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On time travel

My brilliant brother pondered this thought the other day:

If you had a time machine, where would you travel first? Assuming that you are universally invincible.

He suggested several more or less obvious choices for consideration.

  • Witnessing the Big Bang.
  • Seeing the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs.
  • Witnessing the Exodus of Jews.
  • Following Jesus to see what really happened there.
  • Forget the past, I’d go to the year 2020 to see who wins the World Series and place a bet accordingly.

He is torn between the dinosaurs and the World Series.

I pointed out that a much simpler approach to the last item on his list would be traveling back in time just a few days and buying yourself a ticket with a winning combination in the latest lottery drawing. Of course, if you also assume that everyone in the world now has access to time travel, that plan is rendered useless; but then, every such scheme would be unworkable, – I certainly cannot imagine how any betting could be possible when both the bookies and the general public have an unfettered access to future outcomes.

Leaving getting fabulously rich aside, of the choices that Konstantin suggests, I surprisingly find an opportunity of being a witness to the exploits of Christ having the greatest pull on me. Those events continue to have a disproportional effect on modern society; there is more than an idle observational interest associated with an investigation of the veracity of the claims made by the Four Evangelists.

Beyond that, I would love to experience any number of different ancient civilizations at the height of their powers. Going into the future, conversely, does not hold that much appeal to me, I don’t exactly know why.

Anybody has better ideas?


  1. Kisintin

    Since more people read you, I will shamelessly plug myself here 🙂

    You are actually right about getting rich schemes, that was the spur of the moment.

    While experiencing civilizations would be great fun, I was aiming more towards specific events, or great mysteries of history. I was thinking of adding Atlantis to the list.

    As far as the future, I think watching our Sun explode would be an interesting thing to see.

  2. Ilya

    Yes, mysteries are fun, except I suddenly realize that with them, you don’t know the exact dates to observe them. So the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago – can you sufficiently narrow it down to land within a lifetime of the fateful event? Otherwise, you might have to keep jumping for a while:
    – The dinosaurs are still here? Let’s jump 100 years forward.
    – Still here? Damn, try 100 more.
    [after a while]
    – When do these suckers finally get a clue and become extinct!? Another hundred.
    – Oops, utter desolation. Must have missed it…

  3. Vince

    You have a good point about far distant events, but recorded history presents fewer problems of this type. I think this is a great idea, and I’m thinkg on it for a post myself. But like your brilliant brother, I’d like to look at the mysteries and controversies of history. But I think I’d shy away from major battles, as much as some of them fascinate me.

  4. mattw

    Of your brother’s list, I would have to go with dinosaurs as being my first pick.

    As for the future, would it be possible to go to the future? Because if the future is determined by our actions now how could we go to a future that hasn’t been determined yet? Or, if there is a future that we could visit, what’s to say it wouldn’t be changed later? So if your brother goes to the future to find out the outcome of the 2010 world series, what’s to say there would be the same outcome when we actually get to that point?

  5. Ilya

    All good questions, Matt, explored, of course, in countless sci-fi works. They naturally extend into the past as well, by asking whether the simple fact of your from-future presence, letting alone your possible actions while traveling to the past, by itself affects the course of events between then and the present, making for a different “present”.

    If you view any point in time, past, present, or future, as some sort of f(∑xn), where xn represents any act of nature or humankind leading up to that point, then it is conceivable to argue that any given point in time is recursively “calculatable” and even pre-determined.

    I don’t mean it in a fatalistic way. Rather, we humans do not have the capacity to know the future portion of the axis of time as we know the past portion. So, we make choices and consider them affecting the future; but the potential multiple versions of the future exist only in our contemplation, not as a reality. In reality, there is only one version of the future, we just don’t know it yet, and we cannot expect to live our lives twice to make it vary.

    Let’s put it this way: We perceive our past as immutable, right? If you manage to observe some moment in time, then everything leading up to that moment should already be its past and immutable, no? Why would there be a possibility of a different outcome, if everything that happened up to that point is already history?

    So, if a time traveler is a disembodied entity that only observes the moments in time, he/she observes the only possible reality. When that time traveler becomes involved in the events that surround him/her, then we are getting into much more complex issues, because then it is when we begin to change the past. I’m afraid I do not have a well-thought-out view on what happens then.

    Wow, Kostyan, your “crazy” thought led me deeper than I initially imagined…

  6. mattw

    I would assume from your brother’s orignal query and the nature of the things that he wants to see, that any traveling through time would be done from a observational point of view. Which, is really the way things should work out if you’re going back in time, because otherwise, you get these wierd time paradoxes that make people’s brains hurt.

    For instance, if Reece is John Connor’s father, then how could John Connor of the future have sent Reece back in time if his father hadn’t ever been around in the first place to sire him?

  7. Kisintin

    That was deep, and a bit disturbing. The way I think about it, and of course I am wrong, time is some sort of a quantum quantity. Do we affect it for the future? Maybe. That means that events that can be affected directly by human interference would be constantly changing. Ergo, in the future everything would be blurry, to say the least. Given that, it might be possible for example to see the sun exploding, unless human interference prevents the event from happening.

    On the other hand. I would think that in order to time travel you would have to dissconnect yourself from that state. Become unaffected by the general pattern of quantum change. That is why I DON’T think the time traveler would be EVEN ABLE to interfere.

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