Several years go by before you find Garret. Now here he is at the Hotel Paradiso, where there is no such thing as a “year” in the ordinary sense, because there is no such thing as “time” in the ordinary sense.


Time is fictional, like so much else here—a wonderful improvement on things as they used to be. For example, memory can have a tremendous effect on time—compressing it into diamond-bright points of brilliance or distending it until it looks like the gray featureless Atlantic spread to the horizon.


“Space” is similarly different. Formerly, it was all a question of distances and how long it took you to go from Point A to Point B. Here A and B can be a few feet apart, but it might take you a hundred years to go from one to the other. Or, conversely, two places separated by a thousand miles might require a journey of only a few seconds! In short, distance, like time, is more a mental thing than a physical thing. Which explains—although maybe not too well—why it takes so long for you to find Garret, even though he is living only a few miles up the road from the Hotel.


In the end it is “time” that brings you , finally, together. Your friend Lila often goes up to the Academy for lectures. One day she convinces you to go with her to hear the celebrated physicist Richard Feynman give a talk on Time.


Time? What is there to say about it now that it has ceased to be a concern? Youd done your time, had your fill of time, thank you, and are quite happy to be done with it once and for all. So now that time has been abolished, made outmoded, irrelevent what is the point? No, there is nothing you cared to hear about time, but you go along to keep Lila company.


You find the hall where Feynman will be speaking and see that there are some empty seats down front. The man in the first seat stands up to let you by. He looks up.




Smiling, He says your name.


“I guess you two know each other,” Lila says.


Garret is about to say something, but the house lights dim, the audience hushes, and Richard Feynman strides onto the stage. You sidle quickly to your seat.


Feynman speaks for an hour. He covers a lot of territory, and, to tell the truth, a lot of what he says goes right by you. You have too much else to think about.


“Time isn’t something that once was and now is not,” Feynman says at one point. “Oh, no. You see, it never existed in the first place. “It’s just a word. And it’s like a lot of abstractions that over the years have taken on totally bogus meanings. Everyone assumes that these words actually mean something. They’re just packaging. Empty inside. Whatever was once in there has vanished, or perhaps there was never anything in the first place.”


“What about clocks?” someone shouts from the audience. “They exist.”


“Clocks tick off imaginary minutes, measuring imaginary time,” Feynman shoots back. “They’re like thermometers: they don’t measure anything real. What is real is change. This is probably what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus meant when he said that everything is in flux.”


Lila, leaning over to you, whispers, “Just lost me on that one.”


“So what am I getting at here?” Feynman asks the audience. “Well, for one thing, if time is a bogus concept, then so is every other concept based on it: ‘past,’ ‘future,’ ‘eternity,’ and so on. Instead of seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses of time—all those nicely regulated intervals of predetermined size moving in a steady stream like a regiment of soldiers marching across a parade ground—we should see it for what it really is: a vast complexity of interconnected processes, every single thing ceaselessly, relentlessly becoming something else, no beginning or end, all those processes self-creating infinite variety and infinite possibility, and yet underneath it all, a principle of utter simplicity—change.”


Feynman pauses to let his words sink in. Nothing certain, ever. Everything a fiction of our own making. We might as well be musical instruments, playing beautiful music to one another. Our wonderfully expressed words, thoughts, ideas—nothing but pretty tootling.