Things to keep in mind while traveling backwards in Time:

1 Jun

Humanities majors are about to become indispensable.

Now I know that, especially in this economy, Humanities majors out there might be getting a lot of flak for studying subject matter that “isn’t going to get you a job” – and that’s probably among the kinder, more sensitive comments.  But just think: when time travel moves from the realm of science fiction to reality, historic and cultural experts are going to be just as important as scientists and engineers: after all, who would you most trust to get you out of an altercation with the Vandals in AD 455 Rome? (There’s a reason we call certain things vandalism, you know…)

If you’re doubting, time travel into the future is theoretically fairly straightforward (forgive me).  Consider:  An object traveling at high speeds ages more slowly than a stationary object. This means that if you were to travel into outer space and return, moving close to light speed, you could travel thousands of years into the Earth’s future.  And don’t forget some other famous doubters, like 1943 chairman of IBM Thomas Watson, who said:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”


In any case, going back in time gets more complicated– which is why I’ve prepared this guide to time paradoxes we travelers will inevitably face.  After all, you don’t want to accidentally kill one of your grandparents and prevent your own birth.

1. Grandfather Paradox

Actually, that (above) fear is really little more than a common misconception.  Assuming you go back in time and somehow kill one of your grandparents (before your parents or yourself can be born), you’ll probably still turn out all right in the future.  If you were never born, who went back in time and killed your grandfather?

But don’t go trying that just to prove me wrong– because you won’t be around to do so.

2. Ontological Paradox (Lost Season 5 spoilers!)

In philosophy, ontology is the study of the nature of existence, and this problem deals with how objects or ideas come into existence.  This clip from the brilliant, awe-inspiring, brilliant (I can’t say that enough) television show Lost provides a perfect example:

Basically– if George Lucas produces a script in 1977 which was written by Hurley from memory, then neither Lucas not Hurley actually originated the script or ideas contained therein.  So, the creator of “The Empire Strikes Back” does not actually exist.

3. Retrocausality

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s treatment of time travel provides an example of another paradox.  (for this clip, start at 3:00 and watch about a minute in from that point)

In this example, a cause from the future (the thrown pebble) leads to an effect in the past (the Golden Trio, as they say, leaving Hagrid’s hut).  So, Cause and Effect have been reversed.

4. Predestination Paradox  (Lost Season 5 spoilers!)

For the proponents of free will, this may be the most disturbing:

Everything in 1977 (“the past”) has already happened, even if Miles and Hurley can’t remember it (1977 is their “present”).  As the title makes clear– “Whatever Happened, Happened.)  So, nothing can alter the timeline.  In a word: determinism.

Although, Daniel Faraday might disagree…


One Response to “Things to keep in mind while traveling backwards in Time:”

  1. Preceptor, Thraxis V June 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Time travel is just one damn thing before another (to misquote a physicist, famous for the the quote). I always seem to get hung up on the paradoxes, and never can quite get past them all. If you’ve seen the latest Star Trek movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    I still claim Godel’s incompleteness Theorem as a basis for free will.

    BTW, humanities majors will always be indespensible.

    This is one rockin’ blog.

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