December 15, 2017
Ancient Wisdom from the Tao Te Ching
December 28, 2017

The Time Traveler’s Question

Here is a short (fiction) story I wrote for you for the holidays. It is not related to Eye of the Moon whatsoever, though it is similar in the style of my first short stories that eventually became the basis for the novel (particularly in that it’s told from the first person with an unnamed narrator). I hope you enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday season filled with the best sort of magic, the “real magic” that is part of our lives in the smallest, most unassuming moments just as much as it is in the miracles.

The Time Traveler’s Question

A friend of mine and I got together one evening at one of our old hangouts in Manhattan. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and we were reminiscing about old times when I said, “Speaking of old times, I met a time traveler, or so he told me. He could have been pulling my leg, but he said some interesting things. Care to hear them?”

He agreed, of course. I mean, how could he not? I told him the story.

“A couple of years ago, a man sat down next to me in a bar. We started talking. After several minutes, he mentioned that he was a time traveler. I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. He had seemed like an ordinary guy up to that point. ‘You’ll have to convince me,’ I said. He shrugged. He didn’t expect to and didn’t particularly want to, either. He simply wanted to talk. He told me that time travel was a lonely business because adapting mentally to the target environment was difficult. Hence, his need for conversation.

“I shrugged as well, and he continued.

“From the point of view of this age, mental adaptation might seem trivial, but the local population, this one included, has prevailing attitudes about wealth, ethics, relationships, status, and religion that differed greatly from his own. He was from the future. Early in his time travel career, he would voice what he really thought, but the resulting arguments proved detrimental to any continued conversation. The habit drew unwanted attention to himself as well. The person to whom he gave his views wasn’t about to change his or her mind anyway, so what was the point? It was better to nod. He did a lot of that: nodding. He looked at his drink for a moment and told me that there was a depressing sense of isolation when everyone around you thinks differently than you do. He looked sad.

“To shift the mood, I asked him why was he telling me all this? ‘Wasn’t it… confidential, or something like that?’

“He answered that it was, but sometimes, one has to talk. Anywhere would do, but he found that bars were the best. Who believes anything that a stranger says in a bar?

“He had me there.

“I asked the man, for the sake of argument, what happens if he gets stuck in a particular time with no chance of returning to the future?

“The traveler said that was a risk. Stuck in an alien time, the unlucky traveler would have a great deal of ‘other’ knowledge that was different from that of the local population, but that didn’t mean that he or she was in a superior position; in fact, quite the opposite.

“One can be intelligent, even brilliant, but still be ignorant.

“Ignorance is a state of being. It is the lack of knowing. Intelligence, on the other hand, is the power to rapidly acquire necessary knowledge and use it skillfully. It is the ignorance of day-to-day conventions and beliefs that gets unwanted attention from the locals and eventually, the authorities. ‘Ignorance is a fault,’ he said, ‘but not knowing the period’s prevailing paradigm was a far more serious error.’

“I asked him to explain, and he did.

“‘A paradigm is a philosophical or theoretical framework for a scientific discipline or school of thought within which theories, understandings, and generalizations exist. It can apply to an entire culture, or to a specific period of time.’

“It was his opinion that a paradigm was neither true, or false, and that it didn’t matter which it was. What did matter was the power of it to determine whatever else was considered to be valid or invalid, relevant or irrelevant, in that society.

“He offered an example.

“‘Europe of the late 16th century thought that the sun revolved around the earth. This was called the Geocentric Theory of the Heavens. That theory wasn’t the paradigm but a consequence, a symptom.

“‘The underlying paradigm of the period was that God was the measure of all things. The Bible asserted that the Earth was at the center of the universe, and so the Geocentric theory was confirmed.

“‘Paradigms can last for many years and shift only after seismic events. Take that same paradigm of God being the measure of all things: in 410 CE, Rome, the eternal city, was sacked. This event shook the empire and caused the inhabitants to believe that it was punishment for abandoning the traditional Roman religion for Christianity. In response, St. Augustine, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, felt compelled to write De Civitate Dei, the City of God. St. Augustine argued that even if the Earthly City (Rome) lay in ruins, the City of God, led by Divine Providence, would ultimately triumph, and that mankind should abandon earthly concerns for the more permanent truths and rewards found in Heaven.

“‘An extraordinary uneasiness permeated the Mediterranean world during that time. Christianity spread, because it described and acknowledged the problems of an empire in shambles and offered a solution and thus, God being the measure of all things, became the prevailing paradigm. It lasted for almost a thousand years before it was replaced by its seeming opposite: Man was the measure of all things, not God.

“‘The result of this shift was that Europeans began to trust their own observations. Scientists, known at the time as natural philosophers, observed and counted. The emphasis shifted to quantified measurements from qualitative descriptions, contributing to the rise of mathematics and the sciences.

“‘This shift, from God-centric to Human-centric, was a significant event. With the change of the underlying paradigm, the Heliocentric Theory of the solar system could then replace the old Geocentric Theory. The secular overthrew the sacred, and the effects are still reverberating even in this age.’

“Paradigms were the reason he felt so isolated and alone. They permeated a society and made him feel so very different. He finished his drink, put some cash on the bar, and stood up. He started to walk away, paused for a moment as if deciding something, and then came back.

“‘What do you think is the existing paradigm of this particular time?’

“I replied that I wasn’t sure.

“He looked at me intently. ‘I would give it some thought. In fact, more than a little, if I were you.’

“I promised that I would. He nodded and said, ‘In this particular time, Man is no longer the measure of all things, but if he isn’t, then who, or what is? You might look in the direction of the machines, just a friendly suggestion. Thank you for listening to me.’ He turned and left. I never saw him again, but the conversation lingered in my mind far longer than I would have expected.”

My friend asked me if I had figured it out yet.

I replied that I was still working on it.



1 Comment

  1. SILVIA says:

    That is a good story, still working on it!

    Well I may take this opportunity to comment that I started to read “Eye of the Moon” (that I won as part of your contest!) and it has kept me quite, quite interested.

    I do recommend it.

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