Saturday, March 5, 2016

Philosophical Ramblings on the Subject of Time Travel

Time travel. It messes with my brain, but I love it.

What happens when you go back in time and change an event? Do the memories of the people in the present suddenly change to reflect the new past? Or were their memories always of that 'new past' because in effect, the old version of the past never happened? Except it did, because you obviously went back to it and changed it.

And when you change the past--in a big or small way--that change has a ripple effect. So when you return to the present, it could very well be vastly different than it was when you left it. But would you even remember how it used to be? It never was that way, after all. And yet it was, because present-you travelled back in time, did something, and that something rippled forward to the present and made it something else.

If that wasn't enough to contort the brain, try this:

One slight change in the past could mean the deaths of thousands--if not millions--of people. Because maybe you got in the way of Mr. A and Miss B meeting each other, and so they never got married, never had children, and a whole string of people were never even born. So you could come back to the present and find out that your best friend just never existed, because she was a descendant of A and B who never met. (Or, you know, what if you ended up killing your own ancestors before their children were conceived? Have you erased your own self?! And if you don't exist, you couldn't have gone back in time to kill anyone. This is apparently called the "grandfather paradox.")

Then again, since Mr. A never met Miss B, maybe he meets Miss X instead, and they marry and have children . . . and so you come back to the present and discover a whole whackload of brand new people who were never there before.

Or what about all those time travel stories where characters want to prevent the disasters of the past? Stop the Holocaust or keep the Titanic from sinking? That's all well and good, very commendable, I say. Except what if, by diverting one disaster, you give rise to a new disaster that's just as bad? Or worse? What if one of the Titanic's passengers you rescued turns out to be a murderous psychopath who goes on to decimate a whole city?

(And then of course you have multiple cases of generations not existing anymore. And all of the Titanic's descendants living.)

Forget people living and dying, though. What if you go tell Thomas Edison how to make a lightbulb before he's even tried it five times? Then maybe he turns his attention to other inventions, and winds up giving the world something that wasn't supposed to exist for another couple of decades. What then? With one lightbulb, you just accelerated the world's technology. Of course, if you want to be malicious, you could also go do something like keep Galileo from discovering that the earth revolves around the sun. And then where would we be? Or maybe you decide to impart some other knowledge to the people of history, like the importance of hygiene? (I think the world would be a much fuller place now. A lot less people would have died.)

Okay, so what if you decide it's too messy to deal with the past, and instead you travel to the future? (ACK, MY POOR BRAIN.) Let's say you jump twenty years ahead to see where you'll be. You see yourself living in Metropolis (hello, Superman), working a Nice Job, married to a Great Person, etc. You also happen to notice that you're suffering the after-effects of an Old Hamburger the future-you ate a week ago.

So you return to the present and go on with life as usual. But when you meet Great Person, you already know you're going to marry them. What if that blinds you to that other Even Better Person in your life? And when it comes time to move, you pack up and head right to Metropolis, because that's where you're supposed to be. But is it really? And then you're offered a Nice Job, but what you don't know is that if you wait another week, someone's going to offer you a Stellar Job.

And thus what you saw in the future becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It could've been different. It could've been better. It could've been worse. (Or could it? Is that future you saw inevitable? Or just one of millions of possible outcomes?)

Of course, because you know your future, you're smart enough to avoid that Old Hamburger twenty years from now, so you don't get sick. But you also don't take that sick-day and read that life-changing blog post whilst sprawled on the couch.

And how about the bigger picture? When you go to the future, you see their technology, their government, the future of the world. You see how they solved world hunger, or how sexism warped the opposite way and now men are discriminated against instead of women, or how football evolved into a Roman coliseum type of thing!

Knowing all this, you could fix world hunger right now.

Knowing all this, you could try to eradicate sexism entirely and help the world respect and value both genders.

Knowing all this, you could ban football.

But then that future changes. Good things happens sooner, but new problems also arise.

All this to say: aren't you glad we can't actually mess with time? And, more importantly, this mind-bending topic makes me realize that we all make a difference. The smallest things go on to change the world.

What say you? Do you like time travel in fiction/movies? Does it hurt your brain? If you could witness--but not actually be in--a certain historical event, what would it be? (Because obviously inserting yourself into that situation could be very bad, so we'll just stick to watching it from a nebulous room outside of time. That's totally a thing.)

Wikipedia has an article on time travel that talks about things I didn't even think of, like tourism in time.


  1. I think my brain just exploded. :O :O :O

    Oh my gracious, THIS POST. Time traveling is mind-boggling, is it not? I've actually thought about some of this before (though not in the amount of detail that you did). If just ONE thing changes in the past, it could completely change the future. IT'S CRAZY. Time travel is such a messy, confuzzling thing. My poor brain can't handle all the timey-wimey things O_o (By the way, I haven't watched Doctor Who. I just felt the urge to use that phrase because it's glorious.)

    All that to say, I adore time travel in stories. It can get a bit confusing and crazy, but that's time travel for ya. I'm honestly glad there are no time machines because that would just make the world go bonkers. But in stories? Um, yeah!

    Loved this post, Tracey! You seriously made my brain hurt...but in the best way. XD And to answer your question about the historical event...I couldn't possibly pick one. Maybe the Chicago World's Fair? Or when the Wright brothers achieved sustained flight at Kitty Hawk? Or maybe just take a peek into the '50s? Ack, too many choices...

    1. *mops up mess* XD

      It turns my brain into a contortionist. All the crazy paradoxes and acrobatics of logic! One teensy, tiny thing could change it all. (Haha, I haven't watched Doctor Who either--yet?--but I find myself saying timey-wimey too. XD)

      You're right, it DOES make for intriguing stories. Have you read the Dreamhouse Kings series by Robert Liparulo? He has a great spin on time travel.

      LOL...thank you? XD Oooh, those would be some really cool events to travel back to. I think it'd be amazing to experience a genuine Renaissance fair..

    2. Oh, great. Thanks for giving me that mental picture. XDDD

      "It turns my brain into a contortionist." XD I LOVE THAT. (It's such a wonderful phrase that it BEGS to be used!)

      No, I haven't! I saw the first two of the series at a used bookstore last week but didn't pick them up. Are they good?

      YESSS. A RENAISSANCE FAIR. That would be...beyond amazing.

    3. Any time. XD (Actually, though, my brain occasionally produces morbid ideas that make me wonder if this is normal behaviour for a writer...)

      ARE THEY GOOD? Are they GOOD? Girl, they are fabulous. And I don't think it's just my fond reminiscing that's painting them in a favourable light--they really are great books. The writing isn't hugely special (it's tight and quick, though, which is perfect for the story), but the CONCEPT and the CHARACTERS and the TENSION is alskdiskakj. Ahem. Maybe this is a sign I need to make another Spotlight post...

      Completely beyond amazing! *wistful sigh*

  2. Nice idea for a post!
    I find time traveling stories fun- but when you stop to think about it, it's a recipe for disaster. It's man playing God, and when does that ever work?
    Despite all that, time traveling will always be a tempting idea.
    Wouldn't it just be amazing to witness the creation week?

    1. Thanks! I meant to write something meaningful and inspiring, but my brain went, "Nope! Let's ramble about time travel!" XD

      That's so true. Playing God is never, ever a good idea. It's fun in fiction, but would be catastrophic in real life.

      THAT. Now that would be beyond incredible. Like that scene in The Magician's Nephew, but a billion times better. ^_^

  3. SO I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE THAT THINKS ABOUT THIS CONSTANTLY??? :O But...but...seriously, Tracey! This is like 82.4% of what I think about while brushing my teeth or riding in the car or showering. Ya know, when we're doing nothing and our brains are turned on. Time travel FASCINATES me and it's insanely fun thinking of all the convoluted stuff it could cause.

    I sooo much think about your first point, the memory one. If you change the past, do you suddenly have two memories of the past? I mean, IT'S WEIRD. I'm always trying to think of ways around it.

    Basically this post was amazing and so fun and right up my alley. I LOVE some of the stuff you thought of. Suffering from an old hamburger from the future in the...past. So confuzzling. XD And football becoming a Roman coliseum thing! I can seriously see that happening for real. o.o

    There's just SO much plot fuel with time travel. I have like a dozen time travel plot bunnies zipping through my head basically 24/7. Maybe one day I'll actually write them...

    But you're so right in that it makes you think. Time travel or not, basically every step we take in life causes a ripple effect. It really makes one look at one's priorities, doesn't it?

    1. APPARENTLY NOT. XD Must be the writer's appetite for "what ifs"... I did think of you as I wrote this post--specifically of your time travel flash fiction piece!

      I know, it's messed up. Do your memories change instantly? Do you have two memories? Or was your memory always of that changed past, because that's the way it always was...? I don't even know.

      Sports be dangerous. *nods gravely*

      Yes! Harness some of those bunnies one day! I think you'd come up with an amazing time travel story. (I mean, you already wrote one. And that flash fiction. But we could always use another.)

      Exactly! It's amazing (and a little intimidating) to realize how much we affect the people and world around us.

  4. Ha ha, I enjoyed this. I guess I really don`t want to be able to time travel. I rather like not knowing.

    1. I wouldn't either. Except to maybe witness past events--that'd be really cool--but going forward in time? No thanks. It could provide great inspiration for a dystopian novel, but I'd rather not know the future.

  5. This was a fun post. XD

    I've actually not read many or any time travel books. Which is weird because I really enjoy it. I like watching Back to the Future and The Flash. I guess it can be kind of confusing. I kind of see it in the Back to the Future way. If someone has a certain mindset and keeps going down a certain path, they future may turn out a certain way. But there are so many variables in the present that could change their mind that with every action and thought, their future is changing and morphing all over again. I don't know if that makes sense? Ultimately, people are still in control of their own choices and their own lives, they choose their future. The only people whose choices would possibly effected are those who have time traveled and that's only if they let their knowledge of the past or future effect them, they can choose not to.

    1. Thanks. XD

      Can you believe I've never seen Back to the Future? I feel like I'm missing out on a classic... That makes perfect sense, though: the future is constantly morphing with every little choice we make. But I feel like, if I traveled to the future, I'd have a hard time not letting that knowledge affect me in the present, y'know? Because you *know* how things turn out--or at least one possibility--that would make you hyper-aware of whether what you're doing today will lead you to that particular tomorrow.

      Ack. It's seriously crazy to think about. XD

  6. Time is so confusing... :P I get confused every time I think about it that way.
    I don't know of any time in the past I would like to see. Maybe when the world was created. But then I might get jealous of Adam and Eve. I mean, they have the perfect garden, and they can talk and walk with God! But it would be so cool to experience that. :)
    Or it would be cool to see the "New World" when it was first found. There wouldn't be any cities or cars or smog or any trash lying around! That would be weird... :P

    1. It's a little bit like that "too much information can make your brain choke" line, right? XD

      Creation would be amazing to witness! And seeing the Garden of That *would* be very cool.

      So would the New World! To arrive at North America with one of the first explorers... You have some great ideas, Miss C. Thanks for commenting! ^_^

  7. Time travel hurts my brain but I find it very fun in movies and shows like Back to the Future and Doctor Who. ^ ^

    1. I haven't seen either of those, but I hear lots of positive about Doctor Who. It's probably just a matter of time (pun intended) till I watch it! XD

      Have you read the Bright Empires series by Stephen R. Lawhead? There's some cool time travel/alternate universes stuff.

  8. Seriously... you haven't seen Doctor Who? Drop everything and go watch it, now! You'll love it!

    Okay, maybe you have other important things to do, but in all seriousness, I enjoy they way they deal with the whole topic of time travel. That events are important, but not all events are FIXED MOMENT important... and that small changes generally work themselves out... mostly because the whole concept of the show is predicated by the idea that time is not linear the way we think of it, that's it's a big ball of "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff." :)

    I also enjoy the types of time-travel stories like in the new Star Trek, where you get into the whole idea of a parallel universe... so a big change doesn't actually change anything in one sense, but creates a whole new universe where many things are different - which worked well in the new Star Trek movies because it doesn't anger the fans of TOS, but allows for new stories to be told in new and different ways with the same characters - and totally bypasses the grandfather paradox, because it assumes that everything in TOS still happens the way we've seen it, just in a different universe. (Comic books do a lot of this, as well, apparently)

    I don't have any interest in traveling to the future, but I think it would be super cool to be able to go back in time and watch events unfold (in a "stuck in a room, unable to be seen/heard/or affect what's happening" sort of way... though it would be difficult to accept that I couldn't stop horrible things from happening, so maybe it's better that we can't do that... but still) to see historical events completely devoid of any guesswork or re-writing or agenda... that would be awesome - and to go to any historical event related in the Bible kind of like Whit's Imagination Station, that would just be the coolest thing ever!

    1. Seriously. *shakes head* 'Tis a tragedy, indeed! I have a feeling I'd like it. :)

      Important Things to Do, heheh... it does feel that way right now, but maybe Doctor Who will have to be the next order of business once I catch up on Once Upon a Time? *wiggles eyebrows* (I watch very few shows, so...) I'm definitely intrigued by that nonlinear approach to time. Curious as to how they explain that. :D

      I haven't seen Star Trek either. I know, I'm an uncultured little dragon! XD Parallel universes can be really cool, though, and I can see how that would be a neat way to keep fans happy AND still add to the story.

      (That's true--it would be very hard to witness the suffering in the past and be unable to act.) But yes, seeing history for what it really WAS, rather than all the slants historians put on it, would be incredible! The Imagination Station--OH MY, YES. I love Whit's End. ^_^

    2. (I forgot to mention--not sure if you saw my last post or not--but huge thanks for mentioning that Guide to Literary Agents book over on Musings of an Elf! Because of the link you left, I ended up buying it. I can already tell this book will be a great asset, and I owe it to you. <3)

    3. :) The new Star Treks are pretty cool. They have their issues... but they're fun.

      Awww, I'm glad you are finding that book useful! Yay!

    4. "Issues" are harder and harder to avoid these days... I'll have to check some reviews. :)

      Just the intro taught me things! When I have a bit more time, I'm going to delve into the agent listings. ^_^

  9. *flail* How did you know I've been thinking of a new book to write that involves time travel? *shifty eyes* Ahem. XD But yes, time travel is fun but totally messes with my brain!

    That's why in ONE of my time-travel related stories, the characters can go back in time to OBSERVE things, but they're not actually there and can't interact with people... they're sort of on another plane, walking among the people but can't touch anything... like ghosts. (This is all well and good until another time-traveler steals their time travel device and strands them in the in-between place... *cough*) And in that version, no one can travel into the future because it hasn't happened yet. XD

    But in my new one I'm going to mess with going into the future to bring back a book later in a series you want to read, that hasn't been published yet... but what if the author sees the book, writes it exactly that way, but then their editor makes different changes because it was different to start with? Alternate timeline or what? *mind implodes*

    So yes, that's just in my own brain with trying to do stuff in my own writing... but there's so much mind-boggling time travel stuff in Doctor Who and things. *nods* Have you seen a movie Source Code? It's kind of creepy and is a modern thriller sort of thing, but there was some interesting timey wimey bits which broke my brain. *twitches*

    TIME IS SO CONFUSING. Which is exactly what you're saying in this awesome post, of course. ;) I love it!

    1. You've been thinking of a new book? A time travel book? DEB! That sounds awesome! (As if you didn't already have enough awesome stories being written, am I right? XD)

      That ghost/observer concept sounds like a great way to get around some of the inherent time traveling issues. But oh dear, stranded in between? That would be terrible... D: Which story is this? Have I heard of it?

      ACK. MY BRAIN. I never thought about traveling to the future in relation to book series! That's... *shakes head* That is messed up. I joke sometimes about wishing my books would write themselves, but actually seeing my future book would fall flat.

      Source Code... I just looked it up. Is that the one with the time loopy thing where the same segment of time is on repeat? Because I myself have yet to see it, but I think my dad watched it. It sounds intriguing!

      Thanks! <3

    2. Hee. Yes. *guilty look* It's called The Library in the Stars and I need to pretend it doesn't exist. *cough* (To make myself feel better, though, at least it's largely formed of several of my previous ideas, all lumped together, so it's not NEW per se. XD)

      And the other one which you haven't heard of is kind of hiding till I'm older, currently. I have the time travel and character parts figured out totally, but I'll have to figure out exactly where/when they time travel to, and do tons of research. XD (It's called Hidden Truths: A Matter of Time and I think it will be a novella, someyear.)

      Yes, the loopy one with the time segment on repeat. :P

    3. Oh my goodness, I love that title! (And isn't it so cool when old ideas latch onto each other and grow into a Big Idea?)

      Ah, I see. *nods* Sometimes it's the best decision to leave a story idea for further down the road. I have a couple of those. I love this Hidden Truths idea too! It's settled: you must clone yourself and write all the things.


  10. I think time travel is a very hard concept so easy to mess up :) My favorite ways it has been handle have been the Butterfly Effect and the Time Travelers' Wife. Of course I loved the "eradicate sexism entirely and help the world respect and value both genders"
    Great Post Tracey!

    1. Exactly. I'd love to write a time travel story one day, but my brain would probably twist itself into knots trying to figure it out. XD

      I haven't read either of those. Maybe I'll check them out. :)

      Heh, I guess I'm just tired of it being an issue. I dislike the kind of feminism that feels it has to run down men in order to accomplish its purposes. But that's a whole other topic! :P

  11. This post has my head in a whirl XD. Time travel books are SO cool (I really liked Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) but sometimes it's a lot to wrap your head around :D. Time travel totally messes with my brain, but I love it :D.

    1. Oh my, didn't even notice I almost copied you word for word in my last sentence XD.

    2. Mission accomplished. ;P Haha, that book is yet ANOTHER that I haven't read. (There's apparently a lot of time travel things I haven't yet read or watched...)

      I find myself doing that in blog comments so often! XD You're not alone.

  12. NOPE NOPE NOPEITY NOPE. Alternate dimensions, heck yes please, but PLEASE NO TIME TRAVEL. That is really all I have to say on the subject. I just don't think it could ever be possible because of the ripple effects. (And I know I'm a fantasy writer, but I'm not talking about that kind of impossible. I mean, just logically. I can't handle it.)

    1. ... Whiiich, when I reread it, sounds like I'm trampling all over your post, WHICH I'M NOT. I could probably have phrased that comment better, I'm sorry! These are just my feelings on time travel, it is probably just a brain thing XD

    2. LOL, you're not trampling at all! The idea didn't even cross my mind, especially since I know how you feel about time travel. XD That's why the bookworm community is so wonderful--we all have our own tastes.

      Yes, the ripple effects are the most mind-bending, logic-confounding part of it all. ...Which is why the alternate realities approach is one of the best, IMO. You don't really travel back in time, just to another version of reality. And the changes you make don't change that dimension, it just causes new dimensions to spring into existence, in which the world plays out differently.

      Thanks for the comment! Not everyone enjoys time travel, and I'm just as interested in hearing your opinion as anyone else's who DO like it. ^_^ (I feel like that was a grammar fail... Morning brain. :P)