient maltimed stupidity to fall off the world. Most got away in shuttles , justvisible and receding to vanishment, or simply stayed inside the cubicles in our towers to safely outwait events, while a few on the surface I could only barelysee, with muchwise squinting. Each flailed arms, but all safely stuck to home skyrock by safety magnets at their feet. Unitility blackouts never lasted overlong, especially for gravservice; they’d likely live, not being me that day, for the air stayed thicker nearer to our skyrock, leaking only slowly from its insulasafed towers.

Luck having clearwise left me, my flightpath then entered the last raincloud in the thinning Megalopolis atmosphere, and instantly drenched I startled, from ends of my floating hair to toestips, moisture entering even my feetboots with their nowuseless safetymagnets that seemednow mocking me. It was frigid inside the cloud, and I watched in sockhorror as the water on my hand start freezing, ice spreading over my skin and standardissue clothiform, at about a centimeters per heartbeat, from multiple locations. Even though I wasn’t speaking, mouthchatter quicklike so bad made me fear teethcracks from the constantlike repeated impactstrikings. Remembering last dental torture-session determined me not to endure that level of pain while in my likely lastseconds, so clenched my teeth together determined, hardwise, to stopchatter, and this worked. At least one thing was on path, myway, now.

Not long, though. Leaving the cloud on the otherside, pressuregrowing inside me forced mouth fullopen, and more air than I knew I had speedily left, from both lungbottoms, up allway. I could hear bubbling from somewhere inside, wondered what and exactly where it was, then deciding not to know indeed was the better. Dental painmemories were now distanced as new pain eclipsed it hereandnow, from the vacuum conditions approaching. Newpain competed with growing dizzisorientation from samecause. Closed my eyes, notwishing seeing.

Suddenrealizing closing eyes seriously mistaken, started vomitmuch, then realized eyes were frozenshut while finishing uneating afterlunch’s, then lunch’s, then wakefast’s McFood. Panicked clawing at eyes quickly got one open partwise. It was enough permitting seeing, but liking what seen not happened. Big, bulging silver eye was growing towards me full of quickness, already filling most all of what I could see. It had iris lavished every color everseen and some hadn’t before, and the pupil, while small, clearly pointed in no other direction than me. Could an eye that large see all people? Surely, but at that moment its focus was clearly on me, leaving others forgotten for what moments remained of my consciousness. I shook my head, and the illusion was shattered; I thensaw what it had morphed from, which was the thing we still called the Moon, full bright now. Why did we still call it the Moon, I wondered, since the known pieces of ShatteredEarth now orbited it, not otherway aroundwise?

Coldifying broke as sudden heat grew backside my head, diverting focus from the Moon and all the skyrocks closeful enough to seeing. Turning around freefalling not close to easy, but I did it — was by swimming-motions against what air remained, making seen the heatsource: the Sunstar, unaffected by lastcentury’s Earthshatter. Sunstar then grewsize, as fading consciousness sent hallucinavision back myway, until the morphing orb grew even larger than my previous Moon-based vision of One Big Eye staring at onlyme. As I thought these weirdthoughts, the sun started changing its appearance, growing eyes everyway around.

Snub Dodeca

Feelinglike unexpectedly challenged, but voiceless with breathloss, I could but headshout at what I saw, but did so loudlymuch, enough to deafen a t’path, had one unlucked near: Die! Die! Die! I can stare anyone down! For a moment, triumph filled me as my headshouting seemlyworked — the sun greyed out, and then vanished altogether. I saw nothingness! The Sunstar itself was defeated!

No, idiot, you just selfblinded, staring at the Sunstar!  This thought, my most rational of allday, made me attempt screamreacting, but the mere wisps of air remaining were not enough to allow sonics from my effort. All I selfgained was an increase in the bodywide painstabbings, to levels I never knew everhappened.

In the darkness, another eye appeared, like the ones I had seen on the Sunstar, but based on nothing but rememberings now, since I could see nothingcept. There were changing swirlsparks everywhere within it, timed precisely with the growing pounding from within my skull and chest. Panic didn’t happen, but only because of the dizzycalm which sometimes happens from lackoxy. I got lost wondering what a headpop might feel like. Would I just puff away, like a candleblown, or would I painfully feel the bursting of each nerve and blood vessel? Detachment was now extreme, muchso that I carednot which. The eye got nearmuch, so that I should have been able to reachtouch the pupil, but my arms weren’t listening to brainorders to move. I fell then, tumbling, into eyecenter, a pupil far wider than my own height.

My contactmoment with its cornea’s thickslime covering provoked a spasm of the entire eye, scaring me to new levels. Meter-thick eyelids rushed toward me from twindirections opposite. My last heartbeat was deafening, in literality — I heard nothing more. Time remained for only a silent finalthought. What a way to lose a staring contest: death by Sunblink —

# # #

[The images above were made with Stella 4d, available here. Geometer’s Sketchpad and MS-Paint were also used, as well as a background image, which I altered, from this website.]

Time Is Running Out

Image

Time Is Running Out

A lot of people are complacent about the long-term fate of the earth because they know the sun won’t turn into a red giant for >4 billion years. However, we don’t have even half that long to find another place to live. The sun’s luminosity is increasing — so quickly that the oceans will boil away ONLY ~1.5 billion years from now.

Let’s get going with extraterrestrial colonization, people!

~~~

[Note: I didn’t create this image, but simply found it with a Google image-search.]