Science

Tempus Fugit

  • September 29, 2015

The News.

Ever see the musical “Newsies”? It’s a Disney Theatrical Productions stage musical based on the 1992 musical film Newsies, which in turn was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City.

Selling newspapers is one of the time-worn ways for an up and coming young entrepreneur to learn the ropes of the capitalist system; from canvasing your turf for new clients, to personalizing delivery services, to collecting on your accounts, to turning a small but tidy profit. All you needed was a reliable alarm clock (if you delivered the morning editiion) and strategically-located stand or a well oiled balloon-tire Schwinn bike and you were in business.

This business model has morphed over the years; now home delivery is done by car and the newstands for the most part are located near mass transit lines with kiosks even situated in the subway stations. Being a Newsie meant you could earn a modest living selling what people wanted the most — information — and you were done by Noon. What you didn’t sell you could return to the newspaper for credit against your next edition buy.

Ferry Building — Port of San Francisco” by David Yu

Some years ago during my morning commute, I would buy the paper from a vendedor de diarios who sold the Chronicle weekday mornings at the Ferry Building. I never found out his name but could tell by his accent that his native tongue was Spanish and that he was probably from some Cental American country. He was there at his station, either by choice or necessity, near the front entrance of the terminal close by his dilapidated cart every weekday rain or shine. If he was absent for a time – due to a call of nature or to barter some of his wares for a cup of coffee at the local Peet’s – you could just leave the correct change on the top of the cart and grab a copy of the day’s edition on your way to work or to catch a ferry ride across the Bay.

At some point he – not unlike many of us – acquired a smart phone and began chronicling his daily experiences, taking photos of the surrounding buildings and the morning skies. Periodically he would take me aside, pull out his phone and swipe through that morning’s pics, pointing out certain shapes and objects in each photo and in his broken English attempt to interpret their import or meaning for me.

It soon became apparent that he was either a conspiracy freak or very leery of the constabulary (or both). Lights in the sky moving at abnormal speeds were UFOs. Laser beams emanating from the tops of nearby hotels or office buildings were alien energy beams scanning for victims. Or an unusual number of armed police at times in the area bespoke of an immanent incidence of incarceration. I frankly didn’t give his paranoid assertions much thought until one day, after a particularly intense rain storm from off the Pacific Ocean that had lasted an entire weekend, he was gone – vanished. Poof. Never to be seen again. At first I thought — well, maybe he was right. Maybe the aliens were after him. Maybe unseen forces or even La Migra (a slang term for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) blanketed him with a cloaking device and beamed him into an alternate universe.

Alien Crop Circle.

I used to live with a woman named Hepzibah, who believed that as a child she was abducted by aliens whom had placed a metal chip in her head to track her movements – not unlike the strategies that tech companies deploy today with their mobile devices in order to figure out what we do so they can sell the information to the highest bidder. As evidence, she used to pull her hair back to display a bald patch on the top of her head, shaped like a perfect circle and sensitive to the touch.

“MRI-Philips” by Jan Ainali

On one occasion, after experiencing severe headaches for a lengthy period, Hepzibah made an appointment at a local medical facility for an MRI of her brain. There, sitting in a conference room next to the gigantic ovoid chamber of the imager, she related to the lab technician her claim of having a metal implant in her head. Upon hearing this, the lab tech completely freaked out.

“We can’t do a scan if you have any metal objects on you. The imager emits a powerful signal that would be amplified by the metal object, corrupting the image picture and possibly even harmimg you. We can’t proceed.”

I pulled the lab tech aside, and in a reassuring tone murmured: “Hepzibah believes she has a metal plate in her head. One reason for having this scan done is to convince her that she does not.” That seemed to placate the concerns of the tech staff, so eventually the magnetic imaging session proceeded without further incident.

In few days a physician from the medical facility phoned, summoning us back to the lab in order to review the results of the scan. Pulling a file out of a drawer inscribed with her name, the lab doctor displayed a print depicting a top-down image of a brain, and immediately launched into a medically verbose techical analysis of the picture before us, which from the sound of it didn’t portend well. After a bit, Deborah held up her hand. “Can I please see the picture of my brain?” The tech handed her the image scan which she studied intently for a few moments. After an interlude she blurted out: “This is not my brain!”

Flabbergasted, the lab physician retorted: “How can you possibly know from just looking at this picture whether or not the image taken is that of your brain? Look, the folder and the picture has your name on it.” “It has to be another person with the same name”, she replied. “Look in your files.” The physician left the room for a bit leaving Hepzibah staring fixedly at the image scan. “This is not my brain”, she repeated.

After a few minutes he reappeared brandishing another folder and handed it to her. It was also inscribed with her name. “You were right. This is your brain scan, not that one. We’re sorry for the mixup”.  So…. how did she know that that the original scan was not of her brain? The answer to this question still escapes me today – and I’m sure the lab physician as well.

How indeed? Talk about knowing your own mind. By the way, no metal chip was ever found but that didn’t stop Hepzibah from pursuing her belief that she’d been abducted by aliens. She even went so far as to establish a correspondence with alien abductionist and author Whitley Strieber about her childhood experiences.

I have no idea why aliens would want to track the movements of children or even newspaper vendors; you’d think they’d be more interested in tracking the technology instead – unless maybe it was La Migra that my friend the vendedor was so afraid of. Maybe, like my paternal grandfather, he was an illegal alien and in his case La Migra just grabbed him up and disappeared him. Anyway that’s what I initially thought.

How Can You Be In Two Places At Once?

Then I thought about the possibility of a “time warp” phenomenon. If you ever watched The X-Files you know I’m talking about humanity’s obsession with Time as a measure of Change where the very act of measuring the effects of change, affects the perceived outcome – meaning our expectations shape what we see. Maybe my erstwhile newspaper guy just decided to see himself in a different reality and went there. This is not too far-fetched a concept since we can move back and forth in space at will. But can we do so in time as well?

I created a blog post on this subject awhile ago titled “Alternative Realities“. Taking as inspiration the life and work of writer Philip K. Dick, I related a recent experience in which time appeared to roll back right in front of me in the form of a shapely ex-paramour who stepped into my reality (again at the Ferry Building) — largely unchanged from my past recollections of her, interacted with her companion and the surroundings, then vanished into a crowd leaving me shaken and grasping for an understanding. Had I “created” this present reality from past experiences?

And then it happened again later — in the same location. There, standing on the bayside promenade watching the passersby, smoking a cigarette as if waiting for someone, was my former boss, replete in his signature outfit consisting of a snap-brim straw hat, camel hair blazer, brown and white checkered wide-lapel shirt and brown trousers. Even his mannerisms were similar; the way he brandished his cigarette and scowled at the world. But he had been dead for twenty years! I was beginning to think that the Ferry Building was a time portal and I was stricken with the curse of seeing dead people as if a doppelgänger from the film The Sixth Sense. Were the two of them ghosts or did they exist simutaneously in both a “live” and a dead state, suspended in alternate realities, waiting to be observed and brought back to the living?

Photons as particles and a wave.

How about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal? Can we as entities be observed in more than one physical state at the same time and in the same place like the subatomic particles that we are made of appear to? Or how about the probable existence of multiple overlapping universes – where you can not only be in multiple physical states at once but be at the same place in multiple iterations both at the same and different times? Or the concept of FTL travel – being everywhere at the same time — just think of what happens when sharing all of our photos or FB comments on the web – those images and/or comments are transported instantaneously – so maybe we can too.

Or take the biggest conundrum of all — the possibility that our construct of Time as a measure of Change doesn’t even exist because the very act of measuring or observing change can alter not only an observed outcome in the present, but also influence previously observed conditions in the past which in turn can affect the present “reality” as well. Past, present and future just become states that have no meaning outside of the process of being observed.

“Particles can also tunnel through solid objects, which should normally be impenetrable barriers, like a ghost passing through a wall. And now scientists have proven that, what is happening to a particle now, isn’t governed by what has happened to it in the past, but by what state it is in the future – effectively meaning that, at a subatomic level, time can go backwards.”

The Digital Journal.

In the Luc Besson film Lucy (2014), the main character, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, is a woman who gains psychokinetic abilities when a nootropic drug is absorbed into her bloodstream. In a scene near the end, Lucy is depicted as paging through Time – swiping the landscape before her much like we do the screen on a mobile device – each gesture causing the images within the scene to change with increasing rapidity.

Lucy_(2014)_poster

The faster Lucy swipes, the shorter the interval between scene changes and the faster the images move across the screen until they disappear completely, leaving only the backdrop. Perhaps then, alternate realities can be explained at least partially by the proposition that if everything vibrates at differing frequencies which in turn causes some objects to move through Space at faster velocities than others – relatively speaking – then they could just disappear from view only to re-appear at intervals to be seen again before vibrating into the ether once more. Maybe that’s what ghosts are.

I recall the insanely funny Firesign Theatre skit : “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All?” in which the protagonist “Babe” is conned by a fast-talking salesman (a take on an actual car salesman Ralph Williams – who ran a Southern California car dealership in the 1970’s) into buying a luxuriously appointed car with a home entertainment system that Babe can deploy to virtually control his reality simply by changing channels just like on TV.

The Observed Reality.

And that brings us back to Earth where practicality had taken hold even while I was still wondering about the whereabouts of the vendedor de diarios who had vanished so suddenly from my radar screen. I still needed to buy my morning newspaper from someone, preferably during the morning commute – so the prospective vendor had to be somewhere along the path I took each morning to the increasingly foreboding Ferry Building.

There was a guy in a wheelchair who strategically positioned himself at the turnstiles at the Castro Metro station each morning, which meant that I’d have to alter my normal route and take a bus there just so I could get that Newspaper instead of grabbing the train directly at a surface stop down the street. There was also a kiosk at the Embarcadero station manned by Asians who for some reason always seemed to sell me copies with a missing section or two. Maybe they knew something I didn’t and wanted to save me from the unknown. I didn’t feel any safer – just taken advantage of and running out of options.

Then one day they too were gone. All of the newsies had vanished into the fog and left me bereft of remaining sources to sate my addiction. This was coupled with a threefold rise is the street price of the paper. So The Chronicle was attempting, like a number of other newspapers, to stave off the inevitable with a two-fold strategy to remain profitable; cut costs and raise prices. That meant putting hundreds of vendors out of the news business, moving street sales exclusively to vending machines and/or mom and pop neighborhood stores, and pushing customers to its digital content as subscribers.

I mean look around. How many people do you see any more (besides me) reading the newspaper each morning. Most are staring at a four inch screen and madly posting some Earth-shattering Hipstamatic video of their dog playing Mozart on a kazoo. And hey. You’re probably reading this on you mobile device or laptop which is why I posted it in the first place. It was never going to happen in newsprint anyway.

The culprit is the internet. The worldwide web offers unrestricted access to information for everyone, everywhere, every day and for the most part it’s free. Do you see a bill from me in your inbox? This is what I call “Free Enterprise”.  Of course Google and Facebook have their hooks into us in other ways.

I do miss the newsies though, especially the UFO guy. He was right about being tracked. I’d suggest asking the NSA about it but they’re not talking. So just ask The Oracle. You’ve got one in your purse or pocket.

© Kazkar Babiy ™  MMXV.

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