Dredging Through Time Travel

So I’m soaking my mind in things time travel. I call it sponging, I’m just out there grazing all things time travel and then spitting my thoughts out in my journal – seeing what sticks (bad metaphors, apparently). Anyway I happened on this forum where there is discussion of good time travel stories, and someone comes up with this thought:

Time Travel must be impossible. Just think of how messed up things could get if it could happen.”

My immediate, and somewhat cynical, thought was:

So, you’re saying that there is time travel, then?

It could be a book of idiocy. IDIOTS THROUGH TIME! MORONS OF THE TIME-SCAPE!

A group of people are convinced that the mess the world is in is due to the influence of time travelers wrecking havoc with our timeline. They invent time travel to undo the damage. Turns out there never was any time travel before they invented it, and now they have really F’d up what was, now that they have made their mess, a not so bad world.

It could be a series. I  could even go through my classic (a la Heinlein, Robert Silverberg et all) horny middle-aged man theme in the middle of the series TITTIES THROUGH TIME! Then wrap it up in my old age with really splotchy plots WHAT TIME IS IT?

Sometimes these ideas don’t sound so bad when I write them down. For satire the above premise (even the self-mocking entries I like) is pretty damned fertile.

Hey, don’t anybody be taking these… (I write really slow…)


5 thoughts on “Dredging Through Time Travel

  1. Traveling into the future is moderately interesting, it’s just a matter of suspended animation. Moreover, going into the future sounds risky. Upon arrival, the time traveler would likely be at a disadvantage unless the trip winds up in a new dark age.

    Of the many problematical aspects of time travel to the past are the matters of physical identity and loci. The atoms comprising the time traveler existed in different contexts in the past. Are they somehow transported from their original locations and reconfigured to make up the newly-introduced being in a past time?

    The other problem mentioned above concerns the location of all matter. Since the universe is continually moving — and on a human scale, most of it is moving quite fast and far — how is this infinitely complex process backed up to get to some state it previously occupied?

    I suppose one way of cutting this Gordian Knot is to propose a multi-dimensional universe wherein time travel is really a move from one to another — another which just happens to precisely mimic a past state of the departure dimension. Maybe that is what time is, a continuous stream of finely-sliced, discrete states, like the frames of a movie, playing out some ineffable cosmic drama.

    1. Hey! Long time no hear.

      This is the typical loooonnnggg response, you gave me a lot to chew on.

      I’m going to take your points in reverse order. Multi-dimensional universe. That idea has been utilized by a number of science fiction authors. Typically the jump to an alternate time creates its own “universe”, what they call an alternate timeline. So instead of an actual multi-verse that has always existed, each one as real and true as our own, the jump in time creates a fork from the point jumped to. So if you jumped right now to 1970 you could create a timeline where I do not exist. However the timeline where I do exist would be unaffected as would I.

      It is hard to set up real conflict with such a set-up. So what is usually done is the original timeline is affected thus creating a new timeline but not a separate timeline from the original. The multiverse addition gives the story more room (and intrigue). For instance let’s say you are an agent that corrects the errors in time created by travelers from a previous era. You have an advantage over the people from the previous era when you go about to correct their mistakes. But what about the people from an era subsequent to yours? And what about the people from the era subsequent to them? And what if those people could create timelines that were null loops? Basically the timeline device in this sense is really the ability to create and traverse universes. What if your enemy had the ability to not only create these other universes, timelines, but could trap you in them?

      That was part of the set-up to Keith Laumer’s fantastic (and I mean that in both senses of the term) Dinosaur Beach.

      As for your suggestion that time is made up of discrete slices. I have heard that theory somewhere before. I think it was on one of those physics/cosmology shows narrated by Morgan Freeman (isn’t everything?).In relation to time travel I have had a tangental thought often. Let’s say you are in a car crash and you die. But you don’t really die. In fact, you are not even aware anything happened at all, that frame where you die simply doesn’t exist in the alternate time-stream that is created by your death. Now what really happens when you are 97 and a cancer has eaten your body and you die – obviously you can’t keep occupying an eaten body. Although it would make a good horror story. Maybe each person dies a number of times in their course of life because the body in the new time-stream was always of a viable age. When you reach the maximum that a natural body can take, you are stuck for eternity repeating a couple of frames of time over and over and over.

      As for the location of all matter and an infinitely complex process or totality backed up to a previous state. Well, that is what makes time travel impossible, isn’t it? But let’s suppose that that was the required feat to achieve time travel like Superman spinning around the globe to turn back time so he can save Lois Lane (assuming you’ve seen the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder). But we have to move the whole freaking works back to actually move time, not just the Earth. That wouldn’t do anything. All we would have achieved is a giant process that moved everything in the opposite direction it was going. Would that mean that I would, despite my free will start walking backwards, unsmoke my smokes, etc?

      It is just one of those fancies that we come up with. We pretend such things are possible for stories. Most people can accept such things for the purposes of story (although I know two people who cannot).

      As for personal transport through time. I have seen this handled in many different ways. Usually the process is as non-specific as the operation of Wells’ time machine. It works “somehow” (much like how a FTL drive is handled) and we go from there. [Although, many books go deeply into their FTL solution because going faster than the speed of light is at least a sensical concept whereas time travel properly belongs as a fantasy concept, it has no referent, conceivably, to reality.]

      I have read books where it works very much like the transporter on Star Trek did. They step into a booth or a fancy chair a la Wells, and they are torn to the atom and reassembled at the designated time station.

      You see how a science fiction author can get into the specifics of his FTL drive if he is a hard science fiction writer while a time travel device has to work within a context approaching voodoo? For instance with the transporter there is a place of origin and a destination. The machine, the transporter is on the ship, and the transporter can “beam” them to the surface below at a specific location; or it can grab them from a specific location on the planet below and bring them back to the machine. Then there are parameters; they have to be within a certain range, there are certain obstructions that could cause a transport to be impossible, etc. The machine is in a specific room on the ship, the destination location is an actual physical, observable, location on the ground. There is an observable connection between the two points.

      How does someone get back in time? How are they taken apart, sent back through time, and reassembled? Reassembled – by what? The time machine doesn’t exist yet! Into the future? That’s one hell of a gamble, is the time machine still operation at that point in time?

      I am not saying an author couldn’t construct some sort of explanation (if he were so inclined) that would pass a plausibility test within the scope of the work’s tale. But he could not get anywhere near the complexity possible of an author describing an FTL drive, an energy weapon, or any number of science fiction gadgetry. But some of it would have to remain in a fog lest the explanation poses more questions than would have come up if he had said nothing.

      And you do not want to break the spell. Science fiction and fantasy readers are very lenient with such flights of fancy or they wouldn’t be science fiction or fantasy fans. And sometimes explanation is exactly what you do not want. Let’s not forget George Lucas’ enormous blunder (or purposeful destruction) when he had the Force explained as midichlorians in your bloodstream in the first Star Wars prequel. He completely destroyed the whole mystical fantastical element that was integral to the original Star Wars trilogy.

      As to being in an advantageous position you happened upon a dark age future. It depends on how you look at it. I can think of how it would be a distinct disadvantage for the same reason that an advanced future would also put you at a disadvantage. I do not know how to hunt, to loom, till the soil, preserve for winter, track, guide myself by the sun, tell the passage of time by lunar cycle. I’ve seen people make fire with a stick and flint in movies, I’m not sure I can do it. Any of the dark age machinery would be foreign to me. I am also from a soft age, I am not hardened by sleeping upon a rock (let alone straw). I would be pretty helpless there too. I think Connie Willis tackled this in her Doomsday Book.

  2. Two sides of the same coin perhaps…

    You note that writers have proposed that a new universe is somehow created with the introduction of a change in the past. Well, when you think of it, that is some feat, the creation of a whole new fully-formed universe.

    Where did this new universe come from? Out of nothing?

    An alternate but equally extraordinary hypothesis might be one of destruction or erasure instead of creation; that is, there is an instantaneous annihilation of all states of affairs which had previously followed from the moment the time traveler arrives — with the exception of the traveler’s knowledge of those events up until his or her departure from the future. The events once occurred but no longer have the attribute of essential being, only potential occurrence.

    Where did that previous history go? Into nothing?
    _ _ _

    (Good point about being at a disadvantage in a dark age.)

  3. Though not being here as you were, your presence slipped through the back door of your absence, speaking words unsaid — as yet perhaps or forever.
    (Sorry to hear about your dad.)

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