A Brief Pause
I was all set to press the button. An eccentric friend who tinkered with electronic gadgets in his garage had built it. It was connected to a generator of sorts, and with white letters in red background, read “pause.”
There was a dial on the generator that allowed you to set the time of the pause. Apparently, when you pressed the button, it would stop the movement of everything in the universe for the duration on the dial. My first thought was a 10 minute break might do everyone some good. And it was hard to see what could go wrong — if everything were paused at the same time, there was no way someone could steal your wallet while you were temporarily incapacitated.
But then it occurred to me 10 minutes might not be enough. Why not pause for an hour — surely that would be even more restful. What about an entire day? It’s not like anyone would miss anything as everyone else would be in the same suspended state. How far did the dial go anyway? I turned it farther, and it went from days to years to centuries. The more I turned it the larger the increments got. How crazy would it be to set it to a trillion years?
I laughed to myself, but realized quickly it wouldn’t be crazy at all. No one would be any the wiser, and everything would resume just as it were once we unpaused. In fact, everyone’s experience would be exactly the same whether I had paused it for a trillion years, 10 minutes — or not at all.
I looked at the dial again and realized the numbers I thought referred to minutes, hours and years were not based on any particular unit, they were only numbers. And I now noticed it was nowhere indicated that the dial was related to the duration of the pause. I had assumed a pause button would need a duration, but of course such a duration had no meaning. Time could not exist independent of the movement of hands around a clock, planets around their stars, telomeres shortening inside of cells.
So what would happen if I pushed the button? Either it would freeze for an infinitesimal fraction of an instant, so rapid no one including me would notice, or it would freeze forever because that instant, no matter how tiny, would never end. There was therefore no upside to pushing it. In neither scenario would I get an answer.
I pushed it anyway.
. . .
There’s no way for me to say whether the machine worked. Perhaps it stopped time forever, that universe froze to death, and I am only relating this story to you from another one in which I was born and had these memories. Or maybe it stopped and restarted without my knowing. Perhaps these machines are commonplace, and we’re being stopped and restarted all the time, like a light that flickers so fast we can’t tell it ever went out.