Time of the Ghost - Spoilers, questions on the ending

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Tue Apr 10 12:57:34 EDT 2001

> I'll cut most of your explanation because I liked it a lot and its actually
> pretty much how I consider the flow of the novel.  I particularly liked your
> stream of cause and effect that didn't always follow the stream of time.

Thank you.  "Stream" is a much better word than my "chain" of cause and effect -
"chain" might be taken taken to imply single causes and single effects, which is
not what I meant.

>>Take the four-dimensional landscape again.  In a multiple-world model, there
>>further dimensions - call them Andwards/Eckwards (Lewis), or Ayewards/Naywards
>>(Jones) [1].  Move along the fifth dimension, and you arrive in a different
>>four-dimensional landscape.  All the time streams exist.
>>If you take a single-world model, there is a four dimensional landscape again.
>>And you want it to be able to change - one version was true then, the other
>>version true now.  But you have a problem - "then" and "now" are only
>>along the time axis in the four dimensional landscape.  So what you end up
>>is a composite - for the "then" part you take a slice out of the one
>>four-dimensional landscape, and for the "now" component you take a slice out
>>another.  And you end up with a picture of what actually happened - as one
>>look back on it.  But as far as I'm concerned, that was what was actually
>>to happen anyway, the fact that it did being proof.
> I understand.  I've been playing with a theory that works counter to yours
> that I'll take the time here to explain, just for fun.  It's only a theory
> and either (or neither) could be true.

Definitely fun.  Let's see what I can do with it :-)

> I've wondered for some time if 'time' isn't so much the fourth dimension as
> it is the *last* dimension.  Take a theoretical 2 dimensional being living

Well, the number isn't important, but yes, time has a character different from
the three dimensions of space, and different also from any proposed dimensions
of move-between-worlds.  There are actually two issues here, that I can see:
what if dimensions of move-between-worlds are just more dimensions of space, and
not time related?  And, not related to other worlds at all, what if there are
more dimensions of space that we can't perceive?

> on a plane for example.  Now, that plane could exist in a universe that is
> actually three dimensional, but the people on that plane could only perceive
> two of them.  Now, if that plane is free to move in the third dimension,
> things could happen that were hard to predict because three dimensional
> phenomena interacted with the plane (a two-dimensional black hole would
> simply be a hole in the plane where two dimensional objects were pulled off
> the plane into the third dimension).  And since the movement in the third
> dimension would happen over time, the third dimension would be considered a
> function of time and two dimensional people could be forgiven for thinking

With you so far.  And I don't think this does run counter to my theory.

Greg Bear goes into a similar idea in some detail in his story "Tangents",
discussing how these two-dimensional beings might see an object - say a cube -
as it passes through their plane.  He, or rather his character (the two main
characters in the story are a mathematician who researches this, and a boy who
can actually perceive more dimensoions) extends this to looking at hypershapes
passing through our 3-space, which he does by using computer animation, with
time as the fourth dimension.

> that time is the third dimension because it appears to them that it is.
> What if we're just three dimensional beings trying to figure things out and
> we've managed to conflate time, the last dimension, with all the other
> higher dimensions just because we can't 'see' them?

I don't regard this as "confusion" though.  If we are confined to a 3-space in a
higher-dimensional continuum, that which is outside our 3-space is irrelevant to
us.  It becomes relevant only WHEN it impinges upon our 3-space.  "WHEN"
meaning, of course, at the particular time.  Thus I would say it is correct to
see higher dimensions as related to us only by time as long as we have no way of
influencing or detecting outside our 3-space.

[some doctrinal bits snipped]

> certainly toss it out for speculation, God isn't so much timeless, as he is
> able to move about in the dimensions between ours and time.  Again, I don't

Hmm.  I think this is taking the "last dimension" idea too far.  Why should
these other dimensions logically fit between ours and time?  I would prefer to
regard time as something quite independent of the multiplicity of spatial
dimensions that we are now discussing.  But this doesn't affect the argument.

> think this is actually the case, it's just interesting to posit.  If he were
> a third dimensional being communicating with two dimensional beings (to use
> my example above), he would naturally be able to see, predict, and assist
> them because he could see more of their plane than they could.  He could,
> for example, touch two points on the plane simultaneously appearing to be
> two places at one time.  He could also send fire and brimstone to one point
> of the plane without their knowing how he did it.  Or walk on an infirm two
> dimensional substance (like water) by supporting himself on a third
> dimensional structure.  I like to speculate about how things like that could

This is surprisingly close to a view held by my best friend at [secondary]
school.  He postulated that beings that we regarded as gods might actually be
four-dimensional beings such as you suggest.  He went on to say that perhaps
there were 5-dimensional beings whom they could also regard as gods.

I suggested that this could be taken to the limit, with an infinite-dimensional
being who was very close to my own (when I was 16) idea of God :-)

Anyway, I like your idea.  I think it would be a very good basis for a sci-fi or
fantasy system, and I too don't care that it's difficult to reconcile with my
faith.  (However, when analysing a fantasy such as TotG for which such a system
is not necessarily presupposed, I prefer to do so in a way consistent with my
Christian beliefs, if possible.)

>>I can't really think of a better way of describing what I mean than that I
>>last night: There is only the one future, but we build it.  The future is the
>>result of our decisions, which we make freely - but we only get the one chance
>>to decide.  We can never put the clock back - we don't change our decisions;
>>when we make new ones to replace the old, we must still live with the
>>consequences of the old ones.
> I know what you mean, I understand.  But I'm not sure how it works.  I mean,
> on the one hand, God has revealed the future to His prophets (if you
> (plural, not Philip) don't believe that, that's okay, I'm arguing as if my
> beliefs are true because I think they are) so He must know the future, which
> would seem to imply that there is *one* future.  On the other we have free
> will, meaning we choose our own actions (if not the consequences).  Which
> implies that we make choices about our future meaning there are many
> possible futures.

"Many possible futures" - To me this is the point where the argument non
sequitur.  It depends heavily on the definition of "possible", though.

There are many potential futures - things that might happen - and one actual
future - things that do happen when you eventually get there.  Christian
doctrine has never been happy reconciling free will with predestination, but I
think that here is were they meet, even if we're not sure exactly how.  There
being only one actual future could be considered an aspect of predestination,
but I - as a firm believer in free will - believe that we as thinking, decision
making beings, are responsible for what is eventually found in it (the future, I

The non sequitur bit comes, I suppose, if you try to extend the definition of
"possible" to mean that the "future" before you made the definition is not the
same as the future after you make it.

Or to see it another way, we select from possibilities, but we don't "change"
the future.  (Am I repeating myself?  I think I said something very much like
that before!)

> Reconciling those two beliefs is a tough line to walk and
> I'm pretty much to the point where I'm content to let them be until I
> receive further knowledge.  I believe both to be true, I just don't know how
> to reconcile them.  At the same time, I don't like 'determinism' because
> that cuts out half of the truth, just as I don't like putting theoretical
> limits on God's knowledge of the future because that cuts out the other
> half.

Fair enough.  I forget who said it - Lewis? - but might it help to consider that
to watch something happen is not the same as to cause it to happen?  God's
_knowledge_ of the future needn't curtail our free will - God is merely
observing the decisions that we make, not controlling them.

> If you've read Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, he posits a similar
> view of the future with one of the characters who is able to see potential
> threads and assist others in heading in the direction they wish to go based
> on the choices they make currently.  In this vein, God would simply know all
> the threads and his prophesies would be either *large* events that all the
> threads lead to or promises that He will intervene to make sure the future
> hits the thread he prophesies (which is interesting and might actually be a
> reconciliation of my above contradictions if you think about it).

I've not actually read any OSC, but I think I understand what you (or he) are
getting at here.

In some ways I agree with this view.  In particular, the existence of a gift of
prophecy needn't require a fixed future.  Prophetic predictions could be of the
"this is the future" form, but they could easily be of the form "this is what
will happen if you don't get your act together" form - a sort of what if,
conditional prophecy.  Both appear in the Bible, by the way; Psalm 22 [*] was
(to me anyway) clearly written to express an unconditional prophecy of the
crucifixion; by contrast most (all?) of Jonah's prophecies to the Ninevites were
conditional, and when the Ninevites repented, the prophecies didn't come true.

> Yeah.  Thanks for going into detail.  I appreciate it, and apologize again
> for imputing more than was stated.

No offence taken.  I'm glad my overparticipation is appreciated :-)


[*] A few weeks back there was a thread on this list concerning one of Jesus'
sayings from the cross:  "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani".  Apparently the forms
recorded in the Gospels don't reflect any known Hebrew form.  It occurs to me
that since Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22, what does this say in the

(Beware of changing psalm numbers, though.  I think the numbers I use, which
follow most Protestant practice, are the same as the traditional Hebrew
numbering.  But they are not the same as the numbers that Roman Catholics use.)

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