Interlude: Time Travel

Science fiction has a few different models for time travel.  The basic question is, what happens to the arc of history with a time traveller?  Offhand, I can think of these.  First, history is fixed.  No matter what happens to the time traveller, history will work out the way the time traveller knows history as.  Either through some cosmic principle or through the actions of the traveller causing the history they know (ie predestination), history always turns out the way it’s always turned out.  There’s the multiple history model.  In this, time travellers cause history to fragment with their disruptive presence, creating multiple timelines running parallel.  There are some niche models, like time loops (think of the movie, Groundhog Day).  In Star Trek, the predominant model is one of a malleable history.  Here, history is subject to the changes a time traveller would make, and the future can be affected.  There is a single timeline.

If time travel is real, I think the fixed history one simply is preposterous, and the malleable history model to be the most likely.  Humans have this unique and exceptional capacity to make choices.  If one believes that human agency is a real thing, and not an illusion constructed by matter in motion, then we honestly have the capacity to causally affect the world we live in.  It means the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was not fixed in history, and it was a choice made by an individual.  If the capacity of a human to choose how our lives go, then a time traveller must have the ability to re-forge that history by causing different choices or different circumstances that lead to different choices.  King could die prior to his public work, or live longer continuing to enact change.  This seems the most directly logical from our everyday experiences with free will.

It is yet another side bar into the topic of human agency, but one I honestly find it hard for anyone to reasonably deny the reality of free will.  It is within our own minds, the one thing we philosophically can prove exists, that we recognize our own ability to make choices.  It would be a long road to prove that ability is merely an illusion, since it is so direct and clear in our everyday experience.  And if one could prove such, it opens up a convoluted story of how anyone came to prove that there is no free will.  It means that we were destined to ask the questions that lead us to think we have free will, destined to believe the illusion, destined to have it proven wrong.  If the illusion is true, it would seem utterly contrived and nearly self-defeating (though not technically so, philosophically).

However, I must say I’m personally a skeptic at the possibility of real time travel, even with all the options of how it could work.  I think the argument, “If time travel is real, where are all the time travellers?” is a rather compelling one.  And all of the time travel models have severe logical inconsistencies they must deal with (even the malleable history model).  The only way it could really work is that if time travel is real, there exists some mechanism that prevents time travellers from interfering with the timeline.  Almost something like a Temporal Prime Directive…

Random Thoughts:  1) Amusingly, I think Doctor Who has incorporated all of these time travel archetypes in some episode or another.  And invented a few too.  And contradicted itself.  2) I am less convinced of a multiple history model as well.  If a time traveller causes a fragmented history with every choice, doesn’t that mean a new history is made with every miniscule choice?  Even one time traveller creates an infinite number of new histories, and that leads to an infinite infinity of fragmented worlds as one choice causes a fragment and every subsequent choice fragments upon the previous choices’ fragments.

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~ by Joshua Black on January 16, 2017.

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