Wouldn’t it be cool if we could go back in time? How wonderful to experience firsthand some of the greatest moments in history – to be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to cheer on the Wright brothers at Kittyhawk, or have a front row seat on the opening night of West Side Story.
Einstein gave us the first plausible theory suggesting that it might actually be possible. And scientists are continually advancing and making new discoveries. It’s not just science fiction any more. It could really, someday, be a reality. Just give it a little time.
I have a little wrinkle I’d like to add. See, I’ve determined that time travel would be, well, a total waste of time. In fact, it would almost certainly be a bad idea.
This will take a little time to explain, and a little time-travel of our own. Don’t worry, it will be the normal kind.
When we consider time travel, we encounter paradoxes. “The Grandparent Paradox,” for example, states that if I go back in time and kill my grandparents, I will never be born. But if I were never born, I could not ever be alive to go back and kill them.
Simple. Makes sense. And yet it doesn’t. In fact, the more you think about it, the more confusing it gets. Hence, paradox.
Scientists account for this paradox by suggesting the possibility of parallel universes, or different “threads” of reality. In this theory, every possible outcome of every event in time actually exists in its own universe, or on its own thread of reality. So, if I go back in time and kill my grandparents, I find myself on a thread of reality where I will never be born, which does not affect the thread of reality I came from in which I was
born. Therefore, my existence is not negated, and the paradox is accounted for.
But I don’t think there’s a paradox to begin with. The idea of time travel entertains that a person’s timeline need not be straight. Time is known to bend, and thus it follows that if bent enough, it might loop back around causing two distant points in time to meet.
But we, as beings, move through time. The timeline we follow may not be linear, or straight, but our progression on it will always be forward. If we move forward to a previous point in time, the effect on us
in our present path will be no different than the everyday
effect of the present time on us.
So, if I move forward to a previous point in time (i.e. go back in time) and kill my grandparents, it won’t negate my existence because I was already born, and I am moving forward
on my timeline, and regardless of what happens in my future, it will not negate my past – even if my timeline visits the same point in time more than once and
I kill my grandparents in the process.
But all that doesn’t matter either, although it lays the groundwork for explaining why
it doesn’t matter.
Our fantasies about traveling to the future often involve encountering great advancements in technology, meeting our descendants, etc. These fantasies, like our fantasies about traveling to the past, assume that the physical world and time are fixed
in relation to one another. We could go back and warn JFK about his assassins. We could go to the future and find out who will win the 2004 World Series. But this also assumes that everything is predetermined – but just hasn’t happened yet. That’s not how we really envision the future.
We think of the past as being “solid” in the sense that we experienced it, and we know it happened, and it was real, and it is finished. Our memories are imprints of moments that happened in the past. Yet we envision the future as being fluid
. It hasn’t happened yet, we don’t know what will happen, we have free will, and can control our destinies by the choices we make. Actually, this
is the paradox – a paradox in our thinking.
If the future is fluid, then the past must
also be equally fluid. If time exists in the universe as an entity that we know
can bend (i.e. it has a presence), then the only difference between the time we perceive to be in the past and the time we perceive to be in the future is our
proximity to it in the universe, or its proximity to us. Certainly we, as beings, could not have the effect of freezing all time we come in contact with (thus turning it from a fluid to a solid) just by our mere existence. Could we have such a Midas touch on time itself? Doubtful.
So, if we go back in time, it’s unlikely that we’ll even encounter our grandparents. In fact, what we do encounter will probably be nothing at all
like any sort of past we remember, or learned in history class. What we do encounter will be completely unpredictable, and I would venture increasingly less familiar the greater the jump in time we take.
The future is indeterminate. But so is the past. And though it may help us gain a greater understanding of the universe, the value of time travel is otherwise lost. If we go back in time, we will find that our past no longer exists. What does
exist at that moment in time is anyone’s guess.
Of course, I'm no physicist. I could be totally wrong. And if so, I just wasted a bunch of your time. But if I'm wrong, then maybe one day you can go back in time and tell yourself not to bother reading this.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ve been living for 34 years. 12,410 days. That doesn’t seem like very many to me. If I had a dollar for every day I’ve lived, I still wouldn’t be able to pay off my student loans.
The past few nights I’ve stepped out onto my patio before heading to bed. Sitting there, looking at the flagpoles atop the buildings downtown (I can count seven of them), listening to the remarkably quiet hum of the City, I’ve thought to myself, each night, I’ll be lucky if I have twice as many years ahead of me as I have behind me.
And it strikes me as an oddly teen-angsty thing for a budding 34-year old to think, as it leads me to old questions, withered from a decade of neglect, but resilient.
Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want? Who will I become? What do I believe? What do I believe is important
They were silly days, just a split-decade
ago, when these questions wailed urgently, soaring over the vast, empty gullies of my brain, kicking up confusion and panic with their importance, whirling into a turbulent, indecisive storm.
But these past few nights, fathoming my finitude with clarity, these old, withered questions whisper only reminders – calmly, temperately.(What do I believe is important?)
If I’m lucky, I have more years ahead of me than behind me.
(Where am I going?) The end is right there…