NDQ 80.4-82.4: Welcome to the Wormhole

North Dakota Quarterly had a problem. At some point during the history of this journal, we fell behind in the volume numbers and dates. Volume 79 had a date of 2011, but did not appear until 2012; volume 80 was dated 2013, but the last numbers did not appear until 2015. Something had slowed time in the NDQ offices and interrupted the regular ow of volumes. We recognized that the most likely cause of this time dilation was the rapid speed of change in the NDQ office. Over the past two years, we have organized the editorial board, brought in new poetry and fiction editors, developed a more robust digital presence on the web, and released almost our entire catalogue of back issues to the general public for free.

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In 1905, Einstein predicted in his special theory of relativity, and experiments have demonstrated, that time moves more slowly for an object moving at a high speed than for one that is traveling at a slower speed. For example, it is well known that a highly-accurate atomic clock orbiting the earth on a satellite measures time more slowly than a clock stationary on earth. In fact, GPS satellites have to correct for the slightly faster rate of time present on the fast moving satellite when communicating with the almost stationary status of the terrestrial GPS receiver. In 1915, Einstein’s general theory of relativity described how gravity also in influences the rate of time. A clock closer to a source of high gravity will record time more slowly than one encountering lower gravity. For residents of the international space station, the difference in gravity almost counter balances the increased rate of speed to ensure that time moves only slightly slower for them than it does on earth. These two effects account for the dilated passage of time at North Dakota Quarterly, where change is propelling the journal forward at a very great rate of speed, and the public humanities imposes a significant gravity to our work.

Unfortunately, this has had the effect of slowing time at the Quarterly in relation to the rest of the world. As a result, we have to figure out how to reconcile the difference in time between NDQ and our audience. (Although we suspect that for some members of our audience the difference in time is not apparent; these people are quite literally “fellow travelers.”) To fix the issue of time dilation at the Quarterly, we could either skip a couple of years (and not publish volumes with the dates of 2014 or 2015) or fiddle with the volume numbers in such a way that would allow us to skip ahead without causing alarm (e.g. the next volume being 81-82 and having a date of 2014-2015). ere is ample historical precedent in the world of literary publishing to combine volume numbers or to simply skip a year.

Of course, a long-time reader will know that NDQ had a jump in years between volume 23 (1933) and 24 (1956), but this did not represent the Quarterly falling behind in relation to the regular world, rather a formal hiatus in publication. We also have published a number of combined volumes such as in 2005 and 2006 where we combined the first two issues of volume 72 and 73, but this was a treatment generally reserved for special issues on particular topics. Volume 72 1/2 was dedicated to “Belles Letters” and Volume 73 1/2 to “Hemingway.” As far as I can tell, NDQ has never combined volume numbers. e closest we have ever come was in 1994-1995, when we combined years but kept the same volume (62). is knocked the volume and year numbers out of sync and was clearly not a tidy or satisfactory solution to our problem.

The absence of a time-honored solution to our problem left us in a bit of jam. We had no real precedent for skipping years or combining volumes, so those proved to be dead ends. We could have followed the gradualist route of slowly combining issues, but the speed of change at NDQ would likely lead us to confront the reality of Einstein’s laws before we caught up. Plus, we’d have to and topics worthy of double issues and also invest the effort to produce a double issue, and this would risk putting us even further behind. In this hopeless situation, we returned to where the problem started: theoretical physics.

Since the initial issue with time slowing down derived from the phenomenon of time dilation at high speeds, we hoped that Einstein’s general theory of relativity might also provide us with a solution. It so happens that as physicists came to terms with Einstein’s theories, they began to speculate on phenomena like black and white holes. Both of these phenomena involve locations of very high gravity surrounding very dense (and hence very small) non-rotating masses. From what we understand, the high gravity of black holes distort timespace enough to allow for some basic time travel. Time moves far more slowly for objects orbiting black holes than for those at a great distance, meaning that the occupant of a spaceship orbiting a black hole ages more slowly than those on a planet at some distance.

Black holes (and the related figure of wormholes) get their name from the practice of depicting timespace as a 3-dimensional space with length, width, and height. is presentation of timespace is fundamentally Euclidian, although we are aware that the fourth dimension of time also exists. e tremendous masses of black holes are generally shown as depressed areas on the plane of timespace. The sloping space around their dense mass represents the increase in gravity. While illustrative, the general theory of relativity represents timespace mathematically as a Lorentzian manifold which allows, among other things, for the inclusion of time. is complex figure, which includes time and space, is the basic topology that describes Einstein’s universe.

is topology allows us to describe how objects sucked into a black hole would experience a remarkable degree of timespace compression. Einstein and other physicists, particularly Karl Schwartzchild, recognized that if black holes were to exist and would ingest matter, then the matter ingested by a black hole could be ejected by a white hole. is provided the basis for the notion of wormholes which do more than distort timespace; they actually punch a hole through two distinct locations in the timespace topology and allow matter to pass from one place to another. Einstein and Nathan Rosen developed these ideas most fully (they are sometimes called Einstein-Rosen Bridges) and published them in 1935. Since the visibly accessible depictions of timespace tend to represent it as an Euclidian plane, wormholes take on the shape of holes between planes that could be made by worms.

Some astronomers think that very small wormholes probably existed at the Big Bang and might still exist. e work at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has sought to create these microscopic black holes, which on the one hand could end the universe, and, on the other hand, might help us understand the origins of the universe. Physicists have theorized that such wormholes could be created and held open with a massive infusion of negative matter. At present, exotic objects with negative mass remain largely theoretical, but they could exist within the university as understood by theoretical physicists. At present, it is most likely that we will and a way to produce only very small black holes, or wormholes, but these might be useful to NDQ because we only need to travel a few years and the Quarterly is, for now, quite small.

is would be consistent with the work of science fiction writers who have made great use of wormholes to facilitate travel into deep space. They have come to be associated with Star Trek. The original Star Trek series lacked any mention of wormholes, per se, but in the first lm adaptation of the show the U.S.S. Enterprise was caught in a wormhole after an imprudent use of the warp drive. Recent adaptions that take place in the Star Trek universe make greater use of wormholes, with Deep Space 9 featuring a space station orbiting the Bajoran Wormhole. Other science fiction franchises have used wormholes as ways to travel across vast distances. Various versions of the Stargate series, for example, feature a one-way wormhole; a 2005 episode of the long-running BBC series Dr. Who locates one terminus of a wormhole in Cardiff.

While it might ru e the feathers of the Trekkie crowd, I’d like to explore the role of wormholes in another cultural landmark: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. is imaginative documentary linked a scientifically advanced future to an equally sophisticated understanding of the past. Despite its advanced science, the future of humanity needed Bill and Ted to do well on a history presentation, and future generations did not hesitate to leverage timespace to make this happen. In response to these remarkable revelations, scholars in the humanities have gravitated to the works of Bruno Latour and Karen Barad. Barad and Latour, among many others, have worked to unpack scientific thinking in ways that reveal the deep entanglement of objects, institutions, people, and events. Science and the humanities seek to under- stand the complex network of relationships that shape our world. As our idea of a strict division between culture and nature has increasingly receded, we recognize that we are part of the natural world that our science and humanities describe. The inseparability of time, culture, space, society, and matter in the world presents the potential for innumerable wormholes connecting even such disparate places and times as the arts, humanities, science, engineering, and technology. These wormholes exist despite the apparent dispersion of disciplines, institutions, and ways of thinking into sequestered silos with distinct histories and theoretical commitments.

The wormhole connecting Bill and Ted’s history presentation and the future is no more (or less) absurd than the wormhole resolving the effect of temporal dilation in the sequence of NDQ volumes or the entanglement of arts and sciences. We are increasingly coming to see the division between the arts, humanities, and sciences as arbitrary. e mutual commitment to understanding the universe is not the distinct domain of any particular set of approaches. At the same time, we recognize that the world’s problems are as complex as they are pressing. From resolving a bit of lag in the NDQ volume dates to ending the world at the Large Hadron Collider or resolving tension between religious and secular views, the humanities and the sciences share a desire to use their understanding of the universe to create a better place. We hope that synchronizing the volume numbers and dates of North Dakota Quarterly contributes in some small way to this common cause.