Saturday, July 3, 2010

Time Travel

On the eve of the anniversary our country was adopted by the Indians, or something like that, I am going to examine one of the most American ideas around: wishing and imagining what it would be like if you had a super power, in this case, the ability to travel through time.

Now invisibility, super strength, these types of powers are all fine but they don't teach us anything. You cannot use super strength to learn who really killed Kennedy. You can't use the ability to breathe under water to find out what happened to the dinosaurs. Time travel, on the other hand, is seemingly all-powerful. Ideally, once mastered, you could travel into the immediate past to change any thing ever done in error. You could also zip into the future and change the situation for yourself in the current once you go back. Time travel sounds pretty sweet. There is a problem with it however. It has too many holes; it's not feasible. Invisibility is a feasible super power if you were naked. It doesn't make sense that anything you come in contact with would also turn invisible, but the baseline power is understandable. Time travel gets too confusing.

Think about any television show, movie or book involving characters traveling through time. Some say that any change in the past, no matter how slight, can alter the future in ways unimaginable. Back to the Future was the perfect example of this. Steps taken in the past led Marty McFly to unborn himself. This is where things start to get sketchy. If Marty became unborn, meaning he never existed, how could he possibly exist in the future to travel back in time to unborn himself? It's just stupid logic. It cannot work that way.

On the other hand, these mediums occasionally make the point that the past is the past and nothing the time traveler does can alter it since these events already happened. This makes more sense logically, yet still seems utterly ridiculous. If I go back in time and stab Bart Starr through the chest, there is really no way he is going on to win Super Bowls one and two. I guess the logic would be there would always be actions that prevented me from going through with the stabbing, but it just seems so unrealistic.

From either view point it seems impossible to have time travel make sense, even in shows or movies. Stephen Hawking has written thousands of words on the topic of time travel, most of which I have never read. But he writes about worm holes being a possibility for traveling through time, and mentions the important factor that people might be able to travel forward but no one will ever be able to travel backward through time. The movement into the future is described using black holes and the slow down of time near large amounts of mass. The closest I can get to explaining it is that if you were to travel near a black hole (obviously with some powerful space ship that wouldn't get sucked in and result in your death) for, say, a year, time would move slower where you were traveling relative to the outside world. Once the year was up and you left the orbit of the black hole somehow, more than a year would have passed in the amount of time you were gone, hence you traveled into the future. That's as much of it as I understand. However, the fact remains that traveling into the future is really the sucky part of time travel. The cool part is traveling into the past. Hawking goes on to make the point that traveling into the past is not, and never will be, possible. If it was, we would already know. Someone would have already traveled back to a point in the past where humans existed. Even if the ability to travel into the past isn't perfected for another 3,000 years, the result would be that people from the future would show up, and that just isn't the case (to my knowledge.)

So not only is time travel an impossibility, but it also doesn't make sense in practice. There are too many paradoxes. Could you go back in time to six minutes before you traveled through time and kill yourself before you left? If so, what happens to the current 'you' who is now dead and never traveled through time in the first place? Could you go back and kill a parent or grandparent, resulting in you never being born, or even less dramatic, simply travel back to a time before you were born? I was born in 1986. It's not possible that I could exist in 1980. These are all simple, yet unexplainable, paradoxes.

I am actually tired of entertainment mediums using time travel as a plot device. It never works. It is impossible to fully explain and get away with without screwing yourself up and damaging the show, therefore, why use it? The most recent show I've watched using the time travel device is Heroes. I talked about this in my Heroes season one post, but simply enough, there is a character, actually more than one, who can travel back and forth through time. For some reason they are able to go back and change certain events that happened but cannot change others. There was no explanation as to which events fit which category. Nice writing guys.

In the end, I guess my point is on this Independence Day eve, as Americans, we should stop wishing we could travel back in time. Just move on. Forget about it. It ain't happening, nor should you want it to happen. As a nation, I suggest we move on to wishing for a different super power and permanently retire time travel. Next time someone asks you about having a super power, say you wish you had the one ring from Lord of the Rings to rule over all humanity. That should make said person leave you alone.

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