Sunday, February 23, 2014

Back to the Past, and Back to the Future

This article, Time Travelers: Please Don't Kill Hitler, caught my attention this morning, for obvious reasons. What better way to catch the eye of a history buff than to mention time travel and killing Hitler?

The specific of not killing Hitler is just a general prohibition about not changing the past, as it will change the future. Well, duh.

Doesn't everyone know that? Aren't we all aware of an event in our past that has lead us to where we are?

Personally, I can point to several events, seared... seared into my memory that have made me who I am, and how, Robert Frost-like, a different path would have made all the difference.

Yeah; so?

20-20 Hindsight is not the most optimal method for re-examining our past. Very specific events put us in a position to make a specific decision, and changing that decision would require changing the circumstances; it would not be logical to think we would change our decision without a change in the circumstances.

Years ago I read Ray Bradbury's, "A Sound of Thunder", and the concept fascinated me. The idea that the life or death of one individual creature millions of years ago would change the world we live in. This idea was also dealt with in a Star Trek, the Next Generation  episode, Paralells, where a character gets caught in a time fracture, and all of the various possible histories form that time fracture become not just possible, but active. In the final scene, all of the possible futures are gathered together, hundreds of thousands of variations, just before the fracture is corrected, and the original, I don't think anybody says correct, time line is restored.

One of the questions asked in the article, and answered in some of the comments, is what would you do with a time machine?

Can you imagine being able to revisit yourself at one of those decision points, shades of 2015 Biff visiting 1955 Biff and changing his future, and having a decision that effected your life changed? Would the one visit do it? Or would that single change open up a broad range of new decisions that would need guidance from the future as well? That decision you made at 18 about college or a job is changed, and now your future self is worse off than you are now. Or were then. Or were before you started messing with things,

Or that decision to buy a new car at 25, a decision that you thought didn't turn out so well, is changed; so you continue to drive the beater, until that accident that you walked away from in the new car, leaves you paralyzed in the old one?

So many decisions; so many futures. And imagine the effect on the 25 year old you. First you have to accept that the geezer in front of you is actually the future you, and then you have to accept that his advice to not purchase a new car is valid, and then you act upon it, only to be revisited by the same geezer, this time in a wheelchair, telling you to forget the previous advice he gave you, and now he wants you to buy the new car? Do you believe him this time? How many more trips will be required to get your future to turn out the way you want it to?

Isn't that kind of what we have tried with our children? We see how our future has turned out; we see where the bad decisions were made, and try to force our children to make different choices than we did, so their future will turn out better than ours. We are that old geezer, hawking different options than what the geezer made in his youth, and having just as much faith that the decisions made will be correct for their future.

So; do we try? Do we attempt to steer our children down a different course than we took, not knowing for certain that future events will play out to detriment or benefit, based on that decision?

Besides, we may remember as a pivot point some choice we made, but it may have been a completely different decision, one we see as a good choice, that may have actually have not been so. Or it may be a choice we made, long since forgotten, that has had more effect of our current selves than we may know.

Kind of like stepping on a butterfly, 80 million years ago. You never know how it will affect the future, if at all. 

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