A stitch in time saves nine – I guess at face value this idiom has a straightforward meaning: an action taken now will prevent problems later. However, hearing it as a child I often took a different meaning from it. I realise that it probably came from the practice of weaving, but I always saw its meaning in another context – that of time travel.
I’d read HG Wells, TIME MACHINE when I was nine. This introduced me to the concept of accountability and changing timelines which of course begs the real question of fate and whether events are predestined or just random. I imagined time travelers making delicate inceptions into the past to alter specific future events without destroying their own future existence. The nine represented the exponential outcomes that one action might change. And obviously, killing one of Hitler’s grandparents was a prime example of how to avoid the immense loss of life brought about by the second world war. Time travel is a fascinating subject because it challenges the idea of predetermination whilst highlighting the understanding that everything is inexplicably interlinked or intervolved with each other to such an intrinsic level that changing one action would invoke a butterfly effect across time; like ‘removing one card’ might just bring down the house of cards to which it belonged.
The strangest hypothesis in theoretical physics
Around 2009, I first heard about one of the strangest and most compelling scientific thesis that I have heard of to date – the one-electron universe theory. This was a revolutionary hypothesis that all electrons and positrons are actually manifestations of a single entity moving backward and forwards in time.
It was proposed and investigated by two of America’s most eminent theoretical physicists, Richard Feynman and John Wheeler. They were working in the respectively in the fields of quantum mechanics and nuclear fission.
the inception of this idea came to Professor Wheeler who was researching why all electrons had the same charge and the same mass. His hypothesis for the reason why – Because, they were all the same electron!
An intrigued Professor Feynman upon further investigation discovered that this also applied to positrons, the quantum positively-charged anti-particles that surround the nucleus of an atom and which are the antimatter counterpart of electrons. Because of their equal and opposite charge and their identical mass, electrons and positrons tended to annihilate each other on collision, but if this collision occurs at low energies, it results in the production of light photons.
Except, the important point here was that they were not annihilating each other but instead showed a definite intervolved relationship with each other. There was, however, an unexplained anomaly in that their respective numbers did not balance. Electrons particles are thought to comfortably outnumber positron particles. Professor Wheeler suggested that they were hidden within protons of the atom nucleus, but their mass was missing and to this day, this still remains the biggest conundrum of particle physics – where is all that missing mass of antimatter? Is it in another dimension or a parallel universe?
Feynman later proposed his interpretation of a positron as an electron moving backward in time in his 1949 paper “The Theory of Positrons”. Professor Yoichiro Nambu later applied this theory to the production and annihilation of all particle-antiparticle pairs, stating that -“the eventual creation and annihilation of pairs that may occur now and then is no creation or annihilation, but only a change of direction of moving particles, from past to future, or from future to past.”
“I took the observation that positrons could simply be represented as electrons going from the future to the past in a back section of their world lines.”
Professor Feynman, quoted after receiving his Nobel prize for science.
Neither Professor Feynman or Nambu fully accepted Professor Wheeler’s original hypothesis that there was only one electron/positron particle in the universe. Nor were they sold on the idea that it was not, in fact, a particle but a single thread or string. Yet this theory could not be disproved or refuted. The one-electron theory sat comfortably with the many dimension, parallel universe theories. The ability of the single thread to pass backward and forwards from the future to the past also sat well with Einstein’s theory of relativity. The single thread theory was also seen as the long sought-after compromise which would unite the conflicted sciences of relativity and quantum physics, offering a full explanation of how and why a single particle could be in two places at the same time.
The main concept of the one-electron universe is that there is only one quantum particle in existence which is woven throughout the fabric of the universe, threaded from one dimension to the next. It represented one continuous line or thread but appeared as an individual particle when observed in one place and time. Any given moment in time is represented by a stitch across spacetime in which it would often meet itself from a previous stitch. It would pass from one universal dimension to the next and often thread back on itself as if a tapestry was being woven in time. As it passed through one way, it demonstrated a negative charge which we observed as an electron. Then threading back in the opposite direction, it demonstrated a positive charge and was observed as a positron.
Except, there was an infinite number of stitches in this tapestry. And as each stitch interacted with each other the complexity of this Gordian knot grew.
For me, this one-electron theory is the long sought-after string theory that balances all the conflicts between relativity and quantum mechanics. It epitomizes quantum entanglement which is today’s frontier science which will cause a revolution in computing and drive all technological breakthrough beyond this century. Truly a stitch in time which saves nine: the nine referring to the nine dimensions that the ‘string’ stitches in each universe.
Because this radical theory has not been proven it has not been covered much or at all in popular media, films or books. I tried to right that wrong by making the one-electron hypothesis an integral part of the plot in my novel, THE FIFTH SEED.
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