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Troubleshootin The Tale: Temperature Traveler
July 18, 2006 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Abstract Thinking Filter: So I created this creature that travels by temperature instead of time, so to speak.

Please help me find any potential flaws and limitations of describing the goings-on of a creature that travels by temperature but has no limitation of when.

Just as we, as people, are time travelers in a steady, minute-by-minute progression, we have proximity access to physical objects that continue to exist within our relative progression of time -- that is, I have access to both the contents of the oven and the contents of the freezer as long as they are in my kitchen (or otherwise traveling distance) at the same time I am currently in existence, since the temperature of the objects in question is of little or no consequence as far as my access to them is concerned.

This creature/person, is inversely/reversely limited by temperature but not time -- that is, he has access to the oven's heated contents from December of one year to December of the next simultaneously but by the simple action of moving there (irrespective of when they exist) just as I may walk between my fridge and oven... but he is limited to objects of a certain temperature as his progression through temperature increases/decreases over his lifespan.

The story was going to be an perhaps-equally convoluted method of storytelling, whereby the text is actually a transcription of a microcassette-recorded interview with periodic editorial notes, in the form of (which may bog it down, though I do enjoy irregular storytelling methods):

===
Creature: My people have "always", in your sense, been here. But in our sense, most of your people have only been here since about 98 degrees give or take.

Interviewer: So you're saying our people who have a fever of 101 can talk to your people who are on the degree scale of 101, while those who are at 98.6 degrees can't even see you?


[At this point he stands up as if ready to leave.]

Creature: Yes. As the temperature of this area is now passing into a warmer climate because of your sunrise, we will both no longer have access to each other. However, if I travel to your evening when the temperature reaches this temperature while the sun sets, just by going there because I want to -- as easily as you may walk from a cooled building's waiting area to step outside in the sweltering heat -- we can continue our conversa...

[A cool breeze wafts by, temporarily obstructing our conversation and the fact that I can see him. Upon its passing he is still speaking to me. The poem Who Has Seen The Wind pops to mind out of the blue.]
===

Can you think of any possible flaws or limitations in carrying on a conversation with such a creature, ignoring compatible language issues? I am thinking of making the lengths at which the creature exists within the range of a certain temperature span a number of our months. In one way, the creature could tell me the future as long as he experienced it within the same temperature range as I am currently existing so that he can communicate it to me, yet I could tell him of his "future" predicaments he may experience while encountering an "upcoming" temperature he has not yet "grown" into.

For instance, if he asked me for say, a spoon. If the spoon was not within his temperature range, I could heat it up or cool it down to his level and it would appear as if by magic. Likewise he could acquire an object for me by moving it forward or backward in time by some similar uncertain method of propulsion (just as he has no particular understanding of how I can heat or cool things at will).

Any speculations of problems I might encounter, such as inconsistencies of my concept with the above rough-draft excerpt that I may have flubbed?
posted by vanoakenfold to Science & Nature (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
How would such a creature experience time? Would earlier times seem different to it (the way hot and cold are different to us)? How would it describe our future to us?

Are you assuming a fixed future?
posted by joannemerriam at 7:21 AM on July 18, 2006


Your creature perceives and exists within time. The creature can hear your interview questions (which take a certain number of seconds to say) and responds (which takes the creature a certain number of seconds). Sure, he can only speak when it's 98 degrees, but in speaking, he exists within time. In other words:

(a) We have no limitations by temperature, but are limited to forward movement in time.
(b) Creature has limitations to a single point in temperature, but has infinite movement in time.

Meaning that it's not really a case of temperature instead of time, just different degrees of freedom in each. If the creature really did not exist within time, we would not be able to communicate with him at all, because communication is not instantaneous.

Secondly, I'm assuming you don't want to go into the phycical differences between "temperature" and "time" as dimensions? Because temperature is simply a property of the phycial forces and particles of our own universe. That is, temperature is related to energy, radiation, how quickly particles are vibrating. I'm assuming you're ignoring this for the sake of fantasy.

Has another pull on the bong. Gee these pages have a nice background colour.
posted by Jimbob at 7:23 AM on July 18, 2006


You wouldn't be able to talk with it if it traveled through temperature, unless the temperatue gradudllay changed over time during the conversation. (Passing of time for interviewer should be analogous to passing of temperature to creature)
posted by easternblot at 7:40 AM on July 18, 2006


gradudllay? gradually.
posted by easternblot at 7:41 AM on July 18, 2006


I agree with the above comments. I'm also confused about what happens if I put a plate in the oven for ten minutes and in the freezer for ten minutes. It's been both hot AND cold, so -- for a creature that isn't bounded by time, which is it, hot or cold? Or is it the average of every temperature it's ever been.

If so, what is IT? A plate is made out of matter that his been around forever. The Earth has been a scorching hot planet; it has also been a freezing cold planet. Earth matter -- as long as it's been ON Earth -- has gone along with it for the ride. And what about pre-Earth? Does the creature's instant access to all time go all the way back to the Big Bang?

Thinking on a more mundane level for a moment, what if I make a cup out of clay. But before I make the cup, I divide the clay into two lumps and put one in the freezer and one in the oven. Then I take them both out, merge them together and form the cup. What IS the cup to the creature? The fact that it's a cup to me is TEMPORAL. It's a cup NOW. Before, it was two lumps of clay (one hot, one cold). One day, I will smash it on the floor and break it into a million pieces. So to the creature, is it clay, cup, pieces -- or something from before or after I ever encountered it?

Heck, can the creature even drink coffee with milk in it? The coffee was once hot; the milk was once cold. Isn't the creature experiencing it as hot coffee, cold milk and coffee/milk at the same time?
posted by grumblebee at 8:08 AM on July 18, 2006


If we exist in a time domain and the creature lives in a temperature domain, then I can see some issues with perception and communication.

In a time domain, sound is created by the vibration of an object. If the object vibrates between 20 and 20,000 times a second, then it can be heard by most humans.

In a temperature domain, temperature also related to vibration, but of particles, not surfaces. I think that changes in temperate over time would be called the temperature gradient, but this doesn't neatly allow for rapid changes in temperature over time.

Given this, I can still understand how communication might happen, but I think that you'd need some kind of device to do the domain transformation, but how would the non-verbal be interpreted?

The big issue that I have is for the poor creature. His equivalent to hearing would be flooded with sound of buildings, the earth and even our own bodies as they change in temperature. I would think that the noise would be unbearable.

Interessting post, by the way. It has got my brain working!
posted by dantodd at 8:44 AM on July 18, 2006


we would not be able to communicate with him at all

You could communicate, you just couldn't talk. He would have trouble figuring out how to leave messages for you, but with the time equivalent of a thermometer he would be able to figure out how to cast messages to the right place for interpretation.. Just look at how we could communicate with him. Impress a message on a sheet of steel, put it in the oven at 350, and he'll see it when he gets there.

Now the fundamental physics.. As Jimbob says, that is a problem - temperature is energy. Thankfully, as author, you can choose whether you will address it or not :)
posted by Chuckles at 8:44 AM on July 18, 2006


This does not make any sense at all.

This creature/person, is inversely/reversely limited by temperature but not time -- that is, he has access to the oven's heated contents from December of one year to December of the next simultaneously but by the simple action of moving there (irrespective of when they exist) just as I may walk between my fridge and oven... but he is limited to objects of a certain temperature as his progression through temperature increases/decreases over his lifespan.

Temperature is the average kinetic energy of particles in some system (that, and everything else I say is going to be a gross oversimplification). It's a statistical approximation used in physics to make useful generalizations about the extremely complex behavior of lots of particles moving around. Temperature is not at all comparable to time or any other "dimension". A particle can be defined (within the limits of relativity and quantum mechanics) as "being" in a certain place in (at least) three spatial dimensions and this nebulous thing we call time. It can not physically exist "in a temperature", because temperature is really just a way of glossing over the complex state of physical matter which is quantafiable in the dimensions already mentioned.

You'd be completely disconnecting from reality in order to head down this path literarily, which is fine (I guess, in case you can't tell I'm not really the literary sort), but don't pretend otherwise. To employ a bad pun: Literary, perhaps, but not literal.
posted by phrontist at 8:48 AM on July 18, 2006


On preview: Sort of what jimbob said.
posted by phrontist at 8:49 AM on July 18, 2006


So you're saying our people who have a fever of 101 can talk to your people who are on the degree scale of 101, while those who are at 98.6 degrees can't even see you?

Okay, this is really bothering me now. You realize at any given moment the billions of particles that make you up are all at different temperatures. As they whack around (at a fantastically high rate) they would all be appearing and disappearing as well. But none of this can happen at all, because this guy doesn't exist in time, so you couldn't see anyway (photons take time to travel... and... and... *BRAIN EXPLODES*).
posted by phrontist at 8:53 AM on July 18, 2006


Check out The Philosophy Section of PhysicsForums.com, they can probably help you work out something crazier and more grounded in reality. Oh, and examine the definitions of what you are talking about.
posted by phrontist at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2006


But is it made of meat?

I think it's a quite clever idea. As previous posters have pointed out, you can't push the concept too far without running into problems. But hey, this is science fiction. There are many interesting paths to take. For example, temperatures gradients in objects tend to even out over time. Would this be a analogue of death for creatures that don't exist at the final average temperature? Would the creatures that prevail be the lucky ones? Or would they be in a type of hell? What about the cosmic background temperature of 3K? It's the most common temperature in the universe - so would the creatures at 3K be the most populous, or powerful? Etc.
posted by Mapes at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2006


Agree with the above, but have another problem with this scenario: unlike time, temperature is a highly localized phenomenon. So, if this being existed only for given temperature ranges of x, it couldn't occupy, and probably wouldn't even understand the concept of, contiguous space as we know it. It would have to simultaneously occupy multiple physical spaces over multiple time periods. There would therefore be no way for it to even focus on us, let alone communicate with us, because we exist in a space surrounded by huge variations in temperature. It would be pretty unusual for us to be in a room where the air and surface temperatures matched our bodies for any length of time.

And what form of communication would they use that we could recognize, anyway? Not sound (dependant on a viscous fluid of constant temperature), not sight or electronics (fixed energy waves might be considered to have a given associated temperature, but since these beings move through temperature gradients, they couldn't use any given wavelength for very long, and even if they had adjustable "eyes," the associated energy temperature they'd have to be fixed on would put them well out of range for interacting with 98.6 degrees). Unless you're only talking about average ambient temperatures, and they can somehow still interact with elements of different temperatures within a confined space. But then they would exist in physical space and would be constrained by time and space in ways you don't want.

No - I think this one has to remain in the realms of fantasy, not science fiction. I can't see any way that such beings could interact with us in a meaningful way.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2006


Time is not a dimension; in fact, time doesn't exist at all. It is a human construct -- a benchmark -- a (very!) convenient way of comparing change A to change B. (Here's something I wrote years and years ago, and I'm not alone.)

Thought experiment: Suppose you have a system where nothing is changing. Nothing at all. Has time stopped? Or is "time" continuing, while nothing else happens? How can you tell?

Unless you can figure a way to reverse the laws of thermodynamics, e.g., make air force from low pressure to high pressure, make gravity reverse, etc., you will never, ever be able to reverse time, much less be able to traverse it as any other dimension, e.g., temperature.

So keep the thought experiment going, if you must, but (no snark intended) the original question makes as much sense as: How fast does Santa Claus's sleigh go? -- i.e., it relies on an impossibility.
posted by LordSludge at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


The thing that strikes me is similar to what phrontist describes--given that things are all sorts of different temperatures, how is there any meaningful interaction? So, he can interact with a healthy human if he's at 98.6°F, but how? The air between him and the human might be only at 75°F. If he's at 98.6°F, wouldn't he fall through the floor of the house, which might only be 70°F?

Does he need to breathe? If so, does he die if there's a temperature shift and the air is the wrong temperature for him if he can't interact with it? Or does he just "move" to a different temperature--in which case, how closely does the temperature of matter have to match his current temperature for him to interact with it? 1°? 0.1°? 0.00001°? If the last, he'll be appearing and disappearing so quickly (from a human perspective) that communication would seem impossible. At the very least, I think you'd have to give him a reasonable range of temperatures he could interact with at any point in his life rather than one exact temperature. Also keep in mind that if he's communicating with a human through conventional speech, he needs to be at the right temperature to match the air around them, not the temperature of the human. Once he sets the air vibrating, it's out of his purview, since a 98.6°F human eardrum interacts with 70°F air just fine. But if the alien can't set the air vibrating to start with, he can't talk (at least for conventional definitions of "talk") to the human.

Of course, you could just ignore all of these little inconsistencies and go ahead with it. Cf. Star Trek: The Next Generation "The Next Phase" in which Geordi LaForge and Ro Laren become "out of phase" with ordinary matter. The rest of the crew can't see or hear them, but they can see and hear other crew members. Geordi and Ro supposedly can't interact with matter, so they can't touch people, move objects, or use the computers to let others know they're there--and yet they don't fall through the floor, they can still breathe, and they aren't left floating in space when the ship accelerates or changes course. These discrepancies are never adequately explained explained at all. Just as one example. So there's certainly precedent for just ignoring those kinds of problems in science fiction, but if you do you'll leave your more intelligent readers scratching their heads.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2006


To be fair, I feel I should mention this question is now being discussed in MetaChat. It looks like most of the objections I raised there have been covered here. You asked for flaws; looks like you got 'em!
posted by Eideteker at 9:49 AM on July 18, 2006


I'll offer my own thoughts on the matter. As others have said, feel free to ignore or weave this in somehow.

First of all, if you are going to go for the time-temperature as dimension analogy, a Temperature creature would not so much exist at a specific temperature but at a temperature gradient, just as we exist during all the delta-T's.

So, temp-time (ttime) forward for this creature would be say during a temperature rise. Lowering temperatures would be ttime backwards. So when I lower the temperature of something, this allows the creature to move backwards in time - relative to our time of course.

I think a lot of the issues people raise above are because they are not pushing this far enough - they are still assuming the creature is inside our time to some extent. I am assuming it is completely independent.

Communication can only happen in one of two ways:

1) Your time (time) and their time (ttime) are both moving forward. This might happen in your story such that the only way to communicate with this creature is when you are developing a fever - or the protagonist first chills himself and then steps into a hottub for an extended conversation.

2) We in time can create some machine to decipher the signals of ttime creatures even though they are being played backwards and forwards and at different speeds.

Because of our meager temperature gradients here on Earth, I'd imagine we'd be a backwater for them (or rather a place rarely visitied during ttime) as opposed to other "happening" places like solar ignition events, supernovas etc.
posted by vacapinta at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2006


Regarding the scientific justification others ask for. Here is one off the top of my head:

There is a yet undiscovered form of matter which achieves higher and higher states of organization (in the entropic sense) at higher and higher temperatures. This matter is everywhere.

Creatures have developed, just like us, which essentially live along this entropic flow of temperature, just as we exist along our own entropic flow (powered by the Sun etc)

This is not far-fetched in that you could argue that cognition is the development of higher levels of organization (stored memories, etc) and this translates to a sense of time.

Anyways, another interesting property of this matter is that at temperature T it is exactly in the same configuration state. This means that a creature at temperature T in our year 10,000 BC is the same creature (identically configured "brain") as that creature today. That is, as you posited, cognition moves forward along temperature gradients and, because of identical configuration states, the creature is not bound by the same sense of Time as we are. All the same things apply from my previous post.
posted by vacapinta at 10:16 AM on July 18, 2006


Yikes, quite a big reaction. But kudos to the MeFites for doing what was asked. Here goes.

How would such a creature experience time? Would earlier times seem different to it (the way hot and cold are different to us)? How would it describe our future to us?

It doesn't "experience" time, except in the same way that you "experience" temperature. Time is as irrespective to what he can does as temperature is irrespective of what you are capable of, in most respects.

Are you assuming a fixed future?

Yes, in the sense that all characters in a movie are making their own, individual choices, but will choose the choices they choose every time the same way because they don't have foresight to know whether or not it was a good or bad move. If you watch a movie again, you as a character will still make the same choice, not because it was prerecorded, but because you yourself choose to make that choice, again. But not again, for the first time as far as you can tell. The creature can watch the movie repeatedly if he wants, but you are still making your same choices for the first time only once. Confused yet?

Your creature perceives and exists within time. The creature can hear your interview questions (which take a certain number of seconds to say) and responds (which takes the creature a certain number of seconds).

Yes, but he is deliberately moving time in order to speak. If he did not move time in order to speak with us, we would only see him for an instant, so there is some degree about which the creature is modifying time -- in the sense that we can stand in an atmospherically stable environment like a classroom and speak with him by keeping the temperature the same (as it were). He is not affected by time as much as he is shifting it himself with purpose. He is affected my temperature, not time. He can change what time he is in, as long as it is within the same temperature. You're trying to think in terms of time, but that's not how he works.

Secondly, I'm assuming you don't want to go into the phycical differences between "temperature" and "time" as dimensions? Because temperature is simply a property of the phycial forces and particles of our own universe. That is, temperature is related to energy, radiation, how quickly particles are vibrating. I'm assuming you're ignoring this for the sake of fantasy.

You're still operating within the boundaries of time, and not temperature. Your explanation of temperature (and this may seem to defy my original question) is how we, as people who are bound by time but not temperature, understand temperature. But according to this creature, time may very well be a virbration rate according to scientists of his temperature-bound realm.

I'm also confused about what happens if I put a plate in the oven for ten minutes and in the freezer for ten minutes. It's been both hot AND cold, so -- for a creature that isn't bounded by time, which is it, hot or cold? Or is it the average of every temperature it's ever been.

You're still operating in the boundaries of time, in terms that one thing is always one thing. Just as at one point in our scale of time the hot plate is the same as the cold plate just at a different time, the hot plate is completely different than the cold plate because of the temperature.

Because temperature is simply a property of the phycial forces and particles of our own universe. That is, temperature is related to energy, radiation, how quickly particles are vibrating.

Are you saying that the coordinates of an object or any given atom are not bound by time? You are thereby saying that all matter exists at the same point at the same time? Time is a property of matter just as its temperature. How is vibrating different from time? Would not side-to-side imply position, as in having been to the one side at some point, now at the other side, and back again?

Now the fundamental physics.. As Jimbob says, that is a problem - temperature is energy. Thankfully, as author, you can choose whether you will address it or not :)

Just as temperature purportedly requires energy, does not time also require energy? A globule of water coalescing in space is not modified by time, you say? Are not the molecules etc of the water not kinetically propelled? Does propulsion not require time as a necessary property as having been at one place and not there now but in another?

Unlike time, temperature is a highly localized phenomenon.

As is time.

So, if this being existed only for given temperature ranges of x, it couldn't occupy, and probably wouldn't even understand the concept of, contiguous space as we know it. It would have to simultaneously occupy multiple physical spaces over multiple time periods.

Finally, someone thinking closer in terms of temperature. It defies our normal explanation of how the universe operates because our perception of the universe is based on time, and yet, it exists.

given that things are all sorts of different temperatures, how is there any meaningful interaction? So, he can interact with a healthy human if he's at 98.6°F, but how? The air between him and the human might be only at 75°F. If he's at 98.6°F, wouldn't he fall through the floor of the house, which might only be 70°F?

You're still thinking in terms of one point in time. If there was ever air at those particular coordinates, not just at one point in time, but ever then that is the air he would breathe, simultaneously existing in an existence only bound by temperatures, not time. The reason he does not fall through the floor is because the floor at some point, ever was the same temperature.

Pretty much the cop-out of the century will have to be the rotation/movement of the earth, which is the whole problem with time travel in the first place -- if you use a Delorean to travel to 1985, how do you know the earth will still be in the same spot whilst circling the sun? You'll be in 1985, yes, but out in space because the earth moved since you left.

Also keep in mind that if he's communicating with a human through conventional speech, he needs to be at the right temperature to match the air around them, not the temperature of the human. Once he sets the air vibrating, it's out of his purview, since a 98.6°F human eardrum interacts with 70°F air just fine. But if the alien can't set the air vibrating to start with, he can't talk (at least for conventional definitions of "talk") to the human.

Now there's something to consider. I may have to just go all STTNG with that one. Or scrap the whole microcassette idea, and making strictly a retelling of a witness of someone who encountered him in some fashion. Perhaps I could unfairly have someone else ask, "well how did this work, then?" with a reply of, "I'm not sure, but clearly it did, somehow or another." ;-P heh

So, temp-time (ttime) forward for this creature would be say during a temperature rise.

Yes, I was suspecting there might have to be some type of non-time time, by which incrementally temperature could be measured as having existed at a certain temperature for how long before moving to the next temperature increment, which you exquisitely have called ttime.

1) Your time (time) and their time (ttime) are both moving forward. This might happen in your story such that the only way to communicate with this creature is when you are developing a fever - or the protagonist first chills himself and then steps into a hottub for an extended conversation.

I had originally planned on calling it The Springtime Mentor or some such as being only a person with whom the interview interacted with during the Spring when the environment reached a certain degree relative whereby the creature would appear. The interviewer would later discover other "ages" of the creature at different temperature not realizing that this was the same creature just at different ttime ages, such as during the winter being either much older or much younger, depending on which side young was to be hot or cold (which I still haven't elected to note, and may not).

2) We in time can create some machine to decipher the signals of ttime creatures even though they are being played backwards and forwards and at different speeds.

Yes, perhaps this is merely a one-time event in which an experiment is made to communicate with the time-limited originating from the temperature-limited and in a Jodie Foster fashion no one happens to believe the only witness. No, must think of something else, that'd be cheating. I had also thought of something audio-related according to what we consider stop-motion cinematography, whereby an audio recording of a particular area at a particular temperature is taken at certain increments that when pieced together form sentence structure of some kind.

My is this a long post.
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2006


To those concerned about the variation of temperature in different places of his being, that is, his hair being one temperature and his feet being another -- that is not a claim that is made. All parts of our being are bound by the same time -- our foot is not a nanosecond ahead of us in age, it is exactly the same in time. It might be asserted that the creature is completely one temperature. How can such a creature exist? Likewise, how can such creatures who only exist in one time, exist?
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2006


Umm... hardly any of the issues raised above are purely time-dependant limitations. They're energy state and spatial limitations over time. All matter has a limited temperature range for "survival," but that's not what's being put forth here. The analogy here is that these beings exist within a temperature range that is constantly changing independently of where or when that temperature exists in space or time. To be time and space independent, as postulated, they would have to essentially exist everywhere and everywhen that temperature range exists, and be unable to interact with anything at anytime that it doesn't. So part of their reality may coincide with the ambient temperature of my room over some period of time recognizable by me, but time would be meaningless to them as a concept (by definition), and those bound in time would not be recognizable as meaningfully existent to them. This really boils down to an extra dimensional being who happens to intersect our timeline only at points in time and space with a given energy state. I think one could probably work up an interesting idea there, but I don't see how we would be able to even recognize each other as beings. Our frames of reference would be too different.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:14 AM on July 18, 2006


"but time would be meaningless to them as a concept (by definition)"

In the sense that we recognize it, I mean. They might recognize it the way we recognize two dimensional space, but since they are not bound by it, they would not comprehend the cause and effect dependencies that bind humans into units. We would be random temperature fluctuations to them.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:24 AM on July 18, 2006


Awesome name, btw, Flo.

Whether you "see how it would work" doesn't define whether it does, just as cromagnon boy might be baffled by a mere gyroscope -- there is clearly a background operation at work regardless of whether comprehension is even possible for him. The fact is that this creature is communicating with the interviewer somehow.

Maybe it's a matter of unexplained hey-wait-a-second nature, such as the They're Made Out of Meat conundrum (at least as far as the video version is concerned), where one alien is explaining about the meat making meat sounds to communicate yet they themselves are communicating with just such meat sounds without need to even bother explaining it before that point.

I do appreciate any other forthcoming and those thus received questions and considerations. Who did I miss?
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:36 AM on July 18, 2006


As a rule of thumb, science fiction all fails when you slam it up against real science. The author makes boundaries on where the written world breaks from the real world, and there you go. I think Le Guinn said that science fiction was essentialy a matter of "hypothesis and extrapolation."

I think the idea is great.
posted by Shutter at 11:56 AM on July 18, 2006


"Whether you "see how it would work" doesn't define whether it does."

Well, no, not if you don't consider that to be an important point to your story (and you don't try to sell it as hard s/f). That was pretty much the question you asked, though. ;-)

Come back and update this thread when you finish your story. I'm curious to hear how it works out for you. It was a fun exercise.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:01 PM on July 18, 2006


I've heard of a thought experiment that is similar to this. We're able to move around in three spatial dimensions at will (barring gravity and walls and stuff), but we're pushed forward through the dimension of time. Imagine a creature who can move back and forth through time at will, but is pushed forward through one spatial dimension. So, if this creature wants to see Napoleon defeated at Waterloo, he has to "wait" until he is at Waterloo's longitude, and then zip back to 1815.

Your creature is very similar: it is limited to occupying spaces that have a certain temperature instead of spaces on a certain spatial axis. Saying that its "domain" is temperature is confusing, because the creature doesn't actually reside in temperatures in the same way that we reside in time or space. You mean that it can spatially exist only in areas of a certain temperature. He's not "extradimensional", as some here have said. I think this might clarify things a bit.

Here's another way of describing the creature. At one stage in its life, it can occupy any part of the maximal spacetime-slice that is 98 degrees; at the next stage, it can occupy any part of the maximal spacetime-slice that is 99 degress. ("Stage" here is non-temporal: it simply describes a spacetime slice of the universe. "Early stages" are those at the beginning of the spacetime worm that composes the creature's life, "late stages" are the slices at the other end. Some people might have a conceptual problem with this, but I think it works. It may be very difficult to avoid using tensed language when writing about the progress of the creature's life, which is unfortunate and will be confusing.)

"The reason he does not fall through the floor is because the floor at some point, ever was the same temperature."


Wait. You first made it sound like the creature was able to move from time to time (he can walk from time to time in the same way we can walk from oven to table). Now it sounds like he's existing at all times per temperature (he can talk to a human while standing on a floor at a different time). Which is it? When the creature is 99 degrees old, does he exist in all space-time slices that are 99 degrees, or are they just open to him to travel to?

You have to ignore a bunch of physics about temperature and relativity, of course. But whatever -- it's science fiction. You're allowed to make up stuff if it sounds good.
posted by painquale at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2006


Which is it? When the creature is 99 degrees old, does he exist in all space-time slices that are 99 degrees, or are they just open to him to travel to?

painquale: In my interpretation (see above) which is essentially the same as yours, the creature is uniquely defined by T=temperature. And so as we are uniquely defined by time (at time T I am one person - lets ignore relativity) then the creature is uniquely defined by temperature. Thus the creature exists at all equal temperatures at the same time (our time).

Put more simply, there is no other "axis" for them to travel to and fro across, unless you're also assuming that our time dimension somehow becomes a spatial dimension for them, which creates other problems such as instantaneity.
posted by vacapinta at 12:52 PM on July 18, 2006


vacapinta: Put more simply, there is no other "axis" for them to travel to and fro across, unless you're also assuming that our time dimension somehow becomes a spatial dimension for them, which creates other problems such as instantaneity.

Yeah, I was thinking that the creature would be able to saunter through time as we can saunter through space. I think the asker has this in mind. He says:

[the creature] has access to the oven's heated contents from December of one year to December of the next simultaneously but by the simple action of moving there (irrespective of when they exist) just as I may walk between my fridge and oven...

I think it's more interesting that way too. You could then have a whole bunch of temperature critters interacting with one another instead of just one big global one.

(I'm not sure what you mean by instantaneity... do you mean something about instantaneousness, or the problem of how the creature is to be instantiated? Instantiation is going to be a problem either way, because you (probably?) don't want to say that the creature just is regions of temperature - somehow it exists in regions of temperature.)

the creature is uniquely defined by T=temperature. And so as we are uniquely defined by time (at time T I am one person - lets ignore relativity) then the creature is uniquely defined by temperature

Uhm... I don't think I get what you mean here. We're not uniquely defined by time. At this current time T (right... NOW!), I exist, you exist, vanoakenfold exists, etc. At any one time I am one person, yes, but it sounded to me like you were saying that giving the temperature would uniquely give you the creature, and this isn't true of us and time. Maybe I'm misinterpreting you.
posted by painquale at 1:24 PM on July 18, 2006


At any one time I am one person, yes,...

Thats all I meant.

I agree it is more interesting if the time axis becomes a (shortened?) spatial axis.

One thing that also occured to me is that the creatures have already evolved and lived their lives based on the highest temperature achieved in the Universe so far (their "temperature age" according to you) In fact, given the Universe is generally cooling down, if they age upwards in temperature their sense of "time" is pretty much backwards to our own.

Definitely a neat idea. Let me recommend Ted Chiang's short story "Story of your life" where the protagonist meets aliens who also have a different sense of Time - they see the Universe not as cause-effect but as least-action or variational principles.
posted by vacapinta at 1:55 PM on July 18, 2006


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