Learning to Walk

An essay by Matthew Grant, as provided by J. J. Green
Art by Leigh Legler

Trace human ancestry back far enough and eventually you’ll encounter a creature that could prick its ears. Why it did this, whether it was prey or predator, we’ll never know for sure. But we know it existed because people today still have the muscle for that movement, and if you know about that muscle, and practice flexing it, you can move your ears independently.

It’s not that hard. But if you didn’t know about that muscle you couldn’t ever do it.

Maybe you already know this.

It’s the same when infants learn to walk. They learn by watching first. If they never saw another human walking, if they didn’t know it was possible, they’d never try, and they’d never learn to walk.

It’s all to do with imagination, being able to think outside the known world, and believing in unknown possibilities. That’s what Daniel was trying to explain to me that day he first talked about his theory.


“T-t-t-t-t …”

“Time travel,” I said. It was his favorite topic.

He gave me a hard look but didn’t say anything. I was his only friend on campus, his only friend ever from what I could make out. I noted the stutter. He didn’t usually do that around me, just everywhere–and I mean everywhere–else.

“Did you know experiments have shown that nerves signal to perform an action before any conscious decision is made?” he said. “The intention shows up in the brain a few milliseconds before we even know what we’re going to do. That’s been known for years now, but it just hit me a few months ago, what that really means.”

I must’ve looked puzzled.

“It isn’t in my control whether I pick up that pen or not. I’ve formed the intention beforehand, before I’m conscious of it. Somewhere deep in our brains we’re acting according to our blueprint of the physical world, without even having to think about it. Our actions are only possible because we believe they’re possible, on a deeper-than-conscious level.”

I was used to this kind of thing from him. Daniel was, put simply, brilliant. You couldn’t spend more than a minute in his company without feeling like a Neanderthal. Which, I guess, is why he didn’t have any friends. That and the fact that being brilliant apparently means that you don’t remember to cut your hair, shave, or even, sometimes, wash. How he ended up at a middle range Bible-belt college, I’ll never know.

“What if the only thing that stops us from being able to travel through time is our disbelief?” he continued. “It’s beyond our experience, so we don’t believe it’s possible. Our deeper consciousness can’t form the intention for the action because it’s entirely outside of its experience and knowledge. But if you could somehow alter your subconscious blueprint of the physical world … What if … what if traveling through time was as easy as a baby taking its first step?”

He paused and looked at me ruminatively.

“Could I have a smoke of that?”

I was surprised. I’d offered plenty of times before, but this was the first he’d shown an interest.

“Sure. This one’s nearly done,” I said, and rolled another joint. “So, what would you do? Where would you go? Rome? The dinosaurs?” I asked. He shook his head.

“I’m more interested in the future. Space travel. We aren’t likely to leave the Solar System in my lifetime. But we will one day, I’m sure of it. If we don’t kill ourselves, that is. All you’d have to do would be to keep stepping forward through time until you hit on the right era …”

Daniel was lost in his thoughts. I waited for him, knowing he wouldn’t hear whatever I had to say anyway.

“… But it would be extremely dangerous,” he continued, as if the last minute’s silence hadn’t occurred, “especially at first, when you don’t know what you’re doing. Who knows what’s going to be there when you step through? Could be a wall, a lake, a person …” We shuddered.

“If you manage it, make sure you come to our 20 year college reunion,” I joked.

Daniel’s first experience of weed didn’t end well. After puking up in my bathroom he left. But he seemed kinda satisfied anyway.

Learning to Walk

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

Matthew Grant is in his senior year in college, majoring in biology. His high school claim to fame was skateboard dancing at the prom. Voted Most Likely to Be Abducted By Aliens, Mr. Grant’s year book comments include: “Man, you know like, man, just – wow!” and “I can’t believe I still like you after you dumped me, twice.”

Attracted to the weird and fantastic since childhood, J. J. Green feeds her addiction by writing about the frontiers of scientific exploration and beyond. Her work has been published in SFGate, Opposing Views, Global Science, Synonym.com, Seattle P-I, Modern Mom, Dark Tide Writers’ Magazine, Metro Moms, Piker Press, and other publications. Living in Taiwan has also given her endless opportunities to amuse the locals by attempting to learn Chinese. Check out her meanderings at http://infinitebook.wordpress.com/

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.

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