A letter to Sheldon Cooper (PhD), on change, constants and temporal loops

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
Dear Dr Sheldon Cooper (PhD),

I wanted to write personally to you to thank you for making this forty five year old nerd continually LOL (really out loud) but, especially (to the degree that a sitcom character can), to thank you for triggering some pretty interesting train of thoughts in my scientifically challenged brain.

Just about in every episode of The Big Bang Theory, I’m in awe of your incomprehensible, endless rumblings about theoretical physics and your all-emcompassing knowledge of how the universe works, but, ironically, every time I see you and your three socially incompetent but adorable giggy friends, I can’t help it but think about multiverses, Schrödinger’s cat, nanoclusters or many of your other fields in which you, unlike those of us who are not direct descendants of Einstein, do not comprehend but would love to at least, have a very simple grasp on.

I recently watched you agonise over the paint stain that very carelessly Penny shot over the spot where you always sit. It was a sad moment and one that I truly empathise with, particularly after hearing you say:

“That is my spot. In an ever-changing world, it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be (0,0,0,0).”

Yes, Dr Cooper (PhD), I feel your pain. Because if, as Heraclitus said, “the only constant is change”( Πάντα ε κα οδν μένει),  how are you to make sense of this chaotic, continually evolving world around us (despite being a theoretical physicist) when the single element that is your point of reference is not respected?

I often think about constants and variables, not from a mathematical point of view (I couldn’t), but from a more philosophical standpoint. The last time I was impressed by the use of this dilemma in popular culture was in one of the most beautiful, if not the best, episodes of the acclaimed TV series Lost. In “The Constant”, when Desmond’s consciousness is accidentally thrown into a confusing and dangerous time-travelling rollercoster that sends him in split seconds back and forth in time, the only way for him to survive this ordeal is to find his “constant” in his life, the one thing that is not ephemeral, his continuous narrative, his point of reference in the past, in the present and in the future.

And it makes me think that perhaps, Heraclitus was, after all, only partially right. Because I do agree with the fact that change is ever-present in our universe (and possibly in any other universes for that matter),  and I could even come to agree with his well-known saying “No man ever steps in the same river twice” (I can see how the nature of the river would change immediately as a result of its flowing), but I really would like to think that there is a possibility that each one of us has a constant (or perhaps even more than one) in our lives: just like you have your couch, others have their cat, their children, science, divine entities, lovers, the Higgs bosson… the list could be as long as there are humans in our planet. I can also see why Heraclitus might respond to my proposition by saying that whatever constant we choose will be subject to change, making the only constant possible, change itself. If I were to say my children are my constant in my life (or my husband to avoid instigating a domestic :)), they, their environment, our relationship, our position in the world, are subject to continuous and unexpected change. I prefer to think that the essence of the constant, still remains.

Perhaps one way to try to resolve the chaos that change could cause in your life (and in the life of many others), is, Dr Cooper, to use McTaggart’s well-known argument (1908) that not only time is an unreal entity but that that any event must be past, present and future at different times, ergo change would not be change per se as in a temporal continuum, things will always encompass pastness, presentness and futureness (more as a loop than as a linear concept). We could then say, that as much as everything changes, everything always remains the same as it goes back to the beginning of the imaginary loop.

Dr Cooper, I was hoping to make you feel slightly better in the face of the continuous threats your very controlled routine is subjected to (new Chinese takeways, new neighbours, disturbances in your perfectly structured Sim’s city Sheldonopolis…). I hope I have achieved it. Perhaps I haven’t, perhaps the attempts of this poor untrained laywoman at theorising about such complex matters have infuriated you. I hope not. Please feel free to get in touch if you feel the need to chat (sorry, I mean, discuss the topic), with someone who understands your despair.




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