Making Sense of Space and Time

“There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along with it.”
– The Time Machine by H.G. Wells-

Is time nothing more than another direction?

If this were the case, then wouldn’t time be foreseeable as we must only make a move towards something that already exists?

Or does time only travel forward, rather than back or side to side?

And if time were to stop, would space continue to exist? Can time exist without space, to tick on during an eternity filled only with time?

“Many different physical ideas can describe the same physical reality” or as James Gleick alternatively says in his book Time Travel*, “[t]here is always another way to say the same thing that doesn’t look at all like the way you said it before….”

Although, as many of us have found out, explaining an idea in numerous ways so that at least someone in one multiverse will understand, it’s not always the case that that someone is in this present time and place.

Luckily, as time passes, we’re slowly developing tools that help us to explain complex theories on concepts such as time and space.

Early filmmakers were able to play with these concepts by reversing strips of film. For example, to reproduce the concept of entropy, where the universe tends inexorably toward disorder.

Despite entropic occurrences such as avalanches, forest fires, storms blowing objects around, and tectonic plate movement to name a few of these events, oddly enough when we start to explore chaos theory, we see that these seemingly random events are actually a process of balance and organization.

“If you put a billion atoms of helium into one side of a box and a billion atoms of argon into the other side and allow them to bounce around for a while, they will not remain neatly separated but will eventually become a uniform – random- mixture… The process of diffusion is not instantaneous and it runs in one direction… Without randomness, the clocks could run backward,” says Gleick.

Similar to the idea that if you collect a bucket of ocean water, throw it out and refill the bucket, there’s not a chance that it will be the exact same water as the original fill.

Today, documentary filmmakers have a unique space in VR to bring stories as well as concepts such as entropy, chaos theory, time and space into the hands of the viewer.

It was only a few weeks ago when I participated in the Elastic Time* exhibition at the New Frontiers Exhibit, Sundance Film Festival.

Headset on, and controllers in hand, I was transported into a photographic documentary on the phenomena of space and time.

Cameras around the room captured my movements and appearance in fantastic detail in real time. While not as stunningly clear as IRL*, I could still look down, see the details of my clothing and the movements of my body.

IVR*, astronomer Tony Stark (not to be confused with Marvel’s Iron Man character!)sat on the observatory benches, narrating the Elastic Time journey where I was able to manipulate space and time by maneuvering a miniature black hole with the VR controllers.

As I expanded, contracted and relocated the black hole, it distorted the room (light) and even Stark’s voice (sound) as if IRL I were to approach or retreat from a black hole.

As Stark finished his dialogue, I jumped into another VR dimension. There, I was presented with a sequence of images, or a timeline of sorts as an opportunity to go back to any moment in the previous experience and to watch it from a third person perspective.

Suddenly it didn’t take rocket science to understand time, space and black holes. Time has proven to be a complex subject but VR may set the clock-ticking on this dilemma.

While VR is a powerful tool in experiential learning, we are only just beginning to understand how to use it as an effective medium for learning and storytelling.

By @scifiannemarie

*Time Travel: In his book Time Travel, Gleick explores the concept of time travel, its appearance in science-fiction and literature and how this has influenced our understanding of time itself.

*IRL– In real life
*IVR– In virtual reality

*Elastic Time– Artist Mark Boulos produced Elastic Time in collaboration with Imverse as an experimentation of perspectives in documentary film making. He presented the challenge of representing the real in the virtual, telling non-fiction stories in a virtual setting, story-telling with multiple dimension and perspectives, using new technology and working with user experience in a story setting.


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