April 11, 2011
Tarzan Meets Einstein Somewhere In Time
Burroughs, E.R.: Tarzan At the Earth’s Core, 1929
Burroughs, E.R.: Tarzan The Invincible, 1930
Gott, J. Richard: Time Travel In Einstein’s Universe, 2001
Wells, H.G., The Time Machine, 1895
Time travel seems strange because we are unaccustomed
to seeing time travelers. But if we saw them
everyday we might not be surprised to meet a man
who was his own mother and father.
– J. Richard Gott, Time Travel In Einstein’s Universe
When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains,
no matter how improbable,
must be the truth.
All possible universes exist.
Unfortunately you are
in the wrong one.
– J. Richard Gott
Upon time and space is written, thoughts,
the deeds, the activities of an entity
in relationship to its environs,
its hereditary influence and its judgments
drawn according to the entity’s ideal.
Hence, it has often been called
The reward of God’s book of remembrance.
– Edgar Cayce, 1 February 1946
Somewhere in time, let’s say 1905, a man named Levi Dowling says, in all seriousness, that he traveled out to the belt of stars girdling Earth known as the Zodiac. There at the cusp of the departing Age of Pisces and the arriving Age of Aquarius he was met by celestial beings who allowed him to examine the Akashic Records to learn the shape of things to come in the Age of Aquarius.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if he had taken Madame Blavatsky and Albert Einstein with him? They might have taken folding chairs and a card table along and read the Tarot cards or cast the I Ching. Madame B who had already examined the Akashic Records in the mystical land of Tibet could have guided Mr. Dowling through the Records while Albert Einstein offered a useful comment from time to time on how better to order all the possible universes. By the way Mr. Gott should know that it is not necessary for all the possible universes to exist simultaneously. Some might be in the garage for repairs, so to speak. Tweaked a little.
Perhaps J. Richard could have traveled back through Time and Space to 1905 to be present out
on the cusp and serve as the trio’s Ganymede to roll their Tea behind a cloud where we can’t see as they played celestial Rummy or read each other’s Tarot using the Akashic deck.
Levi Dowling returned with gleanings he had picked up from the fabled Akashic Records which he placed in his book The Aquarian Gospel Of Jesus The Christ. Madame B had already given us the results of her study, so she would have little to add, perhaps a few corrections. Albert Einstein undoubtedly learned what he needed to know from the Records to write his own Special Theory Of Relativity which upon mature reflection he expanded to the General Theory Of Relativity. There is a certain similarity in style in the writing of all three time travelers as they rolled around heaven if only for one day.
While I have found no evidence that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever read Dowling, or indeed the Akashic Records, who, I might add has made more of an historical impression than you might thnk, even than Blavatsky, there is proof that he wrestled with the ideas of the Special and General Theories of Relativity of Einstein.
In Chapter 9 of Tarzan The Invincible Burroughs says: …but though time and space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines, all other things must end…
You can’t refer to curved space without being aware of Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity. What Burroughs read of Einstein’s is not clear but that he was familiar with the notion of relativity is clear.
What a time it must have been in those fifty years from 1870 to 1920 when literary greats literally strode the Earth like giants: Haggard, Doyle, Wells, Freud, Kipling, Einstein, Burroughs. The most earth shaking fiction writers the world has ever seen. None were so marvelous as Freud, Einstein and Burroughs, super charged, they flashed across the skies like bolts from the mighty arm of Zeus.
Einstein is one part of a triumvirate of the ‘three greatest geniuses’ of the twentieth century by some people’s reckoning: that is Marx, Freud and Einstein. Marx was dead by the time Einstein and Freud flourished. Both of the latter men claim to have been scientists but one should note that they were both deeply inolved in religious matters of one group of the Semitic peoples. Both were promoting their religious beliefs through their ‘sciences.’ They were even so close they collaborated on a book, Why War?
Marx, Freud and Einstein are colossal frauds. These three men based their life’s work on false
premisses no less egregious than that Tarzan existed and was guardian of Africa. ERB in a mind boggling way sports with the notions of all three men in his oeuvre. One has to admire his audacity as no one has ever accused him of being a genius on the order of the three ‘greats.’
Central to Einstein’s relativity thesis is that Time is a Fourth Dimension. Just as the discussion of the Unconscious was appropriated by Freud from the literary atmosphere dating back to Edgar Allan Poe and the German Romantics, so as Richard Gott points out in his 2001 book Time Travel In Einstein’s Universe, subtitled ‘The Physical Possiblilites Of Travel Through Time,’ old Herbert George introduced the notion of Time as a Fourth Dimension in his 1895 novel, The Time Machine.
Are these things coincidences? Well, I don’t know.
Wells takes credit for having introduced the notion of Time as a Fourth Dimension but I rather imagine that the idea had been bruited about for several years before Wells gave it literary expression. Just as Freud developed a scientific notion of the Unconscious from discussions floating about, so Einstein elaborated on the existing notions of Time as a Fourth Dimension.
It is my contention that Burroughs was absorbed in the ideas of these three men exploring their possibilities over the course of the oeuvre. At the Earth’s Core is apparently when the nettle of Time jarred ERB into a full scale examination of the problem. In Earth’s Core ERB was on the right track that Time has no independent existence but he backed off in apparent frustration for he says, once again in Chapter 9 of Invincible:
The beasts of the jungle acknowledge no master, least of all the cruel tyrant that drives civilized man throughout his headlong race from the cradle to the grave- Time, the master of countless millions of slaves. Time, the measurable unit of duration, was measureless to Tarzan and Tantor. Of all the vast resources that Nature had placed at their disposal, she had been most profligate with Time, since she had awarded to each all that he could use during his lifetime, no matter how extravagant of it he might be. So great was the supply of it that it could not be wasted, since there was always more, even up to the moment of death, after which it ceased, with all things, to be essential to the individual. Tantor and Tarzan, therefore, were wasting no time as they communed together in silent meditation; but though Time and Space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines, all other things must end.
I’ve read a little bit here and there and I find the above a remarkably profound passage. At the last Burroughs contradicts himself for on the one hand he says ‘Time and Space go on forever,’ while on the other hand he says that ‘Time is a measure of duration.’
That latter is correct. A measure of duration implies that Time has no independent existence; it is merely a convenient way devised by the mind of man to measure duration from point A to point B. It has been said that the progress of man is the improvement in the ability to measure. A nanosecond is a vast advance in measurement over the crude second just as the ability to measure a billionth of an inch is a refinement of the measurement of the inch. However neither the second or the inch have an independent existence in reality on that account. As an alternate measure of distance there is also the centimeter which in itself can altered ad infinitum.
‘Time, the measurable aspect of duration’ is what At The Earth’s Core is all about. What ERB should have said is that Time is only the measureable aspect of duration. The implication of Earth’s Core is that time cannot exist without periodicity and the question is whether Time is merely a function of periodicity when conceived by sentient beings or does Time exist independently in and of itself. Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity hangs on that question. My own answer and the unresolved answer of ERB is that it does not.
When Burroughs says that Time and Space go on forever, he gives in to Relativity Theory on the one hand and denies it on the other. Einstein thought that both the Universe and Space were bound by limits. In saying that Space goes on forever Burroughs attacks a main thesis of the theory.
Also, if Wells expressed the notion of Time as the Fourth Dimension, as the scientist Gott acknowledges, does that give him priority over Einstein? It should. One sort of fiction has no greater claim to legitimacy than another.
What then is Burroughs’ relation to Wells and Einstein? That Burroughs read and was heavily influenced by Wells’ Time Machine seems self-evident. Not only is there a seeming reference to the Eloi and Morlocks in Jewels of Opar, but Wells also says: ‘Are you so sure we can move freely in Space? Right and left we can go, backward and forward freely enough. But how about up and down?’
It seems that Tarzan anweres that question by his use of the lower, middle and upper terraces. Burroughs merely incorporates answers posed to others’ questions but he never refers to the questions. My own opinion is that Wells’ Time Machine posed troubling questions to Burroughs which he tried to resolve over several novels.
At the beginning of Invincible he says quite starkly: ‘…it seems to me not unethical to pirate an idea occasionally…’ Admittedly the quotation is taken out of context but it is consistent with Burroughs’ practice. As it was, one might note Shakespeare, Homer, Chaucer, Milton and a host of others down through time did the same. Complete originality has only been demanded in modern times and never met.
As Time has no independent existence. I believe that ERB undestood the idea of time travel to be impossible, hence, even though he covers many different time periods from the prehistoric to the ‘modern’ post-Atlantean society of Opar, he never uses the method of time travel. Those various ages still exist fossilized in Time and Space. I have to believe that Opar is an early reflection on the notion of time travel as posed by Wells, as the Oparians reflect Eloi and Morlocks so closely. But still puzzled by what he thought about it, ERB merely placed Opar in a place similar to where the Time Machine stopped in 802701 and played with the notion of Eloi and Morlocks.
ERB does have an instance of actual time travel in The Eternal Lover in which the Lovers move back and forth in time.
As The Jewels Of Opar was written before Einstein achieved world wide notoriety, Burroughs could only critique and reflect on the notion of Time as a Fourth Dimension from Wells, and also actually Camille Flammarion who was a major influence on him. It would be a little later that the notion put into scientific language by Einstein exercized his thought processes.
Just as when Jason Gridley and the O-220 pass between two time periods when it leaves the crust for the core, the O-220 has really traveled through Time but it has never left the present. The prehistoric Core exists as a parallel world.
Whereas the crust is ruled by Time or periodicity as measured as Time, the Earth’s core exists in a perpetual high noon in which there is no periodicity to measure the passage of Time. Thus, the inhabitants have all the Time in their world for the period of their lives. Periodicity is determined by their existence rather than years, months, days, hours and minutes as Burroughs pointed out in the communion of Tarzan and Tantor quoted from Invincible above.
The life span of a Pellucidarian cannot be measured except as biological unit.
A charming epression of the notion is presented in the lyrics of the song Tumbling Tumbleweeds:
I know when day is done,
That a new world’s born at dawn;
But I’ll keep drifting along….
As I understand the lyrics in relation to Einstein and the Fourth Dimension of Time is that the Earth makes one complete rotation between sunups. When the sun ‘rises’ each morning the planet has not only rotated a full turn on its axis but revolved around the sun a notch of the three hundred sixty-five rotations that comprise one revolution around the sun. Thus, a new world’s born at dawn. There is no time involved at all but there is periodicity.
Each rotation is a fact in and of itself. There is no way to recover it or travel back to it. It is done. It had no existence before its occurrence and it has no existence after it. To retrieve the irretrievable is impossible. To occupy space before arriving there is equally impossible. Time is not a continuum, therefore Time travel is impossible.
As the cowboy in Tumbling Tumbleweeds says, the duration of is life is not governed by the periodicity of the earth cycle. One day is done and a new world begins the next dawn but his biological existence drifts along quite independent of another measurement.
This is what Burroughs says in At The Earth’s Core. In the eternal noon of Pellucidar men and women have no way of ageing themselves; they drift along from birth to death unconscious of birthdays. There are only two phases to life: birth and death.
As Bob Dylan put it, ‘If you’re not busy being born you’re busy dying.’ Thus the Pellucidarians go through life conscious only, if that, of the process of life. There is no need for time. Nature has given them all they need and more to live their lives.
Time, then, is an illusion created by the periodicity of the daily rotation of earth on its axis and its yearly revolution around the sun. However the Earthly year would have no meaning on the planet Uranus which takes more than a hundred earth years in its revolution around the sun. The majority of earthlings would never be more than a year old. Neither would the Earth hour have any meaning on Jupiter which consumes less than twenty-four hours in its rotation. Time is certainly no absolute but in a parody of Einstein it is relative. What indeed does Time mean from the perspective of the Sun which controls the different periodic revolutions of nine planets in its course through Space? It’s all relative until you triangulate the center and then it’s absolute.
In a joke as elegant as any that I have read, Burroughs depicts the frustration of Robert Jones, the cook aboard the O-220. ERB expects the reader to get the joke, which he stretches out over the length of the novel,even though he calls no direct attention to the fact that he is making a joke. Jones is the cook of the expedition. On the crust, our active and passive periods are determined for us by the natural periodicity of night and day. We, or most people, are active during the day and sleep at night. Our eating periods are determined by the position of the sun in the sky. At daybreak (in theory) we break our fast and have breakfast, at noon we have lunch and at day’s end we have supper or dinner (which one depends on your social class.)
At the Earth’s core the sun is at perpetual noon. One eats when hungry, one sleeps when tired. As the cook, when Jones looks outside to see what time it is, it is always lunch time. He has a clock, not even a twenty-four hour military clock, but apparently a twelve hour alarm clock, which he checks against the sun. As it is always noon outside, he can’t even tell if its AM or PM which his clock reads simply as 7:00. He can’t tell whether it is night or day, breakfast time or dinner. He doesn’t know which end is up, quite literally, as everything at the core is reversed. At every stop, he writes in his journal: ‘Arrived here at noon.’
His frustration increases because he doesn’t know which meal to serve- except…lunch. Finally in complete exasperation he throws the clock overboard, or he throws time out the window or to the winds. This really funny shaggy dog story took Burroughs the whole book to develop.
So, really, Burroughs is saying that time is dependent on periodicity or its relevance and is only a measure of that periodicity. Time has no independent existence, which is correct. Burroughs thereby disproved Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity which is dependent on a continuum of both Time and Space.
Without a continuum of Time and Space there can be no time travel. There is no time travel which is a staple of science fiction, in Burroughs’ work. There might easily have been but rather than following Herbert George’s example, which seemed impossible to him, he effectively refutes Wells and the notion of Time as a Fourth Dimension.
To retrieve the irretrievable which is that which has ceased to exist or to obtain the unobtainable which is that which has no existence is a mere conundrum created by Einstein and Wells not unlike the ancient Greek story of the Fox that nothing could catch and Laelaps, the dog that nothing could outrun
In that story, in brief, the citizens of the area in which a man called Cephalus had antagonized a god who in anger sent a Fox that could never be caught to ravage the countryside. Earlier Cephalus had acquired Laelaps, the dog which could outrun everything, from a goddess.
Keep your eye on the bouncing ball- god/goddess.
The citizens implored Cephalus to turn Laelops loose on the Fox to rid the country of the menace. Thus we have the scene of the Fox that nothing could catch being chased interminably by the dog that nothing could outrun.
The Greeks, too, were fond of conundrums such as what happens when an irresistable force meets an unmoveable object. Thus the problem posed by time travel, whether in Einstein’s universe or any other, is how to retrieve the unretrievable, which is: That which has cesed to exist, or how to otain the unobtainable which is that which has no existence.
As these problems have no resolution, the Greeks solved the problem of Laelaps and the Fox by having them both turned to stone in mid-run. And there they remain today as all conundrums must.
So until you run into a Time Traveler who is both his own mother and father, be content to live in this universe while you await transportation to any of the other ‘possible universes.’ Check the Akashic Records before you book. Unlike Tarzan who could board the O-220 to Pellucidar at the Core of the Earth where the sun was at perpetual high noon, we’ll all have to watch the sun come up in the East and set in West for all the days of our time.
In the meantime, credit ERB as a man of great common sense.