Sunday, November 01, 2009

Forward and Backward in Time

I found that I was not the only person with a college degree who had problems with intuitively grasping the meaning of “forward” “ and “backward” in time when I saw the following passage in an analysis of prospects for sanctions on Iran.
“[T]he new revelations will quicken the sanctions timeline, bringing it back to late 2009.”
No one should have problems figuring out that the analyst meant that the sanctions were now likely to come more quickly (this was near the end of September), so the error went mostly undetected, but the correct phrase should have been “bringing it forward.” The antonym phrase is “push back.” It’s confusing for us, who have lived under unidirectional, chronological time for at least a couple of centuries, to have to come “back” from the future, but I didn't write the rules for Christian Europe. If you think I am sampling a Benedict Anderson riff here, you’re right. And not without shame either, since I have an aversion to anything that carries even a whiff of post-modernist narrative and yet I cannot deny that Imagined Communities is a masterful, insightful book.

Note that time travel eliminates the “unidirectional, chronological” nature of time. That is why “Back to the [already existent] Future” makes intuitive sense.

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