By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I’ve got good news and bad news. In March, an international team of scientists conducted an experiment showing that time reversal is possible. But before you jump in your DeLorean for a joyride, I should tell you the rest of the story.
The experiment involved a simulated particle – not one in real life. Scientists moved their particle back in time on a quantum computer. While I don’t understand what a quantum computer is, I’m assuming it’s more expensive than the Dell laptop on which I’m typing this column.
But plenty of scientific breakthroughs begin as a lab simulation, right? Doesn’t this small victory mean that eventually we’ll be able to go back in time as easily as we rewind a movie? As the Magic 8-ball famously said, “Outlook not so good.”
The bad news is that it’s nearly impossible for this jump back in time to occur in real life. In fact, scientists concluded that, if you watched the entire lifetime of the universe (which is about 13.7 billion years), this time jump would only happen once. And even then, the particle would travel only one ten-billionth of a second into the past.
So, if you happen to have a simulated particle hanging around that’s showing those pesky fine lines and wrinkles, you could potentially rent a quantum computer and soften those crows feet by a fraction of one second. (Between you and me, there are plenty of under-eye concealers that can do the same thing for a lot less hassle.)
Here in the real world, scientists believe the “thermodynamic arrow of time” moves in one direction – forward. But even if it didn’t, I wonder how many of us would take advantage of an ability to go backward. Now that I’m the mother of two teenagers and a daughter who’s only months away from becoming one, I’m remembering that it’s not always easy to be young – no matter how much turning back time is glamourized in movies, books and overplayed songs by Cher.
Sure, it looks like a fun ride. Teens and twenty-somethings often have flat abs, high energy and few responsibilities, but they’re also plagued with self-doubt and anxiety. They’re desperate to fit in and stand out at the same time. There’s so much pressure to simultaneously be hot and act cool.
From my perch here in the mid-40s, I’ve let go of most of those worries. I stopped needing to be cool the minute we bought a minivan. I’ve learned the value of a well-timed grown-up nap. I’ve realized that no one really figures out all the answers in life. And though I may have lost the muscle tone of my youth, every passing year makes me more comfortable in my own skin.
There are plenty of times, however, I wish real life came with one of those handy “jump back” buttons Tom and I frequently use on the remote control or while listening to a podcast. It’s the button that takes a show back in time by exactly 15 seconds, which is just enough to listen again to something you didn’t see or understand the first time. I’ve become so dependent on it that sometimes I reach for a non-existent remote even when I’m at the movie theatre or having a conversation.
If real life had a jump-back button, there would be fewer regrets, almost no spilled drinks, and a higher number of witty comeback lines uttered at just the right time. But maybe the arrow of time only points forward for good reasons. There’s greater value on the time and opportunities we have today, in this moment. What we do with our time matters because there are no do-overs.
It’s a reminder we should spend as much time as possible with the people who matter most. Do the kind of work we’ll feel good about once all our time has run out. After all, these particles aren’t getting any younger.