Gleick began with H.G. Wells’s 1895 book The Time Machine, which created the 
idea of time travel.  It soon became a hugely popular genre that shows no sign 
of abating more than a century later.  “Science fiction is a way of working out 
ideas,” Gleick said.  Wells thought of himself as a futurist, and like many at 
the end of the 19th century he was riveted by the idea of progress, so his 
fictional traveler headed toward the far future.  Other authors soon explored 
travel to the past and countless paradoxes ranging from squashed butterflies 
that change later elections to advising one’s younger self.

Gleick invited audience members to query themselves: If you could travel in 
time, would you go to the future or to the past?  When exactly, and where 
exactly?  And why.  And what is your second choice?  (Try it, reader.)

“We’re still trying to figure out what time is,” Gleick said.  Time travel 
stories apparently help us.  The inventor of the time machine in Wells’s book 
explains archly that time is merely a fourth dimension.  Ten years later in 
1905 Albert Einstein made that statement real.  In 1941 Jorge Luis Borges wrote 
the celebrated short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths.”  In 1955 physicist 
Hugh Everett introduced the quantum-based idea of forking universes, which 
itself has become a staple of science fiction.  

“Time,” Richard Feynman once joked, “is what happens when nothing else 
happens.”  Gleick suggests, “Things change, and time is how we keep track.”  
Virginia Woolf wrote, “What more terrifying revelation can there be than that 
it is the present moment?  That we survive the shock at all is only possible 
because the past shelters us on one side, the future on another.”

To answer the last question of the evening, about how his views about time 
changed during the course of writing Time Travel, Gleick said: 

“I thought I would conclude that the main thing to understand is: Enjoy the 
present.  Don’t waste your brain cells agonizing about lost opportunities or 
worrying about what the future will bring.  As I was working on the book I 
suddenly realized that that’s terrible advice.  A potted plant lives in the 
now.  The idea of the ‘long now’ embraces the past and the future and asks us 
to think about the whole stretch of time.  That’s what I think time travel is 
good for.  That’s what makes us human—the ability to live in the past and live 
in the future at the same time.”

                                                        —Stewart Brand <>

Note:  A linkable, illustrated version of this summary is on Medium, here 
The full audio of the talk (and soon the video) is at Long Now, here 
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