KNOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S KNOT
by Howard V. Hendrix
麦克对混沌理论颇有研究。 就在20世纪50年代的时候！他的博士论文就是研究暴风的空气动力学！这最后还为他在南加州谋得了一份大航空项目中的一个职务。 在整个职业生涯中！他都是在与非线性空气动力学打交道。到了20世纪八九十年代！又研究了混沌理论和复杂理论。 退休！加上妻子基尼在1989年又死于肺癌！他把大量的时间用在了这方面的研究上。
随着孩子成人后陆续离家！他便卖掉了南加州的房子！搬到了内华达西艾拉中部。那里靠近阿尔德温泉区！离弗雷斯诺也只有一小时车程！房子周围全是高大的松树和老橡树！还有长得和树一样的常绿灌木。 每天！他要么是在自己20英亩土地上劳作！要么就是在他那间一千多平米像堡垒一样的离休“俱乐部”里活动。 房子由太阳能供电！没有接入电网！用的也是他自己土地上的木头！是他一手盖起来的。
这跟他个人经历有部分关系。 他祖父有过一辆科德车！那车跟唐纳德和丽塔收藏的汽车雕塑一模一样， 同样的工艺！同样的模型！年份也一样。
The Batchelder Cord had a long and complex history of its own, going back to Rita’s late husband Donald and his purchase of it at an estate sale in New York, years before.
Time had pretty much blown the original paint job—a sort of silvery gray-
green, like a spruce forest seen at high speed—but that was typical of Cords.
Aside from that, the only further damage was the small scratch and dent made by Rita herself in 1955, for which crime Donald had forever after mothballed the car.
So it was that in all other respects the 810 looked the way it did the day it left the factory. The Cord emblem, with its art deco wings, still shining. The eyes of the hidden headlights blissfully sleeping away the years in the big pontoon fenders. The coffin-lid hood fronted by futuristic grillwork—still giving off an
impression of blunt velocity, even though the car had been parked and motionless for more than forty years when Mike found it in Rita’s garage and had to have it.
Unfortunately, Mike’s relationship with Rita didn’t continue very long once the sale of the Cord was consummated. What with her calling him a “mercenary, self-centered, heartless old bastard,” he couldn’t say the affair had ended well.
Still, he reassured himself that, if he wasn’t too busy, he could always find
another girlfriend through either his martial arts or folk-dancing classes—”ai-ki-do,
tae-kwon-do, and do-si-do,” as he liked to think of them. He’d been doing all of them for so many years that he’d have black belts in all three if they handed out
black belts in folk dance.
Widow Batchelder may have called him heartless, but his heart was fine—
or at least as fine as years of exercise, the latest heart meds, and the occasional angioplasty could make it. Oddly, though, he took the fiasco of his break-up with Rita worse than he would have thought. Funneling all his energy into restoring the Cord had the virtue of diverting his attention to what seemed to be more tractable problems, at least at first.
He started with the car’s aesthetics—smoothing out the dent and scratch,
lifting off all the chrome pieces, getting them and the bare steel bumpers all shined up again. He redid the paint job in its original green, and worked on all the detailing that would return the car to absolutely mint condition.
The bodywork went well. Rita claimed her husband had drained the gas and thoroughly changed the oil when he mothballed the car in 1955, so Mike felt his odds of restoring the engine should at least be even, too.
He removed all the plugs and mystery-oiled the holes. The car wouldn’t
He removed and cleaned the fuel system. It wouldn’t start.
He rebuilt the carburetor, did a leak-down test for the rings, and checked the valves. It wouldn’t start.
He hooked pulleys to an external electric motor and cranked things around a bit to check the compression. It wouldn’t start.
He adjusted what didn’t need replacing, brought up the fuel, water, and electrical levels, put the key in the ignition, said a fervent prayer, and still—it
He would have loved to give up, but he couldn’t. When he neglected to work on it, he felt guilty, as if shirking some responsibility he didn’t fully understand. He returned to it again and again, often reluctantly.
He put less effort into keeping up his own health. Where before he had been more than willing to “keep active,” now he avoided trips down to the valley for martial arts classes and dance performances.
He’d be damned if he’d let the sawbones put him on one of those bland rabbit food diets. He would eat the way he wanted to, thank you. If you couldn’t enjoy life while trying to stay alive, you might as well already be dead.
The same was true of his drinking—which, after long hiatus, he took up
again in a big way. His young party-people friends kept visiting for a while, some even helping him with his automotive restoration work, but gradually his “drinkering and tinkering” drove them away.
A year and a half into the Cord project, after the endless big failures and small successes, Mike Sakler finally hit bottom.
He drank heavily the first part of the night, then fell asleep. Toward morning, Mike knew he was starting to wake up again when he dreamed he was drunk—and had tied a noose to hang himself.
He had hoped for months and months the drinking would crank up the stage machinery that made the fog in his brain, until it filled the theater of his consciousness, obscuring his memory uniformly. It hadn’t worked out that way.
Instead, as the months had passed, his memory had become more and more like the Tule fog that came up out of the ground in the valley below—fog
thick yet low, so that it was easier to look straight up through it and see a star shining down out of all those long lost light-years than see the streetlamp just passed a block and a moment before.
The star that shone down on him in his foggiest darkness now was a perfect image of the Perisphere and Trylon, with the Helicline ramping down around them: the “Egg, Spike, and Ramp,” the prime symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair and its “World of Tomorrow” theme.
That was the future that was—yet never was yet. His childhood attempts
with the Build-Your-Own New York World’s Fair kits never got much beyond
building scale models of the 610-foot-tall Trylon obelisk, its 188-foot-tall Perisphere globe companion, and the Helicline ramp linking them, but that had been all right with him. Those three were what really mattered.
How much Grandpa had loved that fair was a surprise to everyone in the family. Patriarch of a large New York Jewish clan, all the relations thought him old-fashioned, with his banjo and fiddle playing, the same instruments he’d taught Mike to play before Mike was ten.
Mike knew his grandfather wasn’t old fashioned, though. The old man had been picking up Amazing This and Popular That at the newsstand for years and
sharing them with his precocious, frenetic, problem-child of a grandson.
After that first trip to the Fair, Grandpa was a quiet visionary no more—a
result of the same run-in with Yorkville street toughs that had altered the old man’s physiognomy, or so some in the family theorized. From whatever cause, in his last two years of life Grandfather Sakler experienced a personal Indian summer, a blaze of fierce, bright, quirky creativity in his closing days. He began keeping a journal and corresponding with world leaders and thinkers, especially Albert Einstein, with whom he met once (by accident) at the Fair and, later, by appointment at Princeton—twice.
Now, amid his deepest fog, Mike remembered the trunkload of Fair memorabilia he inherited from the old man. Rummaging with sudden furious energy through closets and drawers in the eight empty bedrooms and the enormous party room on the top floor of his cavernous house, he found he couldn’t remember where he’d stored the trunk.
He staggered down his house’s great spiral staircase to the main floor and pillaged more storage spaces. Fear and frustration gnawing at him, he stumbled down one last circuit of the turning stairway. In a spare basement room he finally found it: the musty sealed steamer trunk that was his legacy from an old man dead more than fifty years.
Inside, he found journals and correspondence and other writings, an intriguing but inexplicable device apparently handcrafted by the old man, even a full suit of what appeared to be his grandfather’s clothes, smelling slightly of smoke, with fine shoes and shirts and underwear, too, wrapped in a garment bag that had grown brittle with age.
All the Fair memorabilia was still there. The Trylon and Perisphere-adorned orange and blue high-modern Official Souvenir Book. Democracity clocks. Fair plates and puzzles and radios. Heinz pickle pins and a crop of GM-Futurama “I
Have Seen The Future” buttons—of which the old man had been particularly fond.
Mike hadn’t looked at any of this stuff since the early ‘50s and had looked at none of it thoroughly at any time. What he remembered, from his previous glances through it, was embarrassment—and fear that, in his final years, his
grandfather had become a slightly crazed technobabbler, his notebooks full of inexplicable terms, diagrams, and equations.
What caught his eye now were the photos. In the shots taken before May 1939, the family resemblance that was always there was never so striking as it was in those images taken after that first trip to the World’s Fair.
He stared at a fading color picture of himself as a boy. Beside him stood a thin, mostly bald man whose remaining hair and beard were a mix of white and gray and yellow—his grandfather, on one of their later trips to the World’s Fair, with the Trylonj尖角塔 and Perisphere圆球 in the distance behind them.
Mike knew his own visage well enough to see how close the resemblance was between the way the old man looked then and the way he himself looked now. It was almost as if the boy had grown up to become his own grandfather.
Grabbing the trunk by both handles, he hauled it upstairs. Its weight forced him to pause and lean against the railings or wall of the stairwell every few feet. When he reached his office, he set the trunk down beside his eight-by-twenty-foot worktable.
Clearing his Cord-related stuff from the workspace, he removed the trunk’s contents and spread them out over the table’s broad top. Up came the suit of clothes and other garments. The sharp leather shoes, too.
Next came all the memorabilia, the flyers, the brochures, the programs. The oxymoronic prose of the captions describing GM’s Futurama, “a vast miniature cross section of America as it may conceivably appear two decades hence....”
He sat down slowly in the chair at the worktable. Looking more carefully through the correspondence and the writings again after all these years, Mike thought that the notes now seemed less demented than eerily prescient. Here, paper-clipped to a page of typed notes in a binder, was a letter apparently sent from Einstein himself:
* * * *
Matter can be made to “degrade” into energy more readily than energy can be made to “upgrade” into matter. I do not, however, believe matter and energy
are just types of information, as you have suggested, or that there is a spectrum linking them such that consciousness is just a more complex form of information than matter or energy. Nor do I believe that consciousness can be made to “degrade” more readily into matter and energy than matter and energy can be made to “upgrade” into consciousness. Although the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, the distinction between energy, matter, and consciousness is not.
* * * *
Indeed the notes from that page on were most curious. “Planck energy for
19opening gap in spacetime fabric = 10 billion electron volts,” read one, but then
that was crossed out with a large X as the writer of the notes took a different tack.
“At each bifurcation point,” read the next, “flux occurs in which many potential futures are present. Iteration and amplification mean one future is chosen and others disappear. In bifurcations the past is continually recycled, held timeless in eddies or closed timelike curves, stabilized through feedback. Time is turbulently recurrent, expressing self-similarity across different scales.”
After a flurry of equations came an underlined conclusion: “Human nervous system both classical and quantum, exploits quantum scale processes to accomplish macroscale ends—solution lies in phase-locking feedback!”
Mike picked up a page with a meticulously hand-plotted diagram, hauntingly beautiful in its elegant simplicity. When he looked at it more closely, he found the diagram was labeled with questions: “Closed Timelike Rossler
Attractor? Temporal Mobius in Phase Space?” Below the question was the note, “Always incompleteness and missing information at the center. The shape of uncertainty shapes certainty.”
What pushed Mike back in his chair, however, was how much the
“Temporal Mobius in Phase Space” resembled an idealized, abstract image of Perisphere, Trylon, and Helicline. Looking away from the image, he realized that the sun was up, that his head hurt with hangover, and—something else.
Bifurcations? Self-similarity? Phase-locking feedback? Phase space? That was the language of chaos theory!
His hand trembled as he flipped through more and more pages of detailed notes, until he reached the inside back cover of the notebook-binder. Taped to it was an ancient envelope, with the words MICHAEL SAKLER written on it. With a shaky hand he pulled the envelope loose from the notebook and opened it.
* * * *
LETTER TO MYSELF:
If Professor Einstein is right about what he calls a “Temporal Mobius” and I am right about the role consciousness plays on the information spectrum, then reading this letter is about to stop you from drinking yourself to slow suicide. Perhaps you have by now realized that these notes are memories of the future, not only mine in 1939, but also yours. In 1997 you have not written these notes yet, but you will—in 1939.
As a boy, we first traveled with Grandfather Sakler to the Fair on May 28, 1939, to witness the opening of the Jewish Palestine Pavilion. Albert Einstein speaks there, and that day you—I—meet him for the first time. The old man
whom the boy returns home with is not his grandfather. It is himself from sixty years into that boy’s future.
Why must “we” go through such temporal acrobatics? I’m glad I asked. If
we don’t, our grandfather will be brutally murdered after running out of gas in Yorkville on the night of May 28. The very fact that this temporal Mobius exists proves that possibility.
On one timeline, embittered by our grandfather’s death, one of the many
possible “us” devotes his life to inventing a time-travel device and uses it to return
to 1939 to save our already severely injured Grandfather by sending him into the
future. He—we—I—remain in 1939, taking over the role of that grandfather. The boy is spared the suffering and grief of seeing his grandfather die from his injuries.
In creating the device and using it to alter his own timeline, however, our other self on that line creates a temporal paradox. On that timeline, Grandfather Sakler is killed and as a result one of us grows up to create the device that will allow him to travel back to 1939 to prevent Grandfather Sakler’s murder. Preventing Grandpa’s murder, however, means none of us ever grows up to become the man who invents the device to prevent Grandpa’s murder. Therefore
Grandfather Sakler is killed and one of us grows up to create the device that will allow him to ... et cetera, et cetera.
Professor Einstein tells me the structure of the universe will not tolerate such an endless conundrum. Instead it conserves its own integrity by melding the two timelines together into “the temporal equivalent of a Mobius strip”—something both and neither loop and intersection. On such a dimension- collapsing Mobius, “either/or” (either Grandpa is saved or the device is created)
becomes “not only/but also” (not only is Grandpa saved but the device is also created).
We have, in some sense, been “grandfathered into” this temporal loophole, but at a cost. The price of this shift to “not only/but also” is the energy of our eternal vigilance. If we want his murder to never again recur, we must ever again prevent its recurrence.
I know this is difficult for you to understand at first, but if you choose to perpetuate this recurrence, you will learn that time travel is less like running a particle accelerator and more like experiencing a lucid dream or particularly vivid memory.
Utilizing the chaotic effects always present in consciousness, we can exploit time’s turbulent and strange-attractive properties to burst the surface tension of spacetime at far, far less than Planck energy. I know we can, because we already have.
For us, it’s not only the dream of the doing that’s grandfather to the memory of the accomplishment, but also the reverse: The memory of the accomplishment is grandfather to the dream of the doing.
The device in the steamer trunk is only partially complete. I have done as much as I can with technology available before mid-century. The system can only be completed with technology from your era. I have enclosed a list of what you’ll need. You’ll have to search it out and make it all work together, if you choose to perpetuate our responsibility in this and knot your grandfather’s knot—our
grandfather’s knot, and Einstein’s knot—in that old Cord.
I hope you will do so, and will find it both a loophole that binds and a knot that frees, as I have. At all events, good luck!
P.S.: That Cord’s no hot rod, but it’s crucial to the set and setting of the mental state required for this time travel experience. It also works well enough for hauling batteries and getting around New York in 1939, so treat it kindly!
* * * *
Mike slowly folded the letter. Lost in thought, he stroked his beard absently for a while. Well, it’s better than the other option for a loophole that binds and a knot that frees, he told himself, remembering his hungover dream of a hangman’s noose.
He got up from the table and the chair and stretched. Then he went downstairs, down to the garage/workshop where the Cord sat with its hood up. The sun was shining brightly just beyond the shadows. He got to work.
* * * *
Focused on that work, Mike’s days flew by. A certain balance had returned to his life, too: his obsession was no longer a mad one. He returned, at least sporadically, to his ai-ki-do, tae-kwon-do, do-si-do classes. He sent a card of apology to the widow, who unfortunately was not interested in reestablishing