The dream of traveling through time is both ancient and universal. But where did humanity’s fascination with time travel begin, and why is the idea so appealing?
The concept of time travel — moving through time the way we move through three-dimensional space — may in fact be hardwired into our perception of time. Linguists have recognized that we are essentially incapable of talking about temporal matters without referencing spatial ones. “In language — any language — no two domains are more intimately linked than space and time,” wrote Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher in his 2005 book “The Unfolding of Language.” “Even if we are not always aware of it, we invariably speak of time in terms of space, and this reflects the fact that we think of time in terms of space.”
Deutscher reminds us that when we plan to meet a friend “around” lunchtime, we are using a metaphor, since lunchtime doesn’t have any physical sides. He similarly points out that time can not literally be “long” or “short” like a stick, nor “pass” like a train, or even go “forward” or “backward” any more than it goes sideways, diagonal or down.
Perhaps because of this connection between space and time, the possibility that time can be experienced in different ways and traveled through has surprisingly early roots. One of the first known examples of time travel appears in the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic poem compiled around 400 B.C., Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told Live Science.