Artwork: Gravitational Waves. Image: © NASA.
[[Author’s Note: This week’s article is a little out there — even in comparison to some of my other oddball ideas. I recognize this. If it’s not for you, I get it. How far can the boundaries on ideas bout communication be stretched? I love physics as well as communication though I know far more about the latter than the former. I am nonetheless curious about how the two might play together. Please keep the experimental nature of this work in mind as you read.]]
What in the world does physical spacetime and the infinity of the universe have to do with human communication?
What the hell kind of question is that?I don’t fully know, but I’m asking it.
It’s a question that hasn’t been pondered by that many people (at least not to my satisfaction). And while I’m certainly not discounting the number of social scientists out there that have incorporated either space or time into their work, I’m not talking space or time, or even space AND time.
I’m talking spacetime — as in that of the physical universe.
How out there can we get?
Messages travel through time. Imagine a lost letter. Or a voicemail that is saved beyond a person’s death. Video messages for birthday celebrations that will never be shared tucked away on the cloud somewhere. Or sometimes — in the case of surprise death — a small note someone left behind, an article of clothing, or an artifact.
Even seemingly mundane communications — tweets, emails, videos, Instagram photos — are actually both suspended in spacetime (from when and where they were created/sent) and travel through spacetime (to the person receiving them) to create meaning.
The point of arrival is different than that of origination.
Where were you when I wrote this sentence? Where are you now that you’ve received it? When and where has communication taken place? Multiple people, multiple instances, and so on
When is communication happening again? I told you it was weird. In physics, Einstein referred to this as “spooky action at a distance.”
Communication is kind of the same thing.
Wormholes. Blackholes. Communicational waves. Ripples through our perceptions of the spacetime continuum. How might what we know about physics and spatial reality shape our understanding and appreciation of how it is that humans communicate? What are the relationships between the physical universe and humans jabbering? This is unexplored gap of conceptual territory that we grow increasingly able to ascertain and assess what with all our technological advances.
I suppose my introduction to physics — beyond, you know, gravity — was Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time which I read in high school. I still have my original copy. I’ve since read many other books — by Carl Sagan, Katie Mack, and Chris Ferrie (click Ferrie link, get joke). I read about digestable snippets about the physical universe: quarks and strings and event horizons. I don’t understand much and I’ve remembered only a few things. The math of such endeavors is comically (cosmically?) past me.
Infiniteness, common in among both the physical universe and communication is the first place where we might imagine Hawking or Sagan might be able to sink their hooks into the realities of communication. Human communication is submissive to the laws of the physical universe. You’re email isn’t getting there faster than the speed of light. That said, the possibilities of what meaning might come out of any given interaction is — much like the expanse of space — infinite. Two people can go anywhere. They can expand in any direction. In that relationship, any meaning is possible.
Communication does not occur in any sort of one-directional or standard way and is far more like wormholes and string theory than we realize.
Human abilities to make meaning are infinite. No beginning. No end. Only on and on it goes. In all directions. A giant golden donut.
I don’t know the cutting-edge thinking from astronomy and quantum types about theories and ideas of wormholes, but I do know that when it comes to people communicating, wormholes exist. Any communication occurring via technological delivery methods or simply the passage of time (if time even exists) essentially leaps through spacetime via a worm hole.
Information and intended meaning go in on one end and come out somewhere else. You can pick up a 200 year old book and communicate with the dead. A message might not land until well after it is sent. You can slip into a digital play third space and co-occupy multiple meaning-making spaces at once.
Any distributed message goes into a wormhole of sorts. A message can goes in at one place and come out at many others, meeting separate individuals where they are, each in a moment of spacetime all their own — with its own conditions, circumstances, and features that make communication more or less likely successful.
Meaning doesn’t necessarily follow immediately after something is said. Sometimes, the meaning from a message might resonate multiple times, over time — even long stretches of time. Sometimes, the ring of the bell doesn’t strike you until years later.
So, when is communication taking place? Maybe the better question is where is communication taking place. The answers to either suggest the existence of wormholes.
Black holes and gravitational waves. Power and energy beyond imagination.
In the physical universe when these bodies collide, the waves ripple out through and across the universe. We know because the waves can be measured by scientists. Using an unimaginably complex and precise system of lasers and mirrors, physicists can actually measure the compression and expansion of spacetime right here on earth. Absolutely mad.
It strikes me that two people communicating is a collision similar to this. A conversation happens — that conversation can look many different ways and be an infinite number of things — but it’s a collision and there are ripples. There are at least two “meaning reactions” from any given conversation. Both ripple out. Waves intersecting. The ripples take the form of our love and our hate and our compassion and our humor and our joy and our anger towards the others with whom which we happen to be interacting. There’s always a trace left behind of that wave that ripples through the relationship. Eventually every wave fades.
Like magic. Like physics. Spook action at a distance. Except communication.
What does all this monkey talk about universe and physical reality get us? I haven’t a clue. I didn’t say there was a point. I’m just here writing.
Where are you? What do you think of all this?
There it is.